Friday, September 21, 2018

Self Discovery on an Adventure: The Bad Stuff

I don't think I've made it clear to everyone that I recently got the chance to go on an adventure in Great Britain.  My group had been planning for about a year and we thought we were pretty well prepared (You can check out the previous installments here first and here second to see how that went). Travel is great because it's full of new experiences, sights and adventures.  It can also be full of exhaustion, confusion and short tempers.  In my pursuit of an adventure to find God in my everyday I discovered some things about myself in the testing ground that the trip became that I was pretty ashamed of.  So what do you do when you discover unpleasant things about yourself when you're supposed to be having an adventure?

My hubby and I went to Great Britain back in our second year of marriage with a friend.  It was an amazing opportunity and I really enjoyed myself.  We had a great time.  Here's the thing, our travel companion thought I had the worst time ever.  Why?  I was overweight and generally unhappy.  It was my normal at the time.  I was getting used to having a chronic illness and getting used to being a wife. 
Complaint was a normal part of my language.  I have since been called out for complaining which made me aware of what I thought was "sharing" and was really the symptom of a heart problem.  That first time to Great Britain was full of great memories but it was a great lesson afterward as I got feedback from my friend.  It made me aware of the attitudes I wear.  

This latest adventure to Great Britain was like a mirror of the first time.  I watched as my travel companion struggled and a completely unexpected thing happened.  I was impatient.  I am appalled to admit it.  Even now I feel ashamed of myself.  My previous esperience should have prompted me to greater understanding and compassion.  Instead, I kept trying to make things better with more planning, adjustments to the schedule, and trying to interact less with my companions.  The truth is, how I do things isn't how my companions did things.  While this led to further frustration, it didn't have too.  Once misunderstanding took root, every word seemed to have the potential to be hurtful.  I tried to fix it by talking less which ended up coming across as passive aggressive and sulky.  I hate those words.  They are ugly words and I hate imagining myself wearing them.

People wear all kinds of weird stuff when they go on vacation.  Stuff they would never wear at home.  Plaid beanies, Hawaiian shirts, lederhosen.  It seems we also wear our dirty laundry.  The secret things we say in the privacy of our minds that we dismiss at home because we can easily brush them aside.  In our safe places, in our familiar, we indulge in them like pieces of chocolate because we can be alone.  We don't have to constantly be on our best behavior.  On a trip, or outside our comfort zones, or during times of exhaustion and pain, there is no where to hide.  Those things we think in the privacy of our mind become an internal snide commentary that makes its way onto our face and out of our mouths.  

During the course of any adventure it is always wise to be aware of tensions and to ask yourself: 
  1. Is my behavior adding to or subtracting from the experience we are having?
  2. What lingering dark place in your heart came out of your mouth in a moment of weakness?
  3. What am I going to do about it?
For Biblical and practical reasons the first thing you need to do about it is confess it to God and then go and apologize to your companions.  Getting it resolved gives everyone the best chance to reset and get on with having a great time.  Once that is done, I find it very useful to write it down and talk to God about it in detail.  While the immediate weakness of exhaustion and stress will go away, the underlying issue that it exposed is something you want to bring to the Light.
Discovering unpleasant things about yourself on an adventure gives you the gift of insight.  The opportunity to bring those things before the Lord, confess them, and ask Him to weed them out of your thought closet (to borrow a turn of phrase from Jennifer Rothschild).  It's hard, and it's ugly, but I can't think of a better memento to bring back from any vacation.

I hope my travel companions will look back on this adventure and forget the tensions, spats, pain and frustrations.  I hope they will remember the adventure for the exciting and new experience it was.  Either way, I know I'm praising God for using the adventure to teach me more about Him and who He wants me to be.    

Friday, September 14, 2018

JD's Guide to Surviving Travel Companions

Sometimes surviving the adventure can be hard.  Last week, we talked about surviving disappointment in The Adventure Continues.  This week we're going to talk about surviving travel companions, conflicting personalities and exhaustion fueled tension on an adventure.

Whether you're traveling with a spouse, children, siblings, parents, in-laws or friends, when more than one person is thrown into the pot of stress that is travel, you are going to have challenges.  There is a tricky balance that can be achieved so that everyone is having a great adventure.

The first trick to surviving companions is Awareness.  

