Melancholic Joy

 

 

This week marks the four month anniversary of the death of my sister, Kimberly. It’s hard to believe that it’s already a third of a year. I seemed to experience more melancholy last week than this week. It’s probably because I was remembering the days that led up to her death. On the anniversary day of this week I woke up feeling great serenity, until I went to Yoga.

Tuesday during my Yoga class I discovered something new in my life: a melancholic joy. That’s kind of an odd place to discover this, and yet as I think about it, it’s not odd at all.

I tried Yoga a few years ago and wasn’t too crazy about it. Some of the poses were strange and I couldn’t achieve many of the positions to which our instructor guided us. I saw nothing relaxing in it at all, so decided it wasn’t for me. The time of the class didn’t work very well in my schedule either, so that too affected my decision not to go back. It’s funny though, how we change and how God uses all kinds of ways to take care of us in areas where we are unaware.

My renewed interest in Yoga came because a friend in another city began attending a Restorative Yoga class. I became intrigued and quite curious again about Yoga when she told me of the many benefits she is receiving. By the time each class ends she knows her body has let go of an incredible amount of tension which can build up so quickly in just a week’s time. When a new Yoga class opened up at our church’s family ministry center, at an optimal hour for me, I knew it was time to try this type of workout again. I was open to anything that could take me to deeper places of serenity.

The types of stretching, interesting poses, and focus upon deep breathing all are important components of the de-stressing processes of Yoga, but for me, the best thing about this class is the relaxing and spiritual environment that presents itself each week. Of course, I know this wouldn’t be possible without the incredible instructor God beautifully placed to lead this class. It’s evident that the Spirit of God is leading through her. When we’re in the pose with our hands together she often says, “Lift your hands in prayer to God.” This place becomes a worship workout with directions like that. The music she chooses to play during our class connects me to the heart of God. That’s where it dawned on me that there is a place of rest and serenity that is a melancholic joy.

It’s good the lights were low on Tuesday because my face got all scrunched up, my eyes became teary, and my nose sniffled with the closing music. The instrumental music that closed out our workout was Amazing Grace and Be Still My Soul. Later that afternoon while doing some things around the house, I tuned into my favorite Pandora station: Lullabye Radio. Two instrumental songs played: Amazing Grace and Be Still My Soul. I sobbed. I knew it wasn’t accidental that I was hearing those two songs again.

I thought, “God, why am I hearing both of those songs again?” It’s like He said, “It’s not the beauty of the melody that is bringing on the tears of melancholy, but there are some of the words of the songs I need to remind you of.” This phrase from Amazing Grace captured me, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun. We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.” From Be Still My Soul, I focused on, “Bear patiently the cross of grief and pain. Leave to thy God to order and provide. Through thorny way leads to a joyful end.”

I experienced a melancholic joy because even in the sorrowful place of missing my sister, Kimberly, I was overcome with joy because God’s goodness and graciousness was all around me. I had only to open the eyes of my heart, soul, and body to see it. It is in that place that I choose to continue living.

I will continue loving the One who loved me before I was ever born. I will continue being on the look out every day for things to write down in my thankfulness journal that come from Him. I will continue deepening those relationships most dear to me and cultivate the new ones that God brings into my life. This community of family and friends brings incredible meaning to my life.

I will be comforted everyday in the hope that I will spend not only 10,000 years in the perfectly prepared Home awaiting me, but will stay there forever. It’s in that place that I can gaze on Jesus who redeemed me, my sister, my mother and all others who put their faith and trust in Him alone. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully… I Corinthians 13:12 The suffering of Jesus made possible the joy in sorrow I am now discovering which will one day be made perfect.

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FitBit for the Soul

 

 

 

A few years ago my sister asked me if I had a FitBit. I told her I had no idea what one was. She told me it was the rage: her daughters had one as well as most teachers she worked with. She tried to explain it. I thought all it did was track your steps for the day. I figured I didn’t need one since I already incorporate some type of exercise into most of my days. I went out and bought a $10.00 step tracker at Aldi. I never used it. I’ve made it pretty well without any kind of step tracker, up until two weeks ago. I don’t look a gift horse in the mouth when I’m offered something free. So I wasn’t about to turn down a FitBit when it was gifted to me.

