Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Transition Troubles

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The e-mail caught me by surprise when it landed in my inbox two months ago. A dear friend broke the news that she was moving 3000 miles away. To say it was a shock would be an understatement. We squeezed in time to meet once before she left to see her new house for the first time. A month later, she returned to California to take her son to college and say goodbye to friends. It was a fast transition with no lead up–I was nowhere near ready to say goodbye. I know we’ll both be processing this huge change for months to come. I miss her already, but I trust that God has good things in store for both of us.

It seems everywhere I turn I’m encountering people dealing with transitions right now. Some of them are just part of our life stages: families leaving beloved elementary schools as their children begin middle school and other families taking kids to college for the first time. There are parents adjusting to having an empty nest and young adults trying to figure out life after college. Some are watching their kids get married and start families of their own. Others are wrapping up careers and navigating the unknown waters of retirement; some are selling homes and moving on now that their kids are grown. While these events are emotional, they are also evidence of positive growth and change.

Other transitions are more difficult to accept: the shift into single life resulting from divorce or the transition from being married to being widowed. There is the unwelcome transition from having a job to searching for a new one. Or the struggle of watching a close-knit community unravel and wondering how to move ahead.   These difficult transitions may be forced upon us, but we still have to learn how to live with them.

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t like times of transition. They are usually uncomfortable and awkward; often they are painful and difficult. But no matter what negative feelings I have about transitions, they are a part of life I’ve learned to accept and to entrust to God. When I’m still struggling to understand how to function as I transition from one thing to the next, I can trust that God already has a plan for me. I may not like the changes, but I can thank Him anyway and live expectantly knowing He has good things in store.

If you’re going through a transition, here are a few things that might help you navigate it and keep your focus in a healthy place:

-It’s OK to Grieve

Transitioning from one phase to the next means you have to leave something behind. It is healthy and normal to grieve the loss that the change is causing. If you’re trying to bottle up your negative emotions and put on a happy face, you’re going to struggle that much longer. Acknowledge your sadness to God and let yourself grieve for a while. Get help from a wise friend or counselor if you need it.

“Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” (Psalm 62:8, NIV)

-It’s Not OK to Wallow

Sometimes we get stuck in a transition and can’t move on. It’s healthy to feel sad for a while, but not to make it a permanent habit of your mind. If we spend too much time lamenting painful changes in our lives over and over, it prevents us from looking ahead to see what God wants to do next. If you’re still living and breathing, then God still has plans for you. There is a time to move on.

“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13b-14, NIV)

-It’s Good to Move Forward

Like waves crashing on the beach, life is constantly moving and changing. We can try to dig our toes into the sand and refuse to accept change or we can frolic in the surf as it washes over us. Either way, we’re going to get wet.  We can’t avoid being affected by what’s happening around us. You can trust God whether you know what life holds for you on the other side of your transition or not. Seek Him in the midst of your struggles and let Him lead you.

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.’” (Jeremiah 29:11-13 NIV)

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Godly Sorrow

Release Form

It was a brisk fall evening when the sport utility vehicle sped down our street, careened around an unexpected curve, lost control and mowed down our neighbors’ mailbox. Despite flattening the sturdy wooden post, it was going fast enough to plow through our front hedge and hit our parked SUV, spinning it backwards before slamming it into the corner of our house. The speeding car finally came to a stop on our front lawn. Despite the sturdiness of the vehicle, its front end was a crumpled mass of metal. The sixteen-year-old driver emerged from the mangled car without a scratch. He had been racing his buddies down our street and misjudged the turn in the dark.

As the teenage boys sat on the curb waiting for the driver’s parents and the police, they discussed the incident with great enthusiasm, seeming to revel in the excitement of having totaled not one, but two, eight passenger vehicles. Although this incident happened ten years ago, I’ll never forget the behavior of the driver and his friends. At the time of the accident, my own boys were only six and four. I can remember making them study the smashed cars carefully so that they’d remember it when they were old enough to drive (one of them now is).

A few minutes after the accident, the driver’s father arrived on the scene. We exchanged insurance information and he muttered, “I’m sorry this happened.” He never had his son look us in the eye and apologize. The boy didn’t return the next day to help clean up the mess in our yard or to replace our neighbor’s mailbox. I’m not sure if he learned any valuable lessons from that incident, but I know my boys did.

