Gotta Love Evaluations…NOT!

Quick! Give me an evaluation form!

Quick! Give me a pen so I can fill out this evaluation!

Evaluations. There is an email in my inbox that is taunting me, goading me to open it. But I see the subject line and I tell that email, “Not now, email, I can’t handle you this morning.” After all, the subject line says, “Evaluations.”

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to do a presentation on the basics of storytelling at our Toastmaster district conference. At each of the two sessions where I gave my presentation, audience members were given a slip of paper to provide an evaluation of my workshop.  Toastmasters are big on giving evaluations, and of course they should be, it’s how we learn and grow and become better communicators.  It’s just that I am not always big on receiving them.

Toastmasters are so eager to give evaluations that at my first presentation there was a gentleman who was anxiously raising his hand, calling out to the room moderator asking about the evaluation form because he didn’t receive his yet. He was almost frantic.  She reassured him one was coming. The thing is, I hadn’t even been introduced yet, let alone given my presentation! Gee, mister, give a girl a chance to speak before you worry about her evaluation!

After my first presentation, I received a lot of good feedback from the folks in the audience who were gracious enough to come down afterwards and talk to me. This was my first time presenting at a Toastmaster function like this and I felt like I had done the best I could, but I knew, of course, that there could be improvements – there can always be improvements.

Then the email came with the subject line “Evaluations”. The evaluations were in from my first presentation. I made the mistake of reading those evaluations before I was set to give the same presentation the following week. Here’s the thing – the majority of evaluations were very good. Some said it was the best session of the day, others said they thought it was perfect and they wouldn’t change a thing. Many ranked my performance 5 out of 5 – but there were a few who marked me in the middle, who didn’t like some of the things I did, who had suggestions for change. And it was those evaluations that my mind chose to focus on, to sit with, to make my new BFF. One friend commiserated and said that she could get 98 out of 100 glowing reviews but would obsess over the 2 not so good ones. Do you ever do that?

Why? Why, in some circumstances (not all) does the more negative evaluations just bring me down? Why do I even perceive the feedback as “negative” when really the evaluation is just one person’s opinion of how they think something could be done better.  And sometimes I even agree with them! So why does it affect me so much? Why, when I know in my mind I can never please everyone all the time, do I get that sinking feeling in my heart when the review is less than glowing?

I have an idea of what some of the reasons are and most operate at a heart/emotional level and not a mind/rational one: perfectionism, misplaced value of myself and others, and the wrong perspective.

Even though I know intellectually that there is no such thing as perfect, especially in areas of speaking and writing, emotionally I still want it and strive for it. Time to reframe my definition of perfection – the only thing that is perfect is being in process and nothing more. If I am willing to engage in the process, well then, that’s real perfection!

When I focused on the evaluations that were less than 5 stars, I began to doubt myself, began to question that I should even be a speaker.  I began to place too much value on the opinions of a few people and devalue myself, as though there were a mandatory offsetting scale. Time to remember that my value, and the value of my contributions, is not measured by a handful of people who evaluate me, whether they love me or not.

And that leads me to perspective. God warns us about working to please man instead of worrying about pleasing Him. It’s not that we don’t want to do a good job for our family, our friends, our employers, and the people who have given us an opportunity to use our gifts – we definitely should! But I realize that our perspective, my perspective, should be to use our gifts and talents to glorify the One who made us and gave us those gifts.  Time to recognize that His evaluation is the one that matters most. And I truly believe that when we are doing our best to use the gifts and talents He has given us to make Him proud, then like every good parent, He is beaming with pride regardless of whether we feel we were perfect or someone only gave us a 3 star review.

Should we learn and grow from the evaluations we receive? Absolutely! But in a world filled with immediate, online, in your face evaluations – think of Yelp, Ebay, blogs, employers and yes, even slips of paper given to eager audience members – it helps to take a minute to adjust our perspective and check our motivation because, really, there is One whose evaluation matters most and that’s the one we should focus on. How do you deal with less than glowing evaluations?

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10

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Call to Action

Is God trying to get your attention and call you to action?

Is God trying to get your attention and call you to action?

Action. It was a last minute decision to go to Kohl’s and look for a necklace, but I had a little time to spare and headed to the store. I thought if I could find something cheap, I would treat myself; after all, I wanted to look nice for the speaking engagement I had that evening. In fact, the whole day had been focused on preparing for the event. It was a new talk and so I really wanted to be on my game. I wanted to be a blessing to the ladies who were attending and do a good job for the event coordinator who had hired me. I clicked on my right turn signal, merging onto the street that would lead me to Kohl’s and that is when I noticed her.

