2020: Seeing Clearly

I was in high school when Prince’s blockbuster song 1999 hit the charts. At that time, the year 1999 seemed like an imaginary, far-off possibility. As my friends and I calculated how old we would be when 1999 was finally ushered in, I discovered that I would be in my early 30’s! It sounded so old at the time.

Fast forward to New Year’s Eve 1999 and I wasn’t “partying like it’s 1999,” as the song suggested. Instead, I was sitting home with a 4 year old and a 3 month old…and loving it! King Solomon said There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens… It was a great season. What’s the old saying? The days go slow but the years go fast… 

At the start of a new year, many people find themselves reflecting on the memories,  challenges, changes, and blessings from the previous year. img_1863Others project ahead and resolve to change a pattern, a habit, a belief, or other situation. Let’s do both!

20/20! We’ve all heard the term denoting visual acuity…sharpness, clarity. So is it any wonder that much of the hype and excitement surrounding this particular new year focuses on seeing and projecting ahead? It’s a milestone! Not only a new year…but a brand new decade!

In 1972, Johnny Nash released a song titled I Can See Clearly Now:

I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind

9a356e0b-95a8-4f20-8bed-2c7ef0ad0277As the new year approaches, a primary question I offer is: What will it take for me to see clearly in the new year? In relation to the song, other questions to consider: what obstacles are blinding my true vision or causing distortion in what I perceive? Also…what are some things I can leave behind in this decade as I forge ahead into the next? Please stick with me and we’ll look at 10 things to leave behind and 10 things to embrace and bring with us into 2020.  Let’s leave behind:

1. Comparison: Oh…I’m so guilty. I remember first reading a small laminated copy of the poem Desiderata (Latin, meaning “things desired”) in high school: If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. As an awkward teenager, I really needed to hear that! But peer pressure and the desire to perform, or conform, doesn’t stop once the diploma is in hand and you walk off the stage. With the rise of social media, to some extent we’re all living on a stage! I’ve lived it, I’ve raised two children, I’ve walked side by side with other women, and I’ve seen and talked with hundreds of other people who have fallen into the trap of comparison. Teddy Roosevelt once said “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

The apostle Paul said:

…let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t. -Romans 12:6 (MSG)

No one is immune, but I believe woman are especially vulnerable to comparison. Am I good enough, thin enough, smart enough, talented enough, mom enough, Pinterest-worthy…you get the idea. I challenge you…and me…to stop the comparison and to be mindful of each blessing, opportunity, and person we have in our lives. Celebrate each breath and the ways our bodies live and breathe and move and function. Comparison? Leave it behind.

2. Negative self-talk: It so often goes along with comparison. Again, I’m guilty. It may seem so innocent…unless you really listen: I’m so stupid. I’ll never get better. Nothing good ever happens to me… But listen again to the apostle Paul:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. -Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)

If you believe in the inerrancy of scripture, shouldn’t this verse apply to how we talk about ourselves as well as others? How about the wise words of motivational speaker Christine Arylo: “Be nice to yourself… It’s hard to be happy when someone is mean to you all the time.” I often ask people I counsel if they would speak to a small, impressionable child the way they talk to themselves. Or speak the same words to their best friend. Speak kindly to yourself. Truth…but in love.

3. Discontentment: Part of the terrible triad mix & match equation! Comparison + negative self-talk = discontentment. Pretty sure we could interchange the variables in multiple ways and still end up with similar responses: (discontentment + negative self-talk = comparison, etc…) How quickly and easily we forget that we img_1870are often currently living the life we once wished for or prayed about. Count Your Blessings is an old hymn written in the late 1800s:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

In no way do I intend to minimize pain, suffering, and other difficulties. Life is hard and the world is broken. But there can still be beauty in the midst of the brokenness. Jesus told us that “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33)  Is thankfulness the opposite of discontent? Probably not…but it at least offers to loosen the heavy cloak and lighten the burden of discontentment. Be thankful for one thing today. And then another…and another. And you will find that discontent becomes smaller and more quiet in the coming year.

