The Best Possible Light: Respond to Others and Change Yourself

Sometimes, the places that hold criticism and neglect shock me.

Even though I guess I should know by now, I can’t help hoping that some relationships will change one day.

In the same way, sometimes the places that hold  encouragement and cheers surprise  me as well.  Sometimes a total stranger sees us more clearly than anyone we know.

I remember getting off the phone with someone one time and thinking, “Wow, after the things they said, I could be really hurt, and mad, and offended right now.”  And then, something else took over, and I thought, “But.  I just don’t want to be.”

It was a turning point for me.  I realized I had a choice.

Practicing that choice is a practical way to change everything about my day, my feelings, even my physical health as I refuse to allow stress and pain to take over my life.

I realized that I like being happy more than I like being offended.  I like having peace and moving past insults without having my day interrupted by anger.  I like enjoying my kids instead of taking out other people’s mistakes on them.

And I love thinking of all the people who have hurt me as their best possible selves, seeing them in the best possible light.  I love imagining the fun we would have if we could all be our best selves with each other, all the time, every day, no matter what.

It will be that way in heaven.  I’m looking forward to it.  Until then, we have a choice.  God, help us choose well.

***

How do you choose to move past hurtful things?

Count it all joy… when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  Jas1:2-3  ESV

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.  Jas1:2-4 NLT

13 Ways to Fight Anxiety

Friday the 13th.

Mine was great.  How was yours?

I’ve never been especially superstitious, but I do remember a time when numbers, bridges, black cats, and ladders made me think twice.  Now they make me smile.

So, in honor of Friday the 13th and all the good gifts God gives on any given day, here are

13 Ways to Fight Anxiety

  1. Positive messages.  Start pumping them in.  Right now.  Whatever.  Whoever.  A comedian you love, songs, speakers, TED talks, podcasts, redemptive movies and television shows.  Tons of great preachers have free videos on YouTube.
  1. Pump OUT the positive messages.  Fill up on joy to spread joy.  Make yourself a veritable font of joy.  LAUGH.  Joy is strength.  Learn from people who make you laugh, listen to speakers who make you laugh, create a culture of humor around you.  Plan to make someone else laugh.  You reap what you sow.  So, instead of ruminating on negative statistics, politics, news, gossip, and complaints, sow some joy, and reap some strength.couple-1846208_640
  1.  If fear does not budge, you may need a deep healing work in your life.  Most Christians believe that God does deliverance, in other words, cleanses us of any spiritual influence that is causing fear and replaces it with peace.  Get counseling from someone who understands emotional healing and deliverance.
  1. Hope.  For something.  Believe that things can get better.  Believe that you can be free and victorious.  Believe that your dreams can come true, in some form.  Believe that you were made with a plan and a purpose and that God has not brought you this far to drop you.
  1. Do something.  Don’t give up.  Don’t back down.  Just keep swimming.  Forward movement is always better than wallowing in emotion.  Remember, no matter how little you are able to do, doing something means you are running circles around the guy sitting on the couch.  running-573762_640
  1. Raise up your voice. Talk back to anxiety.  Recite scripture.  Just say “no.”  Just say “Jesus.”  Say something, anything, to cheer yourself on and give yourself much needed strength.  The most powerful people I know speak over themselves constantly.  It’s a habit that has to be learned and practiced—put up post it notes with verses and sayings, and then SPEAK THEM!  Don’t let random thoughts rule your life.
  1. Move in the opposite spirit. This means that when circumstances look bleak, you look for the rays of sunshine.  Stop blaming everything on the devil and looking for demons in every drawer.  It is not about being Pollyanna, it is about looking for the Easter egg, the silver lining, the hidden treasure of goodness, and focusing on that instead of anything else.  If you can’t see it, ask God to show you.  Ask Him to tell you what moving in the opposite spirit looks like right now.
  1. Watch the crowd you hang with. If everyone around you is constantly spewing negativity, fear, and doubt, it is going to be harder to find courage.  You don’t have to drop everyone, but make your inner circle a circle of courage.  active-1822704_640
  1. Watch the influences you allow. So many of our emotions flow from things we did yesterday or last week, or things that happened to us years ago.  We can’t control everything, but we can control some things.  What are you reading, listening to, watching, thinking about?  Watch your responses to movies, conversations, news reports, etc.  How is your heart rate?  Are your palms and pits cringing with sweat?  Are your shoulders tense?  Do you feel restless and wish you could get away?  Are you reading/watching/listening out of obligation or peer pressure?  What is your body telling you?  Listen, and limit influences that rob you of strength.
  1. Love and draw near to God and draw identity from Him. The more time spent in His presence, the more like Him we will be.  There is no anxiety, fear, stress, or frustration in God.  los-cabos-68861_640
  1. And, as God reveals His identity to you, saturate in that. Pay attention to His love languages with you, like armor, doves, hearts, thunder, etc.  What do “God winks” look like to you?  And then watch for these things.  Billboards, radio, people, little signs.  Wear them, find clothing that reminds you of what He’s shown you.  Jewelry, stickers, artwork, furniture.  Let Him weave His message into every part of your life.  Write down every instance and reminder in a journal, and pull that baby out and read it often, not just on the bad days.  And spend time with people who understand identity.  Celebrate these encounters and reminders with them.  It’s amazing and encouraging to see how much He is communicating with us when we plug in.
  1. Forgive.  Yourself and others.  Confess something if you need to.  Let old and new things go.  Quickly.  Don’t ruminate and take offense.  God is for you.  Forgive and move your focus to the plans God has for you.
  1. Know your why! You’ve heard me say it before:  Your why will help you with your how.  Why do you want to beat fear?  Who is watching your example?  Kids, family, friends?  What are your dreams?  What do you long to do?  As the old question asks, “What would you do with your life if you had no fear?”  Knowing why you’re fighting the good fight will help you push through the hard days.