A FitBit is quite fascinating. I had no idea it could know so much about me. It knows:

  • The number of steps I take in a day
  • The distance I traverse
  • The calories I burn
  • The type of steps I take: a stroll, vigorous walk, or a run
  • The time I go to bed
  • The hours I sleep
  • The type of sleep I get: restful or restless

This FitBit is designed to make me a healthier “me”. Maybe it could make you a healthier you. However, we have to realize we can look quite good on the outside and be quite ragged looking on the inside. And, that ragged look on the inside matters to God and it should matter to us.

That makes me ponder these questions: Am I living the way God designed me? Am I doing the inward work that moves me more into the place of inward healthy living that brings wholeness?

I know I want to say yes to all of the questions. But, part of living out the yes is understanding there are places in me, and in all of us, that still need working on. It’s so easy to run and hide from these things. These things lurk in the shadows and keep us from living out the full beauty that is in each of us. God’s desire is that we live in the light of His son Jesus. But, to do that we must make sure our hands are open to God as we pray as David did in Psalm 139. He asked God to search his heart, and his thoughts, to show him his grievous ways, and then to lead him in the right path. It takes courage to pray this and really mean it.

The FitBit is not totally accurate on its tracking. That’s a given. But, God is accurate on all things about each of us. He knows those places in each of us that stump us up and keep us from going deeper with Him, deeper within ourselves with helpful self-knowledge, and deeper with family and friends. It takes humility to do this hard work. It’s a peeling off of things that are artificial. It’s a taking off of masks we wear. It is in this place, however, that there is true freedom to become the person God uniquely designed us to be. It’s a place that can make us feel more alive, more settled in our soul. We then can love deeper, care deeper, think deeper, live deeper, experience deeper, search deeper, and long deeper.

 

Most of us struggle saying yes to entering this kind of God work/soul work. It can be brutal but oh the joys! I love what David Benner says: “My identity as a Christian has more to do with becoming than with simply being. And what I have wanted to become has been fully alive and deeply human.” It’s rather risky to start living in this way but it’s a way of living the journey of becoming whole, alive, and deeply human.

Ten Important Questions for 2016

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Last week I had time to read quite a few blogs on New Year’s Resolutions. Some bloggers believe it’s good to make them, and others say no. Michael Hyatt says that 25% of those who make New Year’s Resolutions will give up in just a week. Fewer than half will still be making progress by summer and only 8% will be successful. Follow through is hard work.

I really don’t like the word resolution. However, I do like one of its synonyms. It’s the word intention. The dictionary definition says that intention is an aim that guides. It’s something that’s done with purpose. I know there are things that I want to be more intentional about in 2016. As a Life Coach I came up with some questions for myself that I wanted answered. I spent two hours one afternoon last week putting together a plan that is already helping me move forward in areas of my life that are the most important: spiritual, physical, relational, ministry, and work related. I asked:

  • What do I need to change?
  • What do I need to let go of?
  • What do I need to keep?
  • Who do I want to get to know better and how can I make that happen?
  • What can I do to help those who are in need?
  • What can I do to make sure I get the needed amount of sleep?
  • What do I need to do to stay consistent in exercise?
  • How can I eat healthier?
  • What plan can I make that will help me learn more about the things in which I’m most passionate?
  • What can I do to laugh more?

The first question is the one that took the most time to answer. I knew what needed to be addressed and it was painful. I’d been putting it off. It’s the way I manage my time. I can’t improve in many of the other areas if I’m not managing my time well. I laid out a plan and I’m seeing progress. This year I will get more things done that  bring joy, freedom, fulfillment, and purpose.

Be careful how you live-not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity. Ephesians 5:15,16

 

 

 

 

 

A Plan for Thriving

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I’ve just finished my annual continuing education course for my Life Coaching certification through Coach Approach Ministry. This course consisted of taking a look at what’s called Positive Psychology. I was kind of leery when I saw the subject matter but I found the material we covered to be extremely beneficial for me personally as well as the people I coach. The reason I was a little uneasy about this was because my first thought was, “Oh, no. Not positive thinking.” And, it definitely was not. Positive Psychology is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives and have the ability to cultivate what is best within themselves. Lasting transformation can take place because of action taking in areas that truly do make a difference in improving one’s well-being. Positive Psychology has been well researched and is backed up through multiple scientific studies. I’m intrigued and encouraged with what the studies have revealed.

