Three Things About… DEALING WITH GRIEF

Three 4 things VARIABLEHave you ever experienced grief so heavy and heart-wrenching that it was hard to breathe?  So overwhelming and impactful that colors seemed duller, sounds less vibrant, and experiences less fulfilling than they did “before”?  Did you start to believe that you’d never feel happy again, never be able to be “normal” again?  Did you ever get stuck in your grief because you just kept looking backwards, refusing to believe that your world had changed and your loss was real?

“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.”
― Rose Kennedy

Loss comes in many forms:  death of a loved one, loss of a job, best friend moving away, a beloved pet passing on, a dream dashed, a special someone rejecting and/or betraying you – the list goes on and on.  And whether you’ve lost a loved one to illness or accident or rejection, or “simply” changed jobs or moved away, the pain we experience when we grieve what used to be can be intense and all-consuming.

Over the past few months, more than a few of those I care about have suffered losses of one kind or another and are engulfed by a grief that, for now, consumes them.  

Grief and loss are normal parts of life, if we are fortunate to live long enough to experience them.  But even though grief and loss are normal, the pain attached is still very real, and can paralyze us, as we long for the intense pain to go away and wish that the loss had not occurred.

The pain of loss is very real, but I’d like to offer you a few things to think about that will most likely help you deal with grief and loss.

 1.  Let Yourself Feel the Pain

grief cryingDon’t pretend you aren’t affected by your loss.  You won’t get any extra points for having a “stiff upper lip” as the British say.  The pain of loss can be overwhelming and all-consuming.  Admit it, feel the pain, express it.  Find someone you trust and tell them how you feel.  Don’t worry about whether or not your grieving is “normal” – whatever you are feeling is “normal” for you, and that’s all that matters.  The people who care about you will probably have their own opinions about your grief.  They may think that you aren’t getting in touch with your feelings, that you’re holding it all in; or that it’s been long enough and you should be over your grief by now.  Just because they share their opinions with you doesn’t make them right.  Everyone grieves in their own unique way and timeframe.  Feel what you feel, and don’t pretend that you feel fine.   Unless of course you DO feel fine; then go ahead and feel fine.  :o) 

“And I felt like my heart had been so thoroughly and irreparably broken that there could be no real joy again, that at best there might eventually be a little contentment. Everyone wanted me to get help and rejoin life, pick up the pieces and move on, and I tried to, I wanted to, but I just had to lie in the mud with my arms wrapped around myself, eyes closed, grieving, until I didn’t have to anymore.”
― Anne LamottOperating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year

2.  You Won’t Feel This Bad Forever

grief sad forever van goghWhen you first experience deep loss, it seems that nothing will ever be OK again.  You can’t imagine your life without that person, and you don’t believe other people when they tell you that you’ll be happy again some day.   You can’t imagine being happy again, ever.  And maybe you don’t even want to be happy again, as if allowing yourself to be happy would someone taint the memory of what you have lost.  When loss has turned your world upside down, please, choose to hold on to the slightest smidgeon of possibility that the intense feelings of sadness, loss, and hopelessness will become less overwhelming over time.  It really does help to take it one day at a time, or even one hour at a time, when you are in the depths of grief.  Time doesn’t erase the loss from your life, but time does decrease the intensity of the pain.  Hold on to that thought when it all seems to be too much.  You will not feel this bad forever.

3.  Don’t Isolate Yourself, Even Though You Want To

grief alone.jpgIt’s so tempting to just want to be left alone when you’re depressed and grieving.  And there is some good to be found in spending time alone to reminisce and process what has happened.  But avoid the temptation to habitually isolate yourself from other people and events.  Spending too much time alone with your thoughts can work against the healing process and cause you to sink deeper and deeper into depression as you dwell on your sadness.  Make yourself be with other people.  Do the things you are in the habit of doing – going to school or work, grocery shopping, going to church, having dinner with the family – even if you don’t want to.  In the long run, it will do you a world of good. 

4.  BONUS: Life Is Still Good

You may have had an importgrief life is goodant, major, part of your life snatched away from you, but life is still good if you let it be.  It may take some time before you are ready to notice all the good things and all the blessings that surround you, but if you are open to that idea, you will find that joy again.   Maybe not as quickly as you’d like, but you’ll find it.  The blessings are there, whether you choose to notice them or not.  Make the effort to notice them, and you can’t help but feel a bit better. 

