Monday, July 19, 2010

New Beginnings

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.” – Seneca

Life is about endings and new beginnings, but I don’t always like it. Sure, some endings are necessary. You have to leave high school to get to college. You have to leave college to get a job. You may join the military, get married, move to another city, or start a new business. Things end and new things begin. I get it.

But the hard thing is when endings happen that you didn’t choose. You didn’t want it, and you sure don’t like it.

It could be disappointing—not a big deal, but something that annoys you—like being late for a meeting because of road construction, or finding out that the guy you met over the 4th of July forgot to tell you he has a girlfriend.

Or it could be big-time discouraging, like an unexpected bankruptcy or a miscarriage. Maybe you’ve had a messy relationship breakup, a death in the family, or a divorce. Or, your job suddenly ended because the economy tanked. Could it be that you’ve lost money in the stock market and your 401k now feels more like a 201k?

Whatever it is, you can choose how you deal with endings. I’ve heard that Chuck Swindoll says, “It’s not always what happens to you, it’s how you respond to it that makes a difference.”

You can choose to ignore your pain, numb out, or do nothing. Or, in the midst of your pain and darkness, you can look to the light of God’s truth for hope, healing and wholeness. Either way, it’s your choice. How you handle endings, or don’t, will determine how you move forward.

What will you choose?

To take things into your own hands,
or wait on God for His way, His will, and His timing?

To lean on what you can grasp with your human mind,
or believe that God really does know what He’s doing, even when you do not?

To believe the lies that say, “My life is over. It’s too late for me.
I’m too old, too broke, too far gone, too _____ (fill in the blank)”
or reject the lies and have hope?

Hope, that maybe one day things really could be different.

Hope, that the One who knows and loves you most could already be at work with good plans specifically for you, “plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jer. 29:11)

Whether you chose your ending, or it chose you, a new beginning is possible.

Consider the acorn—the little cup-shaped thing with a hat that falls from an oak tree. From one small seed grows an amazingly tall and strong tree. Beauty and purpose (like shade and wind protection) spring up from this small, hard piece of potential.

Your new beginning is like an acorn, it’s filled with possibilities. Dreams surrendered to God, like an acorn planted in the soil, will grow. Held solely in your hand nothing happens. Nothing.

As you surrender and release your desires and dreams to God, He grows in your life new things…new opportunities…a new life.

Small beginnings, big results.

It’s time to begin again.

Photo credit: Dave Frahm

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Finding Comfort When Life Hurts

When life hurts, what do you do for comfort?

Most people don’t like a heart vacancy or a blank calendar, so they seek to fill the void with excessive eating, drinking, partying, or jumping too quickly into another relationship just to ease the pain. We are quick to want to cram the heart holes with what we think will satisfy.

But these unhealthy ways of coping are false comforters that promise relief from pain yet turn out to be harmful, unhealthy or temporary. And the vacuum remains.

When the intensity of an empty heart comes over you, everything in you just wants to feel better. You need consolation and reassurance that your feelings are valid, and that one day it really will be okay. How will you find comfort? What brings you relief and reassurance?

Here are some helpful ideas to help you get the support you need:

Let yourself cry. Tears bring cleansing and comfort. Author and speaker Jill Briscoe once said that “God gives us enough tears to keep our clay moist so He can mold us.” We are the clay, He is the potter, and God is reshaping your life for good and holy purposes.

Find true comfort. When false comforters leave you emotionally and physically stranded, it’s time to say goodbye to imitations and hello to the real thing: the true comfort found in “the God all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4). His love, His presence, and His word are healing gifts.

Talk to God. Prayer is a vital key in your healing process. Why not start each day with prayer for wisdom, guidance, and favor and end each day with a prayer of thanks and gratitude for all He’s done for you that day (whether you enjoyed it or endured it)?

Release and receive. Picture yourself standing before the Lord with open hands, palms faced up. Ask God to help you to be okay with empty spaces in your life right now, and trust Him to fill your open hands with good things.

Worship also brings healing and comfort. In worship, you’re not just singing songs. You’re focusing on God, not yourself. You are entering into His presence with a heart to give—communicating your love, gratitude and adoration—but you also end up receiving hope, healing, joy and a fresh encounter with God.

Talk with trusted friends or family members. Albert Schweitzer once said, “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” Telling your story can help to ease your heart’s pain and bring emotional healing. When someone listens we feel validated. When someone empathizes we feel comfort and relief.

