Category: Faith, Peace & Love

We Are Called to Love

It’s November already.

Wow.

Where has the time gone?

I remember the beginning of this year and the promises that I made to myself to make this year my best year yet. I was determined to be #unbothered by life and people, to focus on setting goals and achieving them, and to change things in my life that were no longer working for my good. I am happy to say that while I may have lost my cool a few times (or many), I didn’t reach all of my goals that I set, and I haven’t made every change that I wanted to make, my life has improved drastically by what I have accomplished thus far.

Spend more time in the presence of God. Check!

Lose weight. Check!

Transfer to a new school. Check!

Reduce my debt. Check!

These were just some of my goals that I made and achieved, and my life has definitely been much more fulfilling. I must say that I am quite proud of myself. When I do my check-ins with my accountability partner, I get a certain sense of satisfaction when I realize all that I’ve done to improve my life and my state of mind.

However, lately something has been missing. There’s been this empty space that’s been longing to be fulfilled. While I’m not a selfish or self-centered person (although we all are in some way), I didn’t feel like I was doing all I needed to do in the area of service. My heart has always gone out for other people (I mean, I am a teacher), but I have not been consistent with going that extra mile to help others.

Lately, I’ve felt the need more to do more to help others especially when I consider how I can have a bigger impact on the lives of my children. How do I really get them to love and to appreciate and to be grateful for their lives and all of the blessings they have?

How do I get them to understand that they should give more than they take in this world?

What is the legacy that I want to leave behind that my children can take up and continue even when I am gone?

That’s when I decided enough was enough. The end of this year would be the beginning of my journey in purposeful serving. In other words, I would be purposely seeking opportunities to be a blessing to others. Some things that I have done thus far:

  1. Gotten more involved in my Raktivist (Random Acts of Kindness Activist) community on Facebook, getting inspired by all of the wonderful, beautiful things other people are doing to serve others selflessly. These people have hearts so big that I don’t know how their chests can contain them.
  2. I’ve joined a campaign this month called Neighborly November. Instead of just doing 30 days of Gratefulness in which most people document 30 things for which they are grateful, we are challenged to put action with our gratitude. Every day I must find a way not to just speak of my gratitude but to actually live it out. (Created by Carrie Wisehart)
  3. I took my younger son (6 years old) to my school’s sorting of the items from our Harvest Drive. We had an enjoyable time while running food from the center of the gym floor to the designated areas around the room. More than 100 families were able to receive food just in time for the beginning of the holidays because of this Harvest Drive. I felt so fulfilled just watching all of the volunteers running back and forth cheerfully sorting food even after a long day of school and work.
  4. I started working on a community service project with my team at work so we can get our students involved in serving others while learning the concept of giving without expecting to receive something in return (more to come on this in future posts).

While it’s easy to live in our bubbles and focus on just our own problems and needs, God has called us to love and serve one another, to use our gifts and talents to be a blessing to others and that’s just what I want to do. I want to do it and teach my children and my students the same thing. I pray that my children and my students will learn to love helping others, not because they will be rewarded, but because it feels good to do so, that they become intrinsically motivated to do what’s right.

I write this post not because I want any accolades or praise but to hold myself accountable. If I tell everyone what I am going to do, I know that people will be checking to see if I’m doing what I said I will do even on those days when I don’t feel like it and just want to focus on self.

Maybe I can motivate others to do the same.

Maybe I can start a small movement.

Maybe I can open more hearts to the love that God has called us all to show.

Stay tuned for more…

In the Eye of the Storm

In life we will all experience many ups and downs, highs and lows, good days and bad days and everything in between.

We are content and excited when we’re up, when we’re on top of the mountain; during that time life is beautiful and we’re dancing with joy.

However, many of us get extremely upset and discouraged when life is down, and we’re looking up from a valley, believing that we don’t deserve to experience the lows of life because we’ve been “good” and that life is just being unfair to us.  Why me? Why me? We fuss; we pout; we whine. We may throw tantrums and even threaten to give up on life. How can we ever recover from such heartache and pain? What’s the point in even trying?