4. Worry: It has many different names and expressions…anxiety, panic, nervousness, apprehension, fear, dread…  The entire verse from John 16:33 says “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” 

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? -Jesus  (Mt 6:27)

I don’t intend to minimize serious mental health concerns. Bad things happen. Terrible, fear-creating events that are totally out of our control. Anxiety is an ever-growing, increasingly serious, pervasive condition in our society. Thankfully, it is also very treatable with professional help, time, and ongoing commitment. But day-by-day worry is a choice often hidden behind habit and personal experience. Let’s commit to look clearly ahead at 2020 with intentional vision to see our daily concerns and struggles as they are…not minimized and not magnified. Also, pray about and seek to identify the triggers that threaten to steal your peace and create fear and worry. Turn off the news, silence the phone, limit social media. Put boundaries up between you and those people and situations that create anxiety and strife. Then you will be able to see more clearly.

5. Bitterness: As I typed that word, I thought another terrible trio: bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness. (more about forgiveness later…)  Where does one start and the other begin? Possible ways to identify these dangerous feelings: bitterness leaves a bad taste in your mouth or a scowl on your face. Resent = resend. Are you replaying/re-sending the same words, events, and injustices over and over in your mind and heart and attaching chain2faces to the feelings? That’s resentment. Unforgiveness = unforgiving = unwilling or unable to forgive. It’s the inability to let it go and to move forward unshackled from an offense.  Where there is one there are usually the others; and they weigh heavy on your journey. Leave them behind…like unloading rocks from a heavy backpack or taking pebbles off a scale until it’s perfectly balanced. You do it one hard thing at a time. What do you need to take off the scale and leave behind this year?

6. Misplaced anger: Anger gets a bad rap. Appropriate, well-played anger motivates people to rise up to defend their families, their countries, or their causes. To pursue a better life. It fuels passion and creativity. But misplaced or unrestrained anger has the ability to destroy relationships, families, and individuals. It seems to be a common go-to emotion. But it’s really a temperature gauge. A check engine light. It may need a skilled mechanic to diagnose it and shut it down while it’s still just a warning. What, or who, is pushing your button or flipping your switch? Just as a compass points north, misplaced anger points back to something or someone. Often a grave injustice… but sometimes just a drastic misunderstanding. It’s 2020…inspect it, repair it. Put anger in its proper place and use it wisely.

7. Apathy: Shake off the dusty cobwebs of apathy. Apathy is a lack of feeling, emotion, interest, concern, or passion. It’s the whatever or who cares attitude that has become so prevalent in recent years. It is desensitization to the injustice and cares of the world. To suffering and loss…or to growth and achievement. It is neither hot nor cold…simply  lukewarm. Pray for a heart to see and a passion to care about what’s going on around you. Seek motivation to move out of your comfort zone and be aware and engaged.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.  *

8. Overindulgence:  There’s an old saying: Too much of a good thing… It can be finished in multiple ways: is a bad thing, leads to obsession or addiction, makes you miserable, etc… Think for a moment. Consider when something that has brought you temporary pleasure eventually caused you pain, guilt, loss, or other negative consequence. The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:12 “Everything is permissible for me,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me,” but I will not be mastered by anything.  Food, medication, alcohol, television, or even excessive cell phone use can lead us into distraction and escape…away from quality time to invest in relationships and our own physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Seek balance. 20/20.

9. Busyness: Our society is busier than ever. Our days and hours are full of appointments, activities. and various must-do-and-be-at activities. Our schedules are full but many times our hearts and our spirits are empty. And…we are tired, we are stressed, and we often feel disconnected even in the middle of the crowds and busyness.  A few questions to consider: What is essential? What is life-giving? What promotes emotional and spiritual growth or a tangible reward? Check your schedule. I’m not advocating hitting eject on every nonessential activity; nor is it good for you to be  secluded or uninvolved. Just consider ordering and prioritizing your time in 2020. What will really matter at the end of this year…and the next?

10. A bad habit:  Just one! You may have a list of a dozen, but consider one simple habit, quirk, or pattern that plagues you and has likely followed you for years. Too many times we reach the end of the year (or the end of ourselves!) and make unrealistic goals and commitments. Then we become discouraged or self-critical. Let’s forge ahead with 20/20 vision. Set a clear, realistic goal. Don’t set yourself up for failure or disappointment by planning a complete overhaul. Focus on one small change. One bad habit you can drop at the back door of 2019 and enter 2020 with better focus, clarity, and direction. Envision one step, and then another. Be realistic and optimistic. 


