Christ Beside Me

 

pub unsplash Nikola Jovanovic

Franklin, Tennessee is a charming little town. Steve and I went there for a clean water event several years ago. We stayed in an unforgettable bed and breakfast—run down, yet run by a lady delightful enough to make up for the shortcomings of the room she offered. We hiked a long wooded trail and almost got lost. We dined with Jars of Clay in a barn-like venue owned by Michael W. Smith. And, most memorable of all, we spent several hours in an authentic Irish pub.

I don’t remember the menu or even what the live musicians were playing. What I remember is the poem running around the ceiling edge of the walls like an old- fashioned border:

Christ beside me,

Christ before me,

Christ behind me,

Christ within me,

Christ beneath me,

Christ above me.

Those words, written by Saint Patrick over 1500 years ago, often whisper in the back of my mind, reminding me that I am never alone and that all I do is to be done with Christ, in his name and by his power.

How might our daily lives change if we reminded ourselves of those truths every single morning? Wouldn’t they become part of our path to a happy life, one where the enemy could no longer cause us to fear, where stress over our own performance would simply melt away?

And can we doubt a single line of that verse? Isn’t it really just a rewording of the promises of God heralded by his holy Word?

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head” (Psalm 139:5 NLT).

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).

I need those promises every day, just as you do. And so my prayer for you today, and the prayer I hope you will lift up on my behalf as well, is this, from Colossians 2: 6-7:

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

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Old Journals

journal Debby Hudson unsplash.com

Do you journal? If so, I hope that once in a while you pull an old one down and read what you wrote years ago. I’ve been doing that lately, remembering God’s moments of grace through happy times and sad, seeing where I’ve (finally!) learned a lesson that once befuddled me and, truth be told, discovering places where I’m still struggling with the same challenges about which I filled pages a decade ago.

Here are a few quotes from the Brenda of  2005:

“There is only panic when I set my own agenda.” (That’s right, folks, I’ve been working on letting God be in control for a long, long time!)

“The people who watch us notice the ‘little things’—the daily habits, etc., more than the big events of our lives.” (Just last week, a perfect stranger passed Steve and me on the sidewalk and said, “Oh, keep holding hands!”)

“One effective tool of forgiveness is to pray blessings on those I need to forgive.” (Ever have to work, really work, on letting go of an offense? This does help!)

And then, there’s this for all you romantics out there:

“Elizabeth and I are in Colorado to enjoy the preliminaries of a wedding. When asked to write advice on a card, I found there was so much I wanted to say!

I wrote:

  • Believe the best of one another always.
  • Take walks together often; they open up special opportunities for communication.
  • Say “yes” and “I love you” many times every day.
  • Tithe, and spend less than you make.

But I also wanted to say:

  • Expect and encourage the best of each other.
  • Follow all of God’s rules, but don’t put much stock in the ones man makes up.
  • Don’t buy a TV for at least a year. Discover better ways to rest and play together.
  • Be generous to one another.
  • Don’t “keep score’ of anything in your relationship.
  • Make all significant decisions as a team.
  • Point out each other’s strengths. Make up for each other’s faults.

What do your journals say? Or if you had one, what would you have written about your lessons of long ago? I’d love to hear, so please share!

 

photo by Debby Hudson
@dhudson_creative via Unsplash.com

Miracles in the Mundane

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Where have you seen the miraculous in the mundane, in your everyday life? I’m starting this blog with a question in hopes that right now, before you even finish reading, you’ll take a moment to share an experience in the “What are your thoughts?” section below.

While we can always experience the persistently miraculous around us (natural beauty, the grace of God, the wonder of human health), today I’m talking about the “coincidences” and interventions that surely must be touches of God’s love and blessing.

During our move I saw simple blessings arrive just as I needed them. For example:

My son Tony told me we needed to mulch our beds and trim back our monkey grass as we prepared to sell our home. (Groan. Yes, you’re right. I’ll add those two items to my list, my loonnnggg list.)  A week later I was headed out the door, and there in the street was a man with a truck full of mulch looking for a place to put it.  As the deal was struck he said (I kid you not), “I prep a lot of yards for market. You really ought to trim back that monkey grass. I can do that too.”  A few hours later, my whole yard (I had a BIG yard) looked incredible.

My realtor Mark said, “You need to get all those boxes up off the closet floor.” (Sure, I do, but where am I going to put them since they are too heavy to heft onto a top shelf, too heat sensitive to put in the garage, and…) A few hours later, Ben, Tony’s strong young brother-in-law, said, “I’m heading to Austin this weekend IN A TRUCK. Want me to take anything there for you? Eight heavy boxes? No problem.”

