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Knowledge, inspiration, and encouragement from a Christian perspective is my goal. I post a weekly commentary, which could be about world events or the events of my week. Other days I might share stories, recipes, homemaking tips, book reviews, political talk, biblical truth, or other blogs and websites I like. This blog is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.

Monday, December 17, 2007

SOONER THE SUN

I'm sitting at our dining room table near the biggest window in our home. When I sit there, I don't have to turn on a lamp. The outdoor light is enough. A few minutes ago, the room filled with a warm glow as the sun broke through the pines that stand tall in our neighbor's yard across the street. When I first sat here to write, there was no sign of the sun. I anticipated another dreary December day without the warmth of its light. What a pleasant surprise to be writing in the glimmer of sunshine.

Sunshine is often used as a metaphor for happiness. We endure a bout of difficult times and then one day the sun breaks through the clouds and brings joy once again. I just finished a great book by Charles Stanley titled, The Blessings of Brokenness. The words "blessing" and "brokenness" don't seem to go together, but according to Stanley God can bring good out of the most heartbreaking crises. "The way to blessing, however, lies in turning to God to heal us and make us whole," says Stanley. "We decide whether we will yield to Him and trust Him."

When I think of all the times in my life that I experienced brokenness, I also remember a blessing that came after the brokenness. Like a ray of sunshine breaking through a dreary day, something wonderful came into my life after a time of suffering. The suffering may have been the loss of a job, the end of a relationship, or a string of bad health, but each period of brokenness was followed by positive change that made my life better from that point on.

God doesn't allow brokenness in our lives because he doesn't care. He allows it so we can experience the blessing that comes afterward--the better relationship after ending a wrong one, the better marriage after a separation, the better job after losing a job. According to Stanley, God breaks us to get our attention and to deal with some aspect of our lives that is keeping us from experiencing the fullness of what He has planned for us. God also wants to bring us to a point of complete reliance and total trust in Him. This can only be accomplished by breaking us.

My first instinct is to resist this breaking process. But my resistance only prolongs the agony. The only way to shorten a period of brokenness is to accept it and yield to the changes and lessons God is bringing into my life.

The moment we surrender to what God is trying to accomplish through adversity is the moment the problem improves. The less we stomp our feet, question and try to control the situation the sooner the sun appears. Warmth and light break through much sooner if we allow the brokenness to accomplish its purpose: changed attitudes, a different direction, better understanding, closer relationships, or deeper trust. Brokenness opens the door to greater blessings for the rest of our lives.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

GEOGRAPHY CAN'T SATISFY THE SOUL

Several times this week I've had someone tell me about a person who longs for different surroundings. They think that if they change their environment their lives will magically get better. They're tired of small town life. They want to change schools. They want to live in a different state. Pennsylvania stinks! They want to go where the weather is more pleasant. They're convinced that their unhappines is the result of geography.

I remember thinking the same thing in my twenties. And I moved all the way to Florida to find that magic remedy for an unhappy life. The funny thing was I was even more miserable after a few weeks in Florida. There was no magic. I took all my problems with me.

Sooner or later we learn that it doesn't matter where we go, life is the same everywhere. People are pretty much the same. You have your mix of good and bad everywhere. You still have hassles and disappointments no matter where you live. The problems might be different, but they're still a part of life. A change of location doesn't really change anything but your location.

When we're unhappy, what we need to change is ourselves and the things we are doing or not doing to bring satisfaction to our lives. About a year ago I decided that I needed more friends, not just acquaintances, but real sincere and caring friends. So I started what I call a "circle of friends" monthly get together. Every month, six of us meet at a different woman's house for a casual meal and a night of chatter and laughter.

This month it will be almost a year since we started our gatherings, and it's become obvious that I'm not the only one who's enjoying the idea. I was hesitant to have that first dinner and ask the ladies if they wanted to continue meeting. But I took a leap of faith and went ahead and did it, and the result has been such a joy to all of us. I'm convinced that one of the biggest sources of depression is lack of true friendship, the kind of friendships that allow us to share our deepest selves without fear or judgement.

I heard someone call it "restless soul syndrome," that unhappy stirring in our hearts that makes us want to run to a place where everything will magically get better. But if the emptiness is within ourselves, don't we take ourselves everywhere we go?

Sometimes it's a lack of friends, sometimes it's a thirst for God; we all have an empty place that geography can't fill. When we start filling the emptiness with the people and things that truly bring fulfillment, then we stop caring about geography. We're happy to be anywhere because we're happy with ourselves and the life we're living.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

WHAT WE'RE MADE OF

People don't always respond to us in the way that we would like. We think they'll be enthusiastic about our ideas, but they're not. Our friendly greetings are met with cold stares. And what was meant to be funny is taken as criticism. One thing we can't control is the way people respond to us.