Don’t give up now! We’ve talked about what to leave behind in the old decade. Now let’s look at 10 things we should bring with us into 2020 to have a brand new start! Let’s commit to:

1. Reach out to a friend! Someone you haven’t seen since high school, someone you’ve noticed at church, that quiet person at work… You may already have a hundred friends…you may only have one. The number that you have is not the important factor. Quality > quantity. Explore the new and cherish the old! Be real, be honest, be you. And let them be real, be honest, and be themselves.  Laugh, cry, hug, have fun. Be serious, be silly, just be. You may not think you need a new friend, but a brand new friend may need you! 🙂

2. Talk to somebody. A friend, a pastor, a counselor, a stranger… Many people are starving for connection and conversation. Make small talk in elevators and grocery check out lines. Reconnect with high school friends. Talk about the weather and the flowers blooming. Talk about hopes and dreams. Talk about disappointments, pains, and things you wish you could do over. Tell somebody something that makes you happy, sad, expectant, or maybe even a little fearful. Talk about the hard things. Talk about the secrets. Tell your story to someone you trust…even the most painful things. See a counselor if you need to. Everyone needs to be heard.

Where there is no guidance, a people falls,
    but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.  -Proverbs 11:14

3. Read a book! Read fiction. Image result for dr seuss the more that you readRead nonfiction. Read children’s books through your adult eyes and experiences. Read magazines and cereal boxes. Studies consistently show that the majority of people quit reading once they are out of school. But reading stimulates creativity, improves memory and imagination, and enlarges your borders. Oh, the places you will go! Visit a library or bookstore. Look and touch and smell and let the words leap off the pages and into your mind and imagination. Even better…into your heart and soul.

4. Read the Bible. Even if you aren’t a believer… Give it a shot!  It is full of history, wisdom, scandal, poetry, romance, music, and revelation. Challenge it. Open it and enter in questioning, doubting, wondering…   2 Timothy 3:16-17 says All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.  Seek and you just might find what you’re looking for.

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5. Write! A pen, a pencil, a keyboard…it doesn’t matter. Write your story, write a poem, write a prayer, write a letter to an old friend. Writing is like holding a key that unlocks feelings and memories and ideas. Keep a notepad or a space on your phone to jot down quick ideas but later find a designated time to write…let it pour out freely and unedited until your thoughts find their home on paper. “Stay faithful to the stories in your head.” -Paula Hawkins

6. Pray. Prayer is simply talking with God. The apostle Paul’s mandate in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 is Pray without ceasing. Spend hours on your knees in a designated space, pray as you’re going to sleep, pray in the car between errands…but make this year a time to seek God in prayer. Meditate, reflect, sit in silence, and listen. It will improve both your vision and your hearing. 🙂

Prayer is the helpless and needy child crying to the compassion of the Father’s heart and the bounty and power of a Father’s hand. -E.M. Bounds

7. Forgive. I wrote a post a few months ago titled Forgiveness Is Cake. No, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Forgive anyway. Very intentionally. Very specifically remember the person who shamed you, mocked you, bullied you, or outright abused you; and cut the chains that bind you to all the bad feelings, the anger, and the hurtful memories.

Colossians 3:13 says: Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins say: Your health depends on it…Forgiveness is not just about saying the words. It is an active process in which you make a conscious decision to let go of negative feelings whether the person deserves it or not.

I challenge you, and me, to walk into 2020 unshackled and free. Even if your walk is merely a limp. Don’t do it for them. Do it for yourself and for those you love…for your peace and your freedom.

img_18838. Go! Somewhere you’ve never been! Just go! Fly, ride, hike…travel. Visit somewhere new and different and scary and off the beaten path and out of the box. The mountains, the beach, the quaint little hometown square. The local restaurants, the hidden trails, the cozy coffee shops, the loud lounges, the quiet gardens. Explore and live and laugh! And take lots of pictures!

9. Go! Yes I know I’ve already said that…but go back to a familiar place. Where your memories are warm and cozy or where they need to find peace and healing. Where you met Jesus, where you met your spouse, your best friend’s old house. Your first church, your high school, your first date. The cemetery. Go and remember and see with new eyes. Better acuity. 20/20.

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it…this brokenness inside me might start healing.   -Miranda Lambert, The House That Built Me

10. Move! No, don’t call the realtor just yet! But move your body…stretch your arms, twist your hips, bend your knees and elbows! Walk, dance, tumble, climb… Celebrate your mobility, your flexibility, your strength, your stamina. Someone once said the best exercise is the one you’ll do…so just do it!