I was reminded of that accident this week as I studied the concept of repentance and godly sorrow. These aren’t very popular topics in today’s culture. It seems we’ve become a society averse to accepting responsibility for our mistakes, let alone labeling them as sin and seeking forgiveness. We shift blame whenever possible. Or even worse, we try to rationalize why the wrong things we’re doing are actually justified.  Many in our culture want to excuse or even condone sinful behavior altogether.

No one likes to admit they’re wrong, but for those who call themselves followers of Jesus, this needs to be something we do regularly. When we humble ourselves, admit our sins and seek God’s forgiveness, He offers it freely. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, NIV) Here’s the catch: we can’t be forgiven if we don’t acknowledge our sin.

King David provides a great example of one who tried to avoid responsibility for his sins.  You might remember when he committed adultery with Bathsheba, got her pregnant and then tried to avoid the the truth by ensuring her husband would be killed in battle (see 1 Samuel 11 & 12 for the story). When the prophet Nathan confronted him, he finally admitted his sin and sought forgiveness, prompting him to write Psalm 51.

“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17, NIV)

David finally accepted responsibility for his actions and admitted he was broken by his sin. He acknowledged that what he had done was wrong. He approached God with humility and sorrow over his grievous behavior. And God forgave him.

We see a similar theme of the “contrite heart” in the apostle Paul’s writing:

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10, NIV)

Godly sorrow involves repenting–literally and figuratively turning away from our sins and going a different direction.   It is sorrow over the wickedness of our sins. It expresses grief, understanding the hurt we cause our heavenly Father when we engage in sin. Coming to God with a contrite heart enables us to experience the tremendous grace and forgiveness He offers us through the blood of Jesus.

Conversely, worldly sorrow is self-centered. It is focused on the painful consequences of sin, not on the offense it is to God.   It is sorry the situation happened, but accepts no blame and has no intention of changing. (Sounds like my opening story, doesn’t it?) Worldly sorrow is an apology with words, but with no heart behind it.

It’s easy to get swept up in the attitude of our culture—to want to avoid responsibility for wrongdoing or to explain it away. We receive this message subtly, but constantly.  If we follow Jesus, we must be on our guards lest we get lured into this way of thinking.

When was the last time you came before God with a contrite heart, deeply troubled by the hurt you’d caused Him through your sin? It’s never too late to get down on your knees and humbly ask for forgiveness. God has so much more to offer us than the world does. The first step to discovering that is our humble repentance.

Casting Crowns wrote a song based on David’s words in Psalm 103 that describe how God sees our sins once we confess them. Click on the link and be encouraged by “East to West.”

 


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Overwhelmed

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I’ve been fantasizing about vacation ever since I returned home. My days were filled with walks, bike rides, trips to the beach and reading for pleasure. The hardest decision I made was whether to have chocolate or rainbow sprinkles on my ice cream bar.

Of course, all good vacations must come to an end. On the day of our return, we pulled into our driveway and were immediately launched into a weekend full of festivities for a family member’s wedding. (Guests arrived at our house for the first event twenty minutes after we returned home). I loved every minute, but didn’t unpack my bag until two days later.

Exhausted from the action-packed weekend, I dreaded the coming week. My inbox was filled with e-mails about the start of school, sports and other activities. Many responsibilities demanded my time and attention. In addition, one of my sons was scheduled to get his wisdom teeth out. On top of this, my other son had a soccer training camp all week, which meant waking up by 6am to get him out the door by 6:30.

In short, I’ve been overloaded since returning from that blissful beach vacation. The weather still feels like summer, but the ramp-up to fall has definitely begun. The lists and piles covering my desk make that abundantly clear. Based on the conversations I’ve had with friends lately, it seems most people are feeling overwhelmed as they prepare for the start of school and other fall activities.

One thing that calms my soul during times like this is remembering that God is never overwhelmed. He’s never frantically looking at a “to do” list and wondering how He’ll ever get to everything on it. He’s never rushed, never frazzled.

There’s been a lot on my plate since returning from vacation, but I haven’t had those usual feelings of being overwhelmed. Ironically, the early morning soccer practices that forced me to get out of bed also created time and space for reading my Bible and praying as soon as my son left each morning.   I’ve been reminded that when I choose to spend time in God’s presence before rushing to conquer my day, those frantic feelings dissipate.

