Spiritual Journeys

Tools for Godly Living/Alyce-Kay are considering offering some courses in Christian topics and we would like to know what subjects would most interest people.  Here are some of the details (and see Q&A/update after the survey at the end):

  • You would not go anywhere for these.
  • The classes would meet as a teleconference call every two weeks.  If you can’t make the call, it would be recorded for you to listen to later (you’d just miss out on participating in the discussion).
  • There would be daily or weekly Bible study assignments and application projects which you would print from online (you would choose your level of difficulty by how much time you want to put into it).
  • There would be a dedicated Facebook page for further discussion, questions, and sharing.
  • Each class would be 90 days long.
  • They would be appropriate for high school through adults, as well as some junior highers.
  • These could also be used by groups; for example, church groups, Sunday School classes, home Bible study groups, families, and homeschoolers.  (If you’re a group, we can talk about how this can best be used by your specific group.  If you homeschool, we can help you determine which  school subjects these could apply to.)
  • If you’ve ever taken any of Alyce-Kay’s SoD (School of Discipleship) classes, these would be something like those.

Note that Tools for Godly Living courses are always biblically based, strong on helping you discover for yourself what God’s Word says.  They are meant for study, not for just sitting back and listening.  My personal commitment is always to bring you to a closer relationship with God and a stronger commitment to Him.

My background is a BA from Westmont College in Religious Studies (emphasis in theology and Greek).  I’ve taught Bible classes for all ages most of my life and have written my own curriculum for almost all of them, as well as curriculum for individual home Bible study and homeschoolers.  My doctrine & apologetics course for children was approved by pastors from 17 denominations, and I generally try to stick to what is appropriate for all denominations in most of my teaching.  (In other words, I try to stay focused on essentials.)

I want these courses to be accessible to anyone,  so there would not be a set charge.  You are completely welcome to take them free of charge.  If the Lord puts it on your heart to pay any amount for them, it would definitely help and would make it more possible for me to continue offering these courses in the future.

If you think you might be interested (no obligation), I’d like to know what kinds of topics interest people the most.  Please note that there are actually 2 surveys below.  You may vote for as many of the following as you find interesting.   You may also add other choices.  If you don’t find enough room in the survey,  feel free to add your suggestions in the comments area (scroll all the way to the bottom of the page).

Please  share this with your friends, church, Bible study group, homeschool group, on Facebook, etc.  Thanks so much for your help!

You are not required to fill out the contact info in order to vote, but please do fill it out, if you’d like us to let you know when we offer these classes.

Since posting this, I’ve received a few really good questions, so I thought I would share them here.

Q:  Would people outside the USA be able to join these classes?

A:  Yes!  The only thing is that it would be an international call to be on the teleseminars (including listening to the recording of the calls).  I’m sure there must be a way, since we would be recording them, to put them on mP3 or some other format that could be listened to online or downloaded, so that you wouldn’t have to make an international call.  If someone overseas is interested, then I will check around and find out how to do this.  I’ve been on teleconferences (seminars held on a conference call) with people from all over, and it is incredibly effective.  You can just sit in your own home and participate — or get together with a group of friends so you can participate together.  I really love this format!

Q:  Will you (Alyce-Kay) be teaching the classes?

A:  Yes! You know I LOVE to teach.  🙂

Q:  Will there be a charge for the classes?

A:  It will be up to each person whether or not they pay or how much. I want people to be able to do it, even if they can’t afford it, so I don’t want to charge a set amount. As a single mom barely getting by, I know how that is. Also, there are some people who wouldn’t pay, but would benefit from it, so I don’t want to hinder them either. If God puts it on anyone’s heart to pay, it would help me, obviously, to pay bills, etc, and I will be putting a lot of work into it.  It would also make it easier for me to offer more classes, as those who pay would help free me up from having to put overtime in at work to pay the bills.  Bottom line, I don’t want anyone to not do it because they can’t pay or don’t want to pay. It will be between each person and God. If you benefit from the classes and don’t pay anything, that’s perfectly okay!

 

Update:  The first class offered will be on Building Your Faith.  It will be taught at 3 levels (you will choose, depending on how much work you want to do/have time to do).    I’m working on writing the course and the workbook materials at this time, and will announce it here and on facebook when I’m ready to take registrations.  If you want to be notified by email, please let me know at Alyce-Kay@LifeCoachAlyceKay.com  I’ve had a number of requests for an actual bound workbook, so the workbook materials will be available for purchase as a bound workbook, or to download and print yourself for free.

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Worry. It’s the New Black

My Dad likes to say that he’s proven that worry works:  99% of the things he worries about never happen!  He’s being facetious, of course, and his point is that most of the things we worry about never would happen.  Which is true.  Worry is pointless.  Beyond that, God tells us not to worry.  But here’s where I stumble:  Many of the things I worry about really do have the potential of happening.

There’s so much to worry about in our world today.  You don’t need me to name the possibilities, and I won’t, just in case there’s something to worry about that you haven’t thought of yet.  🙂   Let me just say, I’m a skillful worrier — Olympic quality.  And public anxiety has become fashionable.  It’s the new black.