Sensitive people can get their feelings hurt quite easily just by an unexpected response. I remember a certain woman I worked with who wouldn't say Hello to me when I greeted her as she walked by. She simply stared straight ahead and kept walking, no emotion on her face. At first I thought she didn't like me until I learned that others had received the same cold response from her.

I decided not to let her unfriendliness affect my actions, so I continued to say Hello, and she continued to ignore me. After a while, instead of being annoyed by her, I started to feel compassion for her. What could possibly be going on in her life to make her so lacking in human kindness? I never found out, and she never surprised me by saying Hello.

We wouldn't be human if we didn't feel some kind of rejection when people respond negatively to us. No one enjoys being ignored, put down, or misunderstood. But as long as our intentions are good and our motives are pure, it really doesn't matter how others respond. Sometimes the bad response is a sign of their problems, not ours.

We can't control how people respond to us. We can only control our own actions. But that's an important thing to control. When those negative responses hit us, we get to decide how we're going to handle it. We get to show the world what we're made of--compassion or hatred.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

HOBBIES AND HAPPINESS

On Friday I spent hours messing my kitchen, trying to create a winning chocolate cake for the Gratz Fair. I dropped batter on the floor and tracked it everywhere. I had flour in my hair and chocolate stains on my jeans.

From a monetary perspective, my creative attempt was a waste of time. Even if I had won first place (I didn't come close) the prize money wouldn't have covered the cost of the ingredients and the gas it took to get it there. But I didn't do it for money.

I love to bake. My grandmother baked pies for a living, and after spending hours on just one cake, I have a new appreciation for the amount of work she put into her craft. Anyone who thinks owning a bakery would be an easy job is dreaming.

But work can also be fun. There's a lot of creativity involved in baking. First I had to come up with a recipe idea. Then I added some special touches to make it unique. My favorite part is the icing and decorating the finished cake. I used fresh mint leaves from our front yard and pressed them into the cake around clusters of fresh raspberries. After almost giving up when things kept going wrong, I was happy with the results. Icing and well-placed decoration can hide all kinds of flaws, even a lopsided cake.

Lately, I've been discovering hobbies I never considered before-- photography, journaling, and baking. It's amazing how much joy these activities bring to my life. I wonder why I never bothered before. It makes me realize how important it is to have hobbies.

I remember a time in my twenties when I felt so dissatisfied with life. I don't remember having a single hobby. Could there be a connection between hobbies and happiness? There might be. Are you making time for those unpaid activities you love to do?

Sunday, September 9, 2007

A CURE FOR LONELINESS

Recently I watched an episode of Touched By An Angel, a TV show about angels who help people on earth. That particular show inspired me to write about loneliness. The episode was about a lonely, desperate woman named, Zoey. She had recently been dumped by her boyfriend and she was feeling as if she would never find a man who would want to marry her. She longed for a husband and children. She was tired of coming home every night to a lonely apartment.

One night when Zoey was leaving a bar with a man of questionable character, two angels, Monica and Andrew stopped her. Then Monica gave her a message from God. She told Zoey that love isn't something you shop for and she would never find her ideal man in a bar. "To find the right man, you have to become the right woman," Monica said. She was suggesting that
Zoey fill her lonely life with giving love to others. She told her to trust God and wait for His timing to bring the right man into her life.

At the end of the show, Zoey was sitting outside on a beautiful summer day talking to an elderly woman in a wheel chair. She had become a volunteer companion for residents at a rest home. She had taken her angel's advice.

Loneliness is something most of us have to deal with at some time in our lives. But we don't have to be single to be lonely. I believe some of the loneliest women in the world are married. I used to be one of them. I also recall the loneliness of being single, and if I had it to do over, I would fill my loneliness with community service, not smoke-filled bars.

God could make me a widow tomorrow, and I would like to think that if He did, I would handle that emotion in a better way than I have in the past. I would draw even closer to God and I would spend time helping others instead of wallowing in my loneliness.

The best advice I've read about loneliness comes from Elizabeth Elliott: "The answer to our loneliness is love- not our finding someone to love us, but our surrendering to the God who has always loved us with an everlasting love. Loving Him is then expressed in a joyful and full-hearted pouring out of ourselves in love to others. As I find my place of service within the community of God's people, there is little time left to feel lonely. For me the answer to loneliness is not to solve it, but to embrace it as a gift from a loving Father and to offer it back to Him, so that He can transform it into a gift for others."

I would guess that if the story about Zoey had continued, we would have watched as she became so involved in helping others that she forgot about her loneliness. And at that moment when she was no longer desperate and searching for love, but was instead giving love, that was when she became the right woman for the man God was about to bring into her life. He probably just appeared one day when she wasn't searching for him.