What habits do you cultivate to keep anxiety at bay and your mind on things above?  When anxiety creeps in, how do you kick it out?

***

Anxiety is doublemindedness.  –Neil Anderson

Peace I leave with you; my peace I leave with you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not be troubled, and do not be afraid.  Jn 14:17

Wait a Minute, Christmas. One More Thing Before You Go.

Christmas flew by like mad this year.

A red and green blur.  I know it happened.  I was there.  And with trails of glitter and packages of hot chocolate scattered everywhere, I even have proof.  I just thought it would last a little longer.

Not sure what made the difference.

It could have been the hedgehog.

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New additions to the family always make the nights and days run together.  This hedgehog, an early Christmas gift, is no exception.  After a month of heat lamps and meal worms and animal psychology, we have learned why hedgehogs are considered “Advanced Pets.”

But, she is worth it.

Creation is magnificent, far away and up close.  I love her quills and the way she rolls herself into a safe little ball.  This creature lives to please no man.  Or woman.  She is not a best friend, but more of a mirror.  And a test.  But more on that another day.

Caring for the new hedgehog added one more thing to a long list this season.  And add to that, the scared and hungry kitty cat that followed us home after a late night bike ride.

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She chose us.  What could we do.

So now we have three pets when only weeks ago, we had one.  A trifecta of fur and comfort and delight.  And all of it running around the base of our Christmas tree.

It’s been busy, to say the least.  And some things I don’t mind letting go.

I didn’t wrap the gifts in the kids’ stockings this year.

I didn’t cook a big Christmas dinner.  We got takeout.  Please.  Don’t judge me.

My breakfast casserole was a runny bust.

My monkey bread was burned.

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I just can’t do it all.  And you know what?  My family is still blessed, and we made wonderful memories.  I think one of them even said it was their happiest Christmas yet.  And I’m sure it was the cat’s best Christmas ever.  She spent the whole day with her head in a food bag.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her no.  It was Christmas, after all.