I have a friend in India who’s an evangelist.  He shares the gospel with Hindus.  It’s hard.  Sometimes, it’s frightening.  He and his family (wife and 3 adorable little girls) had to leave their home region because of persecution.  Now, he’s suffering in other ways.  Recently, he was threatened with eviction because they couldn’t pay the rent.  (His landlord has since shown him mercy and allowed him more time to get the rent.)  His little girls cried themselves to sleep the other night, because there was no food.

We talk nearly every day, and he has been distressed this week.  I’ve not known what to say.  Oh, I know all the verses and platitudes … but I also know how I feel when someone says things like that to me when I’m distressed.  It doesn’t cure my anxiety.  It just tells me to make a note not to share my fears with that person in the future.  (I know that’s not the “godly” response, but it’s true.) When God brings Scriptures to mind that I’ve memorized, it helps me.  But when other people say, “Don’t worry, blah, blah, blah,” all I feel is condemnation.  I’m not saying that’s a commendable response, just being transparent here.

I prayed for him while we talked, but I didn’t know what to say.  I wanted to offer him some kind of help, but I don’t have money to offer, so I kept my mouth shut.  The thought that kept coming to mind was where Peter said to the lame man, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I Thee.”  (Yes, I sometimes think in King James, lol.)  I kept asking God, “But what do I have that I can give him?  What is the ‘such that I have?’ ”

Then, the dreaded thing happened.  My friend asked me for help.

But do you know what he asked for?  He asked me to tell him stories of how God has provided for me and my family.  Well, that really is a “such as I have” because I have loads of stories to tell!  He listened intently, and his comments after each story were things like, “God is really good.”  “This is strengthening my faith.”  “Now, I know God will provide for us!”  “God will take care of us, even if it’s not the way we expect.”

I learned two really big things from this.

1.  We NEED to share with each other, over and over, the stories of how God has worked in our lives.  It’s necessary for our own faith and that of others.  (More on this another time.)

2.  The magnitude of the stories isn’t what matters.  I have never, ever come close to suffering what my friend has suffered and is suffering.  I would not have thought that my stories of what God has done for me and my family could possibly be an encouragement to him.  But reminding ourselves and each other of what God has done (and therefore, what He CAN do) is like making deposits in our faith bank … it all adds up.

Here are a couple of my stories.  I’ll share more in the future.

Once, when we didn’t have much food, my girls and I prayed together and asked God to provide.  God had shown me early on that I needed to include my kids in my praying and not hide from them what our circumstances were, because they needed to see the answers, in order to build their faith.  So we prayed.  Our doorbell rang.  It was a friend I hadn’t seen in a couple years … with a box of food.  She said that God had told her to bring it over.  I remember there was bread and cheese, and I forget what else.  There was also a pie.  My girls (Jon wasn’t born yet) crowded behind me and when I closed the door, Lois, who was probably about 7 or so, said in wonder, “Mama, God didn’t just provide what we needed!  He provided what we wanted, too!”

Another time, I prayed, “Lord, my kids are growing and I don’t have money to buy them clothes.  I would be happy to sew their clothes, but I can’t even afford fabric.”  Another knock at the door.  A friend of mine who sews a lot said that God had told her to clean out her sewing room.  She brought over bags of fabric and wanted to know if I could use them.  🙂  They were fabrics in my kids’ favorite colors.  There were patterns — also in their sizes.  This is my favorite part:  There were some patterns pinned to fabric that had already been cut out.  (Cutting the fabric is the only part of sewing I really don’t enjoy.)

When I needed to find a home for myself and my two remaining children a year ago, I was looking at run down, little apartments that were barely within my means if I worked a lot of overtime.  It was depressing.  One day, God told me to drive around Lake Como.  Lake Como is one of my favorite areas in the Twin Cities, because I love the conservatory during the winter.  The whole time, I kept saying something that has refreshed my faith over and over.  I think I heard it from Joyce Meyers:  “Lord, You know what I need and You know how to get it to me.”  I didn’t get the sense that God was necessarily going to give us a place in that area, but simply that He wanted me to set my sights beyond the run down apartments.  A week or two later, I was offered a cute Victorian for less than the apartments.  The outside is somewhat run down, but the owners plan to work on it in the future, and to be honest, the outside doesn’t matter to me.  The inside is GORGEOUS.  And spacious.  The perfect combination of new plumbing and appliances with the old, original woodwork, doorknobs and hinges.  It is beyond what I could have imagined.  Beyond what I believed I deserved.  (Sometimes, I forget I’m a princess.)

I would like to ask you to do 2 things:

1.  Could you please pray for my friend and his family?  I don’t want to share his name publicly, as I don’t know if it would cause him trouble, but God will know exactly who you’re praying for.  Pray for God to provide for them and protect them.  But more than that, pray that God will strengthen their faith.  Pray that their landlord will be blessed because of his mercy.

2.  What are some of your stories about how God has taken care of you?  I would love it if you share them below in the comments.  We need to be strengthening each others’ faith.

A Bigger, Better Tent

Isaiah 54 was a passage God put on my heart when I was going through an extremely difficult time as a single woman.  A single mom, to be exact.  I was having a hard time, financially.  My house was also having all kinds of problems.  I felt insecure as far as being able to provide for my kids and parent them at the same time.  I was being attacked legally by someone who should have been helping with the task at hand.  I felt that I was not up to the challenge of single parenting.  (Is anyone?  Should we be?)  It was the best alternative I knew for my children, but I felt like I was sinking fast.