A middle-aged woman stood on the opposite corner with a cardboard sign. The magic marker letters were too small for me to read from where I was, but I was sure I knew the message. Homeless. Needs help. Kids to feed. God bless. This corner is almost always occupied by someone in need of something. It is a busy corner, with a stream of people going in and out of the Costco that sits there. As I turned the corner, I made a mental note of her and knew the inner grappling would soon begin.

I lucked out at Kohl’s and found the perfect necklace and earring set at a great price and was quickly back in my car, mentally going through all I still had left to do. Go home and practice my talk again. Take a shower. Put on my make up. Pack the car with books and props. In the middle of my mental list making, as I reached the end of the store driveway, she came back to mind, and the grappling began.

Oh, if I make a right, like I normally would, I will have do something about her. I will have to decide whether or not to give her money. If I give her money, how do I know what she will do with it? What if she doesn’t really need it and she is one of those people who makes tons of money by standing at corners with signs? Money is tight in my own household ~ I questioned spending the $14 for a necklace and earrings. What if she didn’t really need it and I was just throwing our money away?

I decided I could avoid all this if I just made a left and went around the block, thus not passing that corner. But I couldn’t catch a break in the stream of cars and was forced to finally go right. As I approached the intersection where she stood, I steered the car towards the left hand turn lane and told myself it was better not to encourage her to come to the car for money, after all, she would need to step out into traffic and she might get hurt. That wouldn’t be a good thing. Better to keep the window up. But I looked over at her and said a prayer, and when I did, I felt as though she looked straight at me, eyes pleading, even though I was a lane and a half away. It felt like she looked into my soul.

“Okay, now what?” I asked the Lord. “What do you want me to do? Do we really know if she legitimately needs the money? And, Lord, you know all that I need to get done for the talk.”

“Ah, yes, the talk,” I could sense the Lord saying to me. “The talk where you plan to share with the ladies how important it is to be a blessing to others during this holiday season. The talk where your call to action is to encourage them to be the unexpected blessing in the lives of others. That talk?”

I went up to the next light and made a well-executed u-turn. Clearly, I had to develop another plan.

“Well,” I told myself, “I will make a right at the corner, again, and make a u-turn in the Costco parking lot so that when I come out I will be in the right hand lane and she won’t have to cross traffic. Then I can give her a couple of bucks and leave the outcome of what she does with it in the hands of the Lord.” There, a good plan. Except that when I got to the corner to make a right, I looked over at her and she was sitting on one of those ugly green electrical boxes with her back to the corner. No sign. No face. Just a slouched over figure. My heart broke. And now I needed a new plan.

“Okay, Lord,” I said. “I will park in the Costco parking lot and walk over to her. You know, this is more than I planned, Lord.” I rooted in my wallet and took out some money. In one pocket, I put a couple of dollars. In the other, I put a five and a few more dollars. I continued my conversation with God.

“Lord, I don’t know what I am doing. I have no idea what I am going to say. I still don’t know if I am supposed to give her money or not and how much. So, Lord, I am trusting you to let me know which pocket of money I should give her when I get there. I am trusting you to tell me what to do.” By now I had reached her.

“Hi,” I said. “I saw you when I drove by and then noticed that you had turned your back to the traffic. Is everything okay?”

“I’m so sad,” she said.

“I wondered about that,” I said, kneeling down next to her.

“This is hard. I don’t want to be out here. People can be so mean. I don’t have any place to live. My kids and I have been staying at the campground and it’s supposed to rain tonight. We can only stay one more night….” She poured out her heart while mine broke a little more.

“But I know God loves me. Do you know that the people at the Walmart in Foothill Ranch said I could work for them? They saw me sleeping in my car in the parking lot. They even bought me some clothes to wear.” I could hear a glimmer of hope in her voice. I suggested some places where she could get some food and she told me she had been blessed by those resources.

“I have gone to the churches around to see if there was some place to stay, but they couldn’t do anything.” We talked about the frailty and limitations of humans and organizations and that we should never look to them as a perfect reflection of our Lord because they are, like us, imperfect. Mostly she talked and I just listened. There wasn’t much more I could do. I didn’t have answers. I could only offer a few minutes of time, a listening ear and a piece of my heart. She seemed to perk up and I felt it was time to go. I didn’t want her to lose the opportunity to be blessed by a generous passer by who might cover her campground fee for another night.

“What’s your name?” I asked. She told me her name. “I will pray for you,” I said.

