Where is Your Focus?

Where is Your Focus?

I asked God for a word that would help me accomplish His plans for my life in 2020. The word, Focus, came to me, oddly enough, during the Total Strength class at the YMCA.

I recently became a Y member and joined the dreaded Total Strength class there. I say dreaded because I’m not a gym person and I don’t like to be uncomfortable. I enjoy walks, hikes and bike rides. Most anything other than being inside a big building with strangers who sweat, grunt and watch themselves in mirrors.

I couldn’t conjure up any valid excuses to keep from going. It takes me less than ten minutes to get there and it’s free because of….um….my particular stage in life. I knew I had to improve my health and strength, so I begrudgingly went.

The Total Strength class was going fairly well until we began the lunges. The instructor gave us emphatic directions: “Do not let your knee go beyond your toes; find a focal point in front of you. Do not look down. “Where your eyes go your body will follow.” My dilemma as a newbie: How do I insure my knee is situated correctly while simultaneously looking straight ahead?

I would glance down quickly to check the toes and knee situation and nearly tumble over. I was surprised that I found it difficult to keep my balance. I also lost balance when looking at other people. But when I kept my focus on a certain dumbbell in front of me, I was steadier on my feet.

Where your eyes go your body will follow kept coming to me in the fitness class and also at other times. I began to think of a similar concept I’d read in an article. It came from the world of auto racing. Drivers are taught that there is a natural tendency to fixate on danger while driving at a high speed. Danger, such as a concrete wall near the edge of the track. They’re trained to go against their tendency to focus on what they fear, and instead focus on where they want the car to go. Every instinct may be to look at the threat— but they must force themselves to look past it. They must train themselves to look straight ahead; not behind or to the side of them.

When we look straight ahead we are still able to notice important things in our peripheral vision. But those things are not as important as our forward vision, and don’t require our full focus.

In our daily lives if we focus on peripheral issues we may lose sight of our main goal: following Jesus. When we focus on the negatives, or even on other people’s lives, we may veer off our course with Him.

Keep your head up, your eyes straight ahead, and your focus fixed on what is in front of you. Take care you don’t stray from the straight path, the way of truth, and you will safely reach the end of your road. Do not veer off course to the right or the left; step away from evil, and leave it behind.

Proverbs 4:25-27

This verse helped me so many times when I didn’t know what to do next. I desperately try to keep my eyes focused on Jesus so I won’t be distracted by scary, seemingly impossible scenarios around me. The verse especially brought me courage during my years of single parenting two children, one of whom has autism and severe intellectual disabilities.

God doesn’t assure us a life without difficulty, but He clearly tells us in Scripture that He loves us and will always be with us, no matter what we go through. Keeping our focus on Jesus may seem a vague idea, like it once seemed to me.

Here’s what it looks like for me now:

  • The moment I wake up, about a million thoughts fill my mind— many are worrisome and fearful. I’ve trained my mind to immediately imagine a huge banner that reads: JESUS, which unfurls and covers my negative thoughts. Peace comes.
  • I grab my coffee and begin to read my Bible and devotionals. As I think about the verses, I often journal what the Holy Spirit shows me. I read aloud, which was awkward at first, but I enjoy it now because my voice drowns out the aforementioned distracting thoughts.
  • I give God praise and acknowledge that He is first place in my life.
  • In whatever commitments and activities I find myself in, I ask God to guide me as I work. As people’s names and needs come to mind, I pray for them.
  • I’m careful about where I give my attention. I read books that encourage me in my various roles and I listen to podcasts and videos that teach me. Time is limited. I don’t always need to know the latest secular scandal or political drama.
  • I keep a gratitude journal where I’ve listed nearly 2,000 gifts over several years. Reviewing that list of “gifts” is one of the most encouraging tools I’ve ever used!

My friends, let’s focus on growing closer to Jesus. Let’s keep less important issues and worries in the peripheral where they belong. As you keep Him in first place, I promise He will be faithful to you! I’ve experienced His faithfulness for 50 years!

Prayer for a New Year

 Heavenly Father,

This New Year came abruptly, like a tagalong unexpected guest to a party; eyes full of anticipation and wonder about the future. It caught me unawares. It’s wide-eyed face looked at me as if to say, “What will your offering be in this fresh New Year?” I’m slow to catch on. I find myself still wandering around in the old year working on the lessons I began there. I’m not as excited about a new year as I usually am. I want to be dazzled by the new number and the new decade but it hasn’t hit me yet.