In the midst of this, one night, when I was feeling worthless, helpless, hopeless, and afraid, God opened this chapter of Scripture to me in a way that changed my fears dramatically.  It didn’t make it less difficult, but it made it less terrifying.  And what’s more, it made it actually hopeful.  So much so that I wrote each verse and promise from God on a 3×5 card, and as I worked each night, I flipped through those cards, meditating on them during every small break.

I want to share this with you because I want to bring hope to other unmarried women, barren women, and single moms (maybe single dads, too, but not being one of those, I’m not sure if this will strike a chord in them).  I think that this applies to every one of you as much as it applies to me.  If you’re reading this and none of those descriptions fit you, maybe you can pass this on to someone who needs to hear it and will be blessed by it.

Isaiah 54:

Shout for joy, O barren one, you who have borne no child;
Break forth into joyful shouting and cry aloud, you who have not travailed;
For the sons of the desolate one will be more numerous
Than the sons of the married woman,” says the Lord.

I am not physically barren.  I have 5 children, so it would seem that this verse does not apply to me.  But what God spoke to the inner recesses of my heart through this verse was that, even though I was not married and could, therefore, no longer bear children, I was still extremely fertile.  My relationship with God can produce much more fruit than my relationship with a man.  This applies to productivity in my earthly family.  It also applies to spiritual fruitfulness.  I was certainly desolate; there was no doubt about that.  His promise here was that if I pressed into Him and turned to Him the energy I would be putting into a spousal relationship, He would make me fruitful.   This doesn’t mean, by the way, that I will always be single, or that you will always be childless.  But right now, in this season, this is what we need to build, so that it can be maintained if and when that aspect of our life changes.

“Enlarge the place of your tent;
Stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not;
Lengthen your cords
And strengthen your pegs.
“For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left.
And your descendants will possess nations
And will resettle the desolate cities.

In my worries about my physical house — a toilet that wasn’t working, light switches that needed changing, rain gutters that were falling off, and a resultant crack in my basement from water getting under the house — and in the midst of my concerns about the emotional and spiritual home I needed to provide for my children — God was telling me to enlarge my territory.  Not to tighten my belt, so to speak, not to focus on just the little I had, but rather to expand and to look out beyond where we resided.  The promise that my descendants would resettle the desolate cities was especially meaningful to me.  It’s a promise that my children and their children, both physical and spiritual, will bring life to places that are lacking in life.  I love seeing how this is already happening.  It doesn’t really have to do with me; definitely isn’t my doing.  But it’s the fulfillment of God’s promise to me.

However, this isn’t just a promise that will happen on its own.  I have an active role.  He doesn’t say that He will enlarge my tent; He tells me to “enlarge the place of my tent” (press out into other regions, go places that I might be afraid to go … again, literally and figuratively … the things about which I say, “I don’t want to go there”).

Interestingly, soon after this, God moved us 1000 miles from our home.  It has not been easy at all, but I feel Him expanding us, networking us, helping us to understand another culture within our own, preparing us for bigger changes perhaps.

Another way that He’s been doing this in me is through something He challenged me with 2 years ago:  Whatever I realize I’m afraid of, He’s challenged me to walk into it.  It’s like Peter getting out of the boat and walking on the waves.  I need to step into my fears and keep my eyes on Him.  Sometimes, I can see directly how overcoming  a particular fear can serve Him … like stepping out in public again, writing this blog.  But other things, like trying to conquer my fear of heights … um, I’m not sure that will be used directly in ministry, but it’s the discipline of not giving in to my fears, of getting myself to the place where I won’t hesitate to follow Him, so that I can obey His call without stalling in fear.  Taking this challenge — to walk into my fears, to do what I’m afraid of, as long as it’s not immoral, illegal, or foolish — has helped me to grow a lot in the last couple years, and it’s definitely strengthened my trust in Him.  (By the way, I am horribly afraid of heights.  I’m afraid to stand on a chair to change a light bulb, though I’ve been working on that.  My ultimate goal is to go ziplining.)

He says to “stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not.”  That exhortation to spare not means that I’m not to be cheap or selfish or moderate in stretching.  I’m not to hold back because I’m afraid He won’t provide.  I’m to grow where He tells me/us to grow and not hold back, but trust Him for His resources, financial, emotional, spiritual, etc.

“Lengthen your cords.”  In order to make your tent bigger, you have to have longer cords.  These are what define the outer boundaries of your tent, your territory.  God doesn’t just expand our boundaries for us; we have to provide the longer cord for Him to do that.  Stretching out from the tent pole, these cords are what hold the tent up.  I have to become stronger in His Word and in my relationship with Him.  I need to become completely responsible financially, sacrificing when necessary in order to remain solvent and steady.  I need to build my emotional stability, and I need to take care of my physical body.  All these things have to be strong enough to be stretched farther and farther.

