Focus on What Matters

#163 Blog Post-Focus on What Really Matters

“Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.” Proverbs 4:25

Our minds conjure up some strange thoughts sometimes. These thoughts can become beliefs and take control of our lives. It is best to take a few moments and reevaluate what matters.

A couple of months ago, I was in a doctor’s office waiting room with my daughter. There was a family who came out after the doctor’s office. The parents were discussing their 6-year-old twin sons’ appointment. The father bragged to their mother about how their boys were in the 95th percentile for height. He went on and on about how tall they maybe when they hit adulthood.  

Children’s development is a popular topic of conversation amongst parents. I remember when my daughter was younger, all of those milestones and percentiles seemed so important. Many parents loved to brag how their child learned how to walk or even read before most. My daughter was born three full weeks early. It took a while for her to catch up on some of these milestones. I used to get scared that she was slightly behind. It dawned on me one day, would this even matter when any of it would occur? Would she be at her college graduation, and they would announce how she learned how to read at age three or walked at ten months? Of course not!

This comparison game tears us apart. When we get caught up in everyone’s accomplishments, we lose sight of what matters. Are our children healthy? Are they becoming more independent and making the right decisions? Are we living in the moment and have gratitude for the beautiful things in our lives? Do we remember how God has carried us through difficult times and set us free from sin and shame?  

Our lives are temporary. Life moves so quickly. The writer Gretchen Rubin said, “The days are long, but the years are short.” If someone cuts you off in traffic, they won’t matter to you tomorrow. If your child learns a skill after the rest of their classmates, the child still learned it. What is your focus on today? It may mean different things to people, but that focus should help us not hurt us. For me, seeking God in my life’s details helps me focus on what matters.

Lesson Learned: Adjust your focus to what matters.

Prayer:

“Dear Heavenly Father, forgive me for comparing my life to others. Thank you, Lord, for life, you have blessed me. Help me know what is worth my thoughts. Thank you for everything I take for granted. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!”

I’m Just Not Feeling It and That’s Okay

I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.  He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. -Psalm 40:1-3

 

My mentor told me that from ages 38-52 years old, many go through a life change. I imagine this change to be amazing, a chance to become what God created me to be in this life. However, it doesn’t feel that way. It hurts — a lot.  

 

There are many things I used to enjoy that I don’t anymore. There are relationships I have had with friends that have ended. Many of my interests aren’t interesting to me anymore. Right now, I do not know what I want or like, and that frightens me. I usually love writing; except recently, I haven’t had a desire for it. It scares me because this is what I want to do. In the past few months, I wanted to give up. It feels like a midlife crisis of some sort. But one thing I know is that God is faithful, and there is a reason for all this change.

 

Sometimes I wonder, “where are you, Lord?” Even King David, in the book of Psalms, wondered where the Lord was in his times of grief and despair. David was faithful, though. Me, not so much. When I am in the midst of change, it is hard to see the outcome. The enemy comes and distracts me from what I should be doing to get there. 

 

I feel pressure to perform and to pan every second of my life.  But, I cannot know until I try and even possibly fail. Failure isn’t always a waste of time. It can also be the opposite of regret.

 

If you feel like giving up, please do not! Doubt and worry are the enemy’s tools for stopping us from attaining God’s purpose for us.  I want things done quickly and easily. But God does not ever do anything in a hurry. He moves in His timing. May you take shelter in the mighty arms of our God.

 

Lesson Learned: Change is inevitable and necessary. Allow God to work it out.

 

Prayer:

‘Dear Heavenly Father, help me in my times of need. Give me endurance and energy to make it through tough times. Thank you for your protection. May your will be done. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!”

How to Manage Anxious Thoughts

“We destroy thoughts and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5

What do you do with your thoughts in times of uncertainty? Are they helpful or harmful? Unfortunately, my thoughts have been unhealthy.

Those anxious thoughts affect me mentally and physically. I can feel my body sink into pain and suffering. My imagination runs wild with every bad scenario it creates. Those around me feel my tension.