I believe that how we respond when life gets hard, not when life is easy, when we’re in the “eye of the storm” says a lot about our character and our view and appreciation of this gift called life. Our responses during these times affect our happiness because we truly do have the choice to ride out the storm, to run from it, hiding away in fear, or to just let it toss us all around slamming us against waves, drowning us in a sea of despair.

I consider myself to be an optimist, always looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, the silver lining on the cloud. So with the approach of this storm, Hurricane Irma, I am looking for the good that will come from this bad.

I am being hopeful and trusting God to perform a miracle.

I am refusing to let the negative talk make me panic or feel guilty for not evacuating (since this wasn’t really an option for my family).

While I am not pretending this literal storm or the figurative storms of life are easy, enjoyable, or insignificant, I am saying that I will not allow any of these storms to steal my joy or cloud my outlook on life or my hope for my future.

My life definitely has not been all unicorns and rainbows, magical lands and fairy tales. I’ve had so many ups and so many downs as well, but my belief in God, my refusal to give up and give in, and my positive view on life and the belief that I can learn something from everything I experience, all keep me going, moving and pressing forward.

Today, and each day forward, I am choosing to learn the lessons that these storms are bringing to me.

I am choosing God’s joy that He has given me, a joy that cannot be broken just because my circumstances don’t match my heart’s song. I will praise Him during the storm, and I will believe that there’s something greater for me on the other side.

I refuse to be swept away by the storms of life. I will allow the storm to water me so that I may grow and develop even more.

I will love life whether I am in the midst of the storm or I’m riding high on a wave of happiness and peace.

As long as I have Jesus with me, there’s nothing for me to fear.

Mark 4:35-41 (NIV)

Jesus Calms the Storm

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!”Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

A Forgiving Heart

Forgiveness.

In theory it sounds so easy to do, but in reality, it can actually prove to be quite difficult.

Small things can easily be forgiven. Oh, you ate my cookies without my permission. I really wanted them, but it’s okay.

While bigger offenses may take time. I can’t believe you lied to me or about me. You stole something valuable that can never be replaced. You hurt someone whom I love. 

Eventually you forgive the person and decide to move on even if it means that you’ll never forget what they’ve done. Sometimes you may think that you have forgiven someone and you really haven’t.

Sometimes you refuse to forgive, the offense just seems too big to let go. How can you release them from the responsibility of all of the pain that they have caused you? How can you let them just go free like that?

You think you’re punishing them for all that you’ve been through.

But is that really the case? Are they really being punished because you refuse to forgive them for what they have done? Are they even aware that you haven’t forgiven them?

Most importantly… do they even care?

(more…)

…So Plan Accordingly

We all live pretty hectic lives, but I feel women are especially focused on and stressed by all of the day-to-day tasks that need to be accomplished. Whether we are wives or mothers or single ladies or career women, we all attempt to have it “all together.” In the midst of this, many things get overlooked, forgotten, pushed aside. Our perpetual to-do lists are constantly on our minds as we race back and forth from place to place, appointment to appointment all the while neglecting the things that are truly important to us, the things that make us feel like women, that make us happy, that give us our sanity. We struggle with how to organize it all so that all of it (or most of it) can actually get completed each day.

One way that I’ve learned to try to “get it all done” is by taking time to plan out my days, my weeks, and my months while taking time to reflect on how well they went, what I could have done better, what I need to change, and what I should continue doing. I’ve used many different planners to try to achieve this, but none of them took into account one matter that has become more and more important to me within the past few years: my faith. I know some people are wondering how a planner can help with my faith. Well, it’s my pleasure to explain.

Since I switched to my Sanctuary Girl Faith Planner, my life has changed. For a while, my relationship and time with God were separate from my daily to-do list. It was almost as if it that time was something separate from my “real” life. However, since getting my planner, my perception has changed. With this planner, I cannot write my plans for the day without noticing the columns indicating whether or not I have spent time that day journaling, reading my devotional(s), reading my Bible, and praying. If you enjoy utilizing a planner as much as I do, you’ll understand that there is a sense of satisfaction in being able to check off or cross something off your to-do list; seeing that little check mark or that line drawn through the task is (excuse the expression) a high for me. Knowing that I have checked off those four columns each day makes me feel even better than usual because I know that that represents quality time spent with God, time that sets the tone for the rest of my day, preparing me to deal with the other items on my to-do list or situations that I may have to face. That time is not something separate from the rest of my life; it’s an integral part of it. (more…)