“And strengthen your pegs.”  The cords, when stretched out, have  to have something strong to hold them in place.  God can draw those cords way out and give me vaster and vaster territory in every area of my life, but those cords will just pop back and the tent will collapse if the tent pegs aren’t strong enough to withstand the tension.  Those pegs have to be driven hard into the Rock.  My Rock.  My Redeemer.  And what’s more, those pegs have to be leaning outward … out toward more territory, out toward others, not inward toward myself.  Again, if those pegs lean inwardly, no matter how strong they are, no matter how deeply they are driven into the Rock, the cords will slip off and the tent will collapse.  And just as tent pegs occasionally have to be checked and hammered back into the ground, so I need to be watching for any signs that I’m getting pulled away from the center of the Rock, and allow Him to drive me farther into Himself.

“You will spread abroad,” He says, “to the right and the left.”  An amazing thing about this is that He’s not just expanding our fruitful, productive territory in one direction.  He’s spreading us out in every direction!  And little by little, I see this happening.  I have a little influence in California.  I have friends to encourage in Tennessee.  He has given me a place to minister in Minnesota.  And my influence is reaching in very small ways into India and Africa.  Who knows where else?  Not in big ways, no.  Nor does it have to be big.  But the fact is that He expands our influence in many different directions when we’re open to that.  And little things can make a big impact.  A fearful Sunday School teacher witnessed to Dwight L. Moody and won him to the Lord.  Besides being a successful evangelist, Moody’s ministry (and thus, that Sunday School teacher’s ministry) can be traced all the way to Billy Graham’s conversion.  My little influence, where God has expanded my tent, can reach someone else who may do great things for God!  I didn’t set out to expand my influence.  God did this, really through no effort of my own.  I lengthened my cords and strengthened my pegs … or if truth really be told, I allowed Him to do it, and followed His leading (and often not perfectly, but the best I could).  If we give Him that, He does the rest.

Fear not, for you will not be put to shame;
And do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced;
But you will forget the shame of your youth,
And the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.

Wow, did I, and wow, do I continue to need to hear this.  For me, being divorced was probably the most shameful thing I have ever experienced.  My belief had been that divorce was practically the unforgivable sin.  I had grown up hearing, “Divorce is not an option.”  I was part of a subculture where it didn’t matter if every part of the marriage vows had been broken, the only part that mattered was “Til death do us part.”  The person who severed that officially broke the marriage.  I spent years after my divorce, trying to convince God not to love me.  (I know, right?)  Because I had had something of a public ministry, I received hate mail from people because of my divorce.  I was humiliated, disgraced, reproached, and full of shame.  And the worst thing for me was that I believed God could not use me any more, and being used by God was my very favorite thing in life.  Without that, where was the meaning?  I believed that I had to live with this because of a mistake I made when I was young, one that will, of course, continue to have consequences throughout my life.  But it really did feel like the unforgivable sin to me.  Other people’s mistakes could be forgiven and they could move on.  I would live my life being punished for making a bad choice.

God said here in Isaiah 54 that He was taking all that shame away and that I could forget about it.  Furthermore, He said I could even forget the shame of my youth.  I do still live with consequences … and those consequences will be with me for the rest of my life.  But the shame doesn’t need to be, nor does the reproach.  My status as a divorced, single woman does not need to be reproachful.  God can still use me!  God uses best the one who can’t do it themselves.  I can hold my head high with the confidence that I’m working for the King of Kings.

There’s so much more in this chapter to share with you, but I’ve had a long day and I’m tired, so I’ll share more another time.  In the meantime, I think there’s enough here to think about:

1.  How have you felt devastated?  How do you compare yourself with those who are married, or if you’re unable to conceive, how do you compare yourself with those who have children?  How do you feel that you’re lacking because of that?  It’s important to face those things in order to understand what God is offering you.

2.  What seeds has God planted in your heart?  If you press into Him and build your romance with Him, allowing your spiritual womb to be fertile, those seeds will grow, just as a baby grows in the womb.

3.  Where and how is God enlarging your territory?  Do you see the possibility of your influence expanding to other places, beyond that of your home?  This may not be geographic expansion.  Maybe He’s expanding you into new venues or taking you different places for your work.  Maybe He’s giving you more opportunities right where you are.  Those are things that expand your territory, your sphere of influence.  Remember that if you’ve given your life to Him, every time you walk into a place, you’re bringing the Holy Spirit with you.

4.  What areas of your life need more strengthening and stability?  These are the cords that you need to make stronger so that your tent can be stretched.  Do you need to be more disciplined, spiritually?  More responsible financially?  Do you need to work on integrity?  Are you struggling morally?  Ask the Lord how to become stronger in these areas so that your tent cords can be stretched out.

5.  Are your tent pegs strong?  Do you have a strong relationship with the King of Kings who wants to expand your tent?  He’s the Rock, the foundation that you need to drive your tent pegs into, and you need to drive them in hard.  They need to be inspected regularly to be certain you aren’t pulling out of the Rock and weakening your tent.  What specifically do you need to do, to press into Him?  Are you spending time in His Word?  Are you praying … and not only talking, but listening?  Are you surrounding yourself with biblical, wise influence through teaching and friendships?  Are you spending time in Worship of the Lord of the Universe?

6.  Are your tent pegs positioned so they’re leaning out toward others?  Remember that if you point them toward yourself, leaning inward selfishly, your tent will collapse.  Direct your attention outward toward others.  What specifically can you do to align yourself better in this way?  How can you use your gifts to serve others?  How can you be “Jesus with skin on”?

