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Entries in strength (5)

Monday
Apr152013

powerification 

This morning is tough. I'm fighting a cold that's hung on for about three weeks now. I'm struggling against the lingering effects of Nyquil, which has me feeling a little doped up and out of it, even after seven hours of sleep. I'm facing down anxiety over the usual deadlines and demands of my day. It's a tough morning.

And then there's this blog. For the past month or so I've been able to just sit down, pray, and start writing with no trouble. I could usually tell when I was trying to write it "myself," rather than trusting God for what I needed to say. I'd struggle with it. The words wouldn't come easily, I'd have to drag them out, kicking and screaming. I was writing for myself, and not for the glory of God. Not the right idea for a blog I've dedicated to God's glory, first, and to helping others reach their intended life, second. This morning I had a bit of that before I could get started (you should see the stuff I deleted!).

These days aren't uncommon. I have them pretty often, actually. Maybe the blog comes easy for the day, but then I face the challenge of doing my work, and doing it well. Or I face the challenge of willpower and self control regarding food and exercise and attitude and finances. Or I face the challenge of butting heads with Kara over issues that shouldn't matter as much as they seem to in the moment. Or I face the challenge of facing down self doubts and anxiety and fear over things I can't control or can't know or can't predict. 

I'm challenged, every day, to live an intended life. 

You probably have that, too. Your job isn't what you want it to be, or your family life stinks, or your health is awful, or you just can't stop feeling anxious and scared and worried all the time. 

Usually we feel like this because we think we're being overwhelmed by the details of life. So many things to do! So much to pay attention to! SO. MANY. THINGS.

One at a time. That's the ticket. The magic cure. One task, job, or worry at a time. I have to remind myself, sometimes, that I have plenty of time to get to everything, if I just face one thing first, and then the next, and then the next. And if I don't have time to get to it all, I have to prioritize and do the important stuff first. And if it all seems important, I have to realize that I may fail, I may suffer a consequence, and the best I can do is minimize that consequence as much as possible. Or get some help.

When I was working in electronics I had to be mindful of loads. When working with electricity, a load is the amount of draw on power that a circuit creates. In general, the more parts there are to a circuit (the more the circuit can do) the more load it draws.

A single battery can run a lot of stuff for a while. But eventually, the load runs it down, and the battery has to be replaced or recharged. That means "time out" for whatever the circuit is doing. It means putting things on hold while the battery "rests." 

If you want more life for the circuit, to do more stuff and do it for longer periods of time, one way is to connect batteries in parallel. This means you use multiple batteries, wired to work together, to produce the same work force, but with increased longevity. Two batteries doing the work will last longer than one battery on its own.

That's why marriage is such a blessing. Two hearts and minds working toward one common goal? That should make it easy! Of course, this pre-supposes you actually are working toward the same goal. To do that, you actually have to have a goal.

In electronics, engineers create a circuit schematic so they can see all the operations of a circuit, to trace down trouble when it happens. The schematic for your marriage is a plan the two of you should sit down at least once per month and actually talk to each other. Write down the goals you both have, and what you can do to move toward them. When a problem comes up, refer to your goals and your plan and work together to get yourselves on track. Sound too simple? It's a lot of work, actually, which is the point. It's work, but it's work you do together, as a team, as a married couple.

Beyond marriage, there's the importance of having people who can work with you in your daily life, to help support you in making wise decisions, to help keep you on track for your personal and career goals. It's important to have a team that you can turn to for advice and for help and for strength.

I have a great group of friends, and I can turn to them for advice on a wide range of topics. I don't always turn to them the way I should, however, and that's typically when I start feeling overwhelmed.

It's important to realize, also, that the two batteries in our example above work together, as equals. One battery isn't dominant over the other. Both are on the same wiring. Both serve the same purpose. Both carry the same load. Both light up their world together, or one, on its own, will just wear out first and leave the other to wear out after a time, too. 

You have to approach friendships, business partnerships, marriage, and every relationship as a coming-together of equals with a common cause. Each of you should look to help carry the load of the other. Each should focus on doing whatever you can for the other. That's the key to success, in life and in business.

