We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.
Mother Teresa

Renegade Smiler

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This past week, I visited my grandson in Brooklyn to celebrate his second birthday.  As I walked the streets of New York, I became keenly aware that as a southern, smiley, blonde girl, I stood out like a sore thumb. From what I have gathered, the unspoken rule of engagement in New York is basically, don’t look at anyone and certainly don’t smile at anyone. Just move forward, walk briskly and don’t engage.

I smiled anyway! I suppose I shocked a few people, but I also detected some people were simply grateful for the connection. Several people managed to eek out a return smile, although I could tell they felt a little uncomfortable.

Humans need connection. A sincere smile can serve as a way to reach into the life of someone who feels lonely or discouraged or thinks that all the world is against her. When we smile, we reassure others that there is hope in the world. A smile speaks love, and can lift the heart of another.

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My grandson’s smiles were contagious, sweet and refreshingly honest. As I looked into his face filled with joy and laughter, I wondered how we as adults have come to lose our ability to smile so freely. Weren’t we created to smile? Aren’t we meant to share happiness with one another? Why don’t we do it? Are we bogged down with too many cares, worries and woes? Are distractions, self-centeredness or busyness the culprits?

I’m not saying we should garnish a fake smile; people can see through that in a New York minute (forgive the pun). We must be honest with our emotions, and if we need to cry, then cry. Trust me, I’m no stranger to grief and have done my fair share of crying over the past few months especially.

Yes, we need to grieve, but we must also look for opportunities to lift up others with a gift from our heart that stretches across our face. Studies show that when we smile, we actually increase the happy hormones in our brains. Make yourself happier, as well as those around you, by taking the two ends of your lips and moving them upwards. Share the love God has put in your heart, by blessing another person with the warmth of your smile. And by the way, you’ll look better too!

 

Photo by Kevin Rajaram on Unsplash

The Happiest Place on Earth

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I did it again! I rushed into my day, with a long list of things that need to get done, and I didn’t even think about seeking God’s guidance and direction, much less His blessings and help. Nope, I just jumped into my To Do list. Ironically, one of the top agenda items was to send out my prayer requests to my prayer warrior friends! Guilty again of asking other people to pray for something that I haven’t even prayed about personally!

But in all this rush, God kindly and tenderly drew me to His throne and reminded me that the happiest place on earth is spending time in His presence. What joy I experience when I fall on my knees, recognizing that the weight of the world is not on my shoulders, but on His.

What a comfort it is to come before Him and praise Him for

His majesty, sufficiency, truth and grace!

I need this divine fellowship every morning, as it offers a time of solace from my frenetic pace. On my knees, I listen for His guidance and ask for His direction. In this quiet meditation, He reminds me of His love and power. Oh the mighty work that is done as I ask for His help and pray against the schemes of the enemy!

I am reassured that I am not alone.

As I encounter people, or experience challenges or simply do the work in front of me, I can do it with enthusiasm. The word enthusiasm literally means inspired or God within (en theos). Could there be a better description of someone who has spent time with the Father and walks closely with Him throughout his or her day?

Let us be enthusiastic people! Let’s go forward with confidence, but let us begin on our knees, knowing that this is where we find our strength and hope.

Photo by Julio Rivera on Unsplash

Adding Positive Habits to your Life

 

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Ah habits – some of them good and some of them not-so-good. Like it or not, our habits can have a significant impact on our success at work, our relationships and our overall health and well-being. What positive behaviors do you need to add to your regular routine in order to improve your life?

Habits can be defined as repeated, nearly automatic actions and are typically triggered by contextual cues. For instance, buckling your seatbelt when you jump into the car or listening to the news while putting on your make-up. In order to begin a new habit, we not only want to choose the new behavior, but also choose the situation, time and place in which this behavior will occur.

Prayerfully and thoughtfully consider what new actions you want to invite into your life. These may correlate with some of the goals which you have set for the year. Let’s say your goal is to grow spiritually over the next year, so you want to get in the habit of having a regular quiet time including prayer and meditating on His Word.

Begin by choosing a context for your new habit. In starting a regular routine for spiritual growth, you will need to think about a time and comfortable place where you can be alone. Planning is key, so keep a journal, pen and Bible in that area, then these tools are waiting for you when you arrive. Connect this new behavior with a situation or habit that you already do. For instance allow your first cup of coffee in the morning to be your cue or trigger to go to your special quiet place.

Make simple, incremental changes when you are adding new habits to your life. It may seem overwhelming to set aside a large chunk of time to read, study, meditate and pray. Ease yourself into your new routine by setting aside a shorter period (say 10 or 15 minutes) and then allow the time to grow as you develop the routine into your daily life.

Recognize that “enjoyment” is a key component to starting a habit. Perhaps initially, reading the Bible or trying to pray seems a little daunting or maybe it just doesn’t even seem fun to you. Add a favorite devotional book to your time – something that you can look forward to reading. For me personally, I add a routine of writing down 5 things for which I am thankful. This practice always makes me happy as I recognize the ways God is working in my life. Discover what delights your heart and add it to your new habit.

Creating habits requires determination and self-discipline, but it also has the reward of feeling a sense of accomplishment. Over time, habits become second nature and you don’t have to think about them anymore – they just happen! Most likely you have heard that it takes 21 days to form a new habit, but some research suggests a range anywhere between 18 to 254 days (yikes!). The good news is, studies also show that it only takes about two weeks for a new behavior to feel as though it is a part of your natural routine.