Perfect Imperfections

Growing up, I was often teased about the size of my full lips. Occasionally in school, I was called Big Lips (I know, so original), and made to feel not necessarily like I was ugly, just that there was something wrong with me that needed to be fixed. I was pretty well-known and well-liked in school, but my voluptuous lips always seemed to grab the attention of kids who apparently did not approve of their size. Of course, as a child and even a teenager, I allowed their unkind words to get into my head, turning something that should have been a source of pride into an insecurity, and I actually began to despise my full lips. I still remember aggressively scrubbing off the lipstick my mother made me wear so my dad could snap a few pictures before my eighth-grade prom. No way was I going to show up to my school with my huge lips smeared with red lipstick, drawing all kinds of unwanted attention. No thanks, Mom, I’m good. No clown jokes tonight.

Another memory is that of my seventh-grade school picture that I detested and that my grandmother loved. I remember cringing inside as I watched, horrified, her proudly propping up the picture frame, putting it on display in her living room for all the world to see. She adored that picture of her “pretty, little grandbaby.” In my mind, it was the ugliest picture I had ever taken, one that needed to be burned and forgotten.

Seriously, if I wanted to, I could sit here and type a long drawn out list of my perceived flaws and a ton of stories about how they’ve negatively impacted my life. I could go on and on about what’s “wrong” with me and how I could possibly correct them. But why do that? As women, we spend entirely too much time mulling over and dissecting our flaws as if there will be an award given out for the woman who can name the highest number of things she perceives to be wrong with herself. “And the award goes to (insert name here), for being the most ashamed of the way she looks! You win the Low Self-Esteem Award!” Nope. Nope. Nope. Sorry.

Ladies, this just makes no sense. No one is perfect. NO ONE IS PERFECT. Have you not seen the videos of the flawless makeup application turning an “ordinary” woman into a bombshell? Do you not know anything about plastic surgery (nips, tucks, injections, lifts)? Have you not heard of angles and lighting and shadows and filters used to enhance pictures? The “perfection” that you see on other women is just an illusion, not some gold standard that you should use to measure yourself. Not to say that some women don’t have beautiful shapes or flawless skin or perfect teeth. However, the one or two “perfections” about that other woman that you fixate on only serve to distract you from everything that is perfect about you. Why give so much time and energy worrying about how someone else looks? Why spend time obsessing over how beautiful someone else is? Why try to change everything about yourself that makes you unique in order to fit in with a bunch of unrealistic expectations about what makes a woman beautiful and worthy of praise?

The world will have us thinking that in order to be beautiful, we must be able to check everything off on a long list of attributes, and if even one of them is missing, then we must fix it or go into hiding, too ashamed or embarrassed to show our face. We all know how it is. You give a woman a compliment and she will promptly deflect it, using her ninja moves to bat it away, quickly pointing out a reason why she doesn’t deserve that compliment. Me? Pretty? Oh, no sir. Have you seen how big my nose is? My hair is such a mess, and I need to lose another 10 pounds. Straight foolishness. (more…)

Encourage Yourself

Sometimes you just have to encourage yourself.

Through the heartache, the pain, the tears, the frustration, the aggravation, the sadness.

Because giving up is not an option.

Giving up is never an option.

Even when it seems the situation is hopeless, it’s not. While you’re going through it, it may seem impossible to see a way out. You may feel lonely, isolated, neglected, rejected. It’s during these hard times, these down times, that we have to encourage ourselves.

 

For me, encouragement is my finding key Bible verses that speak to me and meditating on them. Turning on my worship music and singing and dancing along enjoying the freedom of not focusing on my problems for a while. Writing in my prayer journal, pouring out my heart to God.

I have learned that I can’t wait for the situation to be fixed before I allow myself to feel joy again. I just have to encourage myself, believing that God is working in the situation and that in His perfect timing, I will come out of the problem stronger, wiser, happier. That I will look back at the problem and realize just how small it was compared to my God and laugh about how worried I was.

