When Your Life Takes a Plot Twist

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I love a good story. I like getting lost in a fictional world filled with interesting characters and an intriguing plot. Give me romance and mystery. Provide me with adventure and astonishing developments in the storyline.

In my own life, however, I greatly prefer a predictable plot. I would like my life to have the pace of a well-crafted story of my own choosing. No unexpected plot twists for me, please. Just pleasant days filled with laughter and friends. Years of successful work and close family ties.

Unfortunately real life isn’t like that. The plot that I planned out for my time on earth simply hasn’t materialized. Every chapter has had surprise twists. Events I expected to happen never did. Things I said I would not do under any circumstances became the very things God asked me to embrace.

Recently life delivered an unexpected development in my life tale.

My husband has been diagnosed with lymphoma….

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The One Way to Truly Manage Stress

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A young woman rushes into Starbucks, brows knitted, fists clenched tight and orders a Venti Mocha Latte, “Double espresso please.”

A child chews on the eraser end of her pencil as bends over her social studies test.

Fighting through rush-hour traffic a man tightly grips his steering wheel and screams at the driver who just cut him off.

 

What do all these people have in common?

Stress.

This weekend I attended a workshop on overcoming stress. There is no way to escape stress. We all face work deadlines, family responsibilities, monthly bills, crazy-mad traffic and long, long, long checkout lines.

The speaker at the workshop said that while stress solutions like deep breathing and cat naps might reduce stress for awhile, there is only one real way to truly manage stress.

Change your mindset.

Since we can’t change the length of the checkout line or the work deadline we must change how we think about them.

Often when we are under stress we have a series of sentences we repeat over and over to ourselves. For instance, when a work deadline looms your brain might sing a refrain of:

I’m just no good at this.

I’ll never get the project done on time.

Surely, I will fail.

These choruses will not reduce stress–only increase them. What we need to do instead is pop in a new CD in our heads with a different song. Instead of telling yourself, “I’m no good at this” you might tell yourself “The boss wouldn’t give me this job if she didn’t think I could do it” or “I mastered that other difficult program, I will conquer this task too.”

As Christians we can take this on step further and use the power of Scripture to compose our truth songs. When the brain starts singing the tune “I’m no good at this” you can counter with

 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

or

“It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.” (Psalm 18:32)

Use the power of Scripture to combat stress!

Question: What is your favorite Scripture to combat stress?

phil 4-13

Three Lessons For Facing Life’s Surprising Challenges

life's challenges

Don’t look down. Don’t look down.

These are the words I repeated to myself over and over on the Hidden Canyon trail in Zion National Park in Utah.

The Hidden Canyon trail is a path that takes you up about 1000 feet above the canyon floor. A trail that, at times, is only about a foot wide with a sheer drop-off to the side. A trail that I never would have believed I would climb.

If someone had described this trail to me and then invited me to climb it with them, I would have said, “No way. I’m not that daring. I’m not that brave.”

But we had heard that the hidden canyon at the top of the trail was worth the climb–and we didn’t know about the narrow portions where you were inches from falling hundreds of feet–so we started the trek up to the top.

As I was panting my way up this trail, I was struck by how what I was learning on the hike applied to life as well.

Life’s path often has surprising challenges. We aren’t often warned of difficulties up ahead. What can we do when our life suddenly seems as challenging as a mountain climb?

Here are three lessons I learned on the Hidden Canyon trail on handling surprising challenges:

1. Cling to the Rock. The Hidden Canyon trail had very narrow sections where you needed to hang onto a chain–attached firmly to the cliff–so that you didn’t fall off the foot-wide path.

DSCN3903 - Copy (2)When life’s path turns out to be more challenging than I anticipate, I need to hang onto the Rock of my life:

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18:2

DSCN3903 - CopyWhen life seems uncertain, I need to cling to the One thing that is sure and unchanging. When I’m afraid of falling, I need to hang on the One thing that will never fail–God.

2. Stop and rest. Climbing up 1000 feet over the distance of one mile meant that at times I needed to stop and rest. My lungs demanded that I plant my feet and just breathe.