The cure for loneliness is love, but not our finding someone to love us, the cure comes when we whole-heartedly pour out love to others by volunteering, helping, visiting, or going wherever we're needed. To find love we have to give love. "To find the right man, become the right woman." I thought that was such wonderful advice!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

MAKE SOMEONE'S DAY

There's something about a hand-written letter that is so wonderful. My daughter got so excited a few days ago when she received a card from her soon-to-be third grade teacher. Her face lit up like Christmas morning. I, too, love receiving cards and letters in the mail. Compared to e-mail, a letter is much more special. You can touch it. Tearing open the envelope and wondering what's inside, holding the pages the sender held, reading the words written in one-of-a-kind style...a letter is so personal. Perhaps that's why letter writing has become almost obsolete.
In fact, I noticed that some people think it's strange to send hand-written letters.

My daughter's teacher could have sent a typed letter to her students. You know the type of letter with a blank after the salutation so you can fill in a different name each time. The same exact words are sent to all, and there's nothing personal about it. That would have been easier, but it wouldn't have gotten the same reaction from an eight-year-old girl. That's the magic of hand-written cards and letters. They are more appreciated. They have the power to make someone's day, as Delaina claimed that card from her teacher had made her day.

What inspired me to write about letter writing was a movie I just saw on the Hallmark channel titled, The Love Letter. The storyline was a bit unbelievable as it involved two people who were able to communicate although they lived in different centuries. As the man wrote on his laptop, the woman opened a bottle of ink and gracefully guided a quill pen across thick, textured paper.
Just the sight of her elegant hand movements as she wrote compared to his clunky clacking on the keyboard was reason enough to fall in love with letter writing. There's something romantic about a hand-written letter. And if you don't mean to be romantic, there's something endearing about it.

My grandmother, I call her Nana, has probably written more letters in her lifetime than I could ever imagine writing. It's like a hobby to her. I've been the recipient of many of her cards and letters, and I cherish all of them. What a great memento I'll have of her when she's gone. She'd often include a reference to scripture or some other encouragement, and she often mentioned things we take for granted, like the songbird outside her window or the fragrance of the lilacs she'd just placed in a vase. Nana notices the simple things in life that people no longer slow down to enjoy.

Maybe that's the greatest charm of all about letter-writing. Just knowing that someone took that extra time to shop for a card or the perfect stationery. Then they slowed down long enough to write a personal message to you, not with a keyboard, but with the touch of a hand, with their very own handwriting. There's something about that. It makes you feel special to be on the receiving end of such thoughtful effort.

And now it's getting late and I must be going, because I've inspired myself to write a few letters. And I can't forget to put cards and stationery on my list. I have to tell Nana about the cool nights we've been getting and the hoot owl I've been hearing in the woods. She probably misses the feel of late summer since she can't sit on her porch at night anymore. A letter from me would probably make her day.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

THE LIFE ON WINGS

I got home from Ocean City Maryland a few hours ago. Surprisingly, I'm wide awake. The trip was not something I was planning. My sister called on a whim and we packed our bags and headed south. My mom went along. We try to go somewhere together every year.

When we got on the beach early Saturday morning, the lady who rented us an umbrella and beach chairs said, "This is the first nice day we've had here in a long time. You're lucky to have chosen this weekend." We knew that luck had nothing to do with it. We prayed for good weather. We also asked God to help us get there and back safely and without getting lost.  That prayer was also answered and it wasn't always the driver who made the right decisions.

Between the three of us, we noticed the right exits, reminded each other about speed limits, and even prevented an accident or two. We worked together and God gave each of us a keen eye to catch what the other missed. It was one of the most pleasant vacation drives I've been on.  When I took the wheel on the way home, we reached a point where I had to turn either right or left and no one knew which lane I should take. I felt the urge to go left and then I saw a sign for Lancaster that required a left turn. That nudging to go left was God speaking to me. That's the power of prayer.

If you're not a person who prays, you might be shaking your head about now and thinking I'm crazy. Unless you can prove to me that God doesn't exist, maybe you're the one who's crazy for not using the power of prayer to enrich your own life. The bible tells us that God cares about every detail of our lives. You can pray about anything, no matter how small the request. Recently the ladies in my bible study prayed for Rosie O'Donnell to be removed from her position on The View, a TV talk show. Within two weeks of us saying that prayer, it was announced that Rosie would be leaving the show. We felt her opinions were too critical and filled with hatred. God must have agreed. He heard our prayer and granted our request.

In The Christian's Secret to a Happy Life, The author compares faith and prayer to a "life on wings." When you pray, you can fly above your worldly problems and be free from worry, fear, and every negative emotion. Prayer gives you peace and freedom. You fly up and over every hurdle. Nothing shakes you because you know God is in control. It's the way God meant for us to live. But so many people miss out on knowing the power of prayer. They are alone with their daily struggles. Every day they take on the world without God's help and they end up frustrated, angry, and exhausted.