But while I am in the storm, I have to hold tight to my faith and know that trouble doesn’t last always. That weeping may endure for a night, but joy certainly comes in the morning. I’ve experienced it time and time again. Problems that were meant to break me down ended up working in my favor, and there’s nothing about my past that I would change because that would mean changing the woman that I’ve become.

Therefore, I will be encouraged in knowing that things will get better.

If you’re in the midst of a storm right now, I pray that you will do the same. Encourage yourself! Know that you WILL get through this! No matter how dark the situation is, look for the lesson in it. Think: How can I use this to make me wiser, bolder, stronger? How can I use this to help others? What am I supposed to take away from this trial? 

I guarantee if you start looking at your storms as opportunities to be poured into spiritually, that because of them you can grow into the person you are meant to be, you won’t shrink back from the storms but stand out boldly in the rain because you can see the beauty in your future.

No matter what you’re going through believe that things will get better.

Encourage yourself through it all, and you will be alright.

Grateful Heart

One of my favorite commercials is the AT&T one where the little girl says, “We want more. We want more. You really like it. You want more.” While we all get a chuckle out of how she says it, the words and the truth behind it should make us all pause and reflect. The quote basically reminds me of our society today. Everybody wants more, myself included. Is it because we lack the basic necessities we need in order to survive? No. It’s because we all have been led to believe that the accumulation of more things equals more happiness in our lives. The more money you have, the better. The more expensive your car is, the better. The more technology you have around your house, the better. The more designer clothing in your closet, the better. And on and on it goes.

While we all know that we have so much for which to be grateful (such as a job, car, place to live, food to eat, family, friends), the media, and people in general, just won’t allow us to be content just as we are. There is a constant barrage of new products that we MUST have. Advertisers make you feel as if your life will basically suck if you don’t have what they’re offering, as if buying that new mattress will not only give you a good night’s sleep, but will make your entire life peaceful and you will no longer have a care in the world, or if you shop at their store and buy their clothes you will automatically look like a model and the perfect guy will fall into your lap. Friends eyeball your four-year-old car and question whether or not you’re going to buy a new one soon when in your mind you really wanted to drive that car until the wheels fell off. Neighbors have delivery trucks constantly pulling up with new furniture or new appliances or a new Amazon package on a weekly basis and you try to find a way to get invited inside so you can walk around enviously wishing your own house was just as fabulous. Facebook “friends” post endless pictures of nights out on the town, expensive dinner, vacations abroad, with spouses, children, and houses that are all picture perfect.

Although deep, deep down most of us understand that material things ultimately won’t fulfill us, we all still seem to have to chase that need for “more.” Although deep down most of us know that those people’s lives look great on the outside when in reality nobody’s life is perfect, we still want to be like them and have what they have even if we don’t want to admit it.

I know I am guilty of envy, and I am trying so hard to work on it. It’s crazy; I can say that I am grateful for something one minute and turn around and see someone with a “better” version of “it”, and immediately, I am envious because now, that thing that I was just so grateful for, seems to suddenly pale in comparison. Here is one of my favorite memes. It’s one of those things that is funny but sad at the same time.

How can we constantly say how thankful we are for what we have when our eyes are constantly wandering over to the next best thing? We can’t. The constant need for more steals our present joy and satisfaction with our lives. The constant need to compare our lives with others’ sets us up for unrealistic expectations and leaves a sour taste in our mouths which in turns sours our perspectives on our lives. We miss out on the daily miracles and the beauty that surrounds us because we’re too busy drooling over her new Coach bag or his new iPhone. But at the end of the day, is your life really that bad and are all those other people’s lives really that good?