Mulch and boxes? Those were big deals to me at the time, and I noticed God’s hand. Sometimes, though, we allow the miraculous to become mundane. We forget within the hubbub that we’re walking in the presence of the Almighty God, and that he cares about us enough to know the number of hairs on our head.

So let’s have a praise session here. When have you noticed God’s hand?

 

Preoccupation or Prayer?

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Multitasking can lower productivity. A life of distraction hinders happiness. But meditation may actually impact the structure of the brain. Scientists don’t know why, but meditation can reduce anxiety, depression, and pain. Quiet time, prayer, Scripture memorization—these are all part and parcel of a meditative life and are certainly encouraged throughout the Bible. When the day takes on frantic undertones, or when we find it difficult to stay in the present time and place, there’s a good chance that refreshing our devotional habits will help.

Of course we’re called not only to prayer, but to praise, worship, and thanksgiving. Time[1] Magazine reported that people who are grateful tend to feel more content. Gratitude means noticing the good in our lives and being happy for what we have. If one of your “brain ruts” is that of constant comparison or disgruntlement, you’re dragging yourself down. Happy people are seldom bothered by the successes of others. They count their own blessings. They have a biblical perspective: all good things come from God, and he knows what is best for us. Remember, we can change those neural pathways with practice. We don’t need greater wealth or better circumstances to be happy. We need greater appreciation, mindfulness of our blessings, and a willingness to express our gratitude for them. Church helps. It’s an easy place to express our gratitude. Furthermore, when I of Sunday mornings, I think of

  • Music, a proven mood enhancer.
  • Fellowship, touted by many as essential to sustained happiness.
  • Friends. Time says stable, committed relationships matter.
  • Faith. Multiple studies assert that people of faith tend to struggle less with depression and anxiety.
  • Acts of Service: Time insists that charitable giving brings greater happiness than personal spending, and that doing acts of kindness is better still.

Does money buy happiness? No, but it does give us the opportunity to do a scientifically (and Biblically) supported happiness-building activity: spend some on other people. In one study, children as young as 2 years old were given the choice of giving another child small crackers from either their own pile or from that of someone else. They were happier giving away their own crackers! Another study showed that people who commit to doing three or more acts of kindness a week may elevate their happiness level.

Is wanting to be happy a selfish goal? I think not. The Bible talks about rejoicing and gladness and praise. And isn’t it generally unhappy people who become turned in upon themselves, sometimes spreading their gloom as they go? So, let’s make choices that bring good cheer. Currently, only 30% of Americans say they are very happy. Maybe this is the year we can up that number.

[1] The Science of Happiness: New Discoveries for a More Joyful Life, A Time Special Edition, September 9, 2017.

Mindfulness

brain-2062057_1280 mindfulness pixabay 12 14 17On Christmas day, were you present for the presents—really there, consciously engaged in the moment for the whole event? Psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University studied 5,000 people and concluded that adults only spend about 50% of their time in the present moment. Ugh! That leaves many of us severely distracted half of the time.

 

Furthermore, according to Killingsworth and Gilbert, we’re generally happier when we are fully engaged than when we are mentally checked out, even if the activity at hand isn’t one of our favorites. The good news is that our mental wanderings can be curtailed. The more we practice awareness, the more it will become a habit.

So, how do we practice awareness, being present in the moment?

For starters, consider wearing a watch! How often have you pulled out your smart phone to check the time and then decided to “take a moment” to check the news, your text messages, your social media outlets…Suddenly checking the time has taken a lot of time. The average American teen, according to Time, sends and receives more than 3000 text messages a month. Too many of us are letting too many moments slip away via those electronic rectangles. And when we have our eyes on a screen, we are no longer fully engaged in our present time and place. Perhaps we all need to scheduled screen-free breaks in our busy weeks.

Next, stop buying the lie that multitasking is the path to a productive life. When we mentally lean into the next task, (for example, sweeping the floor while composing a memo or mowing the yard while reviewing the day’s to do list) we lay ourselves open to anxiety  and stress while forgoing the happiness of completing a task. Boy am I guilty of that! Emma Seppala, PH.D., author of “The Happiness Track,”[1] teaches that multitasking, rather than helping us accomplish more things faster, actually keeps us from doing anything well.  Undivided attention, on the other hand, brings greater efficiency and a higher level of enjoyment. Worrisome thoughts may be one of our chief distractors, and Jesus plainly said, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?…Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.[2] Instead, we are told to pray. And that’s where we’ll pick up next week.

[1] HarperOne, © 2016.

[2] Matthew 6:27, 34