There is a better way to live. If you don't believe it, try it. You'll become a believer when you see your list of answered prayers begin to grow. Sometimes God doesn't answer prayer in the way you would like, but when you look back on how he answered the prayer, His way is always better than your original request. He finds a way to give you what you need, which is more important than what you want.

I'm still learning how to live life on wings. I haven't mastered it, but there's one thing I know for sure: I'll never go back to a life without prayer. Why walk when you can fly?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

TAKE THE RIGHT ROAD

Have you ever been so angry that it drained the life out of you? I mean the kind of anger that doesn't go away. Someone hurt you and you can't get it off your mind. You think about the offense every day, maybe rehearse in your mind what you'd like to say to the person. Soon your anger takes on a life of its own. You become a different person. You're a slave to your hostile emotions. Every day your joy is stolen by your decision to feed your anger and keep it alive. Meanwhile, you're dying inside. The real you is rotting away and you feel tired, depressed and hopeless.

Anger is energy. Staying angry takes a lot of energy. So the person who is hurt most by anger is the one who's angry. Someone once said, "Anger is like taking poison and wishing someone else would die." Angry people often suffer from headaches, ulcers, and many other physical symptoms.

Anger is really stupid if you think about it. Someone or something hurt you badly, so you respond by carrying around poisonous emotions that end up making you sick, destroying your relationships, and hurting you even more. Stupid, Stupid, Stupid!

I know what it's like to be angry. Someone hurt me a long time ago, and I couldn't get over it. I wanted to get over it. I tried to forget it, but I just couldn't let it go. Within a few months, I became a hateful person. I didn't smile much. I was tired all the time. I snapped at people for the smallest things. It was almost as if something evil had taken over me. I went to see a therapist, and he called it bondage. I was in bondage.

Bondage is slavery. Who would voluntarily put herself into slavery? I signed up for my own destruction because I chose to stay angry instead of to forgive. The price I paid for my anger was destroyed relationships and a broken family. The damage was irrepairable. My anger changed my life and the lives of the people I loved.

What a powerful emotion anger is. We need to watch out for it. God warns us about the danger: "If you are angry, be sure it's not out of wounded pride or bad temper. Never go to bed angry--don't give the devil that sort of foothold." What kind of foothold? In his years of counseling, Roger Barrett has come to believe that resentment destroys more individuals and relationships than any other emotion: "It rips people apart, sets them up for emotional breakdowns, and damages relationships, often beyond repair."

Forgiveness has so much more going for it than anger. So why is it so difficult to take this high road? My answer would be pride. People have too much pride to forgive. They think forgiving is being weak. They think they deserve more. They want revenge. They want answers. Someone has to pay. So they dig a hole for themselves and crawl into the darkness of anger and resentment.

Experience is sometimes the best teacher. But we don't have to experience something to learn a lesson. We can learn from the experiences of others. If you want proof that anger is the most damaging emotion we can hold inside, just ask someone who chose the low road. You won't find a single person who reached the end of her journey and looked back and said, "I chose the best way." The low road is paved with regrets.

Next time someone hurts you, do the right thing for you. Take the high road. The scenery is so much better. Your steps will be light. And your heart will soar upon the freedom of forgiveness.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

COMPASSION IS PRICELESS

We're so quick to offer opinions, self-analyze problems and tell others what we think. I recently had a phone conversation with a woman who had me so confused, I was convinced she was suffering from a mental ailment. I made an assumption without knowing the facts, and I did it with little compassion. I just wanted my problems taken care of and she wasn't doing a good job. So I got frustrated and labeled her incompetent.

I later apologized to her because I realized I was wrong. I'm sure she didn't feel good hearing someone tell her, "You're the one who's confused, not me." The second those words came out my mouth, I wanted to suck them back in.

I have a lot of opinions. We all do. Sometimes we need to be tough with our opinions, and sometimes a softer approach is needed. I've learned that when it comes to voicing opinions, the softer approach is always better received. But speaking with compassion isn't always easy.

For example, telling someone who is suffering from a health problem that the problem isn't as bad as she claims... now that's lacking compassion. People know their own bodies. We should respect that. We should respect their opinions about the causes of their problems and the extent of their sufferings. The bible tells us that only the person involved can know her own pain and no one else can really share it. How can we possibly know what causes people's ailments or how bad those ailments really are?