She stood up and thanked me and I reached out to give her a hug. I reached into both pockets and pulled out the money. “Here’s a little something. I hope it helps.” She beamed and thanked me. I quickly turned to head up the hill to my car, with an incredible tightness in my chest and tears burning in my eyes.

I cried the whole way home. I thanked the Lord for His conviction, for His call to action. I asked His forgiveness for my hypocrisy and self-centered nature. I prayed for the woman on the corner, and for the many others like her. I thanked the Lord for breaking my heart and when I went home to practice my talk, I felt the words speak to me afresh, knowing that He was the one speaking to me, the one calling me to action.

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:17-18

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Faith Training

Flexed your faith muscles lately?

Flexed your faith muscles lately?

Training. I am not a fan of lifting weights. Actually, to say I am not a fan implies indifference when in reality, I dislike lifting weights. I think it’s boring, hard and I never “feel the pump”. I am more of a cardio girl when it comes to exercise. But my husband? He has been a long time weightlifter with the biceps to back it up. He loves it.

“I had to put another plate on the leg press machine,” he will beam.

“Awesome!”

“I almost broke the squat rack!” he will exclaim.

“Fabulous!”

“I pressed five hundred trillion pounds!” Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but you get the idea. He loves to push himself because he knows (and I know because he has told me many times) that this is the only way for your muscles to grow. High reps won’t do it. Staying with the same weight won’t do it. I guess muscles get lazy, complacent and they don’t want to exert themselves unless you put the pressure on by adding more weight.

While I wouldn’t consider myself a weightlifter, I do understand about pushing yourself and your muscles. This past year I participated in a half marathon, even though I am not in the best shape and I am certainly not a runner. I wanted to push myself and grow in my own level of fitness. It was fun but also very hard and a little painful. But I know how it goes ~ no pain, no gain.

Recently our business has been going through some growing pains. The buyers have been scarce while the bills never go away. We began to feel the pressure, the stress, the added weight of uncertainty. We wondered why? Why the seeming void of income producing activity? What are we doing wrong? We consider ourselves people of faith, but we wondered if God had forgotten us.

And then it was time for a pep talk. In the words of Hans and Frans from Saturday Night Live, God was there to pump us up! In reading His words in the Bible, I was reminded that life is full of trials and tests that add weight and pressure in the gym of life. Just like our muscles, our faith would become complacent if we didn’t face challenges. It is precisely because God loves us and has His eyes on us always that He allows periods of uncertainty and stress. He wants us close, He wants us to depend on Him, every day for every little thing. He wants our faith to grow strong, and without trials and tests our faith wouldn’t have a chance to grow. No pain, no gain.

With a renewed faith, we faced our business challenges and God was faithful to see us through, as He always is ~ which is a good thing because we are told that we will face trials of many kinds. Are you feeling the weight of uncertainty over a situation in your life? Got some muscles that have gotten flabby from being too comfortable? Is God wanting you to grow? If so, let’s get the weights out, put another plate on the machine, and flex those faith muscles! You couldn’t ask for a better trainer.

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  1Peter 1:6-7

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Do You Suffer From UTRS?

Thankfully children don't suffer from UTRS!

Thankfully children don’t suffer from UTRS!

Relax. “So, what do you think about doing a garage sale on the 24th?” I asked my husband. Every other Saturday box on my monthly calendar had some kind of chicken scratch in it.  But there was one empty box screaming to be filled in; like a Sudoku puzzle where leaving a box empty means failure.

“Sure, sounds good,” he said. So it was decided and now it was shaping up to be a busy month.  I started wondering when we would fit in a day off ~ a real day off.  I tried to remember the last time I had a completely empty box on my calendar ~ not a day off for scrubbing, or socializing, or serving, or sorting, or any work.  Just a real day of rest and relaxation without obligation. It had been a while.

Our lives are busy, aren’t they? For me, I equate busy-ness and getting things done with value and significance. Two weekends ago our country celebrated Labor Day, a day characterized by vacation get-aways and time away from work. We decided to stay home this year which makes resting and relaxing even harder for me. There is always so much to do at home, especially when you work for yourself. Work follows you everywhere.

The weekend was a mix of work and relaxing, but by Monday afternoon I was beginning to feel…well, a little worthless. First, I slept in. Late. Morning. Gone. Then I got pulled into a British sitcom marathon my husband and son were watching. The only thing I was getting done during that time was some serious belly laughs. I tried to sort through some stacks of paper. I tried to get some writing done. But try as I might, I just couldn’t seem to get anything really done. Desperation set in. Anxiety levels began to rise. I realized that I was suffering from UTRS – Unable To Relax Syndrome. My whole psychological well-being was at risk! There was only one thing to do. Make a list.

