Strength for the Race

Hebrews 12:1-2

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us and let us run with endurance the race set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Do you like to run? In junior high school I ran a little cross-country. I liked how running made me feel free and light and the challenge of the ups and downs of the trail. The pursuit of running to not only beat my competitors but to better my own time was part of the appeal as well. For the most part I was in control of my own destiny.

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The race of life is a little different. We don’t always get to choose our race.

When life is filled with joy and we see a flat, easy road ahead of us we feel like we can run it forever. It can be tempting to run it on our own and not depend on Jesus or draw strength from our faith. We may also run past others, not stopping to see their needs or learn from those who have run their race before us.

Sometimes it feels like our life-race is uphill. We look ahead and behind and only see twists and turns. It takes endurance to keep going and not give up. It can seem impossible when we are tired and overwhelmed. We feel like there is never an end to the race, or an easy road ahead of us.

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In an uphill race it is so important to keep our focus on Jesus and to allow those around us to come alongside us, support and encourage us. It can be so easy to feel like we’re all alone, but we don’t need to be.

As the writer of Hebrews points out, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, both here on earth and those who have gone before us to leave examples of running the race with endurance. We can be reminded that we have the same reward waiting for us that Jesus did, an eternal forever with our Lord. Jesus endured shame, disgrace, and a nasty death on the cross to bring us with Him to this paradise.

We are made lighter and more free to endure the twists and turns of life when we examine what entangles and weighs us down. Repenting of our sins and releasing the weight of worry and the need to control our surroundings frees us and reminds us to look up, and perhaps find the good things hidden along our path.

Whether the race is smooth or an uphill climb we can’t do it on our own, but by the grace and strength of Jesus, the precious Holy Spirit and those He has put in our lives to walk alongside us, we can keep going…and find blessings along the way!

 

Blessings and peace along your race today,
Paula

 

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The Language of Joy

Do you think joy has a language?

I’m beginning to think so. The way we talk to and about ourselves and others, both audibly and silently, can determine our joy quotient.

Hear me out on this! I’m not suggesting we fill our vocabulary with flowery phrases or constantly gush over people but perhaps the words we use and thoughts we choose impact our lives more than we think they do.

Let me ask you a couple of questions:

1. Do you look for the good in others or are you quick to criticize?
(now apply this question to how you treat yourself)

2. When someone (including you) makes a mistake or doesn’t get something right the first (or second or third) time do you encourage them or give up on them?

3. Do you look for the proverbial silver lining when times are tough or do you only imagine the storm on the horizon?

It is difficult (perhaps impossible) to be joyful when we are constantly being critical of ourselves or others.

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Think for a moment about someone whom you consider to be joyful. What kinds of words do you hear them using? What kind of outlook do they have on life?

Joy-filled people use more positive words than negative. They encourage others and choose to see the positive in the midst of the negative.

It seems trite and almost too easy. Unfortunately the reality is that for most of us it isn’t easy at all.

Just as changing habits to make our physical bodies healthier requires adjustments to our diet and activity levels, changing our minds to eliminate negative thoughts requires adjustments to our thinking and approach to each day – even each hour.

You’ve likely heard the phrase “garbage in, garbage out”. If your mind is filled with garbage thoughts – negative and demeaning thoughts – you allow those thoughts to steal your joy.

While some people may have more of a bend towards having a positive outlook it can become a learned behavior. And just as with any habit, making small consistent changes eventually brings a new way of life.

Give it a try today. When you find yourself thinking negative thoughts make a choice to find something positive in the midst of it. Don’t allow yourself to feed the negative thoughts, but put them into perspective. If you really can’t find something positive about the situation, turn your mind to thinking about something else.

See if you begin to find more joy in life, even when life is hard and not so joyful.

Joy is what happens

Blessings and peace as you find joy in today…and each day to come.
Paula

 

Joy In January?

We’ve just come through “The Most Wonderful Time of The Year”. It is a time when we sing of “Joy To The World” and “Love and joy come to you…” It seems people are more cheerful and joy is not hard to find. It is a very special time of year.

Then comes…banner_januaryIn my part of the United States that means cold. And snow. And gray. When the calendar flips to January my mind and emotions seem to flip a switch from the joy of the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year holidays to the dread of weeks – no, months of cold and snow and gray, drab days.

I’m sounding like a real downer aren’t I?

Unfortunately that’s what happens to me when January comes around. And I don’t like it.