7.  Are you feeling shame because of your position as a single person or a barren woman?  Do you feel like you’re being punished, or like others look down on you?  Does your lonely bed feel like a badge of a lesser status?  First of all, if there is sin that you need to confess, do so, and accept His forgiveness.  And then, this is often what’s hardest … forgive yourself.  God has forgiven you, so let it go.  Yes, there may be consequences that you have to live with.  But you don’t need to walk in shame anymore.  God has called you by name.  He wants to use you.  He wants to expand your tent!  That’s something to rejoice about!  As verse 1 says, shout for joy!  Break forth into joyful shouting!  God has amazing plans for you!

Isaiah 54:1-4

“Shout for joy, O barren one, you who have borne no child;
Break forth into joyful shouting and cry aloud, you who have not travailed;
For the sons of the desolate one will be more numerous
Than the sons of the married woman,” says the Lord.
“Enlarge the place of your tent;
Stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not;
Lengthen your cords
And strengthen your pegs.
 “For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left.
And your descendants will possess nations
And will resettle the desolate cities.

“Fear not, for you will not be put to shame;
And do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced;
But you will forget the shame of your youth,
And the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.

I have a Dream Catcher.

A year ago, in April, I had a dream ripped away from me by an unexpected source.  It devastated me … not just losing the dream, but the way that it happened, the feelings of betrayal that came with it, and the vaporization of security and self-worth that were already so fragile.  As a result, I had to go away … and where do you go when you’re crushed (besides God)?  To Mom and Dad in California!

So I embarked on a 2500 mile trip in 3 days, driving.  I started out on April 15.  I remember because it’s my daughter’s birthday and also because my Dad is a CPA.  That particular April 15, there was a pretty bad tornado … and I needed to drive in Tornado Alley.  It was a blessing, though, as the winds felt so familiar.  It felt like my dreams had been snatched away in a whirlwind as well, and the sense of fear and danger from the tornado helped me work through the fears and the lack of security I now felt.
Driving south on 32, when I’d stop for gas or a restroom, I could barely get my door open. The wind was so strong, but cleansing, as it blew the tears off my face.  I felt like, fighting the wind as I drove and as I’d step out of my car helped work off some of the pain I was feeling.  I’d step into the station and there was a crowd gathered around the TV, checking to see if the next leg of their trip was predicted to be safe, something I also needed to consider:  Am I safe?  Are the people I trust with my heart really worthy of my confidence?
By that evening, I was in Kansas: Home of Dorothy and Toto’s tornado.  As I left Wichita and headed west, tornado sirens were screaming alongside me and the sky was low and green.  I wondered what I should do, driving out in the country while the sirens yelled at me to get to safety.  Where do you go when you have endless fields on both sides?  What do you do when your dreams are crushed and your heart has been shattered?  Do you ignore the sirens of betrayal?  Do you take cover or keep pushing on?  I drove on.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t have a choice.
Finally, I got far enough west that I was out of harm’s way.  Just a normal wind that night, as I slept in my car in a WalMart parking lot.  I know some of my friends didn’t feel good about me sleeping in my car and I had never done it before.  But I found I felt very comfortable in a cocoon of blankets, and safe with the security truck going by every 15 minutes.  I started to snuggle into God’s love, too, and in that safety, started being able to look at what I had done over the years that laid the foundation for this snatching of dreams.  The ways I had failed, which were many.
The following day, I had sunny skies as I headed through Oklahoma and Texas into New Mexico.  After the storm, the sun shines more amazingly than ever, doesn’t it?
I love the colors of the desert.  I don’t enjoy heat, but in April, even the desert isn’t too hot, and the still air was a relief after the constant banging of the winds in Iowa and Kansas and Oklahoma.  I relished the time alone with God and listened to sermon CDs to make it into sort of a retreat.
I needed to make at least 900 miles that day, but I had time to dilly-dally somewhat … and I remembered how much I had loved turquoise as a kid.  Driving through the dessert, my dream of having a turquoise ring rose again from the ashes of other deserted and crushed dreams.  Getting a turquoise ring made me feel like I could still hold onto a small, if silly dream.  I saw a tourist trap and decided to check it out.

As I paid the $13 for my new ring (on sale, but yeah, it was cheap to begin with, tiny pieces of turquoise, but that’s all I needed), I spotted a small, aqua “dream catcher.”  Feathers and beads are a weakness for my Boho heart.  I liked the colors and the delicateness of the piece, and that, combined with my ring, didn’t quite come up to what I had told myself I could spend on a bit of turquoise, so I bought it.

I hung it in my car from the passenger visor (a green teddy bear with his own Facebook page was my only traveling companion) … and God began to talk to me about dreams.

He told me that He catches my dreams when they fall.  He hides them safely in His heart.  Not only that, but He puts the really good dreams in my heart Himself, and He puts them there because He wants them to come true.  Those that seem to be shattered, but are retrieved and kept safe by His hand are the ones that are the most valuable.  As God and I conversed about this, I realized again how important it was to turn even (especially!) this part of my life over to Him.  My dreams need to be His dreams.  My hopes and desires need to be the ones that He’s dreamed for me since before He wove me in my mother’s womb.  He knows the beginning and the end of my story, of His story, of the world’s story, of the story of every person I come in contact with in any way.  He knows how those all weave together and He loves me exceedingly, so I can trust Him to have the best dreams for me.  The dreams He puts in my heart are infinitely better than anything I can dream up.