Yes, a list was sure to restore my sense of well-being and self-worth. I would make a list of all the things I had done, no matter how trivial, and then I would cross them off. That is the best medicine for this type of sickness ~ and it is a sickness. It didn’t make me feel 100% better, but my uneasiness at not getting anything meaningful accomplished was minimized.

Do you ever suffer from UTRS like me? Do you ever struggle with just taking a day to rest and relax? God has a name for this kind of rest from work ~ He calls it a Sabbath. A day of rest, a day to worship Him, to reset your mind and your perspective, to fill your basket. And God is so gracious that He gives us the freedom to choose what day we take a Sabbath. I think it’s interesting that I would be appalled at myself if I knowingly broke one of the “big 10” (you know, the commandments) and yet, I realize that I do that every time I don’t take a Sabbath (oh, and on those rare occasions when I covet…but I will save that for another post).

It’s time for a change. It won’t be easy; I’m not sure how I will do leaving my to-do list behind for a day. I am sure the healing process will be hard, but God is the great physician and an expert in the hardest of UTRS cases, so I know I will be in good hands. And I suppose now would be a good time to read the book we got from our daughter ~ Margin by Dr. Richard Swenson. Think she was trying to tell us something?  Ohhh, now that I think about it, I should put that on my to-do list! To Do: Read Margin There, I feel better already!  (Don’t judge me ~ it’s a process!)

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lordblessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Exodus 20:8-10
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Do You Take Cuts in Line?

Ever want to cut in line ahead of God?

Ever want to cut in line ahead of God?

Patience.  I love waiting in lines. Really l-o-n-g ones, like the kind at Disneyland ~ the more times the line wraps around a corner, the better.  And I really, REALLY love it when the person in line in front of me at the grocery store s-l-o-w-l-y pulls out her checkbook and starts writing a check. That’s my favorite…NOT! (And for those of you not familiar with checks, they are small rectangular pieces of paper that are actually bank notes that allow you to draw money against your checking account.)

Patience…it eludes me sometimes.  Actually, lots of times. And if I get impatient with the insignificant things in life, what about the important stuff?
Like waiting for test results from the doctor.
Or waiting for a prodigal to come home.
Or waiting to find out if I got the job.

Sure, it’s a cliché, but like many clichés, it’s still true ~ patience is a virtue. You won’t find those exact words in the Bible, but you can’t miss the fact that a patient attitude is a reflection of God’s spirit in us. The apostle Paul tells us in the book of Galatians that it is one of the fruits we will bear if the spirit of God is leading our lives.

So what is patience exactly? Besides waiting, which is something we do ~ what is patience, which is actually a state of being? First, I can tell you what patience is not:
It isn’t worry.
It isn’t frustration.
It isn’t complaining.
And it isn’t taking cuts in line.

Patience is trust. It is trusting in God’s timing as we wait in peace. No wonder they say that having it is a virtue! I was struggling with having a patient attitude this past week.
I am waiting to hear back regarding a speaking opportunity that would be so exciting to have.
I am waiting for people to buy the many things we have listed for sale as part of our business.
I am waiting to hear how my mother-in-law is recovering from a recent fall.

Waiting. And in the midst of waiting, I find myself fretting and trying to make things happen on my own. I’m about to take cuts in line…and then a few words from the gospel of John jumped out at me this morning.

Jesus’s words, “My hour has not yet come.” It was a simple request. His mother wanted Jesus to turn water into wine. But first he tells her, it wasn’t time for him to do a miracle. He went ahead and honored her request, and I do wonder why, if it wasn’t time. But he is God, after all, and often his ways are beyond our understanding. Really, though, it was probably because it was his Mom that was asking!

The point is, and it is shown in other parts of scripture, that even Jesus, in His human form, subjected himself to the perfect timing of God’s plan.
He didn’t allow the people to make him a king on earth.
He didn’t forgo the suffering of the cross.
Being God he could have cut in line and skipped all that; but he didn’t.
And he doesn’t judge us without first giving us a chance to accept his sacrifice of love on our behalf. Instead, he patiently waits.

I can’t say I won’t be annoyed the next time the person pumping gas in front of me at Costco can’t figure out how to make the pump work while I wait for my turn…hey, I’m human. But I can say that patience is a virtue worthy of practice because God and his timing are worthy of our trust.