So I come to you Lord, humbly, again offering myself completely to you. I don’t have it all together, but this is what I do know:  You are my everything. I am nothing without you. I fervently long for your will to be done in my life so that I will bring you glory in this bright and shiny New Year.

Thank you for calling me out of darkness into your marvelous light. Thank you for being my life.

Thank you for the many gifts you’ve given me.

The sunrises, sunsets, the ocean roar, glassy lakes, the sky high evergreens, close family ties, sounds of laughter, the chubby baby hands, tight hugs from loved ones, the birdsongs, eyesight, legs for walking, hands for working and my spirit that melds with  yours.

I worship you Lord! I hallow your name!

As I remember your lifelong faithfulness to me, I trust you and yield to your loving hand.

My mind is cluttered with the cacophony of words and images swirling around. I pray for clearer and sharper focus this year. I no longer want to concentrate on unimportant things. I want to focus only on things that concern me; the roles you’ve designed for me.

I’m glad for the inspiration and insight from other peoples’ stories, but, Lord, please help me to not camp out in their lives. Help me to stay in the story you’re writing for me.

You knew all the days of my life before there were any. You’re the author of my story.

I desperately want to grasp every opportunity you give me; to not miss a moment of what you’re doing in my life. Help me to sign up for the opportunities you’ve designed for me and to be savvy about the ones that are for someone else.

My desire to know you grows stronger and stronger as the years whiz by and I grow older.

 Help me to always be a learner and for your Word to be the fabric of my being.

Father, I want to be riveted to you—my face set like flint.

Help me not to fear the unknown and unseen. It’s all known by you.

Lord, help me not to worry. Nor to dread the future. You are already there.

Nothing is accomplished by worry but precious time lost.

Help me to bring my wandering thoughts into captivity; to limit their space to roam.

You’ll never leave me.

You gave me the amazing gift of your Holy Spirit to be with me through the hard unknowns. To comfort me when I’m hurting and to empower me when I’m weak. The same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead!

I love you, Lord!

Amen

 

 

 

 

The Miracle of the Open Door

The Miracle of the Open Door

“Most of all, love each other steadily and unselfishly, because love makes up for many faults. Show hospitality to each other without complaint. Use whatever gift you’ve received for the good of one another so that you can show yourselves to be good stewards of God’s grace in all its varieties. 1 Peter 4: 8-10

Crispy green celery sticks stuffed with crunchy peanut butter. That’s what I remember from the meal. They were delicious. I don’t recall what else we ate because, I guess, it wasn’t that important. What I DO remember is the way I felt. My close friend Barbara had again welcomed me into her home; to her table. My respite. On this particular night another friend joined us, also. I don’t remember where our kids were. Maybe they’d eaten earlier? I believe Barbara’s husband was out of town, but I’m not positive. She’d prepared the meal and put our heaping plates before us—but the sustenance I took in was far more than food.

“Share what you have with the saints, so they lack nothing; take every opportunity to open your life and your home to others.” Romans 12:13

Everyone needs a meal when the stomach is hungry. But there is so much more to the open door and table than the food we eat. I was hungry for peace. In her home, I could relax and breathe.

I brought no contributions to the table other than my familiar companions: shock, deep sadness, and fear, to name a few.

The memory of the food served has vanished. But I can still see myself sitting at that table in that kitchen, in that neighborhood in Mobile, Alabama. I don’t think I talked about my problems. But just being there, enjoying a change of scenery and watching life actually going on around me. That’s what helped. To hear, “Pass the salt”, or to talk about a new recipe or the weather was consoling. To know that everyone’s life hadn’t stopped just because I felt that mine had. Somehow I was surprised that those things helped.

Minutes before I arrived, I’d felt such heavy darkness and despair in my own little home, only five minutes from Barbara’s. Hopelessness was smothering me.

The hopelessness dimmed when I crossed the threshold into her warm home. My circumstances hadn’t changed but engaging with others took my mind off of my despair long enough to think about other things.

My husband had left days before. Or maybe it was weeks. He walked away from my young son and me. He walked right out of our door. But not before he reminded me to bring the garbage cans in because a hurricane was coming. *

I was pregnant with our second child.

It would take me years to recover from the horrendous experience that began when he left.