There's a time and a place for tough love. Sometimes people need a Dr. Phil type of awakening. But for the other times, when someone is simply sharing a problem that is out of her control, the best counselors are listeners. They don't harshly voice opinions, they listen. That is, after all, what people want most. In a world filled with so many opinions, compassion is priceless.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A QUIET ESCAPE

I spent the day creating a quiet place in my home where I can go to read, pray, write and escape. The room has a lock on the door. That was a must. I also dug through boxes under my bed and in the basement for items of beauty, inspiration and encouragement. I came across a poem my mother wrote to me when I graduated from high school. It now sits on a shelf in my quiet room along with other tokens of inspiration I found and dusted: my honor society certificate from college, my first and only published article, my art ribbons, and a Mary Engelbreit print that says, "It's never too late to be what you might have been."

People underestimate the importance of having a place to escape from the pressures and noise of the outside world. We should make time every day for complete solitude and silence. It doesn't matter if it's morning, afternoon or evening, whatever time gives you the best chance of enjoying complete silence. When life's pressures begin to close in on us, quiet solitude is what we need most. It's a chance to clear our heads and connect with God, our source of strength and renewal.

What I'm hoping to add to my quiet room is a tabletop fountain. I love the sound of water trickling over rocks. I don't know why that sound is so soothing, but it relaxes me. It reminds me of camping as a young girl when we parked our camper near a mountain stream and I'd fall asleep to that hypnotizing sound. The sound of the ocean has the same relaxing effect. Some people like the songs of morning birds or the late day chorus of crickets. You can actually buy whatever sounds you find relaxing. I have a CD called Sailboat Journey. You can hear the wind pulling the sails, the sound of seagulls, and the water lapping against the boat. It's great to listen to while lying in the sun.

If we're creative, we don't have to spend a cent on gas or even leave home to escape the stress of today's world. All we need is a quiet place that's inviting and relaxing. Then turn that room into an oasis for your senses. Fill it with plants and flowers. Hang beautiful photos or artwork on the wall. Dust off your accomplishments and display them for inspiration. Anything that makes you feel encouraged or appreciated shouldn't be stuck away in a box. Drape the room with fragrances that relax you, like lavendar and bergamot. Bring relaxing sounds into the room like a fountain or sounds of nature on CD's.

You'll be amazed at what a quiet room can do for your state of mind. It's like a mini-vacation you can take every day. Your mind has a chance to rest. Your patience is renewed. Your spirit is restored. God finally has a chance to speak to you and you're finally able to hear him. It's such a simple thing to do. But the treasures in silence are often ignored. Don't let another day go by without your daily silence. A quiet escape might be what you need most.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

LIVING WITH A NET

Someone once said being sociable is like living with a net. Having family, friends and neighbors who are an integral part of our lives gives us a soft place to land. Without that net, life is lonely, stressful, and unhealthy. Studies have shown that sociable people are healthier and less likely to become depressed. Yet our society seems to be moving toward less sociable lifestyles.

Ten years ago, I read a great magazine article about the power of friendship. It described the life of a city girl who felt "different" because everyone else seemed to have a support system of family, friends, and neighbors. She came home from work every day and felt lonely. She didn't have people around her that she could depend on. She was living without a net.

The article claimed that we have become a nation of loners. Walking around with cell phones and headphones in our ears puts us in our own little worlds, disconnected from society. Sitting at home in front of a computer is recreation for some people. Before computers, recreation meant socializing in person.

Humans are social beings. We are made to socialize, and if that is missing from our lives, we just don't feel right. We feel different, like someone sitting on the sidelines watching the world go by. But it's never too late to experience life as it was meant to be. Unfortunately, sitting around waiting for the phone to ring won't make us more sociable. It takes effort to build a support system of friends and neighbors. We have to be willing to reach out to others. And we have to be supportive and dependable ourselves. We can only attract what we're willing to give.

I've experienced life both with and without that supportive "net." And I can attest to the difference it makes. Living without a net is damaging to both our physical and mental well-being. Without people close by on whom we can rely, life is an overwhelming challenge. We weren't meant to live without a net. We all need a soft place to fall.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

GETTING TO THE HEART

I'm reading a great book on parenting. Shepherding A Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp is a must- read for every parent. I'm only half way through it, and already I've learned some things that I've been doing wrong as a parent. I thought parenting was about getting your children to behave, but according to Tripp, there's something much deeper we need to be doing.

"If you are to really help your child, you must be concerned with the attitudes of heart that drive his behavior," says the author. As parents, we make the mistake of demanding changed behavior, but we don't address the wrong attitudes that resulted in wrong behavior. This takes time. We have to sit down and talk to our children. And that's probably why so many parents don't do it.

Parenting is a time-consuming responsibility. How many of us really put in the hours required to raise children who are self-controlled because they understand why they behave badly? How many parents take the time to address the issues of a child's heart? What does she fear? Does he feel secure? Is he acting out a habit that he sees his parents demonstrate every day? What's going on in the child's heart that makes that child behave the way he does?