Do you ever want to cut in line ahead of God?
In what ways do you struggle in trusting in God’s timing?

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.  2 Peter 3:15

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Where Does Your Hope Come From?

Your Love is Sweeter than LifeHope. I sat at the table next to my son, turned on my laptop and scanned my inbox. An urgent prayer request from Pastor Rick. I opened the email. Each word I read seemed to suck another breath from my lungs. It was tragic news. Our pastor’s son had taken his own life. My chest tightened as I imagined Pastor Rick and Kay, hearts broken to the core, trying to process the loss of their child. It was more than my imagination could take and I closed my eyes tight.

When you listen to a pastor, week after week, for over ten years, you begin to feel like you know him personally; though, the closest I’ve physically gotten to Rick was the one time he strolled through the church, patted my shoulder and warmly greeted me. And Kay I have only seen while she spoke from the stage. But to see them, to hear them speak, to read their books, well, you know these are two souls with tender hearts. Mom and Dad hearts. Human hearts. Crushed hearts.

You could be the pastor of one of the biggest churches in America, have faith that can move a mountain, and trust in the Lord with all your heart, but let’s be real, this has to hurt like hell. Maybe I’m not supposed to say that as a Christian, but the reality is, Christ followers are far from being immune to pain here on earth and hell hurts.

“What do people do who don’t know the Lord?” I asked, as much to myself as to my son sitting next to me. We both just looked at each other, still in shock and sadness. But my question has resonated with me since.

There is tragedy in the world every second of every day. You only have to log onto the world wide web to know that the tears shed from broken hearts creates a perpetual wave of sorrow. So when tragedy strikes, where does our hope come from?

Some people find hope and comfort in other people; but we are a very unpredictable species. Sometimes we can be loving and kind, comforting to those who hurt, and sometimes we can be preoccupied and busy at best, even cruel and callous at worst. Some people find hope and comfort in achievement and experiences, a means of distraction from the pain; but how long can you keep a body in motion? Every body needs some down time, and then what do you do? Some people find hope and comfort in things, in the process of acquiring things; but things get old, they break, they rust, they tarnish. Some people find comfort, though maybe not hope, in alcohol and drugs; but I know first-hand the consequences for this kind of grief therapy is unhealthy and the cost is too high.

It’s a broken world and a broken world can’t offer the kind of hope and comfort a grieving soul needs. Our Creator, God, knows this. And He knows the pain and grief associated with losing a precious son. His heart breaks with every heart that breaks, and He sees each tear that falls. He longs for us to call out to Him so He can wrap His heavenly arms around us.

And He knows how much hell hurts ~ and it is His greatest desire to keep us out of it. In fact, it is His fervent desire to have each one of His precious creation with Him in heaven one day. Heaven ~ paradise, a place free from pain and suffering, free from inhumanity and tragedy and most importantly, a place filled with the glory of God. Filled with His glory because that’s where He is ~ waiting to welcome His children, like Matthew, with loving arms. This, my friends, is where my hope comes from ~ a loving God, a redeemer, a place in heaven. And I know from years of listening to Pastor Rick that this is where he and his family have their hope . I also know their hope would be for you to know Jesus the way they do ~ if you don’t, would you consider getting to know Him now?

“But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.” Psalm 39:7
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Does This Turtle Have Something To Worry About?

What's your perspective? Is he hanging by a thread?

What’s your perspective? Is he hanging by a thread?

Perspective. I love this picture from my recent trip to the central coast of California. It’s sort of an optical illusion, isn’t it? I mean, is the turtle really on a limb, in a grove of trees, perilously hanging who knows how far above the ground below?

There are times in my life when I feel like I am the one perilously hanging on a limb high above the ground without a safety net ~ feet dangling, nails gripping, ready to crash any moment. Recently I received a notice from our friendly taxing authority nicely requesting a tax return. Their request, nice as it was, included a deadline. I did all I could to meet the deadline, but I couldn’t reach our tax preparer to see if she had completed the return. I phoned. I faxed. I used snail mail. I emailed. Silence. The deadline date was quickly approaching and my grip on the limb was getting weak.

In addition to a tax deadline, we had plane tickets to go visit family and so it became even more important to get the return taken care of. I was losing sleep, worried about what would happen if we didn’t get the return filed ~ certainly there would be penalties. Would they also garnish our bank accounts? I spent a lot of time thinking about the problem, wondering if everything was okay with our tax preparer. What would we do if she were unable to prepare the return? Who could we trust to do it for us?