This year I wonder, “could there be joy in January?”

Is it possible to find true joy in the midst of the dreary days? I don’t mean just a feeling of happiness but true, deep-down, a bad day can’t rob me of joy! I am determined to find it.

My first idea was to consider what robs us of joy. I mean, if we seem to have it other times of the year and then ‘lose’ it something(s) must be getting in the way, right? Here are some things I have discovered in my own life that rob me of it joy:

1. Attitude/Mental Focus – I believe we have a choice about what we allow to impact our day. Choosing to be positive does make a difference in how we emerge from a situation, even when it’s not ideal. At the risk of sounding like a Pollyanna, what we allow to stick around in our heads and hearts will determine the direction we go. Consider this:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8

The truth is we will be presented with challenges. We are not always going to be happy about them or welcome them into our day. That is the reality of life. The key is what we choose to concentrate on when we walk away from those challenges. If we allow negative comments or minor mistakes to get under our skin and overwhelm our thoughts we will begin to see even the good things though cloudy glasses.

I came to this conclusion on my drive home from an especially chaotic and negative day at work. I found myself reviewing segments of the day over and over in my head and with each segment reliving the frustrations, emotions and chaos. I began to pray as I drove and God revealed to me that I needed to let go. Each of the situations I was reliving was over. It didn’t matter if a patient was nasty to me on the phone or the entire office was feeling overwhelmed and negative. These isolated incidents were frustrating but they were just that – incidents. They were not an on-going challenge to be solved or problem to be reconciled. I could choose to allow them to impact my attitude or choose to let go and focus on more positive things.

Choosing to dwell on past negativity will cause us to carry those emotions into the future and rob us of joy.

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2. Physical Factors – Working in an orthopaedic office I have learned much about how in injury or pain in one area of our bodies affects other areas as well. God created our bodies intricately and designed each part to work together…physical, mental and spiritual. When physical factors in our body are out of whack so to speak it can impact other areas, stealing our joy. Here are three that I’ve noticed impacting my joy:

  • Sleep – we all know how a lack of sleep impacts our immune system and our ability to function properly but until recently I didn’t realize how much it impacts my mood. Our brains become foggy when we don’t get adequate sleep and our emotions are more sensitive. Here are links to a couple of studies you can check out:
    Harvard Universityhttp://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/mood
    Psychology Todayhttp://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/between-you-and-me/201308/all-night-the-effects-sleep-loss-mood
    This is an area I still struggle with. Finding balance between activity and turning the world and my thoughts off in order to get enough rest can be a challenge for me. Reminding myself how it impacts my outlook on life and my search for joy is helping.
  • Water – In my quest to become physically healthier I have learned health experts encourage us to drink enough water. As I pay more attention to water I realize how much it feeds my brain and how well I think. There are studies on this as well:Men’s Healthhttp://www.menshealth.com/health/fastest-way-improve-mood
    WebMDhttp://www.webmd.com/women/news/20120120/even-mild-dehydration-may-cause-emotional-physical-problems

    I’m not suggesting water will solve our problems or automatically inject our lives with joy but staying well hydrated may clear our heads enough to find more joy all around us instead of having to wade through a foggy head.

  • Exercise – This is the hardest time of year for me to get exercise in. Morning is my favorite time to exercise and it’s cold in the house in the mornings. It’s a challenge to get up and change my clothes to get in a work-out to start my day. But when I do, my day starts right! Of course there are studies on this as well, telling how our endorphins (body’s natural opiates, designed to relieve stress and enhance pleasure) clear our heads and improve our mood.WebMd – http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression
    While morning is the best time for me it may not be the best time for you and I don’t think the time of day matters. It seems that exercising any time of the day will make a difference not only to our physical health but to our moods as well.

    I am not a medical professional and depend on doctors and medical studies to teach me more about how  my body, mind and emotions work together. But here I share with you my experiences and give you some things to consider to clear your head, making room for more joy.

3.  Outward vs. Inward Focus – The more time I spend inside my home the more I risk my focus turning inward as well. In the winter I struggle with not wanting to venture out into the cold for activities, therefore spending less time face-to-face with people, enjoying their company and serving others. I find my thoughts turn inward as well, usually on things that are negative about my life, body, etc. etc.

This is an area I have to be careful of and must make sure I’m not becoming a hermit once January hits. With the internet communities available there can be more personal interaction than 5 or 10 years ago but sitting in front of the computer can cause less desirable influences as well.