If we were to take our eyes off our own selfish desires and look at those who are truly less fortunate than ourselves, we may begin to view our lives differently, more positively, more gratefully. Spending time helping others can help us to see just how blessed we truly are. Giving to certain causes that speak to our hearts will help us become more grateful for what we have. My family has a constant reminder of this concept all because of a picture of a young girl we have posted on our refrigerator. While at a Toby Mac concert last month, the opportunity was given for anyone at the concert to sponsor a child through the organization Food for the Hungry. After hearing the presenter’s speech, my heart was broken by the story of a young boy walking miles up and down cliffs to get water for his family only to be pushed to the back of the line by those bigger and stronger than he. The presenter also spoke about his own life and how easy it is for him and his family to get water from several different places around their home without a second thought and how his trip and meeting that young man changed his perspective on just how blessed he was. Believe it or not, it wasn’t I who grabbed the picture of the young lady; it was my 13-year-old son who volunteered to pay out of his allowance (which can range from $40- $80 a month) the $35 a month fee as I sat there calculating if I (the one with the job) could really take on another monthly deduction. Boy, was I ashamed. Now the face on our refrigerator is a visual reminder that no matter how much we complain (the AC isn’t cold enough, the store didn’t have the snack I wanted, my coffee isn’t sweet enough, my phone is outdated), in the grand scheme of things, we really have NOTHING about which to complain.

I am now on a journey to live each day with a heart of gratitude, and I invite you to take this journey with me of learning to start each day that way. My plan is that I will greet each day by giving God praise for waking me up (even if it is to the sound of a screeching alarm well before I am ready to rise out of bed). Then I plan to take time to really take into account all that I have to be thankful for right now, making a list of those things to carry around as a reminder throughout the day. Last but not least, I will find a way to positively touch or bless someone else’s life in some type of way each day. It’s already a part of my daily prayer that I be a blessing to someone else, but now I want to be more intentional about it. Even if I have to set reminders on my phone or write in my planner, “Who have you been a blessing to today?”, I want to stop just talking about it but to actually be about it.

Who will join me on this journey? What will you do to make sure that your gratitude meter stays at full? What will you do to slap yourself back to reality the next time those green eyes of envy start to show? What will you do when you find yourself complaining about something insignificant? Let me know what ideas you have because I might want to try them myself. Share them in the comment section below. I look forward to what you have to say.

Be grateful.

Be thankful.

Love your life.

Your Why, Your Drive, Your Purpose

We were all put on this earth for a purpose. Most of us are aware of this simple yet profound fact. However, many people seem to waste their lives frolicking from here to there, flitting from one thing to the next, never really doing anything important with their lives. Others are constantly on a search, a search to figure out why they are here, what their purpose is, and how can they fulfill it. Some people get extremely anxious at the thought that they will never “find” their purpose as if it is lost, and they just have to hunt and chase it down. Too many people think that in order to fulfill their purpose that they must become rich or famous or powerful or all three. They think the real way to serve their purpose here on earth is by getting a bunch of accolades from a bunch of people that they don’t know for doing a bunch of stuff that sounds good. But is that really the reason God put us all here? Does He really just want all of us to get on the cover of a magazine or have our names known all over the world?

Over the past year and a half, I have continued to encounter this one word: WHY. Not the simplistic why that starts random questions, but the why that has you truly evaluating the things that make you excited about life, that make you want to get up in the morning, those things that you’re passionate about doing, even if they’re not the easiest to accomplish or the most “important” things to other people. This short, three letter word has caused me to view life much differently and to evaluate the things that I do.

First, I had to consider my why when thinking about my reason for becoming an independent consultant with Thirty-One Gifts. Other than just making extra income, I needed to be able to explain to other people why I chose to join. Next, because of my new position with Thirty-One, I was lead to read a book entitled, Start with Why. While it may seem like it’s just a book for someone starting their own business or trying to make their business better, this book really hit home when I looked at what I did in my classroom as a teacher. It really made me reflect on my approach to teaching and how I saw my students. Now, just this past weekend, I was again confronted by this word. This time it was a tad bit scary. I had to reflect on why I wasn’t doing the tasks that I knew I needed to do in order to be successful, in order to live the life I feel that I should be living. I was asked what was my non-negotiable why. And that’s how this post came along. LOL (more…)

Know Your Worth

 

It is human nature to want to be liked and to be accepted. That in itself is not a problem. The problem with the need to be accepted comes when the validation that we get from others begins to shape who we think we are and how valuable we feel we are. Sometimes this is innocent enough. For example, your close friends constantly shower you with compliments and “You, go girls!” They lift you up when you are down and when you are around them you feel on top of the world. It’s healthy to have people around you who see the good in you and make sure you know it and feel it. In contrast, when someone who we deem as “important” to our lives whether it’s a friend, spouse, or boss tells us over and over that what we’re doing, what we’re saying, how we’re living, or the way we dress is not good enough, we may begin to feel that this is true. We may begin to feel that as long as we can win their favor, as long as we can keep them happy with us, then we are worth something. We may even begin to question our abilities and our purpose. We neglect our dreams and our passions and our ideas trying to be the “right” person for someone else. We beat ourselves up if a review or evaluation comes back negative. We instantly regret a decision if it isn’t met by a bunch of head nodding and words of affirmation.

