Bounce Back

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When C. S. Lewis was fifty years old he debated a British scholar, Elizabeth Anscombe. Lewis, the brilliant former-atheist-turned-Christian lost the debate and some say he felt like a failure. He was in low spirits and “deeply disturbed” by his loss, but it was this set back that set him in a new direction. He determined to communicate Christianity through faith rather than reason. Not long after the debate, Lewis penned his block-buster series The Chronicles of Narnia between ages 52 and 58. Lewis’s legacy continues today, as a powerful influence in our culture for Christ.  His frustration was the catalyst to his success. His loss was what God used to teach him, turn him and strengthen him.

 

How do you handle setbacks? Possibly the greatest lesson any of us can learn is discovered in the classroom of brokenness. It is there that we move from self-reliance to a God-reliance as we humbly seek His direction and help. Ultimately, we can learn to thank God for our flaws and failures, for through them He expands our understanding and teaches us new and marvelous truths. He forgives, redeems and resurrects. He never leaves us, even when we feel alone.

Whenever we face disappointments, we can choose to live in the defeat of our mistakes, continually beating ourselves up for what we could have done or should have done. Or we can choose to move forward, growing and learning from our mess ups. It’s a choice we choose and a perspective we pick. When we have a “Bounce Back” attitude, we can look beyond our mishaps and setbacks and realize that God can use them for good.

His grace is bigger than our mistakes. His love is greater than our failures. His plan is higher than our setbacks. Let’s not wallow in our mess-ups, rather let’s bounce back with determination. May our challenges strengthen us, teach us and turn us into better people.

 

“We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” — C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

 

 

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The Classroom of Peace

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Sitting by a still pond, or relaxing by a lazy river offers a calm and peaceful surrounding to be sure, but these are not the places that God uses to teach us peace.  If we are going to learn what true peace is like, then our classroom will most likely be in the midst of troubles, turmoil and challenges.  Personally, I would love to go through life learning only happy lessons from easy instructors, but that’s not where the best lessons are learned.  Thinking back to schooldays, easy classes were nice, but it was the challenging classes that strengthened me and lifted me to new heights of knowledge and understanding.

The troubles in our lives may lead us to question God.  “Don’t you want me to have peace?  Why do you allow my life to be so difficult?”  I’m sure many of the early Christians felt this way as they faced persecution of all types.  James wrote to encourage them saying, “My brothers and sisters, when you have many kinds of troubles, you should be full of joy, because you know that these troubles test your faith, and this will give you patience.  Let your patience show itself perfectly in what you do.  Then you will be perfect and complete and will have everything you need.”

In a troubled marriage, God can develop a peace that passes all understanding.  When a child goes astray, He is able to give us peace.  His peace is available in the midst of cancer, or MS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.  Peace is barely recognizable in calm surroundings, but it shines brightly in our trials and difficulties.  That’s how we know the peace is from Him and way beyond us. Jesus said, “My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Father, our hearts are prone to worry and fear, but you are the God of peace. Thank you that just as you calmed the restless sea, you can calm our heart and mind. Father we trust you with the details of our life, we look to you for joy and peace to fill our soul. We love you Lord. Thank you for your great love for us and the way you work in our lives beyond what we can imagine. 

 

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The Positive Power of Friendships

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Who are the people in your life that really know you? I’m talking about the ones with whom you have chosen to go deep and share your heart. You can count yourself blessed if you have even a handful of these “inner-circle” friendships in your entire lifetime.

Studies in positive psychology indicate that people who have one or more close friendships tend to be happier. The key word is “close” – not 300 Facebook friends, but rather a few close people in your life with whom you can share your feelings and enjoy activities together. It’s easy to feel lonely if your conversation only centers around impersonal topics. Real connections are felt on a deeper level where meaningful conversations take place.

In fact, sharing personal feelings with a close friend can play a major role in the relief of stress and even depression. To be sure, we don’t want to be that needy person who overshares and never cares about others. There is a beautiful balance of being vulnerable enough to share our own joys and sorrows, while on the other hand, caring for the needs of our friends and lovingly listening to their heart.

Studies also show that one of the best ways to enrich relationships and cultivate positive emotions is to express a genuine interest in what other people are saying and respond in an encouraging way. Dale Carnegie put it best when he said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people, than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.”

The apostle Paul wrote, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Jesus went further to say, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus loved those around him with a grace-filled, servant-hearted love. He took a genuine interest in the needs of others as He walked this earth, and He continues to take a genuine interest in us.

How wonderful to know that we can have a real and personal relationship with Him! As we grow deeper in our love for Him, we tend to reflect His love in the friendships around us. May the relationships in your life, both with Him and with others, be a source of strength and joy to you personally.

 

This Blog is a part of my new series on “Increasing Happiness.” Each week we will look at studies on happiness and practical ways to experience it.

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Take the First Step

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A number of years ago we added a new dog to our home, but she was no small pup. She was a nine-month-old English mastiff named Bentley. Sweet, gentle, and loveable – Bentley was also extremely fearful. One day, she courageously followed me upstairs to the second floor of our house. That was all well and good except for the simple fact that she was too frightened to come down the stairs. She couldn’t seem to figure out how to navigate the first step.

Of course I wasn’t going to allow her to live the rest of her doggy life on the second floor of our house, so I tried to gently help her down. She wasn’t budging. All she wanted to do was sit and bark at the steps. After forty-five minutes of bribing, pulling and coaxing, she finally decided to take the first step down. (Where is the Dog Whisperer when you need him?) Once Bentley accomplished the first step, the second wasn’t too bad. Then the next and the next and finally she was running free on the first floor again! What a relief for both her and us! She obviously had the ability to go down the stairs safely; she just didn’t have the courage to take that first step.

Bentley’s situation made me think how often I nestle safely in my situation or resist moving forward because I just don’t know how to make the initial move. Sometimes I don’t know what to do, and sometimes out of fear of the unknown I prefer to just stay put. Instead of taking steps in a positive direction, it is sometimes easier just to sit and bark  – or in human terms, whine, complain or make excuses.

Maybe you are thinking of a new career direction or a book you want to write. Or you could be considering a volunteer opportunity or learning a new skill. Or maybe you need to break a bad habit or reorganize the house. For most of us, the first step is typically the hardest one, as well as the most significant.

Stop for a moment and consider the direction God is leading you, and think about what may be keeping you from moving in a positive direction. Are there fears you need to confront? Are you blaming others? Do you need to make changes in your schedule? Are there new skills you need to learn or a class you need to take?

Ask God to give you the courage to take that first step.

 Continue to take little steps day by day, and don’t let discouragement or fear get in your way.

 Like a precious toddler, there will be those times you are walking along and you begin to stumble. But just as a parent kindly reaches down and helps the toddler up to his feet, so the Lord is there with you, strengthening you and holding your hand. David put it perfectly when he wrote:

The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
 He delights in every detail of their lives.
Though they stumble, they will never fall,
 for the Lord holds them by the hand. Psalm 37:23,24

My friend, do you see the picture of the Lord’s graceful hand helping you up? Keep it in mind as you continue to journey step by step. You may not feel as though you have what it takes, but God can give you the feet you need for the journey ahead. He is strong where you are weak. He is sufficient and able to carry you. Take the first step toward positive growth and change, looking to Him for strength and guidance.

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This is an excerpt from Thrive, Don’t Simply Survive.

Blog Photo by Lindsay Henwood on Unsplash

 

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