Putting several batteries in parallel gives you greater strength. Don't stop with just your spouse or your best friend or your business partner. Get more people involved! Connect with a like-minded couple, find a career mentor, bring in a third, startegic business partner. Bring many people together under the same goal, and help each other to master finances and health and children and vacations and work stress and gardening and whatever else is part of the circuit load of your life.

Tough mornings will always come. They're a part of the gig. You know, "being human." It's there, every day, for you to face. But God has provided you with a means for dealing with the load in your life. God is the power that flows through your circuit. He's your current and voltage. He's your "working force." And he likes to work with batteries in parallel.

The Bible lays out the circuit for inviting God's motive power into your life.

20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Matthew 18:20

Two or three (or more), working with God as their voltage and current. That's a circuit that can do anything.

Rough day? Hard start? Lingering cold? No rest over the weekend? Heavy workload ahead?

Pray with someone. Ask for strength to face the day. Start every day like that and see how much more you can accomplish. Gather all the batteries you can find, connect yourselves in parallel, ask God to power you, and you can light up the world. 

 

Tuesday
Apr092013

anxietation

There are plenty of things in my life that make me feel afraid or worried or anxious. Anxiety has been a growing issue over the past few years. Something I always dealt with by ignoring it, or hiding from it, or flat out running from it. The thing about worry and anxietythey may not run as fast as you, but they are tireless in their pursuit.

Lately I've taken a new approach to anxiety. I face it head on. And I pray. I pray without adding my anxiety to the formula God has laid out for me.

I have always prayed when things started getting tough, and that's a normal response, isn't it? I also prayed when things were going right, but when they went wrong it's like I would reach a whole new level of prayer. I'd start sweating it. And that isn't how God intended us to pray. 

Christ gave us the formula for prayer in what we now call "the Lord's Prayer," which goes exactly like  this

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.’

Matthew 6:9-13

No panic there, right? No feverish begging that things will be alright. No anxious wringing of hands, "Please God, PLEASE!" Just a pretty calm and orderly request of God, tempered by obedience on our part.

This prayer is the model we should use for our own prayer. We don't have to memorize it and use it word for word, but instead use it as a formula and a guide for how we approach God. We acknowledge Him first, as well as His kingdom and His dominance. We acknowledge his will for all of creation, heaven and Earth. We ask that our needs be fulfilled each day. We ask that our debts (and our sins) be forgiven, and we promise to forgive anyone who is in our debt (or has sinned against us). And we ask for guidance, away from evil, delivered from the evil in this world (and into God's kingdom). Pretty basic, isn't it?

Where's the worry? Where's the anxiety? Where's the fear?

There's no room for it in the formula. You'd have to insert it between the lines. But really, why would you? It doesn't make sense. It's a contradiction. It'll mess stuff up.

Think about other formulas in your life. Think of a recipe. If you're trying to make a casserole just like grandma used to make, you use the recipe your grandma gave you. You could add to the recipe, if you want, but the result you get isn't grandma's casseroleit's your own. Fine, if that's your goal. But if the goal is to stay true to the recipe, to the formula, to get the results intended by the recipe's creator, then adding your own ingredients is just going to spoil the mix.

This analogy falls apart, of course, because in life we sometimes want and even need to change the recipe. But God's recipe is perfect. It meets all of our needs perfectly. It offers us the full protection of God perfectly. It tells us exactly how to live according to His will, perfectly. Adding an extra ingredient, like worry or anxiety, is just going to make us stray from the recipe, and get results that are unpredictable and maybe even undesirable.

God doesn't want us to worry. He doesn't want us to feel anxiety. Of course, it's easier to say these things than to live them, and God's aware of that, too. 

As I write this, I'm experiencing my own anxiety and worry. I'm anxious because something is outside of my control. I can't fix it. I can't resolve the problem, not right away, and the consequences of it could have a big impact on me and my family for quite a while. It's uncomfortable and undesirable, but it is what it is.

Except I know the truth. God is right here with me, watching as I watch, listening as I listen, feeling as I feel. He knows. And because He knows, I can let go of the anxiety and worry. I don't have to let that rule my life, because that position is already filled.

So instead I tell God He is holy.

I ask that His perfect will be done in my life.

I ask that He meet my needs (even those I may not be aware of).

