The J O U R N E Y. Part One.

Let’s face it. Life is a messy thing. There is no manual titled The One Way to Do Life Right. Oh, how I wish there was! I am at a different spot in life than many of my friends, relatives, and coworkers. I’m at a completely different spot in life than I was just six months ago. Sometimes I feel frustrated. Sometimes I feel joy. Sometimes I feel like a conqueror. Other times I feel as if life is kicking me in the backside.

Have you been there, too?

It was in a discussion I was having just this past weekend that it dawned on me. . .

Life is a J O U R N E Y. 

Part One. Reflection of the Journey.

Life is a J O U R N E Y. Each life represents a unique journey. There are no duplicate journeys, but there are similar ones. There are certain stops along the journey, but there are no required or marked pathways from one stop to the next.

Sometimes our journey feels like a road-trip or vacation. It’s “smooth sailing” for a day, a week, and – if we are a lucky – a year! Other times, though, our journey seems like a never-ending expedition past places we did not intend or ever wish to go.

You see, where I started my journey is simply not the same as the start of your journey. We were each born into a different home, a different family. Our journeys have been shaped by different people and past experiences.

We have each observed and felt happiness, acceptance, and freedom. We, too, have experienced loss, rejection, and heartache. But, the memories I tie to each of these emotions are completely different than the ones you tie them to.

As I take a little time to glance back on the different spots I have visited on my journey, my heart is full of a bittersweet emotions. There were some painful, dark valleys I trekked through. Some caves, even. Losing my best friend to an early death, being confronted with the rough edges of my personality, losing friendships — those legs of the journey were tough. I never want to go back, of course. But, I must realize the stronger person that I am because of those hard days on the journey.

I then remember those magnificent mountaintops that were waiting on the other side of the valleys of grief, fear, and pain. Those spots were filled with wonder and awe. Learning to love, finding my passion of teaching, and experiencing self-confidence and beauty — just to name a few.

Along the journey we are confronted with so many voices, telling us what college to attend, what career path to choose, who to date, who to stay away from, how we look, how we need to improve, etc. We have been bombarded with the desire to measure up to all these voices but the frustration of never seeming able to.

No one can tell you how you feel, no one can tell you what career fits you best, and no one can decide for you if you if you really like the person you’re dating.

YOU, my friend, have to experience YOUR journey for YOURSELF. No, you don’t have to go at life solo. That’s not what I am saying. But, I do firmly believe that life sometimes consists of trial and error.

You’ve got to be yourself. You’ve got to make your own decisions. You’ve got to fail every once in awhile. You’ve got to feel frustration and have determination in order to feel celebration.

There is no “one” path you can choose in life. The J O U R N E Y of life is a combination of pathways that wind and combine together to make a journey uniquely yours. Sometimes life throws storms and challenges your way. These make you divert down a pathway different from what you would have originally chosen.

Sometimes life throws surprises and situations your way that warrant you to make a decision that will alter your journey in life. This alteration is unexpected. But, on the other end of that decision that changed your pathway in life, you KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt that you made the right choice. Your life is different – but better!

I can’t explain it, really. When I was a teenager, looking forward college and “adult” life, you better believe I had life all planned out. My life looks a thousand times different than those “plans” I had made. Nothing has quite turned out like I thought it would or even wanted it to back then. Am I ever thankful for that! You know why? My life is a thousand times better than I could have imagined it would be! A  J O U R N E Y. That’s what life is.

In the famous words of Robert Frost:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Don’t be afraid to make a decision between two paths. Don’t be afraid to get five years down the road and realize that life didn’t pan out quite like you thought it would. Don’t burden yourself by expectations that weren’t met.

Embrace your J O U R N E Y. Yours is special. Yours is unique. Yours is controlled by you – no one else.

I encourage each of us to take some time to reflect on our journey. Let’s relive the memories. Let’s deal with the emotions. Let’s laugh at the good times, grow from the bad times, and let go of the bitter times. Let’s make the decisions we’ve been holding out on. Let’s release the fear of the “what ifs.” Let’s believe that things happen for a reason. Let’s look forward to what is yet to come. And – most importantly – let’s not forget to hold onto the hand of the Almighty Father who says, “I will in no wise fail thee, neither will I…forsake thee.” (Heb. 13:5 ASV)

(Watch for: The J O U R N E Y. Part two. >> Hitting the blog soon!)

Photo by Vlad Bagacian on Unsplash

Seven ways to make your listening skills better.

Listening is a skill many of us need to brush up on. Myself included. Just this week, I was confronted with the criticism that sometimes I don’t put as much effort into listening to those around me as I should.

Ouch. That hurt.

However, the more I look into that criticism, I realize that it was definitely of the constructive type. Remember that blog post from last week? Well, it’s time for me to practice what I preach. I’ve evaluated. And, I see listening skills that need some work. Are my listening skills better than they were 3 years ago? You bet. That doesn’t mean they are perfect, though.

Building authentic relationships won’t happen if we don’t take the time to listen to those we care about.

I decided a blog post to keep myself accountable was in order. And, I’m taking a venture that I’m not the only one who needs to work on listening skills. . .

  1. Pick up on the hint & shut up.

    Social cues, people. Especially to those extroverted people like myself. We like to hear ourselves speak. We enjoy being in charge of a conversation. However, we should stop talking long enough to notice that other humans use the English language, too. Ok? We should be aware enough of what’s going on to know when our spouse, friend, coworker, or acquaintance needs to share something with us. It might be something small – a quick idea or a passing thought. Yet, it might be something deep and profound, and the speaker has chosen you (or me) to be the one they speak to. Own up to their expectation of you. You are the one they need to listen to them. Right there. Right then. Stop talking. Let other people carry the conversation sometimes. Let other people give their opinions. Give other people enough time to share their thoughts, too. Be aware. Shut your mouth.

