2/23/10

Find the Gift in the Pain

I never expected my dog to die at 6-1/2 years of age. Jack Russell Terriers normally live to 13 or 14. Our dear Bailey developed an autoimmune disease, and body organs shut down quickly in spite of medical care. A part of our family, he will be missed by all who loved him.

After making the tough choice to let him go, the emptiness was even tougher. I’m not sure which was worse—boxing away memories of Bailey that were studded all over our home, or dealing with the empty spaces when they were gone. I’ve dealt with this unwelcome pain in many ways.

I read Randy Alcorn’s wonderful chapter on pets in his book, Heaven, and found some sweet comfort there. My own blog last week, “How to Become a Serene Woman,” surprised me with some encouraging words. I also shared some words I read with friends (words that I want to repeat here): "While I may wonder about whether I'll be reunited with my pet in heaven, I am certain of one thing. My pet isn't wondering the same thing ... Pets do not ask 'What comes next'? This is a human question, based on human grief. I firmly believe that God takes care of all His creation."

I believe God has a special spot in His heart for all the creatures He has made. In the Christian worldview, God creates all things with purpose and dignity. He understands the groaning of His creation under the weight of sin and death (Romans 8:22).

What has helped me most is finding gifts in the pain. I’ve heard that we can always find lessons in our circumstances, but the concept of a “gift” may seem strange in a time of grief. In my process of grieving this week, God led me down the road of gratitude. Whenever I’ve felt the stab of painful memories, a quick prayer of thanksgiving healed each wound, giving it purpose. I'm giving thanks (1 Thess. 5:18) not for sickness and death, but for the knowledge that God is still in control, and He loves me and cares, and He walks with me, holding my hand (Isaiah 41:13).

It’s been little things that grabbed my heart and brought sudden tears—suddenly seeing his paw prints on the wood floor … finding a doggie biscuit under the edge of the couch … opening a closet door and having his bath towel fall out … seeing the shovel he used to drag around the yard ... watching a lizard sunning on the sidewalk, and remembering how our “Bales” loved to chase them. Each time, I thanked God for the memory, and the blessing of sharing it with such a sweet, faithful dog.

It takes time to heal, there’s no question about that. But I’ve always believed that a thankful spirit can soften any circumstance; and I’m finding it true in my grief. This kind of heavy-duty gratitude is a choice, for sure; but that’s what the Christian walk is about—making wise, godly choices in the daily struggles and opportunities of life.

Philippians 4:8 gives us things to think about … and one of them is “whatever is lovely and lovable” (Amplified). I’m choosing to remember the lovely memories, and I’m thankful for Bailey’s constant, loyal love. It’s one of the gifts in my pain.

What has been your most recent challenge? Are you struggling with grief? Can I pray for you?

For more help with Gratitude, see: "Priming the Pump."

2/17/10

How to Become a Serene Woman

When I think of the word “serene,” only a few women come to mind (although I am sure there are others). My mother-in-love is a serene woman. So is the woman I work for and a few precious friends.

I am serene, too—maybe once or twice a year. (But it is one of my goals!) Who would not want to be labeled serene? A serene woman is calm, peaceful, and tranquil. Think of an unruffled lake, still and lovely.

It was hard to be serene when I was a young mom, zipping around the house picking up my boys socks and husband’s newspapers, and washing load after load of laundry. It seemed I moved from one chore to another, tearing around the house. It was hard to be serene when my sons were in high school—running off to ball games, leaving dishes in the sink and always feeling behind in my work. It’s still hard to be serene, even with an empty nest. I have a full plate of responsibilities, deadlines, and expectations.

Being serene does not mean we are wimps, boring, or unmotivated. An extrovert can be as serene as an introvert. Serenity is an inner attitude before it is an action. At every season of life, serenity will escape us if we don’t take quiet moments of reflection and refreshing for ourselves, and even more quiet time to build our relationship with God (Psalm 46:10).

I need to stop in the midst of my scurrying to sip a cup of tea, walk the dog, take a leisurely bath, journal my thoughts or a new Truth learned; enjoy a sunrise or sunset, read by a scented candle, or, with my eyes closed, drink in beautiful, heart-stirring music. But serenity based on pampering the flesh is not sufficient for my soul. I desperately need a slow conversation with God and His Truth breathed deeply into my life. How else will I know the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7)?

To become serene:
(1) Recognize that you need serenity moments each day.
(2) Choose some relaxing activities that encourage tranquility in your life (and don’t feel guilty taking time for them).
(3) Take care of unnecessary stressors (get out of debt, end destructive habits, etc.).
(4) Respond to circumstances gracefully and confidently, trusting that they are “Father-filtered” because God loves you! (Romans 8:28; 8:37-39; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18; 12:9-10)
(5) Rely on God’s presence, power, and provision (Hebrews 13:5; Philippians 4:13; 4:19), and rest in Him (Psalm 37:7)
(6) Learn contentment (1 Timothy 6:6)
(7) Cultivate a grateful spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
(8) Choose joy because of your hope in Christ (I Peter 1:3-7).

Serenity does not just happen. It is a gift we give ourselves and a blessing we cultivate each day by the choices we make.

Want to read more? The opposite of serenity is the frantic fluttering of a busy little bird. Read about that in "My Little Hummingbird."

2/10/10

Kathi Lipp: Bold, Intentional Choices

I met Kathi Lipp—a fun, intelligent, motivating woman—at a CLASS (Christian Leaders and Speakers Seminars) Marketing Boot Camp. I wondered what kind of choices Kathi made in her life that prepared her to influence others.

She came from a family that attended a church where the Gospel wasn’t part of the teaching; but when Kathi visited a friend’s church and heard the message of Jesus’ love and forgiveness—and that He could be a part of her everyday life in a relationship—her faith became real.

Dawn: How did your choice to receive Christ change your life, Kathi?
Kathi: I knew that God didn’t just see me as one of millions, but that He cared about the choices I made—not as a judgment, but because He wanted me to experience full life in Him.

Dawn: Following your decision for Christ, what choice blessed you the most? What was your most rewarding choice?
Kathi: Becoming a short-term missionary in Japan. I loved the work, but it was lonely, and it was the first time I realized that God was enough for me. Knowing that freed me to make some bold choices—leaving my parents’ style of church, talking to friends about my faith, and more.

Dawn: We’ve all made bad or foolish choices. Are than any that you regret?
Kathi: My first marriage ended in divorce after 13 years. While I don’t regret the decision—I really had gotten to a place where I had done everything I could with God’s direction to save the marriage—I grieve over the loss for my kids. There’s a reason God hates divorce; it hurts those involved and the kids. That is why I strive to be so intentional in my marriage now.

Dawn: What hard decision do you now see was a turning point in your ministry?
Kathi: When Roger and I were engaged to be married, I started looking for a job in San Jose, where my kids and I would soon be moving. After picking me up from a retreat where I was the speaker, Roger heard from the women what an incredible weekend we had experienced. Roger told me, “I really think we need to give this writing and speaking thing a go.” So we prayed about it and decided to go full time into ministry. We didn’t have the money to do that, but we felt God really confirming the idea. We are so glad that we didn’t take the safe route.

Dawn: In your book, The Marriage Project, you write about putting the fun back in marriage. What are the two most powerful choices you recommend that couples make to put the zing back into their marriages?
Kathi: Number one is dating. It is so easy to set time and money aside for dating before we get married, but once the wedding takes place, it is harder to make each other a priority. Dating in marriage makes the partner a priority. I understand finances are tight, but I really believe couples can date on a dime. In fact, we offer lots of ideas on my blog.*
Number two is speaking to each other with respect.
It makes me so uncomfortable to overhear couples speaking sarcastically to each other. It is a bad habit we can fall into without even being aware of it. It costs nothing to speak well to each other.

Dawn: How do you think your own marriage choices have shaped your marriage?
Kathi: The watchword for my marriage has had to be “intentional.” It would be easier to live our marriage by default instead of design, but we really do make a point to date, make time for each other, and speak well of each other.
Dawn: So, you take your own good advice!

Dawn: I know you have also written a book titled The Husband Project, as well as many articles for national magazines. If you knew the results would be positive, Kathi, what adventurous “no fear” choice would you make in the days ahead?
Kathi: I'd write a memoir. It scares me to be as vulnerable as a good memoir can be, but I am really toying with the idea.
Dawn: I’m sure that it would be full of humor and biblical insight, Kathi, because you are fun and wise. Thank you for sharing some of your choices with us.

* Readers, Kathi has great free resources, including "20 Dates for Less than $20," on her website.

2/3/10

How Full Is Your Suitcase?

“Our days,” said an unknown author, “are identical suitcases—all the same size, but some people can pack more into them than others.”

My favorite suitcases were the yellow leather-like set my parents bought me when I joined a revival ministry. The bags had a lot of “give” that allowed me to stuff them like crazy. The zipper on one suitcase finally gave way.

How like my life, at times.

There’s a difference between being busy and edging near burnout. I like the way Sue Augustine explained it in 5-Minute Retreats for Moms . “Although it may not seem like it,” Augustine said, “you do get to determine how full your schedule will be. Busyness is always a choice [emphasis mine]. The key is in knowing how you want to spend your time, what you really want to accomplish in a day and in a lifetime—what can be put on hold, what can be delegated to someone else, and what doesn’t need to be done at all.”

Augustine described the kind of “continual, unending busyness when we don’t have the comfort of knowing when things will return to normal. Instead, [busyness] becomes the norm.” It’s a sad, stressful, unsatisfying norm.

When our “suitcase” is too full, something has to give. Perhaps it’s our health or energy. Maybe our focus and concentration. We may lose our passion for life, or our relationships might stress and sour. Whatever the result of our too-full lives, once we realize how busyness is taking a toll, we must respond in wisdom, and quickly.

We need to think about our true priorities and values (for example, Matthew 6:33), and then remove from the “suitcase” those things that don’t fit. Perhaps we need to simplify or adapt our schedules and live in day-tight compartments (Matthew 6:34). Maybe we need to learn to be content with less (Hebrews 13:5-6), and I'm not talking about less things, but more reasonable expectations. We can strive for excellence, but we cannot be all things to all people at all times. We have to learn to say “no” with as much graciousness as we say “yes. We need to plan down time for emotional survival, and quiet time for spiritual strength.

How full is your suitcase? If it’s overstuffed, ask God for discernment (James 1:5). He’ll help you unpack.

For more help with "unpacking," read: "Smooth Out the Knots of Stress" or "Is It Stress... or Burnout?"