Being a parent is the most difficult role on earth. No other job in the world prepares another human being for adulthood. No other job shapes a person's personality. Parenting is an awesome responsibility. We need to make sure that we're doing it right. When was the last time you read a good book on parenting? I've been humbled after reading only half this book.

We put time into everything else we do. Our children deserve parents who take the time to learn about parenting. I highly recommend Shepherding A Child's Heart.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

CHOOSING NOT TO CONFORM

Women have to live in this world, but they don't have to conform to its values. So many women are miserable today because they don't feel worthy in the world's eyes. They're either not thin enough, not busty enough, not pretty enough, or just not enough. Because society tells a woman that her worth lies in her appearance, women all over the world are lacking confidence.

Approximately 80 percent of teenagers don't like the way they look. When I was a teenager, I plucked my eyebrows into a thin perfect arch because that's what I saw in all the magazines. I wanted to be what the world thought was pretty. Years later, when lush eyebrows were back in style, mine were so over-plucked they wouldn't grow back.

Women destroy their confidence by comparing themselves to other women. The problem with comparisons is that we all have strengths and weaknesses. While you admire one woman's strengths, she may be admiring yours. Why can't we just be ourselves and be content with what God gave us?

The bible says, "Be not conformed to this world...by a renewing of our minds." As I write this, I am 44 years old. In the past year, I've watched my upper eyelids begin to sag and the lines around my eyes are becoming deeper and more noticeable. Fortunately, I've renewed my mind when it comes to my appearance. I know my value hasn't lessened because I'm looking older, not in God's eyes.

Women should think of aging as their inner beauty surpassing their outer beauty. I believe I have much more to offer the world than I did at 20, when my skin was firm. I have more experience, more knowledge, more patience, more kindness, and more compassion. I've gotten over the pretty and found something much more satisfying than being praised for my appearance. Serving others is more rewarding because it's God's calling for our lives. Loving and helping people satisfies the soul like being beautiful never will.

There are many ways that women conform to the world. Surrendering to the world's idea of beauty is just one way. But if we keep our eyes focused on God and look to him for validation of our worth, we can have peace and confidence. We can even keep our eyebrows.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS, NOT YOUR FEARS


Martina Mc Bride has a great song out right now called, Do It Anyway.
It's such an inspiring song. I'm sure it's motivating people all over the world to follow their dreams despite the uncertainties of stepping into the unknown.

We all have moments of uncertainty, self-doubt, and reluctance. Trying something new or something we're not good at makes us fearful. We worry about the outcome. Fear of failure, rejection, or embarrassment prevents us from stepping out of the comfort zone.

After graduating from beauty school, I couldn't wait to have a salon of my own. In 1984 my dream came true, but I had a fear that hurt my business. I was afraid of haircolor. When a client asked about coloring her hair, I talked her out of it. Color was a profitable service, but I let fear rob me.

For the first thirty years of my life, I avoided everything I feared. But something happened in my early thirties. I got tired of letting fear control me. And I discovered that doing what I fear is far more exciting and rewarding than life in the comfort zone.

Fear is possibly the greatest destroyer of our growth. It robs us of financial success, steals our joy, prevents us from meeting new people, and deprives us of exciting experiences. A rich, full life can only begin when we decide not to let fear control us.

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind," said the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 1:7. Fear is a demonic, spiritual force and only the Spirit of God can set us free from it.

Every time I sit down to write this column, I have a moment of uncertainty. I wonder if people will see me as a proud know-it-all or too judgemental or too harsh. That's fear rearing its ugly head. What makes me press on is knowing that God doesn't want me to be fearful. He wants me to use my talents to serve others.

There will always be someone with a negative comment, no matter what you try.
But a sound, determined mind that is focused on serving others will always have God's blessing. Fear may rear its head, but it has no power when your intentions are honorable.

I challenge you to do the thing you want but are afraid to do. Don't let fear steal your dreams. You can't grow in the comfort zone. Feel the fear and do it anyway.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

THOUGHTS AND WORDS HAVE POWER
We all talk to ourselves. Sometimes out loud when no one is around, I'll carry on a conversation with myself. I'm not afraid to admit this because I think it's healthy to talk to myself. Everyone does it, but perhaps not everyone does it out loud. Some prefer to speak to themselves only in their minds without uttering a word. Either way, it's healthy to sort out feelings, work out problems, or relieve stress by talking to yourself.

The only bad thing about talking to yourself occurs when the words you speak are negative. Negative self-talk causes depression because our thoughts precede and determine our feelings. If a woman tells herself that she'll never be happy and that her life is a hopeless drifting of one lonely day into the next, then she'll soon be too depressed to do anything about her predicament.