But you are so much more than what one person or even one hundred people can tell you about yourself! God did not make a mistake when He created you!

When we are kids, the biggest part of our lives is having acceptance from our friends and fitting in with the crowd; it is rare to find a confident teen who doesn’t care what his/her classmates think about him/her. Being different is almost like having a disease; kids go out of their way to avoid you, as if your differences are contagious. No one wants to be “that” kid at whom everyone stares and points and laughs.

However, as we grow older, our lives should begin to change. With age comes wisdom. We should start to acknowledge, accept and appreciate our uniqueness, those traits that make us stand out from the crowd, that make us who we are. We should be standing on tables or even shouting from rooftops, “Look at me! See why I’m awesome!” We should never let someone else’s opinion of us to make or break us. We have to become strong enough in ourselves, the person that God has created us to be so that no one or nothing can shake us. Now please don’t get me wrong. I am not in any way saying that we should not be open to constructive criticism when someone is truly trying to help us become a better person or become better at our jobs. The opinions that I am referring to are those that are meant to belittle you or to make you conform to what someone else thinks you should be just because it will make them more comfortable or make them feel in control. I am referring to those opinions that tell you that in order to be a part of my world, to be accepted by me, you must be like this or be like that. I am talking about those opinions that have you questioning your intelligence, your self-esteem, your beauty, your worth. (more…)

Positive Vibes Only, Please

I declared 2017 as a year of peace and joy for myself. In these days and times, it is so easy to get caught up in the negativity of the day-to-day hustle and bustle. Being “busy” is the new thing and talking about how stressed you are is the norm. It feels like we’re in a competition to see who has the most miserable life (or if you are on social media, who has the most exciting life, LOL). Some people seem to have drama standing at their doorstep every day. And for some strange reason, they seem to happily welcome this drama into their lives only to then spend hours lamenting to others about how bad their lives are. You have your Debby Downers who will kill any party or celebration or even just a regular old day with how this won’t work and how that is destined to fail, how everything is impossible so why should we even try. You have those who have perfected the Pity Party and never seem to catch a break in life. They live a life of constant, “Woe is me.”  And then you have those who live by the mantra of “Misery loves company” who seem to seek out other people’s hard times and personal problems and spend hours spreading these people’s business, sharing stories of sadness and despair every where they go, gloating in the fact that their lives are not the only messed up ones. You can literally see a dark, ominous cloud floating over them as they approach you. When you see these people coming, I advise you to run.

Flipping on the TV or going online only makes matter worse. While technology has made life easier for us and has made the world seem so much smaller by allowing us to have instant contact with and information about people halfway around the world, it’s also a huge source of our fear and anxiety. Just as quickly as bad news occurs, we can see and hear about it. Heck, we may even catch it happening live. Your day can quickly go from one of happiness and peace to one of shock, fear, and sadness with just a click of a button. Horror stories are sensationalized and recapped over and over until you start to question if there is any good left in the world.

All of this negativity can be overwhelming. It’s easy to find yourself drowning in all of it or, worse, being a source of it. This is why I have been making a conscious effort to seek out positivity wherever I go. Whether it’s at work, home, or online, I make sure that who or what I invite into my life brings with them some level of positivity. Now I am not claiming that everyone that I speak to is only talking about unicorns and rainbows or that I never watch the news and get scared or that I just try to pretend that bad things don’t happen. I am definitely not saying that everything that comes out of my mouth is something positive and uplifting. I have my days, too, when I have had enough, when I am frustrated or angry or annoyed or downtrodden or just don’t care. But I refuse to let that be my norm. (more…)