In life I don’t always pay attention to the signs that I need to stop and rest. I tend to keep plowing ahead when my soul is demanding that I simply stop and breathe. Even God knew we needed to rest, so He commanded a Sabbath:

This is what the Lord has commanded: “Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord.” Exodus 16:23

God commands us to take a day of rest–a day to stop and breathe in His grace.

DSCN3880 - Copy3. Don’t look down. When I was on those very high and very narrow pathways, it was best not to look over the edge to the valley floor so far below. I needed to keep looking at my feet. I couldn’t even look too far ahead. I had to pay attention to the very next step.

I also get in trouble in life when I try to look beyond where I am right now. It’s easy for me to get anxious when I look down at all the possible things that could go wrong. Or to worry when I try to look too far ahead. I need to concentrate on what is happening right now. Jesus said:

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:34

So when life ends up being more challenging than you planned on, remember:

Cling to the Rock–the Rock of Christ

Stop and rest–breathe in His grace

Don’t look down–just concentrate on the next step

Have you faced an unexpected challenge lately?

The Worry Handbag Part 8: The Duffle of Deliberation

Outer pockets to keep small items accessible.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Philippians 4:8
So far we’ve talked about the Clutch of Concentration, the Bag of Belief, the Satchel of Seeking, the Tote of Today, and the Purse of Prayer.
I hope you are not too tired of my alliteration because I have one more:
The Duffle of Deliberation
Of course I chose “deliberation” because it is a “d” word, but it truly fits the idea I want to get across:
We need to be deliberate with our thoughts.
Often when I find myself carrying around a handbag of worries, I give it to God only to wrestle it out of His hands moments later. I get frustrated with myself. Why can’t I leave it in God’s care?
Perhaps the answer to this problem is found in Philippians 4:8: “think about these things.” I need to be deliberate in my thinking. I need to retrain my mind.
When the situation troubling me resurfaces in my thoughts I need to think about what is true and noble about the circumstance. I need to concentrate on what is excellent and praiseworthy in my life.
Right now my daughter and her family are living in China.

The mother part of me finds it very easy to worry about their welfare. But when I find my mind drifting over into anxiety, I remind myself of Philippians 4:8. I concentrate on what is true–God is in control. I reflect on what is right and noble–their desire to serve God. I focus on what is excellent and praiseworthy–their dedication.

Being deliberate in my thoughts helps me to give my concerns back to the One who cares.
Question: Are you currently experiencing anxiety? Can you find something true, noble, excellent, or admirable in the situation?

The Worry Handbag: Part 7: The Purse of Prayer

Wilardy Lucite Purse
 
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:6-7
Do not be anxious. About anything.

Impossible, you say.

Anxiety and the temptation to worry are hard to avoid. But when they come, we have an alternative:

“Let your requests be made known to God.”
  
A few years ago I attended a retreat led by author and speaker Donna Partow. One thing she said in that retreat really stuck with me. 
Turn every little worrisome thought into a prayer.
For some reason, I had never done that before. I had always struggled with the instructions in 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “Pray without ceasing.” But then I realized that when I’m worried about something, I think about it all the time. My anxiety doesn’t just show up once in the morning and once at night. If I turned every anxious thought into a prayer, I would certainly be on the track of praying without ceasing.
Obviously, I am not totally successful with turning all of my anxiety into prayer. In fact, recently God pointed out to me that I had not prayed about an issue that has been plaguing my worry center for over a year.

But when I do remember to pray, the peace that God promises floods my soul. That tranquility truly is beyond understanding, for the issue is not settled. God’s peace guards my spirit and keeps out the anxious thoughts when I remember:

Turn every little worrisome thought into a prayer.

Question: Have you tried turning all of your worries into prayers?


The Worry Handbag Part 6: The Tote of Today

Yellow Tote Bag
  
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Matthew 6:34
“Touch a button and hear, at every level of your life, the iron doors shutting out the Past—the dead yesterdays. Touch another and shut off, with a metal curtain, the Future—the unborn tomorrows. Then you are safe—safe for today!”
Sir William Osler

So many times when I worry, it’s about the future. I get all tied up in knots about what might happen. 