People underestimate the power in our thoughts and the words we say to ourselves. Most of us are careful to say just the right thing to others, but we don't give ourselves the same courtesy. We are hard on ourselves, unforgiving, and unkind. We don't realize how we drag ourselves down with that internal voice that is always focusing on the negative.

Women are especially good at negative self-talk. They put so much pressure on themselves to be perfect that they forget about the wonderful qualities they do have. If the scale doesn't read the right number or if their children aren't behaving, they blame themselves for these imperfections and scold themselves for not doing better. "I'm a bad mother," says one woman.
Another woman obsesses about her weight, telling herself, "I'm disgusting."

Sometimes negative self-talk is the result of a poor childhood. Growing up with critical parents that could never be pleased, or parents who didn't give the nurturing we needed can cause us to feel bad about ourselves. Our self-esteem is often tied to our upbringing.

But the good news is that we don't have to continue feeling bad. We can train ourselves to speak positive words when we talk to ourselves. We can catch ourselves when we think negatively and redirect our thoughts to be praiseworthy instead of critical. Then when we become good at speaking positive words to ourselves, we can take it a step further and begin to praise the people around us.

Most people don't realize the damage that can be done with negative thoughts and critical words. The way we think determines the way we feel. What we say to ourselves can put us into a state of depression if those thoughts are constantly negative. What we say to our children can ruin their self-esteem, kill their ambition, or fill them with anger.

So be careful what you think and say. Words and thoughts have power. Your thoughts and your words have the power to bring death or life to any relationship, including your relationship with yourself. Dwell on the good things in yourself and others. Train your mind to be humbly self praising. And train your tongue to be a life-giving force that focuses on what is true and good and right. You can change your life just by changing your thoughts and words.

Monday, March 5, 2007

LEARN TO SPEAK YOUR SPOUSE'S LOVE LANGUAGE

What is a love language? It's the way that people show and understand emotional love. According to Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, we must be willing to learn our spouse's primary love language if we are to be effective communicators of love.

The five love languages are: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. These are the ways that people express love and the things that make them feel loved. And since everyone's love languae is different, you must express love in the language that your spouse understands in order for him to feel loved and vice versa.

For example, Steve's love language is acts of service. He feels loved when his wife, Cindy, does things for him like cook his favorite meal. As long as she continues displaying loving acts of service, Steve's "emotional love tank" stays full and he feels secure in her love. But if Cindy fails to speak his love language, her husband will feel used, not loved.

On the other hand, Cindy's primary love language is physical touch. She also has two secondary love languages: words of affirmation and quality time. If Steve neglects to touch his wife as they go about their daily routines, if he forgets to kiss her goodnight, hug her when he gets home, or just touch her as she walks by, she will begin to feel lonely and unloved. If he spends most of his free time with friends and doesn't plan time alone with Cindy, she will feel unimportant. And if weeks go by without a single compliment from the man she loves, she will feel unappreciated.

People express and receive love in different ways, yet so many couples don't have a clue what each other's love language is. I could buy my husband a gift every day, thinking that I'm expressing my love, but receiving gifts isn't his love language, so it wouldn't make him feel loved at all.

Have you ever heard a man say, "I give that woman everything she wants and she's still not happy"? His idea of "everything" is material things like a new car or a new wardrobe. But what if his wife's love language is quality time? A workaholic husband with a wife who feels loved when he makes time for her, now there's a divorce in the making.

Don't underestimate the importance of knowing your spouse's love language. Talk about it. Let him know what you need to really feel loved and appreciated. Ask him what he needs from you. Then write it down and post it on the refrigerator as a reminder.

Something else to keep in mind, children have love languages too. Chapman also has written, The Five Love Languages of Children. It's a must read for every parent. But if you don't have the book, you can learn your child's love language by observing the way that she expresses love to others. This will give you a clue. If your child is always creating gifts and cards for people, then she probably feels most loved when she receives gifts and tokens of appreciation.

Once you understand love languages and begin speaking them to the ones you love, you can literally change the atmosphere of your home. It's that powerful! We all long to feel loved and appreciated, so we must learn to express love in a language that's understood. Learn the love language of every member of your family. It's a valuable thing to know and a powerful tool to put into action.

Friday, February 9, 2007

CHANGE IS GONNA COME

Death and taxes aren't the only two certainties of life. There's at least one more, and it's a big one--change. A former lover of the comfort zone, I've since learned a lot about change, especially this past year. My life is completely different than it was this time last year.

At first I fought the changes. I questioned them. I even got angry. Why is this happening? It's not fair. I enjoyed my life the way it was, and I planned to spend my future in that comfort zone.

Like the character, Hem, in the book, Who Moved My Cheese, I didn't want my life to change. Hem liked his familiar, safe surroundings. They brought him comfort. But when his cheese supply suddenly disappeared, he became paralyzed and depressed. Instead of going out and looking for new cheese, he waited for his situation to improve. He sat around and hoped his old cheese supply would somehow return.