A few months ago, I had to let go of a friendship. I had many trepidations throughout the relationship that I had been used and manipulated. Somehow I thought I was the source of the problems. Thankfully it was brought to my attention that it was them, not me.

After our last conversation, I had a lot of anger because I was unable to say what I wanted to say. For the next couple of weeks, I thought about this person. These thoughts woke me up in the middle of the night. In the day, I would get so upset and feel that anger burning in my face and stomach. It was not healthy.

How I Chose To Manage The Anxious Thoughts

As I came to terms with the lost friendship, I saw this quote from Dr. Caroline Leaf from her book, “Switch on Your Brain.” “As we think, we change the physical nature of our brain as we consciously direct our thinking, we can wire out toxic patterns of thinking and replace them with healthy thoughts.” So, I made a decision. Every time I thought of this person, I said, “I choose to forgive them, and I wish them well. And I am thankful I do not need them in my life.” I said this countless times over the next few days. The thought of them faded, and my thoughts were not held captive anymore. I felt light and free.

I wish I could say, I never think of this person anymore, but once in a while, I do. Now, I make that choice not to dwell or ruminate over them. It is not worth it. I have people ask me when we will reconcile. If God wants me to change the relationship status, then so be it. But I know now is not the time.

Life changes are beyond our control. People or things move in and out of our lives, whether we want them to or not. We can retrain ourselves. It is worth the hard work to take every thought captive.

 

Lesson Learned: Take those thoughts captive and dwell on the better things.

Prayer:
“Dear Heavenly Father, I chose to forgive those who have wronged me. I release that burden onto you, Lord. Forgive me for any pain I have caused on others and myself. I take every thought captive and chose to focus on you, Father God. Heal the wounds and fill those voids with your love, grace, and mercy. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!”

Know Your Value

“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.  How precious are your thoughts, oh God! How vast is the sum of them.” Psalm 139:16-17

There is so much pressure in the world today to be successful; it overwhelms us.  That pressure and stress have become unbearable for some. You can feel it in the atmosphere.  Sometimes you hear about it in the news because the story is about someone committing suicide and the aftermath.

Our niece is a high school senior.  She has many wonderful qualities: kind, intelligent, athletic and beautiful.  Her grades are perfect, and she has many extracurricular activities.  She wants to be a surgeon someday, so she has to be tough and be able to handle a lot at once.  Over the holidays, I heard her extensive schedule for the next semester, and it floored me.

A few days after seeing her for the holidays, I learned of a popular newscaster who died of a drug overdose.  Even though it was not a suicide, he allegedly used drugs to cope with the stress in his life. Sadly, many people deal with stress through the use of drugs, alcohol, smoking, video games, eating disorders, etc.  The pressure becomes too much to handle.

For some reason, God put our niece heavily on my heart when I heard about this newscaster. I felt like I needed to tell her that she is valuable, I was proud of her,  and no matter what, she would be successful in all she planned to do. I sent her a text. She responded that she needed to hear that.

Whether you are heading into college, getting a job in a career that you want, finding a spouse or even planning a birthday party, they are so many expectations-real and unnecessary.  The competition alone can bring people to their knees. In my daughter, just as a Fourth Grader, I saw the stress of the state testing week make her physically ill. I know she prepared the best she could, so I told her, that I did not care about the outcome of this test as long as you try.  She relaxed and tested at her grade level. I do not need her developing ulcers, worrying about a test score.

In January 2018, there was a suicide of a high school student in South Orange County, CA.  He wrote a letter about his discontent of living a pressure-filled life and trying to attain a perfect grade point average.  He enjoyed playing a sport, not the constant drive to achieve championships. It broke my heart.  He wanted to be a teen and have fun and try his best.  He felt he could not be himself.

Our worth should not be defined by the world, but by God.  God has a unique plan and purpose for each of us. Death and destruction are not a part of His purpose for us.  No matter how difficult life gets, God wants us to finish well. Let us relax the unrealistic pressure put on ourselves by the world.  Pursue God and seek His will. If we fail, then it will not be devastating. God loves us, and we are all valuable and worthy.