Finally the day had come ~ the next morning we would be flying out of town for over ten days, well past the deadline for our return to be filed and we still hadn’t heard a word from our tax preparer. I felt certain that the chance of getting another extension from the state was slim, but I didn’t have any choice but to try. With a knot in my stomach, I made the call.

Your call will be answered In approximately 17 minutes. If you would like to have a representative call you back, please leave your name and telephone number, the recorded message stated.

No, I thought, I better just wait and talk to a human being, no matter how long it takes.

Within a couple of minutes a pleasant sounding man answered the phone.

“Let’s see what we can do here,” he was so upbeat. I was so nervous. I rambled on about how I hadn’t heard from our preparer, how we were heading out of town to visit my mother-in-law who was celebrating her 86th birthday, how worried I was about getting this straightened out.

“Well,” he said, “no need to worry. Here, how about we give you a two month extension. That should give you enough time to get it in, don’t you think?” I was speechless! Two months was a gift of time I never expected!

“Now go on your trip and don’t worry.” I just couldn’t believe my ears. Then I decided to try calling our tax preparer one more time. Two rings and she answered the phone! Within an hour she emailed over a copy of our return for us to review on our trip.

Because of my limited view of the world, my perspective on the situation was narrow, negative and not right. I worried and wasted mental time and energy for nothing. It didn’t feel like nothing, it felt like I was barely hanging on a limb that hung high over the ground ready to crash any moment. But in reality, my limb was buoyed on water, gently being held afloat by the One who promises to meet my needs. You see, God’s perspective isn’t mine. When I have done all that I can do in a situation, and my perspective is limited, I need to trust the One who sees it all. Oh, and the turtle? He, too, was resting on a limb that was buoyed by water, but unlike me, he knew he was safe and so he didn’t have a care in the world.

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? Luke 12:25-26
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All Aboard

Are You On Board?

Are You On Board?

The sun was shining and a light breeze blew back my hair. It felt great! I looked at the train tracks in front of me and felt grateful for the calm I felt inside. It wouldn’t be long before I would be clackety clack riding the train to my destination, something that my anxious thoughts kept me from enjoying the week before. It’s amazing what a week of adequate rest and sufficient quiet time can do for the soul!

As I waited for the train, a young man sat down on the bench next to me. He immediately engaged me in conversation and before long asked me what I had been reading; that’s when the conversation took an interesting turn.

“The Bible,” I said, “well, it’s really the Bible written in story format.”

“That’s probably good because no one can sit and just read through the Bible the way you could a novel,” he said. I could tell by his demeanor that we might have a differing philosophical view of the book. His next comment confirmed my suspicions.

“After all,” he said, “it’s not really…you know…I mean it’s not like…”

“Literal?” I offered.

“Yeah, they are like stories and metaphors and parables.”

“I think it’s literal,” I said. “I mean, sure there are parables and metaphors and stories, but I believe there are literal principles that can be drawn from them. And some parts are just straight literal.”

“But you can’t prove it. It’s just faith.”

“Every world view requires faith, even atheism. But based on the evidence I have seen, my belief in the God of the Bible requires the least amount of faith.”

“I think people should be allowed to believe whatever they want.”

“You know what?” I said. “I do, too. After all, God gives you and me and him and her and that person over there ~ He gives all of us the freedom to choose Him or not. Who am I to argue with God?”

He was an interesting young man, and by interesting I mean he made me a little uncomfortable, and not just because we had differing views on life. I can’t explain it but he just made me uncomfortable; still, I was willing to continue having a conversation while we waited for the train.

As if to catch me off guard, and looking me straight in the eyes, as he had been doing the whole time, he asked, “What do you think love is?”

I paused for a moment, again feeling uncomfortable, when suddenly the epitamy of love came to my mind.

“Jesus,” I said with confidence. His eyebrows raised.

“Jesus is love,” I continued. “He was perfect, never did a thing wrong, and yet he willingly suffered a torturous, humiliating death for people who would reject him and not return his love. That’s real love.”

“Yes, but in the garden he asked God if he really had to do it.”

“But that’s not all he said,” I corrected, “he finished by saying, ‘but not my will be done but YOURS.”

“But he was scared, he didn’t want to do it.”

“No, he didn’t. Don’t forget he was fully human and experienced all our emotions. Wouldn’t you be freaked out? He was so distressed he sweat blood.”

“Well, blood came out of his face,” he now corrected.

“Okay, he had drops of blood on his face. And yet, he still sacrificed himself.”

“You know what I think? I think that there is a universe and it is all around us and it knows everything that happens and what we think and what we do,” he said.

