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The only difference between a rut and a grave is their dimensions.  ~Ellen Glasgow

I recall a couple of years ago feeling as though I was in a rut.  Let me tell you, it was awful.  The realization came over me as one day I was driving on a familiar street in my town and then it hit me.  Just like that. Suddenly  it occurred to me that I must have traveled down that road literally thousands of times.  Same old houses, same old view, same old route. I could probably drive that route in my sleep.  I wondered if part of me was dying and I didn't even know it, because I've always thought that familiarity can numb our souls if we're not careful.

At times the news features someone with an ordinary job who turns it into something extraordinary, like the dancing traffic cop, for example.Most of us love those stories and maybe we even secretly wish we had the courage to mix it up.  You know, make the routines of life into something not so routine. I wonder if the traffic cop dances to keep his  soul alive as much as anything.

How many times have you been through a check out line at the store and the clerk functions like the walking dead?  Or the lady at the toll booth who takes your coins without an ounce of personal connection or soul.  Routine is part of life.  But routine doesn't need to become a rut and neither does it have to kill us.

Here are some ways to avoid ruts in life:
  • Volunteer somewhere 
  • Spend time with people who are different than yourself
  • Plan regular trips out of your town or state or even country if you can
  • Drive, walk or bike different routes to work or school just because you can.  
  • Start something new and push yourself to stay with it
  • Read a different kind of book than you usually prefer
  • Figure out how to turn the ordinary aspects of your job into something extraordinary
  • Pay attention to the people around you and do something to let them know you see them and notice them.
  • Listen to a variety of music
  • Check your heart often to see if you're just going through the motions in any way.
  • If you discover you are going through the motions, then do something to get out of that rut.
  • Take regular personal retreats

How about you? What have you intentionally done to avoid being in a rut?

Change Your Mind and Change Your Life

I have a single friend in her 40's who would love to be married. Her name is Susie Lambright. Rather than waiting around for the right guy to come along Susie has decided to live her life fully.  She now lives half way around the world in an exotic, far away country.  As part of embracing her stage of life and the unique opportunities being single can afford, she travels and goes places she probably wouldn't  if she were married with kids. In changing her mind, she changed her life. She used to think, "What I want most in life is to be married."  Now she thinks, "I want nothing more than to be used to make a difference and to live out my life fully wherever that takes me."  Holocaust concentration camp survivor Victor Frankl said, "When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves." 

Sure, things haven't turned out like my friend thought they would by now, but her life is far better  than if she would have staunchly held to her belief that she had to be married to be happy .  And, for the record, my friend is having a phenomenal impact.

You are more powerful than you realize.  The power to accomplish things you never thought possible lies within your own mind and thinking. Unfortunately, many of us get stuck in certain, self-limiting ways of thinking and therefore never fully move into what we are capable of.  We think....

I will always be fat.
Even though I'm miserable in my job, I can't quit because I would lose too much.
My kids don't like me and that's their problem, not mine.
I'm not the type to ever accomplish anything important in life.
If only I were married (or richer, or lived somewhere else, or smarter) I would be happy.

And on it goes, the lies we tell ourselves. In every one of those examples, there are choices to be made,  a mind that can be changed, a new and better future to experience.

What is it you want? How might a change of mind begin to move you towards that desire?

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

Birdseye View of Life

The other day I wrote,  "God has a good plan for your life.  And because of who God is, its probably bigger and more amazing than you can even comprehend". Most of us could probably look at our lives and wonder if those words really ring true.

But here's the truth:  we look at our lives in the here and now and make conclusions based on a very  short term perspective. The short sightedness causes us to miss the greatness.  We need a birdseye view of life.  A bigger perspective.