By now you figured out that cheese is a metaphor for what you want in life. And when the things you want are suddenly taken from you, it can be a difficult adjustment. This was the problem I faced last year when both my health and my job took an unexpected turn. Looking back, I see that questioning the change didn't help. Feeling frustrated didn't help. Complaining didn't help. The only thing that did help was accepting my new situation and looking for ways to adjust.

When I changed my attitude and moved in a new direction, new opportunities came my way. When I stopped wishing for the way things were, I saw the way things could be and what I saw was quite hopeful, maybe even better than the life I had. My eyes opened to the reality that this change I was so angry about could turn out to be a blessing if it led me to something better.

Are you having trouble dealing with change? Are you depressed, angry, confused? I understand. I've been there. So who better to point you in the right direction? First, stop wishing that the change in your life wouldn't have happened. It's done. Focusing on the past keeps you stuck in the past and you miss chances for a better future. Second, get moving toward something new. Don't let fear stop you. You are so much stronger than your fears.

Just go out and explore your options. You don't have to grab the first thing you find. Pray for discernment. God will open a door, but only if you start knocking.  And once you've settled into this new life of yours, and once you realize how much better off you are now compared to before the change, then you can look in the mirror and say, "I'm not afraid of change."

And one last thing, don't get too comfortable with the way things are now. Be on the lookout for signs of change. The comfort zone is not a destination, it's only a rest stop. And you must keep traveling, because there is so much more to see.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

I'VE NEVER MET A HAPPY, SLOPPY PERSON

The worst part about being unorganized is the way it makes us feel. When I was a teenager, my bedroom was a mess and I felt like a mess. Since I couldn't organize the place where I spent most of my quiet time, I was a mess in every area of my life. In high school I sometimes went to the wrong classroom because I kept losing my class schedule. It was embarrassing to hear my name over the intercom after a teacher reported me missing. I felt like an airhead.

"When we are disorganized, we don't like ourselves, our jobs, or much else about our worlds," says Gordon McDonald in his book, Ordering Your Private World. That is so true. When I don't organize my time, I feel unproductive and wasteful. When my home and car are a mess, I feel sloppy and lazy. Being undisciplined just makes me feel like a mess. Living that way is depressing, and it affects every part of my life, including my relationships with people and with God. I can't focus on what's important when I'm surrounded by clutter.

I've gotten better at being organized since my high school days. But I still haven't mastered it completely. I can let a sink full of dishes set overnight without it bothering me. I don't want to become obsessed. Then I would have other problems. No one could live with me!

If you've been wanting to bring a sense of order to your life, here are a few tips for getting started. Some of these things might take a lot of work, but I promise it will be worth it. The sense of peace you feel when you come home to an uncluttered refuge is something you need in today's chaotic world. Some of these ideas came from yesterday's Oprah Winfrey show and some came from my own experience.

Organize your clothes If your house is cluttered with clothes, throw every piece of clothing on a pile and separate what you want to keep and what needs to go. Go through one room at a time so you don't feel overwhelmed. Then put the clothes you plan to keep in an organized closet or storage area. This alone will make you feel lighter and more orderly.

Buy a file cabinet I keep files on each family member that contains personal information such as health records, photos, certificates, social security cards, etc. I also have an alphabetical file. My "A" file contains receipts for antiques I've purchased and my "P" file contains product information such as warranty cards and instruction booklets for cameras, alarm clocks, appliances and other purchases.

Write reminders on a calendar Those little appointment cards you get at the dentist don't do any good stuck in your wallet. Post a calendar with plenty of room for daily notes. If your child needs a disposable lunch for a field trip, write it down. If you volunteered to send a snack to school, write it down. Keep school activity and lunch calendars posted so you don't miss picture day and pizza day. When you receive an invitation, write it on the calendar along with the deadline to RSVP.

Carry a notebook or keep one in your car How many times do you receive information away from home that you know you should write down? Phone numbers, addresses, directions, all kinds of information comes at you when you're out in the world. Have a place to record these things and carry several pencils or pens. If you have a cell phone, record the numbers you call most. Voice recorders are great ideas too. Carry a phone and address book. When you record a new entry, transfer it to your address book at home.

Have a special place for things Put your keys in the same place every time you come home. Return the scissors to its special place. Know where to find the glue, tape, a flashlight, everything you need. Organize your refrigerator the same way. Don't waste time searching for things. Know exactly where things are because you return them to their special place each time.

I could give you a much longer list, but once you start organizing your life, it penetrates every area of your home and workplace. You see how much easier life is and how much better you feel, and it makes you want more. Being organized. Try it. You'll like it.