I kept the dream catcher hanging on the passenger visor for months.  Occasionally, after someone else had borrowed my car, I’d find it stuffed away somewhere.  They had found it distracting or it had just annoyed them (which could be a valid concern for safe driving).  The analogy, however, wasn’t lost on me.  My dreams from God, while annoying or distracting to others, or when others simply don’t think they’re worthwhile, or when they think they’re wrong … the ones that are really from God can be put back together.  He holds them in His heart, while we make room for them again in ours.  If they are truly His dreams, nothing and no one can take them away from us.  When they seem to be crushed, they are put together stronger, like a muscle that gets little tears from a good workout becomes stronger than before.

That dream catcher is now hanging in my home.  I change its location occasionally so that I don’t just get used to seeing it.  Right now, it’s hanging from a transom where I can swat at the feathers each time I pass under it.  When I do that, the prayer in my heart is something like this:  “Thanks so much, Lord, for being my Dream Catcher.  Oh, Jesus, I want the only dreams in my heart to be Your dreams, the ones You’ve put there.  Fashion Your dreams to fit in my heart.  Could You please just remove anything in my collection of dreams that wasn’t from Your heart?  Help me to recognize Your dreams in others, too, so I can encourage them.  Thank You for holding my heart with such love and care.  Thank You for sharing Your dreams with me.”

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart  Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this.  Psalm 37:3-5

Thinking of Moving to Australia

I had a terrible day yesterday.  I won’t go into details, but it would have rivaled Alexander’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day that Judith Viorst tells about.  So, like Alexander, I was tempted yesterday to move to Australia.  This morning, I woke up with a hangover … from yesterday’s mood.  I did not want another day like that, so I determined something that has actually become a cornerstone of my fight against depression:  I determined to have a day of tranquility.

Now, I’m blessed at the moment to have a house to myself (even though I miss my kids a lot, let’s make the best of it, shall we?) and I work from home, so I have a lot of control over my environment at the moment.  Not everyone has that.  And I don’t usually, but right now I do, and I figure I should not only take advantage of it, but I should also build some good habits during this time.

So today … tranquillité.

A tranquil lake has no waves.  It’s smooth and quiet.  Ripple-free.  There are no highs and no lows.

No, this isn’t real life … at least normally.  But it’s kind of a reset button for me.  I do my normal chores.  I unload the dishwasher, sweep the floor, run a load of laundry, but I do it quietly and slowly and smoothly.  No jolting, running, or taking steps 2 at a time.  I work my 8 hours of transcribing medical reports, but I don’t allow myself to get stressed by the doctor who talks with his mouth full or the one who is so exhausted by surgery that she slurs her words.  And when I have the opportunity, I breathe.

I find more relaxing ways to do things when I’m practicing the discipline of tranquility — because it really is a discipline; I have to make myself be tranquil.  I need to study for a couple hours each day, so I took my work outside, sat in a camping chair in the sun for 20 minutes and then moved into the shade.  When I took my shower, I spent another 20 minutes relaxing in the tub, reading a book I haven’t read in over 30 years, one that had been a favorite back then.

On a day of tranquility, I make a special effort to eat simply and healthily … a bowl of blueberries and strawberries was breakfast.  Juice and salad compose my other meals and I’ll snack on a cantaloupe.  Stretching and yoga help me stay focused, and I will probably go for a bike ride in the evening.  Throughout the day, I make an effort to intentionally relax my facial muscles … and this, surprisingly, goes a long way toward helping me feel tranquil.

Part of tranquility is giving myself a break from the assault on my senses.  I allow silence to rule my home.  I even keep my thoughts quiet, training my mind to leave worrisome topics alone for the day and focus on things which are more serene.  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  Philippians 4.6.  When something that upset me yesterday pops into my mind, I immediately take it to God and thank Him ahead of time for His answers.  (It would be nice if I could get into this habit all the time.)

This is not a normal day.  I want to make that abundantly clear.  Although it would probably be nice to always live in a state of tranquility, my life, my responsibilities … heck, my personality … do not allow me to take up residence there.  But sometimes, when I’m alone and when I need to reset, it’s something I savor, and now I’m happy living in Minnesota, and no longer thinking of moving to Australia.

Depression – Dealing with it in Layers

Since mentioning depression in my post yesterday about exercise, I’ve had a number of people ask me for help in dealing with depression in their own lives.  I need to say, first off, that what has worked for me might not work for others, so what I’m offering here are ideas and some of the things that have worked for me, for you to try out.  Also, I have not suffered from clinical depression; mine has been more situational, so there may be a difference in that regard from your personal situation as well.

I know that depression is an extremely painful experience.  It also affects every aspect of our life:  Our walk with God, our walk with others, our physical health, our finances, our jobs, to name a few … and definitely our emotional well-being.  There is a billboard near my home that points out that depression can be fatal.  It really is something that needs to be taken care of.

I’ve found, in my 52 years, that dealing with most things happens best for me in what I call “layers.”  I have rarely found solutions in one action or one treatment of any problem.  Depression is no different.  For me, that has meant building a number of things into my life to help prevent depression or to fight it.  Think of it like being cold.  Putting on thermal underwear is not going to get you completely warm, but it’s one of the layers you need.  You will also need warm clothes, a bunch of blankets, and maybe a warm body next to you.