You will always remember the person or thing that is now gone; they held a special place in your life. You can’t simply forget it, even if you think you’d like to.  Those memories are often bittersweet, as there is both joy and loss combined.  But the life that still IS, is also good.  Tell yourself this, even when you don’t quite believe it yet.  For awhile it may seem like you are betraying the memory of what “was” when you decide to love what “is”.  But it’s not an either/or sort of thing.  The “was” WAS wonderful!  And so is the ‘is”!  It is both/and, rather than either/or.  Life is good, when we can appreciate what is, without having to demote what “was”.

“On the girl’s brown legs there were many small white scars. I was thinking, Do those scars cover the whole of you, like the stars and the moons on your dress? I thought that would be pretty too, and I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.”
― Chris CleaveLittle Bee

Grief.  It’s a difficult, yet normal, part of living life as a human being and opening ourselves up to loving others.  Grieving a loss is heavy, overwhelming work that sometimes seems as if it will never end. 

But you will get through it.   You will feel better. 

It won’t hurt this much forever.

I promise. 

Until next time, be purposeful, and keep your eyes looking forward.

Rebecca

grief hope

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Three Things About… NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

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For the record, I think New Year’s Resolutions are not just a good idea, but a vital part of living a purposeful life.  Many people think making resolutions is, at best, a nice little archaic exercise that you should stop doing when you hit your teens; and at worst, a silly waste of time that sets you up for failure.

I have a different take on resolutions. 21646_10151308517575949_467860999_n[1]

I know that if we don’t purposefully work to overcome the things that make life difficult for us, those things will not change.  Call them resolutions, call them changes, call them whatever you want:  it’s not healthy or fulfilling to just keep doing the things you’ve always done that don’t work for you.

So, here are my “Three (4) Things About… New Year’s Resolutions” that will, hopefully, get you to see resolutions from a more positive and achievable angle.

1.  You’re Probably Doing it Wrong

The main reason New Year’s Resolutions don’t last for the entirety of the year is that we don’t do them correctly.  We’ll list things like “I want to be healthier in 2016”.  And while that is absolutely a good thing to aim for, it’s not worded in a way that gives you anything to work with.  What does “healthier” mean to you?  What are the steps to get there?  To be useful (and even remotely attainable), a resolution has to be:

  • Reasonable
  • Specific
  • Controllable

new-years-resolution-be-more-awesome[1]Reasonable:  If you are 80 years old, have never been athletic, have macular degeneration, and use a walker to get around, it is not REASONABLE to resolve that you will compete in the Seniors division playing tennis at Wimbledon next year.  It might be reasonable to say that you will find a type of exercise that you can do so that you won’t get so winded when you walk from the living room to the kitchen.

Another common, but not all that reasonable, resolution is, “I’m going to work out 6 (or 7) days/week in the coming year”.  That’s a super good resolution, but I can tell you, things will pop up that will make 6 times a week reaaaalllllly hard to do.

Is it reasonable?  

For most of us, not really.  Think about your schedule, your responsibilities, and how committed you want to be to this goal.  For most of us, resolving to work out 4 or 5 times per week is much more reasonable, much more likely to happen.  We can try to make it to the gym every single day, and some weeks we WILL make it 6 (or even 7!) times. And during those weeks, you’ll feel great because you EXCEEDED your goal of 5 days/week.  Your resolution needs to be reasonable; then if you surpass it, you will feel encouraged and even more motivated.

Specific:  Lots of people say “I want to lose weight this year!”  Which is a great idea if you are carrying around too much weight.  But you have to get more specific or come next December you’ll find yourself disappointed at not having lost any weight (and maybe end up gaining a bit).  You have a much better chance of succeeding in your weight loss goals by resolving to “lose 1 pound per week beginning January 1 until I have lost 20 pounds total”. be specific

To be successful, you can start with a general, high level goal (“lose weight”), but then you have to break that goal down into smaller chunks until you have goals that you can actually take specific action on. 

Example:    

High level goal:  Lose weight this year:

Breaking it down

  1. Lose a total of 20 pounds this year
  2. Lose 1 pound per week until I reach my goal.
  3. Limit myself to 1200 calories per day in order to lose 1 pound per week.