“I do, too, but what you choose to call ‘the universe’ I call God.”

By now the train came and the question shifted to “Is this our train?”

I am not sure if I verbalized my next thought or not before we boarded the train, but I hope I did.

It was, “And one day God will come back to judge us on all those things we did and the thoughts we had.”

I wish I had the chance to ask, “If the universe is keeping tabs on what we all do, then what’s good enough? By whose standards will you judge?” To me, that is a thought provoking question. And the follow up question, then what does the universe do once it has passed judgment?

A day of judgment is coming and the standard for judging isn’t arbitrary, as it is in so many other world views. The standard is perfect holiness. I can hear my young train traveler now, “No one can meet that standard!” He would be right, no one can.

And so we will be judged and we will be found guilty – let’s face it, even if we lowered the standard, how many of us can say we were even as good as we COULD or SHOULD have been? Everyone I know could be better; not even perfect, just better, and we can’t even meet that standard.

There we stand, found guilty, condemned for not meeting the standard. Yet, that is not the end of the story. Because of his great love for us, God made a way, he had a plan for our redemption, a perfect sacrifice who would pay the penalty for our guilt and do the time for us so we could go free. Jesus. Perfect. Perfect love. The Way. The only way. The way to reunite a broken, imperfect human being with a perfect and holy creator.

Oh, yes, friend, I also believe people should have the right to believe what they want – they should have the right to choose. They can choose to pay the penalty for their own imperfection or they can choose to accept the sacrifice Jesus made on their behalf. It’s a choice.

There is a train coming, a train bound for glory – the old African American spiritual called it The Gospel Train. Just like the train I am on now, it also has a destination – heaven. And just like today, for me and for my fellow travelers, a payment will be required to board; but only one form of payment will suffice on that train ~ Jesus. If you don’t have him, you ain’t gettin’ on. And yes, I’m being literal and metaphorical, my train traveling friend.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  John 14:6
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Fearful Thoughts Are A Train Wreck

Walking Through the Fear

Walking Through the Fear ~ A View From the Top

Thoughts. When I looked at the beauty all around me, I shook my head and sighed, thinking about how I might not have made it here to enjoy this part of God’s creation. I hiked up this hill located in a nearby state reserve and looked around in awe, grateful that God had found a way for me to be here. It wasn’t illness or a broken car that almost kept me from coming to the beautiful central coast of California ~ it was, and is, the fearful thoughts that seek to sabotage what God has planned for me.

You see, last week I was out of town, in the Midwest visiting family. It was a long week, and if truth be told, a bit of a stressful week. We arrived home on Sunday and my nerves were shot, my emotional basket drained but I didn’t have time to pause. Instead of unpacking, I began repacking to make the trip to Central California where I was scheduled to speak at three separate luncheons. The week in the San Luis Obispo area had been planned many months before, and when I think about it, was an answer to prayer from God for some quiet time to write and reflect. I was provided a lovely place to stay during the week, a refuge complete with a beautiful garden.

When my father heard that I was heading up here and had a place to stay, he decided to join me for the first few days of my trip. What a wonderful opportunity to spend some time with my Dad! And an added bonus was that I would only need to take the train to his house and he would drive the balance of the three hour trip. I would only need to take the train to his house…

That was the fearful thought that almost ruined it. If you can keep a secret, I will tell you something about myself. Sometimes I suffer from anxiety. Many years ago it was relentless and I was plagued with panic attacks. It hasn’t been that bad in a very long time, but there are times when I still struggle; especially when I am tired and emotionally drained and need to go outside my comfort zone. Like Sunday night.

At 1:30am I woke up. I can’t take the train, I thought. What if I have a panic attack on the train? What about transferring at Union Station? What if it happens there? What if? What if? What if? Until the alarm went off at 6am and it was time to continue packing so I could catch the train in a few hours; a train that my fearful thoughts had convinced me I couldn’t ride.

I ended up not taking the train and I am a little disappointed in myself for not, this time, pushing through the fear. Instead, my sweet husband made arrangements for a friend to drive me to my Dad’s. I’m not proud of this. I wish my story had a really great, dramatic paragraph about how I boarded that train with my luggage in tow and even shared my story of triumph with some other poor soul while we clackety-clack made our way to our destinations. But even so, God is so good and so gracious that He made a way for me to be here, in spite of my fearful thoughts.

I know I made it here on the prayers of friends and family. Their prayers brought me the peace and presence of mind to share my story with a sweet group of ladies at my speaking engagement yesterday; and their prayers will continue to carry me through the rest of the week.