I don't mean the laser focus on the other persons annoying personality, selfish thoughtlessness or their trouble making antics.  I mean self awareness.  Often, we over react to other people because we aren't aware of what is happening inside ourselves. Something riles us and we start escalating.  After my last big adventure my spouse and I were talking about some reactions we had to each other that didn't speak love (that's our nice way of saying we were not nice to each other, me more than him).  Through the course of the conversation we were each able to explain to the other why we had gotten upset.  I explained that I think of him as smart, way smarter than me, and it didn't make sense to me when what was obvious to me wasn't obvious, or even noticeable, to him.  Additionally when he doubted me in the areas where things were obvious to me, it was like he was confirming that I was dumb.  To him, being smart was his identity in a family full of macho guys and creative gals.  Being able to contribute and help with technology reinforced that feeling of being a useful individual.  Each of us, being able to identify the "baggage" that was causing our reactions to each other totally reframed the situation. Now I knew that my husband wasn't doubting my usefulness or intelligence, he was trying to be helpful.   Being aware that your feelings are getting hurt because of how your interpreting the other persons action is the first step in stopping any escalation.  It's also important to be aware of the other persons needs, proclivities and wants in a practical sense.  If your travel companion is hurting physically, unlikely to tell you what they want to do or is just plain tired, they are going to react totally differently.  Knowing that a kiddo is tired and over reacting makes it much easier to be patient.  Knowing that an adult is hurting means you'll be able to make accommodations and therefore make the adventure accessible to everyone. 

That leads us to the second trick; Grace.

I bet you thought I was going to say patience didn't you.  Patience is great, and it is necessary, but grace is the next step because it carries with it compassion and empathy.  Grace is the free and unmerited favor of God.  As followers of Christ, we are meant to emulate Him.  We are also told to love others as we love ourselves.  Giving grace to your travel companion really means loving them through the tension.  It's about letting go of your "right" to be sick and tired of the shenanigans.  We often justify our annoyance and wear it like a badge of long-suffering.  Here's the thing, you can choose.  You can choose to enjoy where you are at and the person/people you are with.  You can choose to love them unconditionally.  You did choose to go on the adventure with them after all. 

The third trick is an oldie but a goodie, Compromise.

Everyone gets set in patterns of the mundane.  For families, it means you learn where those lines are and then you move on.  You suddenly throw yourself into an adventure into the unknown and it's like we forget how to compromise.  My best advice is to openly communicate before the adventure.  Make your plans together.  Know what your top priorities are and make sure, if at all possible, everyone gets to do their most desired adventure.  If you don't have time for everyone's top activity, or your travel companions are a bit mercurial, then you work towards a middle ground.  I know that sounds simple, but it can be.  Prepare for compromise, reset your expectations and make sure that everyone is on the same page.  

But what do when your travel companion won't compromise, is too young to moderate their selfish inclinations or is hurting too much (mentally or physically) to recognize their overreactions?

Here is the final trick.  This is the big one.  The key.  It comes in two partsRelax and Follow Where God Leads.

This bears repeating...RELAX.  It's not that big a deal.  Whatever it is, it's not that big a deal.  Ultimately, adventures can't be scheduled, planned out or regulated.  Staying calm will go a long way to keeping your companions calm.  Ultimately, we know that God is in control of our journey.  Your adventure is not going "wrong".  It's going exactly how God intended.  It's important to remember you are a living testimony and how you react to your companions will speak volumes about your faith.  Set aside your expectations of how you thought things would go and embrace the adventure God has brought you.  

Take a breath.  
Count to ten.  
Take a walk. 
Schedule some alone time.  

Know yourself well enough to respond to what you need and communicate that to your companions kindly but honestly.  Extend love and compassion to your companions.  Actively work on everyone having a good time.  Most importantly, enjoy the adventure God has you on.  That's it.  

Friday, September 7, 2018

The Adventure Continues

I mentioned last week that I was coming back from a big adventure.  In reality, it was the first planned adventure for the year.  Like most adventures, we planned as much as we could and then waited for the inevitable changes that would mock whatever preparations we had tried to make.  It might seem a little cynical but it's very Biblical to expect trouble.  See John 16:33 ;)  

So let's talk about dealing with the disappointment of changing plans.  Whether you're on vacation or at home, plans change.  As the planner of my family, this fact hits me harder than it does my spouse.  This makes practical sense because I've put time and effort into the planning.  Changes mean waste in my brain.  Wasted time, wasted effort.  It also means blame.  I am to blame for the disappointment.  For my personality type, it's the worst.  Some of you can shrug off most change while some of us have to do mental battle to recover properly.  