Write in a journal or notebook. Writing your thoughts and prayers in a journal can be helpful and healing. When your feelings appear on a page (or even typed online) they are no longer swirling inside your head. You can vent your emotions, release your pain, and do so in the privacy of your personal journal. You may even want to ask God, “What do you want me to learn from this?” And write the life lessons you learn.

Nurture your spirit. When your heart is hurting it’s helpful to take care of yourself and remember what makes you feel good. What would best nurture your soul, mind and body right now? Comfort comes in a variety of ways and uses some or all of our five senses, like:

the touch of a friend’s hug, a therapeutic massage, or a warm comforter around you as you rest in an overstuffed chair by a roaring fire;

the sight of the stunning beauty of God’s creation (on vacation or right in your own backyard), or a redecorated apartment;

the smell fresh cut flowers filling your living room, or a new perfume;

the taste of your favorite comfort foods (like creamy mashed potatoes or a hot caramel latte);

the sound of relaxing music, the melody of a flowing river on a nature walk, or a phone call from a kind friend who is really good at cheering you up.

May your unfailing love be my comfort…
Psalm 119:76

Monday, July 12, 2010

Friendship --One of Life's Greatest Blessings

Thinking about friendship, and what a wonderful gift it is. Here are some though-provoking quotes on friendship:

Friendship doubles our joy and divides our grief. (Swedish proverb)

Books, like friends, should be few and well chosen. (Samuel Paterson)

A friend is someone who reaches out for your hand...and touches your heart. (Anonymous)

A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg even though he knows that you are slightly cracked. (Bernard Meltzer)

There comes that mysterious meeting in life when someone acknowledges who we are and what we can be, igniting the circuits of our highest potential. (Rusty Berkus)

Remember, the greatest gift is not found in a store nor under a tree, but in the hearts of true friends. (Cindy Lew)

Some people come into our lives, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same. (Anonymous)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Learning to Wait Well - Part 2

The art of waiting well begins as you learn how to live as you wait.

As you wait, prepare. Sometimes we need to develop more of our inner life so we are ready for the next season God has for us. We spend an amazing amount of time on the outside of our bodies with clothes, hair and makeup, but we also need to grow on the inside.

Preparation to grow up on the inside begins as we first “grow down,” much like the like the roots of a bamboo tree. For the first six years, an extensive root system is developed under the earth. If you stood there and looked at where the bamboo tree was plated you’d think nothing was happening. Finally, in the seventh year, the bamboo plant shoots up 80 feet tall! But only with such a widespread root system could the tree have the support need for such explosive growth. Although it seemed like nothing was happening, God was at work preparing for growth.

As you wait, pray.
You can never go wrong when you put God first. Waiting is a time of realignment; to get first things first and line up your heart with God again. You may think you are too busy and don’t have time to pray. But think of it not as spending time in prayer, but investing time in prayer. Just as you invest your financial resources to get a return, you invest time in prayer and the return is greater than anything you could imagine. Answered prayer, yes, but more importantly a closer, enjoyable relationship with God.

As you wait, have patience. How do we endure delay when we don’t know how long it will take to get to our destination or even how to get there? Life often has unexpected twists and turns, and we need patience—persistence and staying power. Thankfully, God gives us guidance to stay on the right track. Our job is to listen and obey Him.

On the western shore of Lake Michigan, along the Wisconsin coastline, is Harrington Beach. One sunny Saturday I decided to drive there which, according to the map, should take less than two hours from my home in Milwaukee. As I drove along, I could finally see the lake on my right and thought I’d be there shortly. But suddenly the highway turned inland and soon I was driving past farmland and bright red barns. It didn’t seem like I was going the right direction since my car was headed farther away from the lake. This can’t possible be the way. I want to go to the beach, yet I’m driving inland past farms!

I stopped at a gas station and asked the attendant if this was the right way to get to the beach, and he assured me it was. While the road had twists and bends, it would eventually lead to my destination. Hmmm. I guess I just needed to follow his directions and wait for the right exit. I pressed on.

Finally, there was a sign that pointed to the correct road to lead me to the beach. I parked my car, and walked through a short wooded path, and down a few wooden stairs. As I descended, I looked up and saw most amazing expanse of sand and water I’d ever seen at a Midwestern beach. To my right and left, miles of sand beckoned me to walk. The waves crashed on the shore, sea gulls cawed, and a gentle breeze blew off the lake and cooled me.