But there is one thing I don’t want to leave behind.

On Christmas Eve, when my kids were much younger, we used to have a birthday party for Jesus.  Kids love a birthday party.  They get it.  It’s a great way to explain the exchange that Jesus provides.

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Wait a minute.  You mean it’s His birthday party, but I get presents?  

Yes.  That’s the way He is.  Pretty cool, huh?

And then they get to blow out candles and eat cake.

At some point, they usually ask, “but, what can I give Him?”  And we talk about all the things we can give.  What it looks like to give a whole life.  He gave His for ours, now we give Him back everything we can.  And it looks like love.

The love of God is not that complicated if we will let it be simple.

The birthday cake is the culmination of our party.  And with my kids getting older and all of us more health conscious, I’m not even sure we will do it this year.  But the cake itself is not the end game, the candles are.

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I don’t know on what wonderful website I found this idea years ago, or I would link it here.  I was searching the internet,  “How to make Christmas more meaningful for kids.”

After wading through pages of Bethlehem dot-to-dots and Baby Jesus coloring sheets, I found this beautiful idea, as simple as a birthday cake.

Light.

Here’s how it goes.

Make Christmas More Meaningful:  

A Light Celebration at Home.

 

On Christmas Eve, after dark and after supper, I call the kids to the table.  And in the middle of the table, I line up tons of candles.  I have a menorah I use, and a candle nativity that my grandmother gave me.  And a birthday cake covered in candles.  Although this year, I think I’ll use my mini Christmas village instead of the cake.  Five tiny houses, each with a little light inside.  It doesn’t really matter what you use, just pull together every candle you can find.

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I turn off all the lights and grab the matches or lighter, whatever I have.

It’s pitch dark in the room, and I talk to the kids about darkness.  How some people only know darkness.  How darkness is heavy, and it feeds our fears, and it makes us feel alone.  It keeps us from seeing all the blessings: it hides the good things that are all around us.  And it either makes us defensive, or it makes us sleepy and unaware.

But.  When light comes in, it changes everything.  It changes the way we feel.  It changes what we are able to see.  It changes the way we are able to move in our space.

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And I light the first candle.

I tell them the story of Christ,  the Light of the World.   And at every key point, I light another candle.

I explain to them that it’s not really his birthday in December, that he was born in September sometime during the Feast of Tabernacles.  When Christ said “I come to dwell among you,” the word he used for dwell was literally “tabernacle.” I want to reinforce to them the idea  of the festivals and the reveal of the centuries in this one man.

And, interestingly, with his birthday during Tabernacles, that would put His conception during Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.  And I share with them that we are either in Hanukkah every year during Christmas or very close, and that the Light of the World came into the world during the Festival of Lights.

God put Jesus inside of Mary during or near the Festival of Lights.  Mary pondered these things in her heart.

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And I light a candle.

I keep telling them the story, how Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem, how they stayed in a stable, how the wise men followed the star, and the shepherds heeded their bright angel.  And for every twist and turn, I light a candle.

As I talk to them, the room becomes brighter and brighter and brighter.

And when the last candle is lit, we look at them all for a few minutes.  The dark room is cozy now, and the nativity spins as the heat from the candles moves the figures through their paces.  We listen to a couple of songs.  I think this year we will use this one by Lauren Daigle and this song by Kari Jobe.

This last thing, our inheritance, our commission.  That as He is the Light of the World, He also calls us to carry light.  That we, too, are this bright Light of love.

They love to hear the story, they listen still, and they are big now.  And I am overcome by the light, flickering on their faces.

And here we are in January.  And Christmas flew by this year.  And I still haven’t done it.

Today’s the day.  It’s never too late, or too early, to revisit this story.  Never too late to ponder these things in your heart and to soak in love that lights up the dark.

***

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  Gen1:3

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Jn8:12

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  Mt5:14-16

But Mary kept all these sayings, pondering them in her heart.  Lk2:19