We examined the book “Flourish” by Martin Seligman. Dr. Seligman has five elements he teaches that will help us live lives that flourish. They are elements that can improve one’s well-being. These elements are:

  • Positive Emotion
  • Engaging
  • Meaning
  • Positive Relationships
  • Accomplishment

When he teaches Positive Psychology one of the first things he requires of his students is to get a journal that is used for recording three blessings each day. At the end of the day they are to write down three things that went well and the reason it went well. He has seen depression lift when this exercise takes root in people. He does say it is important to stay with it for many months in order for it to really get embedded and make a lasting difference. I love this! It is SO Biblical! All through the Bible there are scriptures that exhort us to give thanks. Having a heart of thanksgiving is truly transformational.

Seligman says engagement is when one is deploying one’s highest strengths and talents to meet the world in what he calls “flow”. He even has a free on-line Signature Strengths Assessment that can be found at www.authentichappiness.org to help us know where our strengths lie so we can practice using these strengths as much as possible.

His third element is meaning. All of us want meaning and purpose in our lives. The way to flourish with meaning is realizing we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. Some of the “bigger than self” places he mentions are religion, political parties, family. That list could go on and on. For me, the two most “bigger than life” places are my relationship with God and my relationship with my family.

This connects perfectly to positive relationships. Christopher Peterson is one of Positive Psychology’s founders and he says, “Positive Psychology is about ‘other people’.” I so agree! Very little that we do in life that brings satisfaction and joy is done alone. Dr. Seligman says that other people are the best antidote to the downs of life and the single most reliable up. He suggests that we frequently practice doing an unexpected kindness for someone. This can totally alter our mood for the better! Jesus called this “servanthood”. It’s to be the norm of the Christian’s life.

The last element is accomplishment. This involves using efforts and skills to achieve a specific goal. I can’t help but think how much better I feel about a day when I look back over it and know I’ve accomplished at least a few things. They may not be huge, change the world things, but I’ve found that just reaching a few small goals can certainly add to my own personal well-being.

Our Creator God designed us to flourish! One of my favorite verses in the Bible is, “I have come so that you may have life and have life more abundantly.” God gifted us with the ability of choice. Each day is a gift and we can choose to put into action the things that will help us thrive, not stagnate. I can live in a place of more abundant living. It will make a positive personal difference. It will make a difference to others. A rippling effect for the positive cannot help but happen.

21 Ways to Loosen Up

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Photo courtesy of flickr.com/photos/mrbeck/2720291649

February 7, 2015, is a day that will stay etched in my mind forever. It was the birthday where two digits turned and the day we decided to start looking at selling our house and buying another. It was an emotional day! So, in two months we sold the house where we’d lived for fourteen years and bought another. Moving and purging a house where we lived for fourteen years was a rough and rocky journey. But, it got done through the strength God gave and the help that came through family and friends.

Something I found while purging was a square, rubber gadget used for gripping the lid on a tight jar so it could be loosened enough to open. It just happened to have words written on it that said: Getting a Grip on Wellness. Needless to say, I was wound tight and needed help! I love the hints that are listed on this little yellow gadget:

  • Laugh
  • Share your feelings
  • Pray often
  • Spend 30 minutes a day doing something you like
  • Think “hope”
  • Stop global whining
  • Exercise regularly
  • Have a positive attitude
  • Hug a child
  • Read a book
  • Tell the faith story
  • Forgive an enemy
  • Pet a dog or cat
  • Encourage a friend
  • Celebrate life
  • Say “Yes”
  • Thank and praise God all day long
  • Pray for someone
  • Smile at a grouch
  • Sing along with the radio
  • Study the Bible

I know I was running on adrenaline for weeks, so by the time we closed on the sell of our house, I was wound tight, and had to figure out how to get a “grip” on myself. This goal became the topic that my life coach and I discussed last week. Quite a few of the suggestions from this list surfaced as the way to get back to where I needed to be. Stillness with God, taking daily walks, and working on a loved hobby were the three things I am making sure are included in my day. It’s amazing to see and feel the tension leave that built up during this stressful time. Being intentional about priorities takes discipline, but it is the way of getting a grip on life and overall wellness that result in joy and freedom.