Exercise is a celebration of what your body can do, not a punishment for what you are or what you ate.  –unknown/paraphrased

Well…It’s just another 10-things list to consider for the new year: ten to embrace and ten to leave behind. As I neared the end of the list, I realized there were so many more I could have included. There really is no perfect 10. But I think the additional four I would have included to embrace in the coming year could act like a big bow-and-ribbon to wrap around the others as you read back through them: faith, hope, love, and compassion. Wrap yourself in those last four and it will make an all-encompassing beautiful gift to give to yourself and to others. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Col 3:14)

No…it’s not an all-inclusive list of how to make 2020 the best year ever…but it’s a start!

Paul said in Philippians 3:13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on… Consider one thing you can do.

Welcome to 2020…not only a promising new year, but a brand new decade! Press on. With clarity and acuity…20/20

 

*quoted by JFK, ? per Edmund Burke

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sacred Rest

I saw a funny T-shirt recently. It said:

JESUS TOOK NAPS.  BE LIKE JESUS.   Mark 4:38

Funny, right? A pretty familiar story, Mark 4 recounts the story of a very busy day in Jesus’ life. He had been teaching by the sea and such a crowd appeared that he got into a boat and spoke to the crowds from the water. The acoustics were probably better. The img_5732sun was probably hot, the crowd was probably tough. Well, I don’t really know that, but the story says He taught the crowd in parables. Sounds exhausting. Later when the crowd had dispersed and He was alone with his disciples and a few others, they asked him to explain the parables even further. Then later still, verse 34 says: “He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.”  That’s a lot of talking and teaching. Sounds like a full days work but his day still wasn’t over:

 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”  And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.  But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

Ever have a day like that? You work and give and talk and teach and care and then do it all over again at least a dozen times? Then just when you finally think you can get a little break, a little peace and quiet… a great storm arises. Maybe not a literal storm, but interruptions, nuisances, aggravations, accusations, or the unexpected. Where is the peace, the calm, the still, the rest?

I recently read a book that addressed peace, calm, and rest img_5722from a fresh, creative perspective. Sacred Rest was written by Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, a medical doctor familiar with the serious negative physical, emotional, and spiritual effects that lack of rest produces in our bodies.

Merriam-Webster lists several definitions of the word “sacred” but the two that seem to shout the loudest about stilling the busyness of our minds and lives are these: dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity and highly valued and important.

When I first picked up the book, I expected the typical clichéd responses about rest: you need eight hours sleep, remember the Sabbath, be still and know, take some time for yourself, you can’t give away what you don’t possess, etc… What I actually found were unique ideas about various forms of rest I had never recognized or encountered…so much more than I ever expected. As I read real-life stories of actual people who struggled img_5730with physical and emotional pain, unrest, or turmoil, I saw bits of myself through the words of the author and through the eyes of the Great Physician. I walked along side people who felt guilty for resting, who felt the need to perform, who were so busy doing…they weren’t just living and loving and being.

Physical rest we understand. Mental rest? Emotional, spiritual, social, sensory, creative? Connections I hadn’t recognized or at least hadn’t let my mind fully understand.

Being in health care, it was easy for me to see through the eyes of the author, an internal medicine physician. I recalled many faces of patients I had seen who complained of anxiety, pain, sleeplessness, poor memory, exhaustion, img_5726personal conflict, and a myriad of other symptoms either real or perceived. I remembered countless faces of people in tears about the feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, or simply feeling overwhelmed by busyness, responsibilities, and hectic schedules. I also saw parents and kids, husbands and wives, friends, and other relationships staring blankly at phones and other devices rather than interacting with one another while waiting in the lobby or in the exam rooms. So many were not alone, but were isolated or lonely. Still, but not resting and at peace. They were going and working and doing and getting…and yet still wondering why they felt hollow, scattered, or heavy-laden. I have been there too.

Healing occurs when we allow ourselves the time, space, and grace to be in the presence of God in the middle of our busy lives.

As I write this, it is two days before Christmas. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. The time when people are busy working, shopping, preparing, traveling, visiting. A sacred time of year when we celebrate Immanuel, God with us. But do we slow down and remember why he came?

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10

This is not a book review; although I do highly recommend the book. I have been both challenged and encouraged by the stories, the fresh ideas and suggestions, and the tools the author provides. But this is more of an observation, a testimony to the fact that we are busy and bustling but are still often weary, worn, and isolated. It’s also an acknowledgment and reminder that we often don’t realize the impact that the stress, busyness, and lack of true rest have on our lives, our health, our responses, and our relationships. It’s a call to recognition, to renewal, to restoration, to rest. A call to lay down the burdens, still our minds and our bodies, quieten our devices, gather our loved ones, and bask in the gift of today. Be still and know.