What I’m realizing is that rather than being overwhelmed by my schedule or my responsibilities, I want to be overwhelmed by God. I want His love to fill me so that it can flow from me and touch others with the same calming effect that He gives to me.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed right now, run into His arms. Lean into Him and let the truth of His word encourage and sustain you today.

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” (Isaiah 26:3 NIV)

Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?… But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:27 & 33-34 NIV)

There are many things that have the potential to overwhelm us, but there is only One who is truly awesome enough to overwhelm us in all the right ways.

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The Atmosphere You Create

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Balboa Island sits like a glistening jewel in Southern California’s Newport Harbor. Getting there involves a short drive across a bridge from the city of Newport Beach or a three -minute ferry ride from the Balboa Peninsula. The 126-acre island has been a popular place for the last century and is always abuzz with activity. People flock there year round to enjoy a variety of water activities, to stroll the perimeter walkway, to shop and to eat a famous “Balboa Bar” (chocolate dipped ice cream rolled in your choice of toppings).

Divided into 1,430 parcels of land, it has been carved up to hold as many people as possible. With real estate at a premium, the small beach shacks that once occupied the island have mostly been replaced by much grander homes. Although they are tightly packed together, they look beautiful lining the tidy streets. All garages are accessed from alleys in the back, hiding the less appealing elements of island life.

As much as I love vacationing at Balboa Island, it usually takes me a day or two to adjust to the close quarters with our neighbors. This summer, I quickly learned the patterns of those living nearby: the little kids two doors away had nightly meltdowns around 10pm. The neighbor behind us hosted dinner guests who enjoyed animated conversations until extremely late into the night. And our next-door neighbor had screeching grandchildren whose noise level was rivaled only by their dog.  (I didn’t know it was possible to drink water loudly. I never saw him, but imagine he must have been quite large.)

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Of course, none of these people had any idea we could hear them. They weren’t trying to be rude or obnoxious and probably didn’t think about the way their voices carried. After a while we tuned them out anyway, so it didn’t matter much. But it did get me thinking.

I wonder how often we realize the part we play in setting the tone around us. What would my vacation neighbors have said about my family’s noise levels and habits? Could they hear the music we played or my boys laughing and wrestling when they were supposed to be getting ready for bed?

I think most of us have an image of ourselves we like to believe is the acceptable version. To use an analogy from my vacation, I’d call this the “street view.” It’s the public version each of us has that is generally presentable and shows well most of the time.

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We also have a version of ourselves that is the less attractive side. I’d call this the “alley view.” This includes the parts of ourselves that we’re less likely to let others see until we know them well (or at all).   The alleys on Balboa Island hide trashcans, power lines, broken furniture and a variety of other things that aren’t particularly attractive. The less savory sides of my vacation neighbors revealed whining kids with distracted parents and party guests oblivious to the fact that their revelry was keeping the entire block awake. (And a dog with bad table manners).

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As Christians, our goal is to have our “street views” and “alley views” be consistent. This doesn’t mean we have to put up a façade or act like we’re perfect. It does mean we’re striving to have who we are in private be consistent with who we are in public. The apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians gives us some great instruction on what this looks like:

“12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful…17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:12-15 &17, NIV)

I love how Paul describes godly character qualities as clothing we wear for everyone to see. Our compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience are meant to be as obvious to others as the shirts on our backs. Through the Holy Spirit, forgiveness, love, peace and thankfulness flow from us to bless others. We encourage people with our wisdom and all that we do honors God and shows our gratitude for Him.

So, how well does that describe you? If you were staying in close quarters like we did on Balboa Island, what would your next-door neighbor hear echoing from the alley? To get even more personal: How do you think people feel after they’ve spent time with you? Blessed? Encouraged? Refreshed? Drained? Judged? Loved?

What tone do you set in your immediate surroundings? If you aren’t sure, spend some time observing yourself over the next few days and see what you learn. Each of us has the power every day to bless the people in our lives- whether it is the ones we see intentionally or the ones who happen to cross our paths. Let’s commit to living our lives in such a way that whether they’re overhearing us or interacting with us face to face, they encounter the love of God in a way they can’t deny.

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