The fact that I am here, on this earth, have an education, a good marriage, three wonderful kids, a home to live in, I haven't committed suicide, I'm not an alcoholic (I think I easily could be), I have resources to live off of and to help others with, I have hope, I am forgiven, I can forgive, faith is alive and well in my soul, friends care about me, and the list could go on, it's quite amazing.  You could list many good things about your life too. And I see that if there's anything good about our lives, its because of how God has been working not only in our present life, but through past generations.  Your life is bigger than your time on earth.

Without going into all of the nitty gritty details,  there are aspects of my family history that are less than beautiful.  On my mother's side there has been a history of suicide and alcohol abuse. She had many odds against her but through tough choices and with God's help my mom has been an over comer.  Of course, her choices have influenced my life tremendously.  It's a wonder I'm even here at all because my dad had several close calls with death before he married my mom.  After he got married, he got in touch with his desperate need for God and surrendered his life to something greater than the thrill of the here and now.  That set my life on a different path.

God works through the generations to restore beauty where its been stolen,  joy where there's been pain,  laughter where there's been sorrow,  love where there's been hatred, freedom where there's been shame and guilt, and on it goes.  We, in the here and now, are the product of the blessings and the curses.  To the degree that there are any blessings at all in any of our lives speaks of God's big and amazing plans. 

 “For I know the  plans I have for you, “ says the Lord.  “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.  In those days when you pray, I will listen.  If you look for me in earnest, you will find me when you seek me.  I will be found by you,” says the Lord.  “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes.  I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and bring you home again to your own land.”  (Jeremiah 30: 11-14)

Here are my quick takeaways from these scriptures:
  • God has a good plan for your life.  And because of who God is, its probably bigger and more amazing than you can even comprehend.
  • God's plan for your life doesn't include bringing disaster upon you.
  • You can have God's ear if you want it.  God listens.
  • God promises you that when you seek him you will find him.  He's not as elusive as you might think.  "Finding God" is part of the journey.  How uninteresting, if as a child, you played hide and seek with your parents and the game began, "You count to ten, sonny, and when you're done you come and find me.  I will be hiding in the hallway closet. Right behind all of the coats hanging up."  The thrill of the game is the journey of discovery.  The joy of finding would be significantly lessened if the destination was known right from the beginning.  So it is with God.  The joy is in the journey of seeking and finding. Think about that.
  • You can count on God to give back what is rightfully yours in Him.

"Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible."  
St. Francis of Assisi

Wednesday marked the first day of classes for the new year for my college students.  Also the first day of a new course for them, it was appropriate to start our class with this quote by St. Francis.  Right now, my students only dream of the day that they will be able to serve society as professional RNs.  If they were to be placed in the clinical setting today, it would literally be impossible for them to function as a licensed RN.  However, showing up for the start of a new semester, beginning a new course and continuing to do what they need to do, and doing what is possible every day, will transform that which is currently impossible into possible. 

Isn't that how it is with anything we wish to accomplish?  It happens one step at a time, day by day doing what is possible.  We rule out our dreams before we ever even get started.... "oh, that's impossible for me" or, "there are just too many obstacles" without considering what could be done every day to overcome an obstacle at a time and see that dream accomplished.

     Writing a book becomes possible when a little bit is written every day over a period of time.

     A degree is gained when one decides to push through the challenges of coursework every day.

     A thousand dollars is saved when $20 is put away every week for 50 weeks.

How about you?  What is it that you would love to do or to become that seems impossible right now?  Maybe you are already working towards it a day at a time, doing what is possible right now.  But maybe you haven't started taking any steps because it seems too big and too impossible.  Whatever it is that you would like to do or to become, I encourage you to just start!  Start somewhere. Do what is possible every day, and before you know it you will have accomplished the impossible.