“Peace! Be still!”  “Who then is this, that even the wind and waves obey him?” 

 

 

…may you never become so busy you neglectimg_5736 to enjoy the life you create.   Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith

bit.ly/SacredRest  #SacredRest

When Holidays Hurt

I’ve been feeling it in the air for awhile now… Days are shorter, nights are longer. Skies are darker and breezes are colder. Changing seasons and impending holidays are often harsh, stinging reminders of loss and loneliness.

roomThe evening grows long as I look out across the waiting room and see the many sad or sick faces waiting patiently…or not. Some fidget, sigh, and look at invisible watches on their wrists. Some stare blankly into the unreachable distance or at the monotonous pattern of the enclosing four walls, perhaps replaying old scenes or longed-for visions. Some stare absently into their phones for distraction, relief, or escape. Still they wait. I know many of their stories before they utter a word. I know their history or I read their eyes. I watch their shoulders slump, their hands fidget, their lips frown or faintly quiver. I feel the weight and the want and the weariness.

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” plays through christmasalonethe overhead speaker, piped in like a merry elf entertaining ideas of fun, frivolity, and lightheartedness, in denial of the pain, the longing, and the loss that the season brings to so many people.

The door opens and closes. Another name, another face, another story. There’s the familiar cloak of usual sickness: flu, sore throat, bumps, and bruises. Those are easy. Passing pain, sickness, or inconvenience that at least offers the hope of speedy relief and healing. But hanging heavy on the heads and shoulders of many are weightier garments: coverings made of death, disease, dysfunction. There’s divorce, abandonment, rejection, loss of dreams and other not-so-merry reminders in every piped in song, well-placed decoration, and carefully thought out department store diorama.

His wife was just found dead. Her husband lost a long battle with cancer. Children’s Services is involved. Her dad kicked her and told her not to tell. Her daughter has run away. Her son is in jail. It’s two weeks before Thanksgiving. He just lost his job. Their house burned to the ground. The Alzheimer’s is so much worse. Hospice has been called in.Third DUI. Arrested for heroin. Suicide. It’s almost Christmas.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.   Matt 11:28

I’ve been told it’s like a walking a treadmill…walking and climbing and struggling but never getting anywhere. Three steps forward and two steps back.alone1 But still they put one foot in front of the other. Some days are harder. Holidays are harder: days meant to gather and celebrate with people you love and people who love you. A time to reflect on blessings and health, the past and the future. So much to celebrate and be thankful for. But there are some who sit in quiet rooms all alone. There are some who sit in loud, clamorous rooms with many others, but are still alone. There are some who sit facing those who have mistreated, rejected, abused, or betrayed them. There are some who sit facing empty chairs of those who have left them through death or abandonment.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matt 9:36

What does it look like to offer hope to the hopeless, rest for the weary, compassion for the hurting,church1 and comfort for the grieving? Is there ministry in hearing, caring, and simply being present? What do you do when there’s no written prescription to ease the pain of heartbreak and loss and devastation? No first aid kit to stop the bleeding or cover the wound? No tender kiss to make it all better?

From the end of the earth I call to You, when my heart is overwhelmed and weak; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  Psalm 61:2

It has been a slow, humbling process…the realization that I don’t have all the answers. The fixer in me can’t fix all the hurt, restore all the loss, patch all the holes, or fill the empty seats.  I can’t and I’m not meant to. And with that, another realization… that it’s okay. I don’t have to be the great fixer, the final answer, a redemptive savior. I can’t be.

But what can I do? What can anyone do to make a difference in stara world with so much hurt and loss and fear and hopelessness and uncertainty? Is it enough to have eyes that see and ears that hear? To give a gift that is both free and priceless: to be seen and heard, recognized, and acknowledged? Validated and assured that they matter, that their struggles are real, that their hearts and lives are important, that someone cares, and more importantly, that there is hope?  Yes, it matters. It all matters. I can be a hand to hold. I can choose to extend a hand that reaches, lifts, holds, supports, gives. A hand to guide, to direct, to point to the truth that they are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of a God that loves them and wants to fill the empty places and the empty seats. I can be a voice. A voice that speaks truth and dispels lies and speaks words of encouragement and validation. And I can just be. I can sit in the ashes, care in the silence, be light in the darkness, and warmth in the cold season of the soul. I can offer hope in the simple ministry of being present and attentive. I can care.

I can love. ❤

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