For me it is important to force myself to balance activities outside my home with those inside my home. When I am inside balancing ways to focus on others with cuddling up with a blanket, book and hot cocoa is vital. Making gifts for others helps me focus on them instead of myself. Spending time praying for others, writing a note (sending through snail mail or e-mail) to encourage or cheer another are a couple other ways I can turn my focus outward when I am feeling stuck inside.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to share with you more about what I am discovering about joy in my life. Hopefully it will inspire you to find more joy in January – and throughout the year!

blessings, peace, and JOY to you!
Paula

Dream A Little Dream

Happy New Year!

Usually for me the start of a new year is all about goals.

It’s about figuring out what I believe I can accomplish, writing it down, and making a plan to see it through to completion.

Sounds easy and straightforward doesn’t it?

Some years I accomplish my goals and some years end with goals not reached. Most years see some progress, but honestly at the end of the year there’s a little emptiness. Sure I can be proud of what I’ve accomplished but there’s a little something missing.

Every year I’m afraid to dream.

Goals are good. They are important. When they are S.M.A.R.T. goals we can see a great deal of success.
Check out this previous post for more on S.M.A.R.T. goals.
https://pauladavispeace.com/2014/01/18/are-your-goals-s-m-a-r-t/

But  sometimes there’s a dream in our heart that we’re afraid to utter — even to ourselves. We can’t pin it down enough to turn it into a goal. And perhaps it will take a little help from others and a dose of faith to see the dream become a reality.

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I have a couple of those. I can give you reason after reason why they stay buried and why they will never come true.

  • What if my dream is too big?
  • What if my dream is too big and I’m disappointed?
  • What if others think my dream is crazy?
  • What if I’m too old?

These are things that hold me back.

The last few months I’ve been thinking more and more about my dreams, and separating a true, deep desire from a hobby or something I’d be interested in trying. Sometimes being busy with little projects can distract us from going after that big dream – the desire of our heart.

One very cool thing is that God wants us to have desires and when the desires/dreams of our hearts are in line with what He wants for us God assures us they will come true.

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

When the Lord plants a dream in us He will see it through to fulfillment. I believe at the same time it requires a few things from us:

  1. Spending more time in God’s word, building our faith.
    We can’t know if the desires we have deep inside us are from God unless we spend time with Him. When we spend time studying God’s word and being quiet before Him we can be sure He will confirm the desires that are from Him and show us those that are not. He will build our faith as we know Him better.


     Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
                                                                                                           Hebrews 10:23


  2. Setting aside fear
    When thoughts of fear and insecurities come to mind we need to stop thinking them. I know it’s not as easy as it sounds but it is vital to our faith-building! Make an effort to be aware of how you’re thinking and choose a ‘faith phrase’ to use to replace the negative.


    For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
    1 Timothy 1:6-7


  3. Take the first step
    Ask God to show you one thing you can do to start chasing that dream in a concrete way. Then DO IT!! It may take years for the dream to be completely fulfilled, but it can’t be fulfilled at all if we don’t get started.


    Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

    Philippians 3:13-14


God does have big plans for each of our lives. As the days of this new year turn into weeks and months we are likely to get caught up in day-to-day activities that threaten to blur our dreams, so make a reminder for yourself. Write it down and/or find pictures that represent the dream. Put these reminders where you will see them regularly and keep it fresh throughout the year. I believe when 2015 comes to a close we will see ourselves closer to seeing our dreams become reality. It really is what God desires for us.

I wish for each of you joy, peace and prosperity throughout 2015. And I pray you will be unafraid – beginning today – to go after the dreams God has planted within you. You’re never too old – or too young to accomplish His desires for you.

And now I’m going to take my own advice!

blessings and peace to you…
Paula

Magnificat

This morning I will be singing the Magnificat in church. It’s also known as Mary’s Song found in Luke 1: 46-55.

As I reflect on the lyrics of the song I can’t help but wonder at the precious state of Mary’s heart and desire that for myself.

Magnificat

It is remarkable to me that this young woman whose life had just been turned upside down would have an attitude of praise and openness to whatever God willed in her life. She was facing several months of people not understanding what was going on in her life and inside her body. Certainly some would not believe that she was still pure and the child growing within her was from the Holy Spirit – a gift, not a shame.