I ask that He forgive me for when I fail, and I promise to forgive others when they fail.

I ask that He lead me away from evil, and protect me from it, and deliver me into his Kingdom. 

Worry has no place in my life. Anxiety isn't something I'm meant to feel. It's the thing I choose over God, moment by moment, and I have to die to that choice. I have to live for Christ.

The best cure for worry and anxiety is to face them head on. Pray to God for strength and guidance, for a clear view of the road to take, and then take action. Make the call you're dreading. Go through the door and into the meeting that scares you. Start the conversation that you don't think you're ready for. Endings have to have beginnings, and until you've faced the challenges in your life you are standing still, and you'll have nothing but anticipation as your companion. God walks with us when we are actually walking. 

Fear is stationary. It stands in place. It lives in the places we used to be, or in the places we haven't yet been. We only feel fear when we're standing in place. Action moves us forward, away from the past, away from what was and what used to be, and toward the new future, with new opportunities and choices that can change our lives faster than we could ever anticipate.

God designed us to move. He will take care of the path, but it's up to use to take it.

So anxiety, worry, fear? Those have no place in my prayers or in my life. I come to God with them, I hand them over, I surrender, and I take action. I walk. God will be my guide, my strength, the light at my feet. But my feet have to keep moving, or I'll end up standing in darkness.

Monday
Apr082013

failureocity

You are a complete and utter failure. Me too, actually.

Ain't it great? Wow! What freedom! What a wonderful gift! Can you believe that we ... err ... some of you have that "look" on your  face. OK, let me back up a bit.

A while back I was thinking about my life. Mostly I was thinking, "Wow. I really haven't accomplished anything worthwhile, have I? And I'm overweight. And I'm in debt. And I tend to make some bad choices. I'm pretty sure God's unhappy with me."

Best. Thought process. EVER.

Because it was around that time I started to realize I have to actually change something if I want to live the life I want to live, and that God intended me to live.

Haven't accomplished anything worthwhile? Did I plan to do anything worthwhile?

Overweight? Was I adjusting my diet, and was I exercising more often?

In debt? Was I improving my financial education and making to changes to how I think about and manage money?

Bad choices? Was I learning from them, and consciously deciding not to repeat them?

God's unhappy with me? Can I blame Him? What have I done to please Him? What have I done to glorify Him? What have I done to be obedient to Him?

Thank God I finally woke up. I spent the first 40 years of my life vacillating about right and wrong, about wealth and poverty, about health and sickness, about all the aspects of my life I was unhappy with, and whether or not I was unhappy enough to CHANGE THEM. 

I wasn't. Or rather, I was, but I wasn't willing to change them. I hadn't made the decision to make changes in my life. I hadn't asked God to change me, because I was afraid of the pain that would come with change. But above all, I was afraid of failing.

Thing is, I actually made a thinking error right from the start. See, I made this assumption that God was unhappy with me based on the fact that I was unhappy with me. And sure, maybe God would have preferred I make better choices. Maybe He was displeased with the choices I was making. But "unhappy" is a long way from "not loving," which is how I was thinking of it. I was thinking, "I haven't done anything to earn God's love."

Brrrrt. WRONG! Back to zero. Re-read the rules. You are playing the wrong game. No wonder you're losing!

God may well be unhappy about your life and your choices. But that isn't the same as not loving you. He loves you, no matter what, because He made you to be loved. He sent Christ as a sacrifice, the embodiment of God and man, to die in our place for the evil and sin in our lives, and to be reborn to prove God's power over evil and sin and death. He did that so that He could just love us, straight up, without us having to do a thing to "earn it." 

We do not have to earn God's love. We have it. We do not have to earn God's forgiveness. We have it. We have only to accept Christ as the guiding force in our lives, the strength in our hearts, the rule for how we think and behave and decide. All of that, it's what Christ came here to make available to us.

And we fail.

Oh yeah, we fail. Big time. We lust. We envy. We lie. We steal. We cheat. We experience wrath and anger. We are gluttonous. If you don't fall somewhere in that list, I bet we can dig for a bit and find something that applies to you. Because we fail. It's what we do.

And God knows that. And He's OK with it. He loves you "even though."