 

Controllable:  Let’s say you are regularly late for work and your boss has said you’ll lose your job if this continues.  So you think, “OK, I’m not going to be late anymore!”.  That’s a great goal to have, but there’s a problem:  you don’t have full control over all the factors that come into play in the transportation arena. 

late

For example, you might leave your house with plenty of time to make it to work, but there’s a wreck, and you lose 30 minutes.  If you ride in a carpool, another rider might be late.  Or if you drive yourself, you could have a flat tire.  Stuff can still happen, even when you do everything right. 

You can (and should) still resolve to “be on time in 2016”, but your FOCUS has to be on the things you can control.  

funny-license-plates-always-late

Most people who are chronically late have some habits that contribute to their tardiness, even if they don’t like to admit it:  staying up too late, sleeping in too long, being unorganized, scheduling too many things too close together (no buffer), addicted to the attention of being late, etc.   

To improve your On Time track record, you need to focus on things like:  

  1. Go to bed by 11 PM
  2. Set my alarm 15 minutes earlier than usual and GET UP when it goes off
  3. Set out my work clothes the night before
  4. Give myself 15 minutes of “buffer time” in my commute just in case something goes wrong

These items are all realistic, specific, and controllable.  

In addition to those controllable things, you can always HOPE that there’s no wreck, and that traffic moves along nicely, and that your tires stay inflated – but those things are mostly out of your control.

Another common resolution is to “get along better with my family”.  Again, that’s a great thing to work on.  But you have to make sure you focus on what YOU can control, and “getting along” involves some effort on the part of the other person/people too.  

toddler tantrumIn case you haven’t figured this out by now, you can’t totally control those other people.  And the harder you try to control them, the more it won’t work.  

By all means, resolve to get along better with the folks you live with, but be sure to focus on things you control, such as: 

  • Set down my phone/ipad/etc and look them in the eyes when they are talking to me
  • Do a better job of listening rather than getting defensive
  • Say “I’m sorry” when I’ve hurt someone
  • Remember that chores don’t have to be done my way

Resolutions have to be realistic, specific, and controllable to be achievable. 

just kidding

2.  You Have to Mean It

If you make resolutions just because everyone else is doing it and you feel pressure to join in, you probably won’t keep them.   Getting rid of old habits and forming new ones is hard, and takes time.  If your heart is not in it, you won’t do it.  You may end up with a nice list of good intentions, but no real improvement. 

Only make resolutions that you really want to change, and then give it everything you’ve got. 

Which leads us to number 3:

can't remember3.  Start with a Max of 3 Resolutions

I know – you have SO MANY things you’d like to work on next year.  But, as I said in my last post, people can only really focus on about 3 things at a time.  If you try to hold more than 3 new ideas in your head at once, you will likely not accomplish any of them because there is simply TOO MUCH.  We humans resist change, even good change.  So 3 changes at any one time is about all we can realistically address. 

repentance_724_482_80[1]Go ahead and make your list of all the things you want to do differently in 2016.  Now, pick the top 3, the three that mean the most to you, and start with those. 

4.  BONUS: Resolutions Aren’t Just for the New Year

Another problem with how we timagesUJ9VXY3Dypically approach New Year’s Resolutions is that we do great for a few weeks, then we slip up, feel like we failed, and give up. 

Let me tell you a secret – you are going to mess us in keeping your resolutions. 

That’s just the way it is. 

No matter how steadfast your resolve it, you are still human.  So you need a plan for when you DO mess up – what will you do? – because you won’t be able to keep them perfectly. not perfect

I recommend a monthly, or weekly, review of those top 3 resolutions.  See how it’s going.  Were those resolutions reasonable, specific, and controllable enough?  Or do you need to tweak them and move forward from here? 

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Don’t get discouraged when you slip up.  Just pick yourself up, accept that you are human and sometimes weak (or tired, or lazy, or sick, or really busy, or just have a bad attitude that day), and start again. 

carb comaIf you really want to lose those 20 pounds, but spent the weekend in a food coma, then re-resolve to get back on track. 

And don’t beat yourself up about the slip-up. 

It happened; you can’t go back and unhappen it. 

Every day is a new day to get back on track, to stick to it better than the day before.  Just like God’s mercies are new “every morning”, so should your resolve be new every day.

run the raceResolution success involves determination, perseverance, and grace for when you mess up. 

I hope there are some things you resolve to do better in 2016.  I know I have some weaknesses I want to focus on and overcome.  And I hope that you will approach resolutions as a long distance run rather than a mad dash until you hit a pothole. 

You can do this! Think of who you want to be, and move towards that future you.

Until next time, be purposeful, and keep your eyes looking forward.