Thus this story of the “the open door” and its impact on my life. I credit Barbara and others for giving me a love and passion for the ministry of hospitality. I truly hope you’ve experienced serving others this way. And I hope you have received biblical hospitality. I really hope you see how valuable it is.

Hospitality can look like sitting on the sofa sharing coffee or a glass of cold water. It can be ordering pizza and eating on paper plates. You could offer hospitality in a coffee shop or on a park bench. When you have the time and inclination, you can also create a nice home-cooked dinner and serve it on your favorite plates.

THE FOOD IS NOT MOST IMPORTANT. NOR IS THE PRESENTATION. Your kindness, your willingness to give of your time to engage and listen; that’s what’s important.

What if a full laundry basket overflows on the sofa? That’s okay. Now your guests know you’re a normal person in the middle of a busy life. They may even offer to fold! I can promise you if the friends or strangers in your home are tasked with helping you out, they will feel more relaxed and welcomed. If you have it all together or seem too perfect, they’ll be less likely to invite people into their homes, especially you! Show them that they are important enough for you to hit pause on regular chores. I intentionally made a point of having people in our home during major repairs and construction. The times when the refrigerator was shoved across the room, or when we had huge holes in our sheetrock and sub-flooring was under our feet.

I’d be completely lost without God! He’s my Hope; His Holy Spirit helps and comforts me.

WE are Christ’s Body—His hands and feet. We are the ones with doors and tables and food that encourage other folks around us.

Jesus saved me. Hospitality and His Body brought me life.

We are made to be WITH, not alone. Nothing feels worse than loneliness. We need each other, especially in the tough times!

Why do I  share my story from so long ago? It’s good for me to remember. I want to keep fanning my own flame of hospitality as well as yours.

Let’s step out of our comfort zones and connect in a meaningful way with someone new. Let’s be on the lookout for someone dying to know the love and acceptance we’ve experienced.

“Share what you have with the saints, so they lack nothing; take every opportunity to open your life and your home to others.” Romans 12:13

*I hope to never dishonor others while being transparent about my life; my former spouse later regretted his actions and we were eventually on good terms.

 

 

Blindly Going

The year was 1980 and I was en route to my OB/GYN. You will think this odd, but I always looked forward to my regular appointment.

I found out I was pregnant with my second child at about the same time my husband decided to leave our marriage. It was not something I ever imagined going through and my pain was almost unbearable.

In the doctor’s pretty and quiet waiting area, I would sit in a comfortable cushy chair. I’d pile up as many magazines as I could gather on my diminishing lap, and hope the wait to see my doctor was extra long.

Back home in my little 900 square foot house my dear friend was watching my two-year-old little boy along with a set of twin boys, also two, and about three other kids, depending on the day.

I certainly had very little time for reading at home. There was no extra money to buy magazines so I perused as many as possible while I enjoyed having a babysitter. No matter what the exam entailed, the appointment was a break for me.

I’d opened a small daycare in my home to support my family. Having taught public school, including kindergarten, I was familiar with the art of childcare. My wonderful friends helped me by transferring their kids from other daycare centers and placing them in my care. It was an extremely difficult season but one where God’s grace shone bright.

All of these memories flooded into my thoughts a couple of months ago when I decided to take a walk across the Lake Murray dam in Columbia. I wasn’t really dressed for a warm four mile walk, but I happened to be in the area for a job with a client, so I couldn’t resist.

I began the walk along the concrete path and looked across the water which appeared to have no end. Instantly, the endless water triggered thoughts of that earlier time when my future was an endless scary blurry unknown —when going to the doctor was the highlight of my week. I’d been in a season of looking out over my life having no clue what was ahead; or how anything would turn out.

I would soon have my second child and I couldn’t know then that my daughter, Dawn, would have severe cognitive deficits. Her lack of appropriate development and need for constant attention would add a very difficult and complicated challenge to our little family’s life.

On my way to the doctor visit that morning so many years ago, I heard God speak clearly to me. Not audibly, but just as certain— I saw a picture in my mind. I was praying along the drive there about my life and how in the world was I going to make it!? As clearly as could be, I heard God speak that I was going to be fine because I was planted on the Rock. That I hadn’t built my life on shifting sands. These words referred to a familiar scripture (Matthew 7:24-27) and the message was simple enough.

It was just what I needed to hear that morning in order to keep going. One step at a time; one day at a time.