That phrase has special meaning for me and my wife, Kara. When we were planning our wedding, our minister sat with us to counsel us about marriage and the decision we were making. And when he wrote our vows, he included something in them that he had brought up during those sessions. "God loves you even though." Even though you sin. Even though you become angry. Even though you doubt or disbelieve. Even though you fail. God loves you even though.

Look, we're all falling on our faces, all the time. It's going to happen. You should try your best to avoid it, try to make changes, try to be a better steward of the gifts God has given you. But you're going to fail sometimes. It's part of the package. 

God loves you, even though.

And God is your only way to improve. It starts by asking him to change you.

I recommend reading Lord Change Me, by James MacDonald. I first encountered this book when I started attending Sugar Creek Baptist Church in Sugar Land, and it was a great start for changing my life to the glory of God. It offers very practical advice and a structure for asking God to change your life, and for turning away from the sin that has dominated you in the past. 

Short version: Ask God to change you. Repent (turn away) from the sin in your life by proclaiming, "I'm dead to that. And Christ is alive in me." And act on what you know to be good while avoiding what you know to be sin. 

You're going to fail. God knows I do, every day. And when you fail, your first impulse will be to feel an overwhelming guilt and shame. Go ahead. Feel it. Then pray a sincere apology to God, and start again with "Lord, change me." Make the request every time you fall, and make your best effort to die to sin and live in Christ. The effort is worth a lot.

Failing does not make you a failure. In the end, every failure is just a chance to learn and grow and become stronger and better than before. When you pick up and keep going, the failures in your wake become the steps you climb to reach new heights. God is waiting for you at the top, but he's also walking along beside you, to help you get to where you're going. Trust that. Trust that even in failure, God has your back. 

You are amazing. God made you, so you know it's true. 

Thursday
Mar142013

strengthification

Fingernails are dirt magnets.

It doesn't seem to matter how often I clean them or trim them, minutes later I could do it all over again. I keep diggin' the dirt out, and it keeps fillin' back up. That mental image? That's yours for free ... I'm not even going to charge you for that.

So the way analogies work, this is the point where I compare cleaning your fingernails to your daily life, your efforts to improve yourself, your relationships, etc. You ready for that? I know you are! Because you are a person who admires honesty, character, and the earnest pursuit of change for the better. I've always liked that about you.

It's true. Just like our fingernails, our lives are constantly in jeopardy of filling back up with the junk and garbage and dirt we just spent a large amount of time and resources removing. We struggle for months to quit smoking, and on one stressful day we pick up a pack and start again. We stick to our diet for weeks before that plate of cupcakes appears and we find ourselves covered in icing. We commit to spending an hour every day doing a Bible study, praying and meditating on God's Word, but THIS morning there's a lot of chatter on Facebook or "I'm THIS close to finishing this book!" and we set aside the thing that we know, deep down, will benefit us more, help us grow into the better person we mean to be.

We're all a bunch of failures.

Hey, it's a harsh truth, but it's still a truth. We, in and of ourselves, are powerless to resist the things that bring us down. We need to rely on something bigger than ourselves to give us strength. Community leaders may lean on the spirit of the community. Political leaders may rely on the unity of their staff. Alcoholics Anonymous refers to it as "a higher power." Christians turn to God.

I almost typed "it doesn't matter what you choose," but I don't believe that's true. I believe that the ultimate strength comes from God. But I do recognize that there are other sources of strength. They may not be unlimited sources of power, and eventually they (like your willpower) will run up short. But they're a bigger reserve of strength and power than relying on yourself. They're necessary. They're VITAL.

We who want to better ourselves, we spend a lot of time digging the dirt out of our fingernails. We have tools and tricks that keep us as perfectly manicured as we can manage. We're always on the hunt for new ways to improve what we're doing. And that? That's all good. That's perfect, actually. Exactly as it should be.

But don't forget the more important resource: Look for the power that is greater than yourself. I recommend God, because I've always been a "go straight for the top" kinda guy. But whatever source you choose, whatever works best for you at this moment in time, just make sure it has as much respect for you as you have for it.

It does you no good to rely on your community if your community doesn't know who you are.

You can't rely on your political staff if they all have separate, personal, self-directed agendas, working at cross purposes to each other and to you.