Rebecca

Three Things About… THREE THINGS

logo dec 29 2015 rustic orange 4After letting this blog collect dust for far too long, I’ll be starting up a new series in 2016 called “Three Things About…”.  You’ll notice that the blog theme photo has the numeral “4” behind the title “Three Things About…”.  This is not a typo!  I’m using the number 4 to represent “Three Things” because there are always more than 3 things to say about any topic I decide to write on, and my biggest challenge has always been trying to figure what to cut out so I don’t go on forever and ever with my writing.  So I’m giving myself 4 points to make with each post instead of just three.  Think of it as a bonus!

Today’s post is titled “Three Things About…  THREE THINGS”.  So here we go!

  1. Most people can’t remember more than 3 things at a time.

Articles like “The 12 Things You Never Knew About Phlegm”, “45 Ways to Use Leftover Turkey”, and “10 Ways to Make Him Love You Forever” provide way too much information to be very useful.   We like articles that speak to our tendency to over-indulge:  if 3 things are good, then 20 things must be even better!  I don’t need 3 things that will help me keep my New Year’s Resolutions; I need 40!  The more the merrier!  But that’s not generally very true.  More isn’t always better.   And just like 50 is the new 30, “less is more”.  Three things – and in this case, four – is a bite-sized chunk of info that you may actually be able to remember and use.

  1. I have lots of things rolling around in my head that I want to share with you.

.  I’ve been formulating the idea for this series for months, and am finally putting some action behind the idea. “Three (4) Things” will give me a platform to share these thoughts with you, and hopefully, you will enjoy what I have to say And if not, you only had to wade through three (4) things!

  1. Click-bait lists are annoying.

But they are also one of the most effective marketing tools right now.  For better or worse, it’s the way we connect.  So, even though this series is kind of a click-bait list sort of thing (you have to click on the link to read the article and find out what the “Three (4) Things” are…), I’m telling you about it up front, and hoping it will be worth your while to click anyway. Plus, I try really hard to share useful things in a way that’s humorous while being helpful.  Quirky sometimes.  Controversial now and then.  So, hopefully, you won’t mind clicking!

  1. BONUS! I’d love to hear from you.

Reply to the posts with any comments or questions you have about the topic of the day.  Or suggest topics you’d like to have me address.  Challenge me, encourage me, correct me, or just connect with me and each other.  I can be most helpful as a counselor/therapist and blogger if I get some feedback from you readers as to what you need and want to hear.

So there you have it – the 1st in a series of “Three Things About…”.   Hopefully, reading this has been worth your while, and you are at least a little curious about what I’ll be posting.   I’m excited to get 2016 started, and I hope you are too.  We all had some successes and some challenges in 2015, and now it’s time to focus on the future and apply what we’ve learned.

Thanks for reading.  Until next time, be purposeful, and keep your eyes looking forward.

Rebecca

You Don’t Even Need a Jar!

Remember this meme that was going around Facebook and various other places towards the end of December?

It is a Blessings Jar.  The idea is to, every day, take a little slip of colored paper and write down a blessing that happened on that day.  Then fold the little colored slip of paper and put it in the jar.  Do this every day and the jar becomes full of colorful blessing notes as the year progresses.  Then, on New Years Eve, as you ring out the old and ring in the new, you read all the little blessing notes and remind yourself that a lot of good stuff happened throughout that year.

I thought that was a great idea.  Did you think so, too?  Most likely you did.

Did you actually make a Blessings Jar and start putting little notes in it on January 1st?  Yeah, I didn’t either.

But you know what?  It doesn’t matter!  YOU CAN START NOW!  Or tomorrow!  Or next week!  Or whenever you want to.

You don’t even have to have a jar.

I find it’s easier for me to write down my blessings in my calendar/planner as they happen throughout the day than it is to carry around a jar and write on cute little pieces of paper, even though I LOVE how cute that jar is.

So, what I’m gonna do is jot down the good things that happen to me and the positive things I notice as often as I can in my planner.  Hopefully every day.  As soon as they happen, or as soon as I notice something positive, I’m gonna write it down.  I have to do it right away because I won’t remember all the stuff that happened all day long.

The point of a Blessing Jar isn’t REALLY to have this cutesy little jar with hundreds of colored pieces of awesomeness in it at the end of the year.  Although I think I’d like to have such a jar…

The point is to learn to notice your blessings more than the yucky stuff that happens every day.

