discipline

One thing that people frequently tell me is that they don’t know how I do it all.   For those of you who read this blog you know that I don’t particularly feel that accomplished any given day… but the fact remains that I do manage to hold down a full time job, feed and care for two tiny humans, and in general have friends, family, and meaningful relationships in my life.  And yes, that means that on any given day, I am getting a lot done!

Over the next few blogs, I am going to share a few ‘rules of life’ that I have found to be helpful in my daily life.  All three fall under one big umbrella: discipline.  Living a disciplined life isn’t something that Americans find particularly appealing.  We live in a binge and quit culture.  If we can’t read an entire book in a sitting, we put it down and never take it back up.  If we don’t master a new hobby or skill set in a quick amount of time, we throw up our hands in disgust.  If we don’t lose 5 pounds the first week of a new diet, we give up and dive headfirst into the nearest tub of ice cream.  I know- I do it too.

But I have found that, for me at least, the only way to truly grow as a person- or at this stage in my life, the only way to really get anything at all done (!)- is to have discipline in my approach.  To plan ahead, to make a goal, and then to chip away at that goal, one tiny bite at a time.

As Christians, discipline should be something that awakens a holy desire in us.  In fact, are Christ’s followers not called disciples?  Inherent in the title alone is the practice of daily devotion.  There was a time in my life when I was able to set crazy, ambitious goals, and then just do them.  To run half marathons.  To take up new hobbies.  To read 100 books in a year.  Those days came crashing to a halt the day my first child was born.  For a while, accepting this was really hard.  I didn’t realize how much of my identity was wrapped up in being a do-er.  A reader.  An artist.  A person who did fun things and had adventures.

To be fair, I still do all these things.  On a less grand scale.  With much planning.  And I still love doing them.  But there is less applause involved.  And part of my process of growing is realizing that this is ok.  Do I run so that I can casually wear the race t-shirt at social gatherings or drop stories about my latest training program?  Or do I run because I love being outside?  Because I realize that excersize is a vital part of my own self-care?  Because it feeds my soul?  Losing some of the external applause, while humbling, also sharpens my ears to the song my own soul sings when I do things just for the joy of doing them.

Yet running, just like reading God’s word or painting a canvas, isn’t always the thing that I want to do at any given moment.  How does one engage in doing things when we don’t feel like doing them?  Discipline.

pathI am a goal setter.  But I also recognize that setting achievable goals is an important practice.  10,000 steps per day.  One chapter of this book each night.  Paying attention to the food that goes into my mouth. The book takes longer to read.  The weight takes longer to melt away.. but it happens.

Once you start achieving your small goals, it is kind of amazing how fast those small goals add up to big ones.  1 book finished becomes 10, then 30.  A few ounces lost adds up to pounds.  A few rows of knitting turns into a baby blanket.  Slowly, one day at a time, you are reminded that you are a person that CAN do things, even if it takes longer.  But, paradoxically, these things become more precious for the effort that went into them…

Lean not on your own understanding.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
Proverbs 3:5

pathI love this verse.  The words to Proverbs 3:5-6 are the lyrics to the song that I sing both my children each night before bed.  My son came home from school last week and this was his ‘scripture’ for the week.  To hear his precious, 3 year old voice reciting these precious words meant the world to me.  Of the lessons I hope they learn from their mother, I hope these words rank high on the list.

So I was surprised to discover today that I have not been living as if I believe them.

I was watching this video today, as part of my Lenten devotionals.  The monk who is speaking tells of the lesson he learns from his dog- who greets each morning by springing out of bed with an exuberant yip.  This dog’s delight to face the day points to two things- first, an admirable lack of caffeine dependence, and second (and more importantly), an inherent trust in the faithfulness of God.  In order to take joy and delight in what our day holds, we must trust that the One crafting the day has our good in mind.  When we know this deep in our souls, we are able to engage our lives with a sense of lightness and whimsy.

How do you get out of bed in the morning?

I know I don’t spring out of bed.  When facing the day of late, my attitude has ranged from somber to resigned.  I look at the future with a sense of anxiousness, not adventure.  When did this happen to me?  I know the One who holds my future.  I believe his promise to work things for my good!  I delight in my work, my children, my friends… so why the sense of resignation?  When did my actions and attitudes begin to belie my belief?

And how to change it?

Resolution #1- Seek delight.
Daffodils.  Curly toddler hair.  trail mix.  thomas the train.   All wonderful, beautiful elements of my day so far.  Did I take the time to delight in them?  No.  I walked past, fixated on the next task in front of me.  Going forward, I hope to acknowledge these small gifts, allow them to bring to light the blessings and love in my life.