Jesus speaks to me through the words He spoke on the mountain, “Don’t worry about tomorrow.” Live life one day at a time. Carry the tote of today.

Sir William Osler gave a speech to a group of Yale students back in 1913. It seems that worry has always been a popular topic. Osler urged the students to live a life in “day-tight compartments” because, he told them, “the load of tomorrow, added to that of yesterday, carried today, makes the strongest falter.” (Dale Carnegie, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living p. 24)


If my life is a novel, I am to concern myself with the page that I am on, not all the twist and turns that the plot will take later on in the book. This should be easy, since I know how the story concludes. Because Jesus is my Savior, a happy ending is guaranteed. 

And yet I struggle with concentrating on the here and now. I constantly need to remind myself that these worries can wait. I continually need to tell myself that what I think may happen will probably never come about. 

So I look into the tote of today. Guess what? There aren’t any worries inside that bag. Right now all of my concerns are about the future.

Today I’m choosing to stay in my “day-tight compartment.”

Question: Do you find it difficult to follow Jesus’ instruction on not worrying about tomorrow?

The Worry Handbag Part 5: The Satchel of Seeking

Satchel
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Matthew 6:30

Worry is a distracting care. Concentration on God’s provision is an answer to the distraction.

Worry is a lack of trust. Belief in God’s care for me can help me overcome that anxiety.

Worry is searching for the wrong thing. Seeking God puts our focus in the right place.

Instead of carrying the Handbag of Worry, let’s use the Satchel of Seeking.

A satchel can be a fashionable purse, but it can also mean a shoulder bag meant for schoolbooks.A satchel is for searching, for learning, for seeking. 
In Matthew 6:30, Jesus tells us that seeking is a way to avoid anxiety. What are to seek? God’s kingdom and His righteousness. 
But what do I spend a lot of my time seeking? “All these things.” What exactly are “these things”? In the previous verses of Matthew 6, we see that Jesus was talking about what I will eat, what I will drink, what I will wear.
Jesus is urging me to not be distracted with the physical stuff of life. This was probably not an easy task for Jesus’ original audience for the Sermon on the Mount  The people sitting on that mountain had to struggle daily for food and water. They had to walk to a community well and carry water home. Their diet consisted of mostly barley bread and vegetables that had to be prepared by hand each day. 

I have never been too concerned about getting enough to eat, but when I worry, it is often about the physical stuff of life: “Will we have enough money to pay all the bills? Will the roof on the house hold out for one more year? How will we pay for the kids’ college education?” I may not worry about having enough clothes, but I may worry about having the right clothes. My kids may bug me for a certain brand of tennis shoes or I see a designer bag I simply “must have.” 

God invites me to concentrate on His goodness and provision instead of what television commercials declare I need. He asks me to seek His kingdom. He invites me to concentrate on what is eternal instead of what is fleeting.


And then He promises me that He’ll take care of the rest.

Question: When anxiety threaten to take over your thoughts, what do you tend to worry about?

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The Worry Handbag Part 4: The Bag of Belief

Christina Gray (7)
“If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 
Matthew 6:30 
Little faith = Big worries
When I reread Jesus’ teaching on worry in the Sermon on the Mount I noticed that He began with, “Do not worry” in verse 25 and continues with, “O you of little faith” in verse 30. It seems to me that Jesus is connecting worry with a lack of trust. 
I think He is saying, “Little faith = Big worries.”
Instead of carrying the Worry Handbag Jesus is asking me to use the Bag of Belief.
In verse 31 Jesus repeats the words, “Do not worry.” The Greek verb tense for don’t worry is present imperative—in other words, it’s a command. Jesus doesn’t say, “I suggest that you don’t spend your time worrying” or “You know worrying really is not a great idea.” He comes right out with the order, “Don’t worry.” When I am dwelling on my concerns, I am disobeying Christ’s instructions.
However, I believe Christ’s statement, “Don’t worry,” is also an invitation, an offer to carry my handbag of concerns and apprehensions.  
Jesus asks me to carry the Bag of Belief and exhibit to the world that I have a loving Father that will take care of my needs instead of acting like individuals who do not have God as their source. 