Lesson Learned: My value and worth are in the Lord, not the world.  In knowing that then I will be free.

No More Self-Inflicted Suffering

“…fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand.” Isaiah 41:10

The disciples and apostles in The Bible suffered greatly for sharing the gospel of Christ. Job suffered immensely. The Bible tells us, our lives will not be comfortable on this Earth, especially for knowing Him. However, there is a difference for suffering for God versus dealing with constant suffering in our lives.

A friend of mine shared that he suffered from chronic neck pain. He was stressed and not taking care of himself. Once he sought help and took action to help himself, his situation began to change for the better. This friend said something poignant. He said, “God doesn’t want us to suffer.”

Many times, we worry how things will turn out. I have wasted precious hours of sleep thinking of every scenario of a situation. Honestly, I thought this would help me. Instead, my body would hurt, and I would wake up exhausted in the morning.

A few months ago, I woke up thinking and agonizing over a problem. Thankfully, I had a moment of clarity, “it is 2 a.m., what could I possibly do to solve this problem right now? Nothing, so I need to rest so that I would feel rested in the morning.” I was asleep in minutes. Before, I would have stayed awake for 2 hours minimum.

Trusting and having faith in the Lord is the remedy to the suffering we bring upon ourselves. We may never know the answer to the problem or why a person behaves the way they do. There are things we want for our lives, but God has a different way for us.

Thankfully, bad situations and problems are temporary. It may not feel like it at the moment, but things usually get better. If we reflect on how we got through a stressful time, we can see how it changed for the better. Worrying never helped, but God’s direction and our faith are what brought us to the other side. Remember God has got us! If we are to suffer for anything, it is for advancing the kingdom of God.

Lesson Learned: Self-inflicted suffering will not get us through life’s problems.

Prayer:
“Dear Heavenly Father, forgive me for not trusting in you. I pray for healing in all areas of my life, where I may suffer. Reveal in me what to let go or when to fight. I ask for a hedge of protection around myself and my family. Help me to allow you, Heavenly Father to fight my battles. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!”

Step by Step

“Do not be terrified by them for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God. The Lord, your God, will drive out those nations before you, little by little. You will not be allowed to eliminate them all at once, or the wild animals will multiply around you. But the Lord your God will deliver them once over to you, throwing them into great confusion until they are destroyed. He will give their kings into your hand, and you will wipe out their names from under heaven. No one will be able to stand up against you; you will destroy them.” Deuteronomy 7:21-24

God is miraculous. He can heal instantly or keep someone safe from harm. Most of the time, we end up enduring some kind of test, physical or emotional pain, to learn a valuable lesson. For me, a stressful situation results in physical pain or anxiety.

In one month, I volunteered for many school activities for my daughter, traveled, had a lot of unexpected bills, construction in our complex, and applied for a full-time job. My skin had eczema, and my stomach and gallbladder seemed to be on fire. I would wake up in the middle of the night due to my abdominal pain. I could barely eat without wanting to throw up. Finally, I went to the doctor. She ordered blood work and tests. Praise God, everything was normal. She told me that I need to try to do less because my stomach can’t handle the stress anymore. If I don’t slow things down, ulcers and other gastrointestinal issues will follow.

I changed my diet for good, by embracing being gluten free, as much as I fought it. I prayed and meditated. For a few weeks, I did well. Then, I encountered more stress. The pain began to come back, and I couldn’t eat much without feeling sick. I went to the grocery store before church. It was the trip that broke me.

Here is what happened. I entered the parking lot of the grocery store and nearly hit by a distracted driver. The store did not have a few items. The grocery clerk did not load some of my groceries, and I smashed my fingers trying to put them in the cart. As I left the store, to cross the parking lot, I a speeding driver almost hit me. Then a large, raised truck parked so close to me, I had to climb into the passenger side to get into the driver seat. Then I saw a car pull up. The man opens his car door, with empty beer cans spilling out onto the ground and he wobbled into the store. God tested my patience at that grocery store on Sunday morning. That trip broke me.