I’ll try to talk about the different layers that have helped me with depression over the weeks and months ahead.  As I’ve mentioned before, since I have a very full life, I won’t commit to writing on a regular basis — it will come as I have time.  But I also have a prayerful life, and I have to trust that God will move me to share the things that you need to hear at just the right times.

If you are dealing with depression and you have thoughts of harming yourself or others, it’s important that you speak to a professional.  I’m not a professional — I’m just someone who is walking the same walk you are, sharing what has worked for me.  And again, these things, especially what I’m sharing today, will apply more to situational depression than to clinical depression.

I guess the first and yet most difficult thing I have learned to look at in dealing with depression (and again, I’m talking about situational depression — depression that’s caused by something happening outside myself, to me) is to figure out if there is something I need to (or am able to) change about the situation.  This is a little tricky to share.  I don’t believe in airing other people’s dirty laundry publicly, so I’m not going to be able to give any specific examples, but try to see if this can apply to you.

In order to do this, when I realize I’m depressed, I ask myself some questions.

  • Is there a common theme running through my life, a common thread in my various bouts of depression?  (For me, it has been that I’m being bullied.  Some other possibilities you may face might be abuse, financial problems, career problems, family disagreements, spiritual doubt, isolation, etc.  What are some other possibilities you can think of?)
  • Am I causing this in some way?  Am I, even to a tiny extent, responsible for this?  It’s not the victim’s fault when they’re abused or bullied, BUT what about me makes me a common target?  (You could ask yourself the same question about whatever the common thread seems to be for you:  Why do my relationships never work out?  Why am I always in financial trouble?  Etc.)  I can tell you this:  If you can’t answer yes to this question, you’ll feel hopeless and helpless, which is one of the keystones of depression.  So try hard to find a “yes” answer to this.  Finding MY responsibility in the situation, even if I can only find a tiny bit of responsibility, helps immensely because it EMPOWERS me.  If you hold no responsibility whatsoever in a situation, then there is nothing you can do about it.  When you find some way in which you affect it, you suddenly have a lot of power:  The power to change the situation.

So, for example, in my situation of finding myself bullied throughout my life, I had to come to the realization that there was something about me that attracts or enables bullies.  There was/is something about my personality that allows bullies to target me.  This was not an easy question to answer.  It actually took me many attempts over many years to come to grips with it, but the bottom line for me was my religious upbringing, which had taught me that women are less than men, that women can’t really have much say in their own lives, that women (especially wives/mothers) should always completely sacrifice their own well-being for everyone else’s.  (Interestingly, this is NOT the way my parents operate or brought me up.  It was rather, an extreme view of the church, and later, the Christian homeschool culture that I involved myself in.  This is also NOT to say that Christianity or homeschooling is bad.  I continue to be both a very strong Christian and a homeschooler.  But the particular subcultures of those subcultures that I was involved in contributed a great deal to my views of myself as a women, a wife, and a mother.)

In my own case, I had to ask myself if this philosophy was truly what God, through the Bible, teaches.  Again, this was a process that happened over many, many years.  Because I believe very strongly in the authority of the Bible, I could not just use human reasoning and say that I didn’t like what the Bible teaches.  But I did come to realize that what PEOPLE have said that the Bible teaches is not particularly right.  That journey began, I think, with my college chaplain challenging my thinking in these areas, and included people like my father arguing against a ridiculous practice in our church, pastors trying to encourage me to use my gifts (which I thought were not okay for women to use), counselors and friends challenging my mindset.  The only thing I can say is, DO NOT expect this process to be quick or easy, but DO engage yourself in it.  You do not need to finish the process in today’s blog to be able to apply the other layers I’ll talk about in the future, but getting started on this will help you in many, many ways.  Just being in this process will help fight depression because you’re taking control!

You do not have to finish answering the above question in order to answer the next question, but the above question will help keep you from “jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.”  Understanding why you keep having repeat performances and changing your philosophy of life accordingly goes a long way toward preventing future depression.

This leads to the next question I’ve learned to ask myself:

  • What can I do to change the situation so that I’m no longer being bullied?  (If your theme is financial problems, what can I do differently with my finances?  Etc.  Expect unexpected answers.  For example, many people with financial troubles have found the answer in being generous.  If your theme is relationship difficulties, look at things that you do in every relationship and examine whether you could experiment with changing one of those variables.)  This follows the saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”  It may seem like a no-brainer, but seriously, if you’re seeing yourself 100% as a victim, you can’t ask yourself this question.  You have to first be able to see that you are in some way contributing to the problem, because only then will you have the power to make any kind of change.

In my own situation, I had to ask this question and take action a number of times before I was able to fully answer the previous question.  In some cases, it meant simply talking to the person and pointing out what they are doing, and/or setting healthy boundaries.  However, I’ve learned over many years that this doesn’t generally work with bullies.  They LIKE what they do.  It WORKS for them.  So I pretty much have to extricate myself from the situation.