Truthfully, my human mind sometimes makes God small; it attempts to craft God in my image. I limit His goodness and power, because I subconsciously picture Him to be like me: powerless, selfish, and unwilling to help. 

But God is Big and so I need a BIG bag of belief. God assures me that He is in control of the situation. Jesus told the crowd on the mountain, “Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs” (Matt. 6:32 NLT). 

Before I even voice my concern, before I yearn for something more, before I can even conceive a new desire, my Father knows what I long for and what I require. Do I really believe this or am I still thinking that I know what I need or want better than my Maker and Designer? 

It’s time to carry the bag of belief.

Question: Do you agree with the equation: Little faith = Big worries? 

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The Worry Handbag Part 3: The Clutch of Concentration

Green with envy bag
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your lifea]”>
Matthew 6:25-27

Today I’m going to ask you to change your purse.

No, I’m not going to ask you to switch from a Gucci to a Coach. 

I’m not going to ask you to stop carrying a Vera Bradley and start using a Dooney and Bourke.

I’m going to suggest that trade your handbag of worry in for the the clutch of concentration.

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He spends a good bit of time talking about anxiety. In Matthew 6:25, Jesus tells us, “Do not worry about your life.”

The original Greek word that Jesus used for worry here in Matthew is merinnao which means “to be anxious about, to have a distracting care.” 

When we worry about something, it is always on our minds.  

Whatever we are doing, the problem returns to our thought pattern.

Even if something important is happening at the moment, the concern distracts us.

When we worry, we focus our mind on the problem, but instead we need to learn to concentrate our thoughts on something else. 

We need the clutch of concentration.


One technique to teach your brain not to be distracted by worry is to literally tell it, “Worry about that later.” Research has shown that if people set aside a specific time to worry, they can learn to tame the worrisome thoughts. 

How to have a successful “worry time”:
  • Schedule a time each day to devote to worrying. 
  • Don’t worry at other times. 
  • If you start to worry at other times, write the concern down on a Worry List and tell yourself you will worry about it later. 
  • Use the list to think about your problems during the “worry time.”
This all may seem rather silly, but the process seems to train the brain to turn off the worrisome thoughts, instead of letting them run wild at all times of the day and night, preventing you from productive work and restful sleep.

Of course, as Christians, we can do more than worry during our “worry time.” 

We can pray.

We can give our concerns to God who knows so much more about them than we do. He has the solution all worked out. Coming to Him reminds us that He has everything under control. 

So change your purse. Grab the clutch of concentration instead of the handbag of worry.


Question: How do you tame your worrisome thoughts? 

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The Worry Handbag: Part 2 Physical Symptoms of Worry

It's big!!
“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down.”
Proverbs 12:25
How heavy is your purse?
It seems to me that suitcase-sized handbags are appearing everywhere.
A large bag allows us to carry everything we need (wallet, phone. hairbrush, makeup) and maybe even things we don’t need (month-old grocery lists, program from the dance recital last year, Happy Meal toys our kids didn’t like).

Sometimes we end up carrying a lot of things we don’t mean to keep but forget to throw away.

Sometimes our worry handbags are like that too.

We throw more and more of our anxieties into a bag of worry that we continually carry around.

The trouble is that these worries can weigh us down. Just like a heavy purse can wreak havoc with our posture and cause shoulder pain, worry can cause physical symptoms.

Here is list of short-term symptoms that anxiety can bring about:

  • fast heartbeat
  • headaches
  • inability to concentrate
  • muscle tension
  • nausea
  • rapid breathing

When we worry, our bodies release stress hormones into our bodies that, over time, can cause more serious health problems:

  • suppression of the immune system
  • digestive disorders
  • raised blood pressure
  • higher cholesterol level
  • heart attack and stroke

The book of Proverbs tells us, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down.”

Over the next few blog posts I am going to talk about some alternatives to worry.

For more information on the physical effects of worry, check out these sites:

Question: Have you experienced any of these physical symptoms of worry?

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