I was seething mad. I wanted to go off on the world for being so inconsiderate and selfish. But these were strangers, no one I knew. How can I bring people to Christ, when I can’t let go of people’s dangerous actions or habits? How can God trust me with big things when I lose it over small things?

A few weeks went by, and I went to a small group gathering. There was a Bishop and his wife, who came to preach. They prayed over some people and had words of knowledge for others. The wife came over to me and asked me, “if you ate a whole apple pie, what would happen to you?” I said, “I would get sick.” She said, “so you eat one piece at a time, and you will be fine?” I said, “of course.” She continued and said, “God can give you everything He has for you at once. He can perform a miracle or answer all of your prayers. But you won’t be able to handle it. Usually, you need to do things, step by step. We let fear keep us from starting something, or we do well and start doing it on our power instead of His power.”

The Israelites journey to the promised land was only supposed to be 11 days. Instead, it took 40 years! They sinned, complained, and were disobedient. They would go back to their old ways after they promised to change. Towards the end of their journey, they had to defeat many of enemies. God told them He would help them, but one enemy at a time. God had the power to destroy them all, but instead, He had them fighting one battle at a time. They needed to grow and have the spiritual maturity to be trusted by God.

Our faith cannot lack when we are following His will. If we see all the problems, we lose our trust and get hurt, physically and emotionally. Let us increase our faith and trust in the Almighty God.

Lesson Learned: Let our daily surrender be to God. May our faith and patience increase. And take the difficulties one step at a time.

Prayer:
“Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for your covering and protection over me. May I trust in you and my faith grow every day. When trouble surrounds me, let me see your guiding hands. Remind me what is true and all that you have done already in my life. Forgive me for not trusting in you Lord. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!”

Against the Flow

“For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything else we see and a pride in our achievements and possessions.  These are not from the Father, but are from this world.” 1 John 2:16


My cravings lately haven’t been for more, it has been for less.  The world is going a little too fast for me and I want it to slow down.  It seems that many are feeling the same way. It is becoming a trend that I hope it catches on.


My church had a Spiritual Life Retreat on a Saturday morning.  I was pleasantly surprised and interested in going. For the last 5 years, I have begun a journey into Minimalism.  A friend posted an article on Facebook by a Minimalist writer, Joshua Becker in 2013 and I was hooked. I began to get rid of many possessions, scheduling less on my calendar and taking time to rest.  It has helped lessen the anxiety.


The church I attend is in Southern California, in a city located within Orange County.  This area loves busyness, materialism and success. Most people’s schedules are packed with long work hours and lots of activities, their homes are large with more items than necessary and they are glued to their smartphones so they don’t miss out.   Yet people are so disconnected and tired.


The retreat was led by a pastor named, Chuck Shumate.  He began the conversation that he wasn’t always like this.  But he knew God was calling him to slow down.  He said many valuable things, but one of them was, “out of our rest, comes strength and wisdom. Say no to that guilt of resting.”


His assistant, his adult daughter, mentioned a conversation she had with her nieces.  Her sister and family recently moved from Irvine to Fresno, California. She said her nieces, ages 10 and 12, told her how much they love living where there is no drama and how it is less stressful.  One of the nieces said something that broke my heart. She said, “in living here, I can be myself.” She understood that down here in South Orange County, you can’t be yourself, that you have to fit in or you are considered weird for just being you.


I already was on a path to slow down.  But now, I realize just because I live here, doesn’t mean I have to live and function according to the culture.  I am not looking to stand out and bring attention to myself. My goal is to not be in a hurry and appreciate all who and what God is in my life.  


In that retreat, Pastor Chuck mentioned having margins in our lives.  Margins of space. When he travels out-of-state, he gets to a speaking conference the night before, so he can rest.  If he is traveling locally, he allows a good cushion of time, so he isn’t in a hurry. One may think, but I don’t have time to have more time.  So, if you don’t get to everything in your day, will the world end? Guess what, unless you are performing life saving surgeries, it won’t end.