The point is to remind yourself, as often as you need to, that good stuff happens too; the bad stuff just takes more of our attention most of the time.

The point is to train yourself to look for the good instead of the bad.  Because you can learn to notice the good stuff.  The bad will still be there, and it will find a way to grab your attention regardless.  But you can train yourself to focus more on the good than the bad.

Since you have a choice in the matter, why WOULDN’T you focus on the positives?  You’ll feel better, you’ll be a more pleasant person to be around, you’ll stop complaining and criticizing so much, and you’ll most likely live longer (or at least live healthier).

I keep a picture of the blessings jar with the colored paper because it is really crafty and cool and a good idea.  It’s a “happy picture” for me.

But I write my blessings down in my planner because that’s what works for me.

 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”   Philippians 4:8

“Be thankful in all circumstances…”   1 Thessalonians 5:18:

It’s Not Too Late! (Really, It’s Not)

It’s Only Too Late If You Don’t Start Now – that’s not only a catchy phrase, but also the title of a very good self-help book by Barbara Sher.

But this post isn’t about Barbara Sher or self-help books.

This post is about the fact that it’s January 4, and you either:

1) didn’t get to your New Year’s Resolutions made before January 1st, or

2) you DID come up with some, but you’ve already fallen behind.

And now you’re discouraged.

And it’s only January 4th.   And you’ve decided that resolutions are stupid.

My response to that is “So what?”

So what if you didn’t make a list of resolutions, but really wanted to?  So what if you made them and really meant it, but you’ve already stumbled and broken one (or 3)?  So what??

Resolutions, or life changes, are things you have to recommit to every single day.  It doesn’t really matter what the calendar says.

If you only commit your thoughts and efforts to new, better habits once a year, you are certain to fail.

January 1st is a convenient day full of pomp and attention when people are very vocal about making resolutions.

But, really, to live a successful, productive, joyful life – you’ve gotta look at your priorities and your commitments every single day.  Living life on purpose requires attention to the present, to “now”.

Every single “now”.

And I want to live life on purpose.

I want to throw myself into every single day that I wake up on this side of the ground and live every moment as if it’s my last.

Because it just might be.

Remember when we talked about your Word for 2015 a few days ago?  My word was Focus.  Every day requires focusing.

If you somehow missed the January 1st Resolution train, or you started out riding but got off at the wrong stop – just pick yourself up, tell yourself that all is not lost, and begin again.  Refocus.  Be purposeful.

It doesn’t matter what day it is.  Be purposeful EVERY day.

Every single day is another new day to begin again, to make today better than any day before it.

Let’s make “New DAY Resolutions”, shall we?

What’s Your WORD for 2015?

Happy-New-Year-2015-Wish-Images

Happy New Year’s Day to you!  2015 is here, whether we are ready or not!

One of my Facebook friends asked a question on her page to kick off the New Year this morning.

She wrote:  “What is your word for this Blessed New Year?”

My “word”?  I didn’t have a word.  Uh oh.

I have been battling a bad cold (maybe flu??) for the past week and hadn’t been able to think much beyond remembering to take my cold meds and throw my stack of used tissues in the garbage.  And cough.  And look miserable.

But my friend’s question caught my interest.  I tend to be a big proponent of New Year’s Resolutions, a specific day where we take a look at life and decide to make some changes.  Put the old behind, and move forward with the new.  As one year ends and a new one begins, old habits and ideas are replaced by more appropriate/healthy/motivating ones.

It’s like “repentance” – a turning away from something undesirable, and moving towards something better.

2 Corinthians 5:17  “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

So I normally have some resolutions in mind as the New Year approaches.  But because I haven’t felt well for the past week, I hadn’t really given resolutions as much deep thought as I normally would.

Philippians 3:13-15  “… I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

A WORD.  Surely I could come up with my WORD for 2015.  That felt doable.

I looked at everyone else’s words.  The poster’s word was “inspire”.  Excellent choice, especially for a school teacher.   Also listed were:  kindness, joy, moderation, diet (…), faith, DO, believe, love, hope, and pursue.  Those were all great words.  But none of them seemed to be “my” word.

I tossed some more ideas around.  I’m a wordy person.  It’s not easy for me to limit myself to ONE WORD; I tend to get a bit verbose.

But I was determined to find one word that would sum up my plans and hopes for 2015.

Because I’m also competitive.  And if all those other people could come up with a word for 2015… well, you get the picture!