You can't rely on your co-workers or your teammates for strength if they all think of you as being a self-centered problem, always talking about and thinking about your own issues and never being a part of the group.

We humans don't have enough personal strength or willpower to hold out for long. We need refuge from storms, and beds to rest our weary heads. Look for those in your life. Nurture them. Rely on them, more than on yourself, and you'll always have more strength than you can use.

And one last thing, because I truly think this is the most important strength you can access ... regardless of your beliefs or your past experiences or the opinions of your friends and family, this Wordslinger highly recommends turning yourself over to God. Surrendering to Christ, accepting His strength, that's the surest way to become unbeatable, indestructible, undeniably strong.

If that makes sense to you, but you don't know how to do it, or you could use a little guidance, you can contact me and I'll help. We'll talk, and I'll tell you all I know about it. And maybe you can share some things with me that will teach me a thing or to as well! We'll be a strength for each other in pursuing the greatest success of all time. I could definitely use a strength like that. How about you?

Monday
Mar042013

responsibilitation 

The hard part about being responsible is sometimes you have to take responsibility for something you may not necessarily feel responsible for. Let that one spin around in your noodle for a bit.

Arguments. Who needs 'em? Nobody, that's who. And sometimes we have them even when we don't know what we're really fighting about. And I'd be willing to bet, if we could do some sort of study, that "we don't know what we're really fighting about" more than likely fuels a high percentage of the arguments we have. 

In the past 24 hours I've taken responsibility for two very different arguments. For both, I didn't particularly feel that I was the cause, that I had instigated, that I had provoked. But it hit me at some point (maybe about two sentences ago ... sometimes I'm slow on the up-tick), I may not be the CAUSE of the argument but I am, somehow, RESPONSIBLE. It has somehow fallen to me to resolve the conflict, to make the apologies, to smooth the ruffled feathers. Because I can. 

My first instinct, when I realize this, is to think, "Why should I?"

I don't want to. I want to storm out, log off, slam a door, click "block user" or a dozen other things that could be "solutions," could absolve me of responsibility, could end the argument without me having to bend or take a bruise to the ego or feed some future justification for arguing with "evidence" of me having once been in the wrong.

That's unfair. And unfair ... that rankles me. I have this inflated sense of "justice," but it apparently weakens as it radiates further from me, here at the center. Justice for all, but mostly Kevin.

Thing is, I've taken on a role of leadership in my life. The adage is, "Leaders are made, not born." Made by choices, made by decisions, made by actions, made by responsibility. You can choose to be a leader, even if no one wants to follow you. This is the route Kevin has chose. He speaks of himself in the third person so that it sounds as if at least ONE person is following him. 

And if I'm going to be a leader, I have to take on the onus of leadership, the responsibility that comes with the gig. Sometimes, the leader has to bear the brunt of the ego bruising and injustice. The range of the leader's "justice field" has to increase, radiate further out. If you're going to be a leader, you're going to have to ditch pride and take more responsibility.

God makes it clear that leadership is what we're doing here. Leading in our family lives, leading in our communities, leading in our own inner thoughts and struggles. Leading means being responsible, even when it's unfair.

Arguments. I hate 'em. I am not a big fan of conflict, and my primary tool for dealing with it is avoidance. But I can't do that. Avoiding it means saying, "This isn't my responsibility." It means I'm a follower, not a leader. So it's up to me to step in, to diffuse, to apologize, to suck it up and acknowledge, to myself, that even if I don't think I'm in the wrong, the only way to be in the right is to be the peacemaker, the bringer of justice, the equalizer of joy, the responsible one. 

That's not easy. It never will be. And the only way it works is if I surround myself with people who can be my strength and guidance when I need it. That's what God was going on about, with the whole "fellowship" thing. One thread is weak, many threads, woven together, can be strong. 

So what is being a leader, after it's all said and done? It's being a part of greater leadership. It's being responsible, even when you don't think you are, and it's being a part of a strong rope woven of other leaders. Leadership isn't meant to be a lonely, solitary role. It's meant to be a fellowship. It's meant to be a community. Every thread carries its own weight, but helps, too, to carry the weight born by all the other threads.

That's what leadership means. Time for me to start weaving.