At one point in the retreat, he had all of the participants do nothing for 30 minutes.  Not to think or pray…nothing. After the exercise was over he asked for people to describe the exercise in one word.  You would have thought by people’s reactions that they endured torture. Some said, “Boring!”, “Painful!” and “Miserable!”  I said, “Refreshing!” I got some weird looks.


This culture promotes unnecessary competition.  It is a “dog-eat-dog-world” out there and people are suffering.  Suicides are many in this fast, competitive culture. Some of the recent teen suicides in the area, where the teens left suicide notes, mentioned they couldn’t handle the pace and competition.  We must do better for our children and ourselves.


Lesson Learned: I will allow margins and rest, so I can draw strength and learn wisdom.


Prayer:

“Dear Heavenly Father, create in me a new heart.  May I honor the Sabbath. Show me areas that I need to change, so I can be less anxious.  Create a culture shift in this world to slow down and honor you, Father God. Forgive me for following the ways of the world.  Let me be content in what you provide. Thank you for supplying my needs. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!”

 

 

You Just Never Know

“Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgement.”
John 7:24

Everyday, we are in contact with the public. Sometimes we have pleasant interactions. Other times we do not (especially when we drive). In the times the interaction is unpleasant you just wonder, “Geez, what is wrong with them?”

In my neighborhood, I have become friends with the morning dog walkers. But some of the dog walkers are the neighborhood gossips. Unfortunately, I get the run down of neighbors and their issues. One lady in particular was bad mouthing another neighbor, who is a good friend of mine. It was hard to hear it and I tried to get out of the conversation as quickly as possible.

I contacted that friend and asked her is everything was okay because I hadn’t seen her walking her dogs in the last few days. She told me a heartbreaking story and I could tell she was overwhelmed. Basically, she was having marital problems due to his husband’s addiction and he had to leave home to seek treatment. They have a child under the age of 1 and she worked full-time, plus she had her 2 dogs and could barely get out to walk them herself.

So, the neighbor who was bad-mouthing her, had no idea of my friend’s current life status and was sore about my friend being curt and seeming to try to leave when they were talking.

How many times when someone has an attitude and you think, “What’s their problem?” Or “Why are they acting so weird today?” They could have lost their parent, spouse or child. Their financial situation could be in distress or have major health issues to deal with. The list goes on.

We shouldn’t be a doormat to abusive behavior, but sometimes in certain situations, we should have grace when someone is rude. Most of the time when I have shown grace, they have apologized afterwards.

In this season of the holidays, let grace be the present we give out the most. You just never know what someone is going through.

Lesson Learned: Instead of taking things personally, try engaging rudeness with grace instead.

Prayer:
“Dear Heavenly Father, I pray for those going through hard times. May they cling to you for strength and comfort. Help us recognize when people are suffering and hurting. Show us ways to help them out. Forgive us for making blanket judgements. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!”

Scenery Change

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you.  I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

 

This world is full of people who need a change of heart, especially those in a culture of racism.  It seems impossible they could ever change their heart from hate to love.  I came across a news story where this very thing happened.

 

In this news story, there is a man named Michael, who was a Neo-Nazi.  He went to jail and was released on probation.  An African-American woman, named Tiffany was assigned to be his probation officer.  She said she wasn’t there to judge him, but to help him.  Tiffany noticed he still had a Nazi flag hanging on his wall.  It was the first thing he would see in the morning.

 

As she established trust with him, she told him to get rid of the flag and put happy faces on his wall or something more positive.  She said the flag will only keep the hate in his heart.  The amazing thing, he listened to her suggestion and he changed.

 

Michael said the smiley faces gave him motivation to work and be productive.  He said her friendship gave him the love and support he needed to change and see people differently.  Due to her support, he removed or changed his Neo-Nazi tattoos.