Resolution #2- View the future in light of the past.
I am amazingly blessed.  God has been so faithful to me.  Even when things logically should NOT work out- budgets shouldn’t balance, children should have been injured- I have been amazingly, miraculously blessed.  God is good.  All the time.  Why is this not my operating premise?  From here on out, or at least, starting today, starting right now, I am walking in trust.  God will provide.  God is good. He is the bringer of daily bread, and the one who directs my paths.

How are you neglecting to walk in trust? How are you leaning on  your own understanding?  In what ways is God calling you to walk in trust, to embrace delight, today?

Son of Encouragement

I talked in the last post about how the Holy Spirit is our Paraclete, our encourager, advocate, comforter.  As I continued my search through scripture on that word, I realized that it was used in another key passage in scripture…

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”)…
Acts 4:36

Barnabas, the son of encouragement.  The word encouragement here is parakletos, a derivative of Paraclete.  Here is a person, an early church father, nicknamed the Encourager.  Called by the same terms as the Holy Spirit.

Finding this made me think.  What is our role as believers when it comes to encouragement?  We humans are created with an insatiable thirst for encouragement.  We have an indwelling God who is our full time encouraging, and yet we still hunger for affirmation.  How do we as brothers and sisters in Christ, live into this space?

Something started pinging in the back of my brain… Romans 12, one of my favorite passages…

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging.

Encouragement is a spiritual gift.  Something God values enough to list in one of the three main spiritual gifts passages in the New Testament.  This is clearly something important to Him, something He desires to see happening in his kingdom?

So why don’t we experience this more?  Why does the modern church have a reputation for being judgmental and harsh, not a place of encouragement and solace?  Where are the sermons preached, the classes taught on how to encourage others?

And, if we Christians have an indwelling Paraclete, why aren’t we using that gift of encouragement for those who do not; unbelievers who are so very thirsty for words of truth and affirmation?

I don’t know.  But this I do know.  When I take time to intentionally affirm others, I am encouraged in the process.  When parents take time to formally bless their children, those children begin to view their lives as a legacy ad not just a passing of time.  Encouragement matters.  It is powerful in a way that defies logic.

And I, for one, am going to try to intentionally engage in acts of radical encouragement.  When my life is over, may I be called a Daughter of Encouragement.   Care to join me?

Paraclete

I don’t know about you all, but I have a powerful need for encouragement.  Perhaps it’s because success at my job isn’t easily measurable.  Perhaps it’s because my love language is words of encouragement.  Perhaps its because I am simply human.  All I know is that I need to hear that I am loved, that I am valued, and that I am doing well on a regular basis.

Which is unfortunate.

Because this world isn’t exactly engineered to do that.  We live in a society of cynics.  People who employ sarcasm as a weapon.  These days, we are all critics.  Voicing our opinions on Facebook, on yelp reviews, in countless ways.  When I read my book, my default mode is to examine what I didn’t like about it, instead of what I did. The same goes for restaurants, TV shows, etc.  Will I notice when it begins to creep into the way I view my life?  My faith?  My children?

Here is the truth.  I do not know a single human being in my circle who is not in desperate need of affirmation.  Whether we realize it or not, our souls yearn to be blessed.  We all need to be told that we are seen.  That we are loved.  That we are important.  And it doesn’t take much to do that.  But here is the problem… in order to truly be able to bless others, we must know what it is to be blessed.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.
John 14:16-17

According to GotQuestions.org, “The Greek word translated “Comforter” or “Counselor” (as found in John 14:16, 26;15:26; and 16:7) is parakletos. This form of the word is unquestionably passive and properly means “one called to the side of another,” with the secondary notion of counseling or supporting him. This Counselor, or Paraclete, is God the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity. He is a personal being who indwells every believer.”  In other words, we have a full time encourager, who lives with us and constantly is whispering words of truth and affirmation into our lives.

How do we attune our ears to hear the Holy Spirit?  I believe the easiest first step is learning what is NOT his voice…

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
John 10:10

If you are hearing a message that makes you feel less:  less loved, less free, less beautiful or wonderful, I am willing to bet it is not the voice of God.  When we encounter God, we always want to be higher.  Even when we feel convicted, it is a conviction out of a need to be closer to God, not a feeling of condemnation or shame.

Who are you to God?  The Bible is full of answers.

You are:
Dearly Loved
Bought with a Price
Redeemed
Forgiven
Perfect
Whole
Created to be You on Purpose
There is a Plan for your life
It is a Good one
You are a Bride
You are Beautiful
You are Unique
You are Seen
You are Known
You are Not Alone
A Son or a Daughter
A Brother or a Sister
Restored
Important.

Take some time today and read over the list.  Reflect upon something that sticks out to you.  (Or add something to my list!) Realize that this is the TRUTH about you.  Hold it in your mind as you go about your day.

You.
Are.
Loved.