Over the years, my spouse and I have gotten in the habit of mentally shaking ourselves after a change (ie problem/challenge) by saying to each other, "Well, it's an adventure".  If you've been following this blog for a while then you might guess that was the beginning of Dotted Lines, and you'd be right.  In our minds, adventure is what happens when you're off book.  When you've left the scripted path and find yourself in unfamiliar territory.  Adventure always starts with a challenge.  Isn't it strange that when we seek an adventure, we think that's not going to happen.  That our thrilling adventure will be safe, scripted and ultimately predictable with social media worthy images and perfect smiles as we luxuriantly rest.  Social media has trained us to expect a cultivated adventure.  We see only the perfect moments in other peoples adventures and so we expect only the perfect moments in ours.  

It sounds ridiculous when you think about it, doesn't it.  No one really expects to have only perfect moments.  We do proceed as if we could plan them though.  Can you imagine?  To only have the moments you planned for...How awful would that be!  How utterly boring!!  Dealing with disappointing changes is begun by honestly looking at your expectations (if you haven't read Anticipation vs Expectation, you should).  

That's my families castle in the background.  I've had the privilege of visiting twice now.  It's my very favorite castle.  This is the day I had looked forward too the most on the trip.  You can see the joy on my face.  I couldn't wait to show my ancestral land to my companions!  Unfortunately, this day was full of changed plans, challenges, disappointments and a serious lack of food.  My party was utterly done with this day by the end and I was beside myself because every time I tried to fix it, it went more wrong.  

Here's the real trick to being able to deal with disappointment!  You don't let the challenges define your entire day.  Some of my best moments have come from the unexpected but only because I was able to see the adventure for what it was.  I wasn't focused on the disappointment but on the wonder of the moment.  It's all about what you focus on.  

So, are you going to focus on the disappointment, and have a disappointing day, or are you going to focus on what God is doing instead?  God's plan always works and is always perfect.  Don't misunderstand me.  God's perfect moments aren't always my perfect moments.  God is working for my good and sometimes the "perfect moment" is when my disappointments reveal character flaws that need to be exposed and dealt with.  We'll get to that in a couple weeks.

Next week we'll talk about how to cope with companions on your adventure.  Until then, in the immortal words of some singer that is not Weird Al, shake it off.  Do what works for you to recenter, choose a new direction, and enjoy the adventure you are having even if it's not the one you wanted.  


Friday, August 31, 2018

New Adventures

We're going to keep things short this week because I am coming back from another grand adventure.  Today, however, I'm going to share something I discovered on a mini adventure near to home.  It's just worked out this year that new adventure has accompanied my spiritual adventure.  I don't usually have this much excitement in my year but I am not going to complain.  As you may have guessed, I love adventure.  

I went on a hike up Mt. Cutler with my Holy Yoga group, Beautiful & Beloved.  I knew I wasn't supposed to be working my knees so soon but I was called to this group and this adventure.  

It was indeed a beautiful hike.  And I found myself reflecting on my time in the Sneffels Traverse.  I knew I wanted to take it easy on this hike and thankfully I was with a group of women who enjoy checking in on each others hearts and loved stopping to view the scenery.  
I found myself praising God for my health, for the ability to move and be in God's creation.  It always lifts my heart to remember to thank God for where I'm at physically, even when I'm suffering health issues.  This side of heaven I am in an imperfect vessel.  I will likely always suffer health issues until the Lord calls me home but I can sure be grateful for the health I do have.

I noticed something as I walked.  All along the trail and ground were broken and fallen pieces of the scenery.  Bits of pine and bush were littered on the ground.  

We've been having some very large hail storms.  Within site of this trail were some of the hardest hit.  Our zoo lost animals, had all the cars in their lot damaged and had 5 people brought to the hospital because of injuries from the hail.  The Broadmoor's golf course was pretty much destroyed by the divots from the hail.  There was property damage galore on the south side of town.  Flooding was a problem for many.

As I noticed the pieces of pine on the ground I noticed some were new, bright green and fragrant.  Some were old, brown and drying.  

It reminded me of a verse.

2 Corinthians 4:8-10 English Standard Version (ESV)

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 

Perhaps times of spiritual attack are part of the pruning process.  To knock off parts of us that are getting in the way of our growth.  

John 15:2 English Standard Version (ESV)

Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

That's where I'm going to leave you today.  I want to encourage you all to remember to look at the whole picture.  There was plenty of evidence of the storms that had passed through this region and if I had kept my head down and focused on the damage I would have missed the utter beauty I was walking through.  The same is true for my life.  If I focus on what I've lost in the midst of spiritual attack or discipline, I would miss the beauty of what God is doing in my life.  I can definitely acknowledge the damage, the loss, but I don't want to dwell there.  I want to glory in what the Lord will do because He is always working for my good.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Bob's Your Uncle - Parable of the Talents

Last week we asked the question, What about Bob?  This week we're going to stop speculating about the parable of the talents and focus on what I think the parable is really about.  This week I want to talk about why there is no Bob.

I think Bob wasn't a part of the parable of the talents for a great many reasons but primarily it's because the parable of the talents is about investment versus fear.  We talked about what investment is last week but just as a reminder, investment is defined as an act of devoting time, effort or energy to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a worthwhile result.  

From a worldly standpoint, investing is always a risky business.  You will never know enough, have enough experience or work hard enough to avoid losses and that can create a great deal of fear.  There is a great deal of fear that can be bound up in investing our present to pursue God's will for our lives.  There's a great deal of fear in trusting our future to anything.  We invest money hoping it will sustain us in the event of disaster and old age. For many, that fear is paralyzing.   

That's one of the things I had failed to consider when pondering the parable of the talents.  Fear can halt investment.  

It's a long term bruise on my heart that I'm afraid of disappointing God, and that's the point really.  It's why this particular parable is so fascinating to me.  My fear makes me act like the third servant.  Suddenly, I'm not investing what God has given me.  Instead, I'm stuck in the mud.  My head and my talent buried in the sand.

That's why God brought me back to this parable this year.  He wanted me to focus on stretching myself outside of the fear of failing Him.  To step outside of the idea of successfully performing and instead to refocus on investing.  To set aside my fear in favor of believing God will bring the increase to my future.

The talent that God has given each one of us to invest is a teaching tool.  It's meant to be used.  The Master isn't concerned with the future, He already knows what's going to happen.  He's concerned with how well the talent He gives is invested.  We have to learn how to do that.  

The first servant got more praise even though he didn't have any greater return than the second servant.  Does that mean he took greater risk, stepped out more or invested more wisely?  We don't know.  What we do know is that the master gave to each according to his ability.  The Master knew what they could do and he expected them to do it.  

God didn't include a fourth servant in that parable because what distinguishes the third servant, and any number of imaginary other servants we might speculate about, is his fear.  Fear of doing it wrong, fear of disappointing or angering the master or fear of failing.  The Master only gave talents to those servants who had the ability to use it in the first place.  The Master wouldn't have entrusted any talents to "Bob" because He knew Bob couldn't handle the responsibility.  

So which servant are you?  Has fear kept you from investing?  Has it kept you from learning, growing, practicing and pursuing what God has called you to do?  We don't hop fully formed into this world.  We have to learn and grow.  We have to invest in the learning process.  It takes time.  Mistakes are part of that process.  If God gave you a talent or a gifting, it was for a reason.  He knows you're going do great things with it, so go practice!  Keep getting better and don't let fear stop you.

Friday, August 17, 2018

What about Bob? Parable of the Talents

I hope you will indulge me a little today.  I want to do a little speculation.  I've been thinking about the parable of the talents from Matthew 25:14-30.  I've been thinking and pondering about this particular parable a lot this year.  Why?  Well, I'm trying to figure out what it means for me.  So today we're going to ask ourselves, What about Bob?

Matthew 25:14-30 English Standard Version (ESV)The Parable of the Talents14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants[a]and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents,[b] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money.19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.[c] You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

What if there was a fourth servant...Bob lets say, who went and took his talent to the casino and blew it all.  What if he didn't just hold on to the talent he was given but tried to invest it to great and utter failure?  What would the master have said then?  We look at the master’s response to this third nameless servant and wonder, why in the world is he so hard on the poor guy?  At least he didn't lose it, squander it or steal it.  Right?  Can we squander the gifts God has given us?  Can we squander them so thoroughly that we lose them forever?  

Speculation has the danger of taking us to unhelpful places and so I want to be careful about the questions I give permission to bounce around my head.  For me, the key is to ask the question, ponder it, see if God answers and then let it go.  I have gotten in the habit of writing my questions down as a physical act of getting them out of my brain and acknowledging that God will answer in His time (even if that answer is, “it’s not for you to know”). 

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I love asking questions.  It’s part of who God created me to be!  For me, asking the questions helps draw me deeper into figuring out who God is and who I am in Him. It is how God sheds light on areas He is working on and it helps me acknowledge holes in my spiritual defenses that the enemy can exploit.  The trick to being a question asker is to have a firm foundation in the truth.  There is no question or speculation that your brain or the enemy can whisper that will shake you if you are rooted deeply in Christ.  I ask questions so I won’t be surprised when questions are asked of me, so my faith won’t be shaken by some clever twist of words thrown at me by someone more intelligent.

Eph 4:14So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

So here are the questions I’m asking today.  Can we abuse the "talents" God has given us?  Can we misuse His gifting?  Are we guaranteed success (ie, a return) if we invest the talents God has given us?

The parable of the talents is mostly used to apply to money, and rightly so because that's what a "talent" is in this context of scripture.  But God has been focusing my eyes on this story because it means more than money.  It is about investment.  Investment is defined as an act of devoting time, effort or energy to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a worthwhile result
.  Learning, watching, practicing and probing.  If we are going to invest well it requires we gain experience and knowledge and then step out in faith.  Modern experience tells us that it is indeed possible to invest poorly but with enough attention, research, practice and knowledge you are more likely to see an increase over time.  In light of that, I look back on my questions and speculations and can feel the smile of God as I begin to piece together a deeper picture of what this parable means. 

I've been using this knowledge to inspire me to write.  If you're reading this blog right now you will see the evidence of that prompting ;)  I believe God has given me a glimpse into what He is calling me to in the future.  I have been working to stay still and be all present with where God has me right now, because I haven't been given the green light to proceed yet, but that doesn't mean I can't start flexing the muscles I think God is going to call me to use.  This is the heart of investment.

How about you?  Do you have questions when you read scripture?  Are there areas of your life God is calling you to invest towards the future He has planned?

Friday, August 10, 2018

Conversations with God

A few weeks ago I shared my experience trying to meet God in an extraordinary environment in Voice of Thunder - Sneffels Traverse.  I thought it only fitting that I should share the experience I've had this week in my normal, mundane environment.  

The purpose of this blog is to find God in my everyday but my family has been encouraging me to ask myself if I have become a spiritual thrill seeker.  Has my longing for adventure superseded my need to search for God in my moments like a treasure of great price?  This year has certainly been a year of adventure.  Travel, new experiences, learning about new things and having new challenges to deal with have all been a part of that.  God has gifted me so much adventure I might have lost site of the ordinary a little bit. 

I have been praying specifically since the mountain and trying to listen.  This past week I got a clear nudge from the Lord as I was praying.  How could I hear from Him if I wasn't in His Word.  It has been a while since I specifically prayed with the Word of God open before me.  Don’t get me wrong, I pray.  I just don’t often pray with or over scripture.  It’s just not a habit I ever got into unless I’m in a Bible Study and I would still forget unless the study prompted me to do so.  Typing that brings shame rising up in me.  It seems so obvious that should be a part of my relationship with God.  How can that not be a natural step for me?

I have told you before I struggle with discipline.  I’ve been praying for it since I was a very young lady.  Without my schedule and to-do list, without my formal Bible study groups, I’m even more lost.  All this summer I've been praying and seeking and totally forgetting a huge part of hearing from the Lord.  I had been participating in 3-5 Bible Studies before summer began, which was a lot.  It took up huge swaths of my day to complete all the “homework”.  The gatherings took hours out of my week.  When I hadn’t gotten further word from the Lord I assumed it was because I wasn’t obeying His command to rest.  So I slowly released most of the Bible Studies when they ended and waited to hear from Him.  We tend to go to extremes don’t we?  I know I do.  Clearing my schedule to rest didn’t mean God didn’t want me to spend any time in His Word.    

So this week I've been very intentional.  I started studying Isaiah again.  I have made goals for my day, but the top of the list has been time in God's Word for study.  I prayed before, I prayed during and I prayed after.  I’m sure you won’t be surprise to know what happened next.   I heard from the Lord.  He showed up, He met me, He answered my questions, He delighted me and I delighted in Him.  I saw Him in my moments more clearly than I have in months.  He worked through me and in me. 

It’s amazing what small adjustments can do.  It’s amazing how vital time in God’s Word is to my relationship with Him.  As the flurry of “Back To School” starts for you who have children, I want to encourage you.  With the institution of new schedules, sleep adjustment attitude fun and new obligations and expectations, don’t forget time with the source of your strength. 

Matthew 6:33

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Psalm 119:9

How can a young person stay on the path of purity?  By living according to your word.

Psalm 1:2

But whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.

2 Timothy 2:15

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

Romans 10:17

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Psalm 119:105

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

This isn't a Christian obligation that we should do to be Christian.  This is a vital need.  It's a conversation, it's bread and water and we absolutely need it to live.  It can't get more extraordinary and beautifully mundane than that.