Earlier, when I was a teenager, I’d established continual communication with the Lord through the Holy Spirit. Diving into God’s Word had become a consistent habit in my life. In the darkest times, truth and hope became congruent and magnified during my desperate need for guidance.

Abraham traveled, by faith, to a land he did not know (Hebrews 11:8).

As a young woman with a toddler, pregnant and alone, I also saw myself going blindly into an unknown land. I continued to trust in the truths that had been spoken, and persist in the hope that I’d one day have a decent life. In case I sound emotionally “strong”, let me assure you that I felt very weak. There were so many times I felt like I couldn’t change another diaper, or survive another tantrum or comfort my daughter through the night when morning would come so quickly. That I’d never be able to enjoy a so-called normal life. But I also recognized the Holy Spirit coaxing me to keep going (without seeing).

I’m only telling you my story to encourage you, no matter what you’re going through. The great thing about living more years than some of your friends (a nice way to say “being older”) is that your retrospection is longer! I look back now with joy deep down; so grateful for my life. I couldn’t see this clearly years earlier; it’s taken me many years of closeness with Jesus to come to this place. So, don’t give up, my friends! I believe there is more good ahead for you, too. I am truly fine! And I believe you will be fine, too. In the meantime, keep pressing on and keep building a close relationship with Jesus. He’s the friend that sticks closer than a brother.

Just this morning, my long time companion, Oswald (Chambers) told me this:

“If we are going to live as disciples of Jesus, we have to remember that all noble things are difficult. The Christian life is gloriously difficult, but the difficulty of it does not make us faint and cave in, it rouses us up to overcome. Do we so appreciate the marvelous salvation of Jesus Christ that we are our utmost of His highest?”  

(July 7 entry from “My Utmost for His Highest”)

“Gloriously difficult”– sometimes he makes me laugh, but he speaks truth! Carry on, Beloved!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heal Thyself!

“Physician, heal yourself!” Luke 4:23

Have you ever been going along spiritually, humbly and holily, just minding your own business, when a voice inside says, “Teacher, teach yourself!”  or, in other words, “Practice what you preach.”? Ouch!

I had just finished a conversation with my daughter, Katherine, when I heard that sentiment.

I’m fortunate to have a daughter who speaks into my life like a close friend. She probably knows me best, next to her father. 🙂 I’d made a comment and she gently corrected me. She was referring to a very humble and holy point I’d made; valuable spiritual insight and wisdom concerning a friend. Honestly, my point had truth; it wasn’t devoid of wisdom. But it’s not my job to point out other people’s potential mistakes. Right after she made her comment, Katherine arrived at the site for her photo shoot. And we abruptly ended our chat.

The phone went quiet and I instantly heard that still small voice telling me in so many words, “You were speaking under the guise of “helping and teaching” but really you wanted to appear better than the other character in the story. You wanted to make sure your daughter knows you’re the #1 spiritually mature woman in her life.

How did I reply? “Yes, Lord! Thank you so much!” “This stuff really DOES work!” I can rejoice over His correction because I know He loves me. Not only was I glad; I also laughed. It’s good to have a sense of humor and see the irony. I’m nothing if not a life-long student. I know there will never come a day when I finish learning and graduate from “God School”.

I recently had the privilege of speaking at a couple of women’s events. I’m still slowly shaking my head as to why those people trusted me. Actually, they trusted God.

Anyway, among the points I made was this one, more or less: Jesus left the Holy Spirit to His disciples as a compensation for His departure. The good news for us is that we Christ followers have that same Holy Spirit living in us; the same power who raised Jesus from the dead! The Holy Spirit, among comforting, teaching and all the other benefits, also convicts us of sin and enables us to live victoriously!

So there I was; finding out again how Christ- following works! HE IS IN ME. He showed me my heart. It goes a lot deeper than my lovely sounding words. He not only showed me my heart, but He’s already giving me ideas as to how I can alter my thoughts, pray and act redemptively towards someone I love whom I don’t always agree with.

Remember that young shepherd boy, David? The prophet, Samuel was sent by God to Bethlehem, to a man named Jesse. Samuel’s task was to find and anoint one of Jesse’s sons to be the future king. Samuel observed the “tall, dark, handsome” sons, thinking that one of those must be the chosen one. But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

Finally, the youngest son, David came in from tending the sheep. Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.” 1 Samuel 16:12

After all, what matters most is what’s in our hearts. That’s what God sees; not our outer shell. God looks on the heart.