Don’t be discouraged – persevere, keeping your goal in sight. Always remember, you are not alone. Just as we can seek the Lord’s help in curbing negative behaviors and habits, we can also ask for His strength in establishing positive ones. As the apostle Paul wrote, “It is God who is at work in you both to will and to act according to His good purpose.”

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Looking for a new devotional for your quiet time? Check out Pursuing God in the Quiet Places which highlights the attributes of God.

Photo for this blog by Jenna Anderson on Unsplash

Secrets to Staying on Target with Your Goals

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Have you already fizzled on your New Year’s resolutions? Join the crowd! In fact, this Thursday, January 17 is officially called, “Ditch Your Resolutions Day.” It’s good to know we are not alone, right? But why do we tend to give up on our goals? Often the reasons are quite simple. Most people tend to:

  • Set unrealistic goals
  • Set too many goals
  • Forget about their goals or lose interest

Let’s consider some practical ways for us to get back on target and stay there. Here are three simple secrets:

  1. Review at the First of Each Month. It’s difficult to keep the momentum going in September for goals you set in January, so consider revisiting your goals at the beginning of each month. I recommend setting monthly goals instead of yearly goals. Make an appointment with yourself on the first day of the month to set your objectives and think about what you need to accomplish.. Write your monthly goals on index cards and place the cards where you will see them often, or add them as an alert on your phone. You are much more likely to remember your goals if you see them in front of you on a regular basis. Keep your goals realistic and achievable, but stretching and challenging as well.
  2. Reduce the Amount of Goals You Want to Achieve. A plethora of goals can be overwhelming and set you up for failure, so I suggest that you reduce your monthly goals to simply three. Setting three monthly goals helps you narrow your focus and feel less scattered, plus they are easier to remember and keep at the forefront of your mind. Don’t confuse goals with new habits you may want start (we’ll talk about positive habits in next week’s blog). Goals should be specific and measurable with an end in sight, while habits are routines that you put into action on a continual basis.
  3. Record your Progress. As you review and refresh your goals at the first of each month, take a look at how you did on the former month’s goals. Write down your accomplishments either on your calendar, phone or your index cards. Celebrate your achievements and revisit the areas that need improvement. Consider the factors that distracted you from your goals and then make wise adjustments for the next month.

When it comes to goal-setting, one of the most important questions to ask yourself is, “What will it take for me to accomplish this goal?” Write some of your action steps underneath each of your three goals. We set goals to help us improve, grow and be more productive. Our end goal should be to use our God-given gifts and talents to honor God and bless others. Let’s be thoughtful and prayerful as we continue to press on toward the goal of our upward call.

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If your goal is to get to know the Bible or grow deeper in His word, check out this month’s $5 special. Great for individual reading or group study. Click Here for more info.

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Make the Most of Each Day

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Do distractions seem to keep you from accomplishing all that you want to do in a day? If you are like most people, you have great intentions each morning but by the end of the day, the “To Do” List could be renamed the “Most of This Didn’t Happen” List. How can we live each day more intentionally and experience a sense of satisfaction when we finally slip into bed each night? Here are a few ideas to help you make the most of each day:

  1. Start each day with prayer. Before you hit the ground running, hit the ground on your knees. Find a quiet place where you can be alone, even for a few minutes, to seek God’s direction and ask for His leading throughout the day. Always begin with adoration, praising God for who He is and thanking Him for all He has done. Bring your needs, cares and worries before Him. Confess your sins to Him. Ask His Spirit to guide you and help you discern what is worth doing and what is a waste of time.
  2. Set boundaries with your distractions. We all have different things that tug and pull us away from what we need to accomplish, so the first way to fight distractions is to identify them. What are yours? Is it a co-worker who always wants to talk or gossip? Is it Instagram or facebook? Perhaps notifications or emails? Write out your top five distractions, and then make a wise plan as to how you can set a boundary for each one. Perhaps it is closing your door during certain working hours or only allowing yourself to look at Instagram at lunch time or turning off notifications on your phone. Only you know the best solution to your distractions, so think deliberately about how to conquer each one.
  3. Plan your day the night before. At the end of each day, make a detailed plan for the next day. Write down activities such as Prayer Time, workout and meals. Create a schedule and a plan of action for the meetings, errands and work that needs to get done. Certainly we all need to be flexible as plans may change or things may take longer than you expect, but writing down your plan allows you to wake up each morning knowing what you need to do and ready to do it. It also helps you sleep better at night, since you are not worrying or trying to remember all that needs to be done.
  4. Choose three priorities for each day. As you look over your plan in the morning, choose three items that are essential or most important for the day. Circle them and concentrate on getting those three activities done by the end of the day. Typically, three daily priorities are doable and easy to remember. Plus, by the end of the day you will feel a sense of accomplishment that you checked off the most important things on your list. Whatever you didn’t do by the end of the day, can go on your plan for the next day but at least you know you covered your priorities.
  5. Set aside power halfhours. It’s amazing what you can accomplish in a half-hour if you set your mind to it. Use a timer. I typically use an old kitchen timer because the ticking helps me stay on target. I choose not to use my phone timer, since the phone itself is a huge distraction. If you need to get a task accomplished, set the timer for 30 minutes and plunge full-focused into your task. No distractions allowed. After your power half-hour, take a break, walk around, check to make sure you didn’t miss any important calls. Then schedule another power half-hour for the next priority task at hand.

 

Try these five simple tips. Make them into a new habit for the new year and enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that you are seizing each day with intentionality and purpose.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash