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Archive for May, 2007

This is my daughter’s last week of school, and I kind of have to admit, I’m a little “scared”…

Where has the school year gone? How can second grade be over already? How are the kids going to spend their time this summer (and how am I going to get any work done in the process)?

I doubt I’m the only one with these questions and others. While I am thrilled to have my daughter around more (her little brother is always home right now, until next year), and it will be a real blessing to spend more time together as a family, it does pose some new challenges.

I don’t want the kids to get bored while I’m working, and I want to be able to spend time with them.

Following are some possible activities we are considering for this summer:
– Walk every morning (the entire family).
– Go to church every week.
– Attend at least one VBS this summer.
– Make bracelets, color, and do other crafts.
– Read the Bible at home (and the children’s Bible with my son), and do Bible lessons, crafts, and other activities (I found some good ones at http://www.dltk-bible.com).
– Read other books (my daughter has a reading list to fill out over the summer, and we can all read to her little brother).
– Attend children’s book readings at the local library.
– Go to the playground, go swimming, play in the sand, or get ice cream at least twice a week.
– Rent and go see some movies.
– Possible singing lessons for my daughter (and she still has to finish out the baseball season and her dance classes this month).
– Go to the park with friends and their children.
– Plan a few sleepovers at the grandparents’ houses.
 
I am considering a mix of indoor and outdoor activities (I don’t know about you, but I can’t be in the hot sun ALL the time!). Also, despite how much planning it LOOKS like I’ve done, everything is actually pretty flexible. The key theme, though, is that I am trying to spend quality time with family and friends (rather than constantly running the kids here and there, which tends to happen during the school year). I want to keep the children busy yet also help them learn the value of downtime (children need to relax, too!). I also want to keep God close in their minds through all they do.

Please share your ideas and tips for family activities. What are your plans this summer? How do you plan to keep the kids entertained, spend time together, get housework and other work done, and any number of tasks? How are you going to balance your life this summer? Do you have a plan, or do you take it day by day?

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One of the most difficult aspects of balancing life involves prioritizing the various parts: professional, personal, family, spiritual, emotional, recreational, etc. What happens when a mismatch develops between one or more aspects of your life?

This can occur when you become a Christian while a close family member does not become a believer. Right away, this creates discord, forcing you to choose between two areas (spiritual and personal/family). Biblically, God should always win out (the disciples left their families and their careers as fishermen to follow Jesus). But, realistically, we need a way to reconcile this pull in opposite directions.

This is particularly true if the unbelieving family member is your spouse.

For Christian husbands, trying to take the role of spiritual leader of the household can be a real challenge when your wife is not saved. She may resist your attempts to bring the family together in prayer or worship, or she may misunderstand your spiritual guidance (as dictated by Scripture) as trying to control her.

For Christian wives, trying to follow your husband’s guidance creates conflict, especially when his decisions are unbiblical. God tells you to love, honor, and obey your husband. What do you do when his leadership threatens to lead you astray?

God tells us not to leave an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:12-16). Divorce is clearly not biblical, and you obviously love your husband or wife (the qualities that led you to marry this person remain, even if some of your values have changed since you’ve become a Christian). Even further, God may have placed you in this situation to help your spouse come to Christ.

What, then, are we to do? How do we walk the line between two worlds?

The answer is that we cannot. We need to commit fully to God first, THEN work on our marriage and spouse. We need to pray for our spouse, for God to work in him or her. But we cannot wait, never accomplishing anything for God’s glory, until our loved one comes to Christ. We have no idea what God’s plan is, how long He may make our spouse wait, or for what reason. Do you really want to halt God’s plan for you to wait for him to work in your husband or wife?

No matter what is going on in your marriage, you need to put God first. You need to accomplish the tasks God has called you to complete. Sadly, at times, this could mean distancing yourself from your spouse (as a form of spiritual self-preservation). Otherwise, you could get pulled into a worldly lifestyle and stop following the goals God has asked you to pursue in life.

In Old Testament times, God literally commanded his people not to associate with certain ungodly peoples. In New Testament times, Jesus literally asked some of his followers to leave their families. This command was not out of cruelty, it was because God knew His disciples could not accomplish His will as long as they remained influenced by the world. He knew (as we know today) that what you spend your time on and who you spend your time with becomes your focus. He knew that any focus other than God divides your attention (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).

God wants our focus to be on HIM first! Once we place our focus on Him and hold steadfast in our path, then we can walk that path with other people.

So, what do we do once we have placed our focus on God? How, then, do we work on our marriage? How do we relate to a spouse with such disparate beliefs from our own?

The number one way to relate is with love! Always think of what God would want you to do or say in every situation, and consider your spouse’s feelings. Putting others first is the Godly way, and we should do the same with our spouses (even though that is often much more difficult!).

With love as your driving force behind all thoughts and deeds, here are some practical tips to try:

1. Set boundaries of respect (going both ways).

Your spouse should respect your prayer and worship time and not try to purposely thwart that. Speak with him or her about this in a loving way. On the other hand, you need to respect your spouse’s choice and not try to convert him/her every moment. Allow God to work in your spouse. Show him/her how God works through you. Stop trying to force God upon your loved one, and stop blaming yourself for him or her not being saved.

2. Set a Christian example.

As a Christian, you need to work on our own spiritual journey and let your spouse see that (rather than always trying to work on him/her). Instead of trying to get your spouse to follow you, make sure you join a good church with loving people who support you. Your spouse will see how those relationships sustain you, and he or she will also want that same kind of support and unconditional love. Your spouse will also see how you treat him/her in all situations and will realize the love coming from you is from God.

3. Try to include your spouse and other family members in safe ways.

Your spouse may not want to attend church, but maybe he or she would be open to praying at home occasionally, saying grace before meals, watching Christian television programs, listening to Gospel music, or reading inspirational books. You can also still pray and worship with your children, teaching them God’s ways, even if one spouse holds different beliefs.

4. Be the first to reconcile during times of conflict.

The Christian thing is for the believing spouse to take the first step toward improving any issues in the marital relationship. It is difficult, though, because we are all human, and even Christians can feel resentful over feeling like they are always the one giving (even if that is often the way it is supposed to be). In an argument, try to see the other’s point of view, and respond in a loving way, not a confrontational or defensive way.

5. Have fun in your marriage.

Just because you differ in your spiritual beliefs (which is a huge deal, I’m not minimizing that) does not mean you can’t still have fun together as husband and wife! There are many activities you can share that will help you grow closer while not compromising your values. Go to the movies, attend a baseball game, go horseback riding. If your spouse has hobbies you believe are unbiblical, don’t try to preach at him/her about it. Just quietly and firmly refuse to participate, let him/her go on his/her way, and you do something that does fit your values (you can also take that time to pray for your spouse).

6. Don’t blame your spouse (or God or yourself).

God has reasons for not bringing that person to Him yet. We must trust in God’s timing, not grow angry with God for not saving your spouse yet, or with your spouse for not opening his eyes, or with yourself for not being able to convert him/her. It is not your responsibility; it is God’s. You can merely set a good example and love the person.

During a session of centering prayer a few weeks ago (a fellowship meeting where we focused on the forgiveness prayer), I suddenly realized that I was angry with my husband for not being saved! I knew I had wanted him to be saved, and I knew I blamed every little argument on that, but I didn’t realize I was actually ANGRY with him about it. For not taking the final step from believing in God (agnostic) to trusting in Jesus. God helped me see that I need to get past that anger, hurt, and resentment and display unconditional love.

These same steps can also be applied when the unbelieving family member is someone other than your spouse (with variations based on the relationship and age of the person). As long as your actions are guided by love — in both God and the people around you, as Jesus tells us are the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:29-31, Luke 10:25-37) — then you will do the right thing. And, when you do make mistakes, as we all do, just try again.

Allow yourself to be guided by love and by God, and your relationships with loved ones will be positive — even when looking at life through different spiritual lenses. Even further, your loving example may help soften your loved one to God’s message of salvation and everlasting life.

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Just because God is teaching me how to balance my life doesn’t mean I always do a good job. Take my cell phone, for instance. Lately, I’ve been so busy that I just haven’t been checking voice mails as often as I should. I apologize to anyone who left a message and did not hear back from me quickly. I will try to do better!

Many tasks in life fall into these “busy” tasks. For me, these are often the tasks that get overlooked (until they become critical, of course, transforming from “busy task” to “high priority”). I know I need to plan better (and follow the advice in my book, LOL!). I know  I need to develop a more formal schedule (yet still remain open and flexible). But sometimes life just interferes. Sometimes you get so overwhelmed with “tasks” that your schedule goes by the wayside.

Maybe it’s about accountability. Being accountable to someone other than yourself. A friend, a relative, a professional group…

How about holding yourself accountable to God???

I need to start asking myself at the end of every day: Did I accomplish what God wanted me to do today? If the answer is “no,” then I better start rethinking my priorities and planning my days to align better with those priorities.

I need to start asking myself at the beginning of every day: What do I need to absolutely do TODAY?

Number one on my list should be to grow closer to God! (True, the other “stuff” still needs to get done. True, God may ask you to do those tasks. But NOT at the expense of your relationship with Him!)

Number two on my list should be to spend time with family (notice I said “should”).

Uh-oh, where does work fit in? (Even further, what “work” do I work on, paying contracts or writing I believe God has called me to do? If I spend time on one versus the other, who misses out?)

Don’t even get me started on where relaxation time fits my schedule (relaxation, what’s that?)!

Praying and staying close to God helps you sort out your priorities (and what you should do when). When you feel overwhelmed, turn to God first! Life won’t seem quite so stressful anymore…

Do others find that the “busy tasks” of life interfere with the more important things? How do you make a choice, and how do you communicate that choice to those around you? How do you remember to check messages and other mundane business and personal tasks? Do you make it a part of your daily or weekly routine, or do you just try to get to it when you have a chance? (Obviously, that doesn’t work very well!) Does anyone have any tips to better manage time and priorities?

The main question, I think, for me is: How do you keep every day “busy” tasks from interfering with higher priorities (like praying, spending time with family, and actually doing work)?

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My last post mentioned centering prayer; I realized later that everyone may not know exactly what that means. I certainly didn’t before attending a Christian fellowship meeting where a guest speaker led a discussion on the topic (http://www.legacyinspirations.com/meeting_min_arch/feb_2_07.htm). The speaker was from an organization called Contemplative Outreach, which is “a spiritual network of individuals and small faith communities committed to living the contemplative dimension of the Gospel in everyday life through the practice of Centering Prayer” (http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/vision.htm), and she opened us up spiritually to a new way of communing with God.

I may have prayed in a contemplative way before, or meditated on the Word of God, but I never knew of anything called “centering prayer.” From the moment I heard the term (and knew we would be practicing this type of deep prayer at a fellowship meeting), it sounded like something I needed in my life!

I am not an expert (check out the above website for factual information), but I can tell you what centering prayer means to me and how it helps me stay balanced in life.

Centering prayer helps me relax and focus on God. I know that I am really talking with God (through my prayers and then through his answers in the silence of my mind during centering prayer).

It helps me keep the distractions out. It’s not that the distractions don’t pop into my mind but that I now know how to sidestep past them. If you think about all the errands you need to run later that day, simply repeat your centering word or phrase, and return to quietly listening to God.

It gives me quiet time without the pressure and hassles of life. No matter how much we love the people around us, sometimes we need alone time. Even Jesus often went off alone to pray (and he certainly had a lot of friends around Him who loved Him more than anything).

When I pray outside, it makes me feel at peace. Sitting on the swing at the side of our house, looking down at the trees in the backyard, feeling the sun on my face or the breeze through my hair… Closing my eyes and just allowing the feeling to drift over me as I let God work in me…

Centering prayer gives me more energy. Somehow, that relaxation time–that time with God–rejuvenates me, making me more productive in other areas. Be it playing with the kids, writing a book or article, or doing contract work, I tend to be more focused and get more done in less time while growing tired less quickly. I don’t fully know how to explain it, other than God blessing me with energy and ideas when I take the time to be with Him. God made us with a need for rest and fellowship, so it makes sense that we need to rest and fellowship to be fully productive in life.

You may think you don’t have the time to pray (believe me, I feel that way a lot myself!), but making the time is well worth it. When you put God first, everyone wins.

I may not practice this kind of deep centering prayer as often as I should (two times a day is recommended by experts), but any time I put in I get back tenfold.

I would like to hear about how others work prayer into their everyday life. Have you tried centering prayer or any type of contemplative or meditative prayer? Does God reveal truths to you during these quiet times with Him? How do you fit everything into your daily routine? Does your family understand and respect this time you need with God, or do you find it difficult to balance home, work, family, prayer time? Have you found creative ways to include the entire family in prayer or worship time?

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My 7-year-old daughter said something the other day that, while not intended in such a profound way, really made me stop and think about life. She was showing me the callous on her palm from repeated attempts to cross the monkey bars at recess. What she learned in the process helped her finally make it to the other side!
 
“Mommy,” she said, “what you need to do is just keep going and not look at anything else or you’ll get distracted and fall.”
 
WOW! And double-wow!
 
How many times do we get distracted in life? Sidetracked from our goals so that we stop midway? How can we avoid this and stay on track? How can we learn to “just keep going and not look at anything else”?
 
By focusing on Jesus. Sure, you might think, that’s easy to SAY, but how do you do it? How do you focus on Jesus? How do you deepen your relationship with God?
 
1. First of all, you need to DECIDE to focus on Jesus. Just as my daughter decided she was GOING to cross those monkey bars, we need to decide our GOAL is to grow closer to Jesus.
 
2. Second, you need to take the FIRST STEP. Reach out for the first rung and believe you can do it! Praying is an excellent first rung (and second, and third, and fourth…).
 
3. Third, you need to STAY the course. Stay grounded in the Word of God so you don’t get led astray by worldly issues (that also “seem” just as important at times). Read the Bible daily, and meditate on key verses. Try a practice called “centering prayer” (http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/cntrgpryr.htm) to help you stay focused and listen to God.
 
4. Finally, you need to FINISH the race. Jesus has already won victory over the devil, so we KNOW how the race ends. Will we be there with Jesus, ready to claim our crown? Trust in Jesus as your Savior, and you will be ready!
 
There’s much more to staying focused on a goal, but the above four steps make a good start. In particular, praying and reading the Bible help you remain focused on Jesus, which is certainly a good direction to be moving in life.

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Imagine children bouncing on a see saw. Does your life often feel that way? Up one moment; down the next? How can we balance our lives when society grows busier and more hectic every day?

I wrote the book Simply Balanced: Bible “Contradictions” Teach Balanced Living because God gave me a message to share with others. I believe God revealed these common truths to me in a unique way for one main reason: because I need to work on these areas myself!

I am a worrier. I always have been, even before I became a mother. With God’s help, I am working on living more in the moment and not worrying so much. I suspect it will be a lifelong battle. 🙂 But I know I can do all things through Christ, so I continue to trust in my Lord to guide me.

So, when God starting showing me how to balance my life by following seemingly contradictory Bible lessons, I listened. When God showed me how these “seemingly” contradictory passages actually work together, complementing one another to balance the equation of life, I listened. When God showed me how Jesus is the perfect example, modeling both halves, I listened.

It all started with the passage about Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42), which really jumped out at me, as I’m sure it has for others. Martha was busy preparing a meal for Jesus while Mary sat and listened quietly at Jesus’ feet. I could identify with both sisters: I wanted to be more like Mary, but I was far too much like Martha. My life was crazy and imbalanced, and I worried far too much about the little details of life.

Soon after, I thought about how we need to prepare for many things in life, and how Jesus Himself tells us to be prepared for His return—that He will come like a thief in the night (Matthew 24:42-51). That got me thinking: which advice should I follow? Not to worry, or be prepared? Don’t you have to worry a little if you’re going to prepare?

God revealed the answer to me: I needed to follow both. I needed to prepare in life, but I also needed to stop worrying. Even further, preparing would actually help me worry less!

Once I realized that, God led me to search for other Bible lessons that followed this same pattern — appearing to be contradictions on the surface but actually working together to help me balance my life. That is where the book Simply Balanced ultimately came from (after more than two years of jotting down notes and praying and trying to follow these lessons myself).

From contradiction to balance: that is the plan God showed me for balancing life His way. The more I thought about it, the simpler it sounded. And the harder it’s been to follow!

I pray that the book — and this blog — helps others start to find balance in their lives as well. I look forward to hearing how other people try to balance their lives (what works and doesn’t work), and I look forward to sharing additional tips I have been learning… Mostly, though, I look forward to going where God leads my fingers on the keyboard… Wherever that may be, I want to remain open to His will and His guidance. I hope you’ll join me on the path to balance, where we can all help each other stay on track.

God bless!

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