I am feeling more rested, my time here with the Lord is refilling my basket. And that is why this morning I decided to walk up the street and hike up that mountain, in spite of fearful thoughts ~ mountain lions, the boogey man, my own anxiety. It was glorious! When a fearful thought emerged, I replaced it with a thought about the Lord. This thought thing is a process. It will take time and practice ~ and come Saturday I will have an opportunity to put the practice into play since I will be taking the train home. I am already imagining the dramatic and victorious paragraph I will write!

“Do not let your heart faint, do not be afraid, and do not tremble or be terrified because of them;  for the Lord your God is He who goes with you…” Deuteronomy 20:3-4 NKJ
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Attitude Accountability

Got enough snow?

Got enough snow?

Accountability. Why? I asked myself. Why couldn’t I just keep my mouth shut? I tried to justify my response by telling myself the following:

You know she is just so provocative.
You didn’t sleep well last night, or the night before.
If you didn’t have a headache you would have been more patient.

But there is no justification good enough. I just should have pulled out my spiritual duct tape and kept my mouth shut. You see, I was visiting family, people I love, people I want to see and visit and have in my life. People who, I believe, require a little bit of extra grace ~ just like I do sometimes.

After traveling and uneasy sleep and no good quiet time, I just wasn’t able to let the comment slide and I added my two cents. Not once, but twice ~ I don’t know, maybe even three times. Meanwhile, my poor husband is sitting silently between the heated discussion of two women he loves. Needless to say, I felt less than great about myself.

But the situation was a disaster waiting to happen. A California girl, stuck inside for too long because of a snow storm, no real sunshine or fresh air ~ I had reached the limit before I realized it. I didn’t realize that the storm outside was nothing compared to the turmoil inside. I needed to get out ~ in more ways than one.

“I’m going for a walk,” I told my husband. “The fresh air will do me good.” I can’t say he was sorry to see me go, and I don’t blame him. I bundled up as fast as I could and took to the streets. Literally. The sidewalks were buried in snow, so I had to walk in the street. I didn’t care. And I didn’t want to walk too far because, unlike in California where people curb their dogs, in the Midwest dogs are often allowed to run free. I love dogs, but not until we have been formally introduced. So I reduced my walk to the street where we were staying.

Up and down the street I paced, talking to myself as I went. It was a heated, ping pong conversation of “You know you shouldn’t…” with a quick volley back of  “But she said this…or she is so that…”

I thought about my focus word for this week: accountability. I knew that regardless of the situation or the people in the situation, I was accountable for my own attitude. I knew this, but my attitude was still bad. So I kept walking.

There was a boy down the street shoveling snow off his driveway, home from school, no doubt, because of the snow. I must have passed him 20 times. I am sure he was beginning to suspect I was either crazy or a child abductor. I smiled and said “hi” and kept walking. After a while his father came out to help him. I’m not sure if he came out to really help or to be sure I really wasn’t some kind of threat. I’m sure other neighbors wondered about the crazy lady walking up and down the street. I didn’t care. The attitude of anger, bitterness and self-pity had blanketed my heart like the snow and I was determined to walk it off.

I got back to the house, still feeling the remnants of the storm inside me, not ready to go back in. I looked at the driveway covered with snow. It had been a long time since I had shoveled snow, and by long time, I could mean never.

I opened the front door.

“Jeff, when you get a second, can you set out a snow shovel?”

Scoop. Throw. Scoop. Throw. I pushed the shovel into the white snow with a vengeance. I heaved it over my shoulder with purpose, as though each shovelful represented a heap of bad attitude being tossed out. I scraped down to the cement, I shoveled one side to the other, I even shoveled the walkway. I like shoveling snow. The exercise felt great, the act of throwing the snow in a pile felt exhilarating, and when I was done I could see the fruits of my labor. That driveway was cleared of more snow and exposed more cement than any other driveway in the neighborhood. I finally sat down and admired my handiwork. The time had come to go inside.

It still wasn’t easy to keep my attitude in check and my tongue under control, but it was easier. I reminded myself that I was accountable ~ to God, to myself, to my husband ~ for my own attitude and words and I vowed to do better. I vowed to do better; but not on my own, because I know too well that on my own I am really not capable. Just ask my husband. But during my walk and shoveling the Lord reminded me that, with Him, I can do ALL things ~ even change a bad attitude. Thankfully, He also provided an endless supply of snow in case I need some extra help.

 I can do all things through Him who gives me strength. Phillipians 4:13
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