Sunday, February 24, 2013

Retreats and Restoration

(My dear friend, Connie Johnston and I, at a book signing for Stories of Faith and Courage from Prison. Connie contributed several stories and is an Assistant Chaplain at the jail.)  

A few weeks ago I lamented to my friend, Connie, that I felt the need for a little “get away”. It had been too long since I had been on a vacation, and after the intense two years of focusing on the prisoner devotional book my soul longed for a period of restoration.

“Let me see what I can do about that,” Connie responded.

I really didn’t expect anything to transpire outside of maybe getting a few of us together for lunch and laughter. So when I received her email detailing a local overnight getaway at a retreat center for two days and a night, I let out a giggle! It sounded perfect.

Connie had stayed at this place several times and loved it. The accommodations were inexpensive and the chef was highly bragged upon. She suggested packing our Bibles, journals, old magazines and comfy clothes.

There were five of us and we introduced ourselves and shared why we felt the need to get away. After praying for each other Connie distributed a handout to aid in grasping a vision for the New Year. We were encouraged to ponder what God was asking us to do for Him and how He might want to grow us in 2013.

Each of us sought a private area for an hour or so and then came back together and shared. I wish I could say I was enlightened, but quite honestly I was still in a spiritual slump. After lunch, Connie got out the old magazines, scissors, glue, and poster boards.

Hmmm, we’re gonna cut and paste?

I wasn’t sure where she was going with this, or if I even wanted to participate. But, when Connie shared the personal insights she gained from making an annual poster/collage, it piqued my interest. Every year for several years, after seeking the Lord for the upcoming New Year, Connie prayerfully assembles God’s answer by creating a poster of what she senses He has laid on her heart. (She and her husband also make a poster together, encompassing their vision as a couple.) Connie then passed around her posters from previous years and I was enthralled; each year had a different theme.

“So many of these dreams and visions have come to pass,” Connie said. “Many items had been on my ‘Bucket List’, too.” My dear friend’s excitement as she invited us to participate was contagious.

While flipping through magazines for several hours, chatting and laughing at the same time with the girls, I became amazed at how certain words and pictures jumped out at me. A twinge of excitement for the future began stirring inside of my dormant spirit; it was as if I was coming back to life after a long period of hibernation. Adventures, hidden in my heart such as taking a hot air balloon ride, were tacked to my poster. And simple phrases, such as: “You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore,” by Christopher Columbus, were added, too.

Way too soon our little retreat was over. We hugged each other, made our goodbyes, and promised to do this again.

It’s been a few weeks now and I still feel refreshed. My poster hangs invitingly in my office and I smile every time I look at it. I’m excited about the future, and… I’ve already put the retreat on my calendar for next January.

Christ in you brings hope of all the great things to come (Colossians 1:27 NLV).

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Focus on the Good

I am glad the new year begins during winter. Living in the Midwest with our cold, frigid temperatures can make it challenging to stay upbeat and positive; it can be a struggle not to get in a depression and get stuck there. But there is something about the simple act of taking down an expired calendar and replacing it with a fresh new one, that is akin to wiping the slate clean. Just pondering the possibilities of what lies ahead can be exciting. Only God knows what’s around the bend for each of us, and His word tells us it can be full of good things:

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Is 43:18-19 NIV)

I love how these verses start with a command to “forget”. God doesn’t want us to dwell on the past. While He expects us to learn from our mistakes, He doesn’t want us stuck in them. (That includes dwelling on the mistakes made by others.) By the time we get to the end of a year we can feel bogged down by all the negative stuff that has accumulated. However, a New Year can give us a much needed lift, a new outlook with creative fresh ideas.

Actually, if we were to resolve to make just one small change in our thinking this year, it could make a world of difference in our life. For instance, what if we were to focus on the good, asking God for His perspective every time life doesn’t go our way? Instead of getting angry that someone cuts us off in traffic, for example, what if we asked God for His perspective instead? We just might hear God whisper something to us like: maybe they recently found out they have cancer; or, maybe their spouse just informed them they want a divorce; or, maybe their child was just convicted of a crime. These life-changing tragedies happen to people every day, rocking their world and causing them to have a tough time with simple acts like driving.

So, what if for this upcoming year we resolved to simply be more patient and understanding with “the other guy”? How might that one small habit change our life? Personally, I’m choosing that theme for my focus this year. Every year God gives me a theme tucked inside a verse. This year, I’m sensing it should be from Ephesians, Chapter 1, “that the eyes of my heart might be enlightened”, so that I can focus on the good.

That’s not to say I will ignore those things that need dealt with, but that I want to choose to see situations through the eyes of my heart. I want to simply pause and ask myself what the other guy might be going through.

What peace might be ours if we were to allow our hearts to be governed by the “Prince of peace” this year?

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe (Ephesians 1:18-19).

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Learning to Laugh at the Days to Come

Every winter I feel it coming on. As soon as the first threats of a winter storm are announced by the media, I tense up. My heart starts beating a little faster and I can feel the blood coursing thru my veins. Momentarily paralyzed, I catch myself holding my breath as a slight twinge of fear attempts to overtake me.

Ugh… winter. It’s definitely for kids.

(Pic is of my son, Chase, and daughter-in-law, Elizabeth, when they were dating in 2003. Our 160 year old farmhouse is in the background.)

I know the weathermen need to prepare us, but the sense of urgency in their voice and the constant repetition of each impending snowstorm doesn’t help calm me down, rather it gets me down. While I do appreciate their informative reminders of how to drive in the snow (along with the importance of having a full tank of gas in the winter), their warnings sometimes make me not want to leave my house at all—for days.

Also, in the winter we hear more doom and gloom about the previous year’s statistics and the poor economy. This includes everything from the rise and fall of gas prices, to the cost of bacon going down and the price of milk going up. And our taxes need computed in the winter, too, which can be depressing. The bottom line is—there is always something to get in a tizzy over. There is always something to fuss and worry about. You would think, however, the older we get the more we’d realize: Most of what we dread never happens.

How much time and energy do we waste worrying about things that never transpire? How often do we let the enemy steal our peace and joy, over…what?

So for this year I want to set some different goals. Besides my ongoing aspirations of getting healthier and more organized, I want to learn to fear less and laugh more. Like the Proverbs 31 woman, who “is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come,” I want to aspire to be more like that. This means I need to be prepared physically and mentally. When we are properly equipped it makes us stronger and more able to face adversity. Part of being physically fit is so that we can perform the duties God has assigned to us. And dignity means knowing who we are in Christ—living our life on purpose, with intent and integrity to glorify our King.

Yes, it is wise to be prepared. Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest (Proverbs 6:6-8). However, don’t let yourself get bogged down by the threat of possible doom. Instead, keep first and foremost in the front of your mind whose you are. Then you will know…The joy of the Lord is our strength, (Nehemiah 8:10).

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