In spite of whatever Mary’s external circumstances were her heart was filled with joy and gratitude. We don’t see Mary taking credit for being good enough to be the mother of Jesus but rather a humble spirit and wonder that Her Lord would choose her for His remarkable plan. And she gave all the glory to Him.

Here is a link to one of the most beautiful renditions I have heard of this song.

Practicing to sing this song brings to mind that I also have much for which to glorify the Lord. He has also looked on me with kindness and mercy and has done great things for me. Too often I forget to give Him the glory for who I am and who He is creating me to be.

I also have been reflecting on whether or not I allow God to put His Spirit inside me to use me as He desires. Am I open as Mary was to carry out His plan for me or do I drag my feet, ignore His voice or shrink back from fear?

How about you?

God’s plans for us are not always grandiose but they are always important. Whether it’s taking the time to listen to someone who needs to talk, lending a hand to someone as they carry packages or drop a note in the mail or e-mail letting someone know you are thinking of them and praying for them, each can make a difference and may be just the touch from God someone needed.

And like Mary, God may have something bigger planned for your life. Are you open to Him using you to lead others to Christ, to go to the mission field, lead a bible study or write a book? Don’t let your opinion of yourself and your abilities hinder what the Lord desires to do through you.

My greatest desire this morning is to keep the attitude of Mary’s Song in my heart and carry it in my spirit not only throughout today but each day of the coming year.

“For He has looked with mercy on my lowliness.”

“And Holy…Holy…Holy is His Name.”

 

He’s Alive!!

“He is not here;

He has risen, just as He said…”

Matthew 28:6a

 

Sabbath was over and the women just had one thing on their minds. They must prepare Jesus’ body for a proper burial. They left quietly as the men had finally fallen asleep after hours of discussion, debate and devastating sadness over the loss of their leader and friend. The women were also mourning but right now they had to set their grief aside for this important task.

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They left before dawn carrying spices and discussing how they would gain access to the body. A huge stone had been rolled in front of the entrance and sealed with the Roman seal. Even if they could get past the stone, breaking that seal would mean certain death for the women.

As dawn broke and they reached the tomb they stopped in amazement. The tomb stood wide open, seal broken and stone rolled away. Frightened and concerned that someone had taken Jesus’ body the women rushed ahead and found an astonishing sight inside the tomb.

Jesus body was gone!

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Before the women could process the thought they noticed there was someone there.

Two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them the men said to them, Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee:  ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’      Luke 24:4-8

 

Then they remembered his words.

And they believed!!

The women didn’t stop to ask questions or wonder where Jesus was. They ran back, woke the men and told them the good news!!

Jesus is Alive!!

Jesus is Alive!!

The men followed the women back to the tomb and saw for themselves that Jesus’ body was gone, but the cloths He had been wrapped in for burial remained.

Their sadness turned to wonder and hope that Jesus was truly alive!

I pray that this Easter you will find Jesus in your heart. I pray you will know the hope of His gift for us on the cross and allow Him to bring you the joy of His resurrection every day of the year.

blessings and peace to you. He is Risen!!
Paula

Christmas Kindness Challenge

The Christmas season is here!

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Lights and decorations are going up on homes and businesses. Cities and towns are festively decked as trees are lit and lightposts adorned. Here in Central New York snow blankets the ground. For most it is a time of wonder and anticipation. There is a magic in the air as people seem more willing to believe in the goodness of others and the possibility of miracles.

Unfortunately for some the excitement and anticipation is laced with sadness. They may be dreading the coming days. In retail shops this season brings longer hours and less time for family. Some are alone or struggling to make ends meet and Christmastime reminds them of their solitude and what they are lacking. Celebrations are sometimes laced with sadness and regret.

In our merriment and preparations it can be easy to look inside, focus on our little circle of family and friends and overlook others.

So this year I’m issuing a Christmas Kindness Challenge to myself and anyone else who will accept.

Every day from now until Christmas I will post a challenge on my author Facebook page. (you can “like” it here: https://www.facebook.com/pauladavispeace ) Most of the challenges require little or no money, but help us to think of others differently perhaps. Here’s the first challenge:

CKC Day 1

This is the time of year we celebrate the gift God gave us when His son Jesus came to earth to take away our sins and create a way for us to join Him in Heaven some day. We can give the gift of kindness to a friend or even a stranger each day.

Join me, won’t you?

Feel free to share this with others as well. Let’s make kindness contagious this Christmas!

Blessings and peace…
Paula