2014 was an odd year.  Not a bad year, just odd.  In fact, 2014 had some fabulous moments and events in it, like my daughter’s wedding.  And getting to make a CD with Acappella Praise & Harmony.

But I knew that I did not put as much into 2014 as I had wanted to.

As I wished I had.  As I know I could have.  I got sidetracked a lot.  Discouraged.  Lazy.  Overwhelmed.

excuses_nike1[1]

And while, from the outside, it looked like I accomplished a lot last year, I knew better.  I knew that there were areas of responsibility that I had let slide. Times I got lazy and let people down.  Times I let other people’s attitudes get to me and I just shut down for awhile.

I hadn’t given my best in areas where I could have, and should have.  And I didn’t want 2015 to be a repeat of that.

I really needed to find my focus.

And just like that, there was my word:  FOCUS.

focus

2014 had lacked FOCUS for me.  When things got too big, or I got discouraged, I just let myself get sidetracked over on Pinterest or Facebook or somewhere else out there.

Focus allows us to make sure that we place our efforts on the things that are important in our lives.

focus on what matters

With focus, we know what we are aiming for, so that we have a much better chance of hitting the target.

In order to focus, we have to simplify – get rid of all the peripheral stuff that is getting in the way of what we need to be paying attention to.  When things get too big, too complicated, you break it down until it no longer feels overwhelming.

Until you can identify the important piece and focus on it.

Hebrews 12:1-3   “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. 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.”

A life where focus has been lost is much too random and arbitrary.  We get overwhelmed and discouraged.

A year goes by all too quickly, and we can’t have it back for a do-over.

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The older I get the more I realize that I do not have an unlimited number of days on this earth.  I WON’T get to do everything I want to do, go everywhere I want to go, learn everything I want to learn.  There just aren’t enough years, and the world is full of fascinating things and places.

Every day that I let slip by without focus feels like a day wasted.

Some days, when energy is low and sickness is high, the focus may only be to have a shower and heat some soup.  But, I would like to return to the point where even if that is all that I can manage that day, I will do it on purpose.

I want to live purposefully, mindfully, more than I ever have up to this point in my life.  And to do that, I will have to FOCUS on whatever task or issue or goal or need that stands in front of me.  So that I can have a chance of hitting that goal.

focus on one thing at a time

Tools that I’ve let slide – to do lists for each area of my life, daily agendas, renewed Bible reading, attention to good health, self-discipline, to name a few – need to come back.  And they are inexpensive (mostly free!) and right there waiting to be picked up and used again!

Jeremiah 29:11-13   “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.“

It’s even just a little bit exciting.  Maybe a lot exciting.  There are things I want to do.  Things I want to learn.  Things I get excited thinking about.  Ministries I want to serve.  And for now, still, at this moment in my life, I can.

So while I can, I choose to focus and move forward.

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It’s like when I’m at the grocery store and the checker asks if I’d like some help out.  And the bagger is waiting expectantly for me to say, “That would be great!”  But my answer is this:  “Oh, no thanks.  There will come a day when I’ll have no choice but to have help out with my bags.  Today, I can still get them loaded by myself.  One of these days I’ll take you up on your offer, but today is not that day!”

focus lady holding paper

In 2015, I’m going to FOCUS more purposefully and more mindfully.

What’s your word for 2015?

Philippians 4:8   ” And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on (“focus on”) what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

You Deserve This!

Yesterday was Cyber Monday: the Monday after Thanksgiving. designated as a day to shop online and get some amazing deals.  This event was created, not surprisingly, by marketers themselves in 2005 and presented to the public as big news.

By definition, the goal of a marketer is to create as much profitable business as possible by communicating to the public what it is they are trying to sell. Since these marketers are the same people who are telling you what a great thing Cyber Monday is, your mileage may vary in the “great deal” department!

But a bunch of people sure do shop online on Cyber Monday.

Anyway, I was hearing all sorts of Cyber Monday ads on the radio as I was driving in to work, tempting me with hoards of fancy, shiny, exciting things like the new iPhone, vacations, tablets and laptops, huge HD TVs, clothes, shoes, jewelry, and pretty much anything I can imagine that I might want or need.

I mean, to buy for someone else for Christmas.  Because, um, I’m supposed to be buying stuff for OTHER people right now…

Now, maybe it’s always been this way, but I was noticing one phrase pop up over and over in these tantalizing ads that I hadn’t noticed so much in the past.  A phrase that, I guess, is supposed to be a selling point.  Something that was supposed to make me sit up, take notice, pump my fist, and say, “That’s right!”.  And then go buy me that iPhone 6!

Why was I supposed to go buy their product?  Well, obviously, it’s because

(Fist pump!) I deserve to have that shiny, cool, new, fun, expensive thing.  Yes – ME!  Amazing, so-long-forgotten, wanting-new-stuff ME!

I know that phrase was intended to speak to my overworked, under-appreciated, neglected, self-sacrificing self and make me want their items all the more.

Because, by God, I DESERVE THIS!

But it didn’t.

I didn’t all of a sudden want to go out and get myself those wonderful things that they told me I deserved to have.

Instead, it made me scrunch up my forehead, narrow my gaze, and ponder.  The phrase felt – I don’t know – icky.  Slimy.  Just not right.   Sure, I DO work hard (at least sometimes…), and sometimes get overlooked, and sometimes get taken for granted.  I don’t go out and buy every single thing my heart desires, and I often (by choice) put others’ needs ahead of my own.

But does that mean I deserve a new iPhone??  Or do I deserve “quality service and attention” when I’m shopping, more than other people who, the advertisers are implying, don’t deserve it? Really? 

And then it hit me.  I realized why that phrase felt so wrong to me.  It’s this whole idea of entitlement.  How we as a culture live as if the world revolves around ME, and we feel so ENTITLED to whatever we want, whenever we want it.  If I want it, then I oughta have it.

This endemic self-focus is such an established trait these days, that entitlement has become a marketing ploy that businesses are hoping will be as effective as using a beautiful women or hot guy or great humor or sentimentality to sell their products.

Especially during this time of year, when we are supposedly focusing on joy and peace and giving and making the world a better place – especially right now – we should be thinking about others a bit more than ourselves.

Being UNselfish.

These businesses are, instead, speaking straight to our self-centered, entitlement-demanding selves and encouraging us to look out for number one for once.

As if we weren’t already doing that most of the time anyway, much to my chagrin.

They are reenforcing the popular idea that the world revolves around ME!  I just forgot for a minute!  Thanks for reminding me!  I DO deserve that iPhone!

Maybe I’m making too much out of this.  Maybe I was just in a mood this morning.

But I think there is something very wrong with us when the idea of entitlement is used as a motivating reason for giving gifts. Or being kind.  Or offering good customer service.  Or buying stuff for ourselves.

I really think I’m LESS likely to buy those products that somebody just told me I deserve to have. I’m pretty sure discouraging purchases wasn’t the goal the marketers had in mind.

I’d much rather hear about how beautiful or fun or leading edge the product is, and how I’d have fun with it.    Or how great their customer service is – for everybody, not just for those of us who deserve good service.  Even a phrase like, “You know you want this!” would sit better with me. At least that’s honest.

I DON’T deserve an expensive, top of line, amazing gift any more than anyone else does.  I may end up buying something nice for myself, but if I do, it’ll be because I want it and can afford it.  Not because I deserve it.

Last time I checked, we were supposed to be giving to those LESS fortunate (and perhaps less deserving) than we are.  That’s the whole idea of holiday giving.  Isn’t it?

If you want to give me an iPhone 6 or a new car or send me to Europe for 2 weeks, or just give me some of my favorite candy (Hot Tamales!) by all means, give away!

But don’t do it because I “deserve it”.  Do it because you want to.  Because we are friends.  Because giving makes you feel good.

Will I still buy gifts for myself, just because I want to?  Sometimes, yes, I’m sure I will.

The world doesn’t revolve around me.  And that’s just fine.  But if we go about our lives looking through the filter of making sure we get what we deserve, through the lens of entitlement, the world will not be a very happy or peaceful or better place.

And folks who live with the entitlement chip on their shoulder?  Are they happy and contented?  Nope. They seem to be pretty miserable.  Because feeling entitled never ends, and you can never acquire enough stuff to satisfy.

As Christians, our aim should be to focus LESS on self as time goes on.  To be strong enough to not need to be the center of the universe.  To live life based on the realization that happiness isn’t found in acquiring stuff or getting “what you deserve”.

I’m thankful that Jesus was born so many years ago, and that with Him, I can set my entitlement chip down and focus on how best to serve and bless others. In the case of my salvation, I’m forever grateful that I DON’T get what I deserve!

Because my purpose and value aren’t based on anything I do or buy or acquire; my value comes through who HE IS.