Live Openly and Expansively

There's a verse in The Message translation of the Bible that pushes all of my buttons.  The Apostle Paul is speaking to the people of the Early Church.  Here's how it reads in The Message:

Dear, dear Corinthians [don't you just feel the love?] I can't tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open spacious life.  We didn't fence you in.  The smallness you feel comes from within you.  Your lives aren't small, but you're living them in a small way.  I'm speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection.  Open up your lives.  Live openly and expansively!"  (2 Corinthians 6:11-13, emphasis added by me)

Because I think that Paul, as a messenger of God, was urging people to be wide open to hearing and responding to God's ways, that becomes part of my take away from this passage.  Here is what I know I want to do more of in this next year:
  • Take time to consider scripture and listen to God
  • Write down in my journal what I sense God speaking
  • Be willing to act on what I sense God is saying and doing
  • Continue to invite God to work in my life, to show me how to live, how to think, how to break out of my own self-imposed limitations.  I know that without God's work in my life, I am constrained by my limiting thoughts and mindsets.  
I know this is pretty basic, but I also know that I don't want to get to the end of my life and see how small of a life I lived because I was closed off to God's Spirit at work in my life, or didn't take the time to really allow God to stir my heart and for me to respond.  My desire is to live as large and expansive of a life that I can and I know that I need God for that.

Convenience vs. Inconvenience

America is known for values such as independence, hard work, ingenuity, freedom, and opportunity just to name a few.  However, a value that I don't see showing up on lists of American values is convenience. I researched several reliable sites that try to identify American values and not once did I see this value on a list.  But I see it lived out everywhere, everyday.  It's as though its one of our top, but most unnamed values as a country. Even most new innovation, it seems, moves us towards more convenience in one way or the other. I appreciate the conveniences of our society as much as the next person, but yet I think there are times that we have to choose inconvenience for our own good.

This is NOT a picture of me and my cousins!  
When I was a kid, a relative had one of these machines with an attached belt that you put around your hips and then it shook the living daylights out of your butt and belly.  Supposedly, this was going to help everyone lose a lot of weight.  How convenient.  At any rate, my cousins and I all thought it was great fun.

Some things should be more convenient (like doing laundry, for example).  But doesn't it seem like the things that matter most are usually inconvenient?  Here are some things that are inconvenient for me:
  • Having to clear up and work through a hurtful misunderstanding.
  • Taking time every day for reflection, prayer, listening, writing and exercise
  • Loving people (is it just me or is this usually inconvenient?)
  • Making meals from scratch or at least avoiding frozen, highly processed foods
  • Driving 45 minutes one way each week to attend church
  • Creating a clean and orderly environment to work and live in
There'd be many more of course and I'm sure you can identify your own inconveniences.  I guess we choose inconvenience over convenience when we are clear on the "why" we do something.  I'm thinking that learning to embrace inconveniences may help us all to become the people we are meant to be.  So this year, here's to all of  us choosing our inconveniences wisely and embracing them wholeheartedly in order to grow and become all we can be!

My Top 10

Lists of The Top, The Best, The Greatest, The Most Popular abound at this time of the year as we look back over the past year.  It got me thinking...If I were to create a top 10 list, what would it be?  And so here it is:

Top 10 

1.  You are created for more.  No matter what was achieved this past year, or what will be achieved this next year, in God there is always more.
2. We are meant to be extraordinary.  And that's not because of who we are, but because of who God is.
3.  That which is Broken becomes Blessed.  We all have pain, brokenness, hurt and disappointments in our lives.  The deeper the Brokenness, the deeper the Blessing if we allow it.
4.  All of the pain, brokenness, and hurt in the world?  None of it was caused by God.
5.  All of the beauty, goodness, joy, peace... that's Heaven on Earth. 
6.  You are here  to help bring Heaven to Earth.
7.  You gain the most in life by letting go.
8.  The way up is down.  In a world which clamors for the most attention, fame and recognition, Jesus offers a freeing alternative.
9.  If the essence of life could be condensed to one word, it would be Love.
10. No matter what happened last year, or what will happen next year, we know Life is Good because of God.

Not only are these things relevant now as we look back on 2011 and ahead to 2012, but I'm pretty sure they were relevant 2000 years ago and will be relevant for many years to come, too.