 

As I watched this news segment, I thanked God for using this probation officer to change this hard heart.  This change only came from the Holy Spirit.  If this man could change, anyone could change.

Here is the news story on Michael and Tiffany:

 

When we ask God into our heart, we will think and act differently.    Jesus came to redeem us from our sins.  In that process of redemption change happens.  I know when we give our hearts to God, change is inevitable.  If Jesus is Lord of your life, allow that change to happen.

 

And sometimes we need a scenery change, even when we know the Lord.  The enemy will attempt to keep us inactive in doing things in the name of the Lord.   My friend is writing a book about her testimony.  Her testimony will bring so many to Jesus.  The enemy gave her so much distraction, she wasn’t writing at all.

 

I saw her desk where she writes.  She has a window to look out but there is no real view.  I asked her what type of scenery she likes.  “Water”was her response.  Then, I thought about the story about that man who changed his heart and remembered I had a 2018 calendar of Hawaii my parents gave me.  So I gave it to her.  She said she loves looking at it and even wrote for a few hours that day!

 

Sometimes a change of heart/scenery is needed to get past that difficult point in life.

 

Lesson Learned: Let’s allow our that change in our heart, so we can change and ultimately bring Jesus to others.

 

Prayer:

“Dear Heavenly Father, forgive us for trying to do everything ourselves.  Give us ears to hear, eyes to see and a mouth to speak.  Let us hear your instruction. Search my heart and change the areas where we need.  In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!”

When People Disappoint

“He heals the broken in heart and binds their wounds.” Psalms 147:3

My child has just started 4th grade.  She loves her teacher and seems to desire to do well in school.  Unfortunately, she is having trouble socially.  She has been coming home sad that she lost a friendship.  It is hard to watch.

As a parent, all I want to do is fix the problem for her.  I want to make the hurting she is feeling, to stop.  Yet, deep down I know, this something we all go through in our lives.  These situations build character.

I may be hurt by this more than she. It stirs up a lot of old wounds where I was rejected by friends growing up.  I have done everything within my parental power to try to fix this situation, but nothing has helped.  

Then I came across this photo on Facebook and it came at the right time.  This photo is a great lesson for letting go.

 

        

There are seasons in life, where we  just have to let people or things go.  This can be friendships, relationships with family, a spouse or a significant other, commitments at work or school.  My daughter may have to let this relationship go.  I have to let go of trying to control that I think I have and let my daughter experience life as it is, hurtful and messy.   So, the only option maybe to walk away when we have tried our best to save it.  As difficult as it maybe, life isn’t fair.

We learn we have to cleave to God, when people disappoint us.  Otherwise, our situations or circumstances will continue to drag us down.  We pray for healing of our wounds and restoration in our life.  God never wastes any pain we experience.  God has something or someone better for us in the future.  

America has been going through some tough times.  This country is divided politically on many issues.  Both sides are relentless in their pursuit of trying to prove each other wrong.  It has been bad for the last couple of years and even uglier in the past month.  People are disappointing one another in record levels.  

Recently, North America (as well as other places in the world) have been encountering many natural disasters: hurricanes, flooding, wildfires, and major earthquakes.  In the wake of these natural disasters, we have been seeing strangers being kind to one another and people helping out in anyway they can.  They are giving food, water and shelter to those in need.  Many are putting their lives in danger to rescue others.  The human spirit is alive again.  

Seeing this example of love gives me hope that love truly conquers all.  We can still love someone or something after you have let them go.   And letting go of that someone or something, shows you love yourself.  Let’s learn to love ourselves enough to not be hurt or disappointed, is one of the greatest gifts.

Lesson Learned:  When people disappoint, let go and let God.

Prayer:

“Dear Heavenly Father, forgive me for putting my hope in people or circumstances.  Help me to forgive those who have treated me or my family bad.  Let anger, turn to love.  Show me compassion for myself to let go and move on.  Give me discernment when to let things go and when to fight for them.  Help me to remember the season of letting go is short and that you will bring forth a beautiful Spring.  In Jesus’ Name, AMEN!”