God knew the entire time I’d get to that the beach, even as I drove on winding roads that seemed to be going in the opposite direction. He knew the way; I did not. And I learned a big lesson in trust and patience that day. Waiting means that we trust God is leading us, guiding and directing, enduring delay even when the journey doesn’t look how we think it should.

-- from “When Love Ends and the Ice Cream Carton Is Empty,” by Jackie M. Johnson. (Moody Publishing, 2010)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Learning to Wait Well - Part 1

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. Psalm 130:5

Much of life seems to have a time lag—we expect things to happen in the amount of time we think it should take. Single people wonder when Mr. or Miss Wonderful will appear. People who are married often wonder when they’ll have kids, or when the kids will grow up. We hunger for the day we’ll get a better paying job, or finally use our talents in work or ministry. We long to lose weight, change a bad habit, or finally take that dream vacation—and we want it to happen right away. Whether it’s for a delayed flight, or for cookies to bake, we wait.

We don’t like waiting. When things seem to take too long for our own liking, instant gratification replaces waiting, and we may take matters into our own hands. We try to make something happen because it’s often hard to accept delay. Maybe you’re afraid you’re missing out on something. Perhaps you’re tired of the lingering heartache and you think getting into another relationship right away will fill the void. You don’t know what to do with the spaces in life.

So we wait for guidance, direction, and for answers—or we don’t—and pay the consequences.

For instance, if you drive through a red stoplight, another car could careen through the intersection and hit you, harming you and wrecking your car. Or, if you start another romantic relationship without waiting on God’s timing, you’d carry the unhealed pain with you and you won’t be able to give and receive love in the most stable or emotionally healthy way possible. You may end up driving the other person away or crashing the next relationship because you are simply not ready. There are consequences of not waiting on God.

God has good reasons for delays. We may not always understand what He is doing and why, but God wants us to obey his commands—not because He is a tough taskmaster, but to protect us and guide us. In learning obedience, we also learn wisdom.

Like the wisdom of keeping your hands off the cocoon of an emerging butterfly. While you may want to help, it is not wise to pry it open for the little creature. He needs to build strength as he exits his temporary shelter or he will die. Know when to keep your hands off and trust God’s ways and timing for things to unfold.

How to wait well
God doesn’t seem to be in a hurry because He is not on our timetable, we are on His. In addition, we tend to be more focused on the results, than the process of getting there.

The truth is God is God, and we will never fully know His reasons. But we can take comfort in the fact that He is good, loving and faithful—and he is always at work, even in the dark, putting together the pieces of our lives for His good purposes.

During seasons of waiting in our lives we learn that:

Waiting is active. Waiting is more than just passing time; and it is not doing nothing. The work of waiting is believing God. Not just believing in God, but believing Him. It’s trusting and having faith that the One who delights us in giving will provide what is best for each of us.

We wait on God, not man. God had good purposes, so your waiting is not in vain. You don’t have to be afraid that God will forget. He knows your heart; He knows you want love, affection and attention. You can be confident and stand strong when it’s Him upon whom you wait. "My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be shaken." (Psalm 62:5-6)

Waiting draws us closer to God. Enduring delay builds intimacy and a closer relationship with Him. Jerome Daley in When God Waits says, “God’s greatest purpose in seasons of waiting is to draw you close to himself, to reveal the depth of his commitment to you, and to equip you for your destiny.”

Waiting is for a purpose. God uses the seemingly dead times in our lives to heal, replenish and prepare our hearts for the next season in our lives. Think of your heart as a fallow field. Like the farmer who leaves his land crop-free for a season, your heart may feel barren or blank, but it’s only for a time. Leaving the land empty replenishes the soil and replaces the nutrients so a better, healthier crop grows the next time. In the same way, your “in the meantime” can be a time to heal and replenish your own heart land and, in time, gather a better and healthier yield in how you handle relationships—and life.

God keeps perfect time. Things unfold “in the fullness of time,” when He is ready, when circumstances are ready, or when we are ready. You can’t tell a newborn baby to run a marathon and then be disappointed when he does not. It’s not time yet. He has to grow up first, and gain strength and muscle. You can’t order a closed rosebud to “open up now!” It simply will not happen. In time the graceful flower unfolds.

Waiting is a time of healing, transformation and preparation. You do your part and God does His part. The art of waiting well begins as you learn how to live as you wait.