  •      I have also learned to ask myself if the situation I’m in is actually SERVING me in some way.  This can mean that it’s serving me in an unhealthy way — for example, avoiding making my own decisions.  If it’s serving me in an unhealthy way, I have to take action to stop being unhealthy.  BUT it can actually be serving me in a healthy way — for example, I choose to live without a lot of things that people consider necessities because I believe very strongly in homeschooling my children.  I know this is a sacrifice that’s for a limited time, but will have lifelong benefits for them, so it’s very, very much worth it.  Again, this empowers me, because I understand that I’m CHOOSING to live the way I live for a reason.  There’s a saying in the Bible that talks about this:

“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”  (Hebrews 12, NIV)

What this means is that Jesus went through what He suffered because He saw how it would benefit us — and that made Him happy to make the sacrifice He was making.  The author of Hebrews says that we should fix our eyes on Him and think of Him as an example of how we should look at things, so that we can keep on and not be discouraged.  Sometimes, when we ask ourselves whether our situation is serving us in some way, we discover that we actually WANT to stay in the situation, because staying in it will produce the long-term outcome that we want.  It helps us not become discouraged, because we know that we’re sacrificing for something we think is important.  If this is the case, it can actually fight depression just as well as getting out of the situation.  However, you may need to set up some way to remind yourself about this.  I’ve found that telling key friends and also setting an alarm on my phone calendar to remind me helps a great deal.

  • If, in asking myself these questions, I find that I need to change my situation in some way, my next step is to ask myself: What do I need to do to change that situation?  And what are the steps I need to take to do that?  This takes planning.  It may mean staying in that situation for a while longer so that you can leave in a way that won’t amount to more or worse trouble.  (However, you’re CHOOSING to stay and you are in the process of TAKING ACTION, so you’ll probably start to feel less hopeless and helpless and you’ll find that the depression is starting to become less and less.)  The important thing is to not do something drastic on the spur of the moment, but to really think (and pray, if you’re a praying person) about the steps you need to take.  It’s also very helpful to have someone else help you think (and pray) through these steps.

I know I’ve actually started with the most difficult layer of dealing with depression, but for those of you who’ve asked, my heart aches for you so much, and since this is the longest step of the journey, I wanted to put this out there and ask you to consider starting on this part.  Most of the layers I’ll talk about in the future will be much easier to accomplish and can be accomplished even as you begin to answer these questions.

I also know that there are times when depression is so overwhelming that even trying to think about a layer like this is more than you can handle.  If that’s the case,  set this layer aside for the time being and come back to it later.  Some of the layers I’ll talk about later will be easier for you to step into.

Again, the things I’m sharing are things that have worked for me.  I really don’t know if they’ll be any help to you.  Please feel free to share your journey with me, through private messages and in comments below.

 

 

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Healthy Journey: Adding Intentional Movement

     What is it about deciding to work on one’s health that suddenly makes life turn against it?  My back started hurting a week ago.  On Monday, I was doing okay, walked with a friend around the nearby lake, and then in the evening it became almost unbearable.  I did a few choice yoga moves, felt somewhat better, and got a good night’s sleep.  The next morning I was stiff, but nothing those yoga moves couldn’t tame.  THEN, wham!  I don’t know what I did, but suddenly the pain became so bad I couldn’t breathe.  Every position hurt like crazy and I couldn’t walk.  For the rest of the week, I went from not being able to pick anything up off the floor, unable to find a position where I could breathe properly, and taking 5 minutes to walk to the bathroom, to finally getting so that I could do almost everything a normal human being should be able to do.  I still haven’t tried to sit on the couch, though.

Despite all this, I did stay on my water regimen pretty well, other than that first couple days of horrendous pain.  Not perfectly, but that’s okay; I’ll keep working on it.  So, it’s time to move on to the next step:  Adding some exercise.

My plan is to do 30 minutes of intentional, dedicated exercise for 5 days a week.  What do I mean by that?  I mean that I’m not going to count housework or picking up sticks in my yard.  It’s going to be time spent exercising for the sake of exercising.  I will need to go easy for my back’s sake, but I’m to the place where I can (and probably need to) get moving and stretching.  My plan is that it will be divided between yoga and biking, two forms of exercise that have served me (and my back and knees) well in the past, though I’m definitely a beginner in both of those.  I may do some walking as well.  I’m not going to set rules at this point about how strenuous it will be.  I just want to get back into the habit, so the discipline is what I’m after right now.

There is something about setting and meeting goals that makes me feel better about myself and more in control of my life.  It seems to have a snowball effect, too.  There have been times when I’ve felt hopeless about my life.  A simple goal like, “Get 10 minutes of sunshine every day” has been all I could manage … but it was a key step toward getting out of the Slough of Despond.  Once I meet that goal, I feel empowered to set slightly more difficult goals.  If they’re goals that are good for me, such as sunshine or exercise, they not only make me feel better about myself … they make me feel physically better and give me more energy to meet those more challenging goals.

Another thing that helps me is to very intentionally look for good things in life.  Sometimes, the smallest things, like spotting a pretty bird and identifying it, or noticing that the bushes in my front yard are blooming, make a huge difference.  I guess that’s what people call “stopping to smell the roses.”  Taking TIME to enjoy those little things that I might not otherwise notice or just acknowledge peripherally definitely brightens my day and gives me more energy to meet my goals.

What’s a new, small goal you can work on this week?  A habit you’d like to add to your life?