  2. Make eye contact.

    When someone is talking to you, make eye contact. Not in an awkward way, of course. Just simply shift your attention to the person speaking. This affirms the speaker, showing that what they have to say is important to you. This seems like something small, but I know how annoyed I get when I’m trying to share an opinion and the person I’m talking to drifts off into outer-space or sinks into the abyss of the computer screen sitting in front of them. Don’t do that to people. Be better than that.

  3. Put aside all distractions.

    Earnest Hemingway put it like this: “When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” Give the person talking to you the respect they deserve. We live in such a demanding and distracting time. There’s always someone to text, a call to make, a social media account to keep up with, or something to accomplish. Life isn’t about things, though. It’s about people. Pay attention when those people have something to say to you. Shut your phone off, clear your head, and focus.

  4. Get rid of pre-conceived notions or ideas.

    Whenever someone starts sharing, our mind usually starts racing. In fact, sometimes my mind is racing about the situation BEFORE the person starts sharing about it. Ooops! Let’s face it. . .  We are all opinionated people. We draw conclusions from one side of the story before we hear the other. We see the wrong in others’ lives before we see our own. We have 10 good solutions to someone else’s problem. Back up. Stop. Erase your notions, ideas, opinions, and solutions out of your head. Give the person talking the decency to solicit an unbiased opinion from you. Listen closely for their feelings, side of the story, opinions, etc.

  5. Gauge the emotional pulse.

    The emotional state of the speaker will determine your response. If they seem troubled, a blunt answer might not be best. If they seem broken, a hug might be in order. If they seem insecure, some sincere compliments might be the appropriate reply. Tune in. Pick up on the signals. Be kind. Saying the right thing at the wrong time could very possibly be the wrong thing to do.

  6. Don’t give advice unless it’s asked for.

    Yikes. That’s hard. I like to fix problems. Give my opinions. Offer solutions. Sometimes, though, that’s just not what’s needed. If they ask, fire away. If they don’t, wait patiently. You and I both know how irritating it is to get advice you did NOT want.

  7. Silence is acceptable.

    Pretty self-explanatory, I think. You can care for your family and friends by simply letting them know that you are there for them.  Cheer them on – pray for them – send them a card or a gift. Don’t overdo the talking – talking’s overrated.

I hope these seven ways challenge you like they are currently challenging me. I want to love those around me and deepen my friendships by brushing up on my listening skills – talking less and caring more. 

 

Photo by kyle smith on Unsplash

No happiness leaks.

Happiness is a fleeting state, or so it seems.

One minute incandescently happy – the next annoyed at everyone around. I mean, really. . . Who hasn’t been there at least a time or two?

Sometimes it’s the tiniest detail that can ruin a good day. Other times it’s worrying about minor issues that pop up out of nowhere. Perhaps it’s a self-made to-do list of optional or wishful thinking items that’s become too much to handle.

Whatever the triggers are — I’m plain fed up with them. Done. Over.

I’m tired of letting small things or unmet, wishful expectations or random, dumpy situations get in the way and – frankly – create opportunities for my happiness to leak out.

Sometimes it’s our perspective that is just whacked — for lack of a better term. We overthink, We overreact. . . We get in our own heads.

We react wrongly – for the most part. I firmly believe that the way we react to situations determines the rate of happiness leakage in our lives. Do we CHOOSE focus on the positives? Do we downplay the negatives? Do we deal with things and just move on? Do we expect too much from those around us? Do we ever stop thinking about OURSELVES?

Seriously, friends. We are selfish. Every. Single. One. Of. Us. We want more than we need, we ask for more than we should, we complain more than we compliment, and we sigh more than we smile.

In fact – (personal confession) – two days ago, I had a “lightbulb” moment. God let me see that sometimes I’m the one who creates holes for happiness to seep out of my own life.

Don’t get me wrong here – I’m newly married to the man of my dreams, working an incredible job, and now involved in a new ministry alongside my husband. Life is good, and I’m blessed abundantly. I have no complaints that are substantial. However, instead of enjoying and cherishing the moments, more often than not I feel that I need to meet the next goal, check the next item off my list, compare my wardrobe with the newest fashion, or plan my next vacation. When did I get so self-absorbed without realizing it? My focus is out of balance.

Instead of creating an environment for unhappiness or discontentment to sneak in and happiness to leak out. . . I want to establish a new trend that focuses on thankfulness, positive self-talk, and proper balance.

Yes, I can be disappointed the day didn’t go as planned, but that gives me no excuse to treat those around me worse or project my feelings of frustration on to them.

Yes, I can listen to the problems of friends and family and offer advice, but I shouldn’t make those problems my own and let them zap my emotional energy. (And – P.S. – I definitely shouldn’t gossip about those problems and build myself up off of another person’s insecurities or baggage.)

Yes, I can expect those around me to treat me with respect, but I shouldn’t expect those people to be perfect – because they are human, too, and are in need of as much grace as I am.

Yes, I can be frustrated that minor problems or miscommunications come about, but I shouldn’t blow my minor problems out of proportion and discredit those friends and family members who are facing much bigger troubles.

And the list could go on and on. . .

 

I challenge you! Take a moment or two and look at your own life. . . are there happiness leaks that need fixed? Is there a focus that needs balanced? Is there a grateful attitude that needs cultivated?

 

A Practical Application: In order to work on this new, balanced focus. . . One of my friends suggested that us Bible Study ladies keep each other accountable for a gratefulness check EVERY DAY. For the next week or so, my two friends and I are texting each other just one thing we are thankful for each day, and there can be no repeats. We do this in the morning – before work. I have personally noticed a change in my attitude going into the work day. I’m spending time praying and thanking God for so many things on my (long) drive to work, and I notice the day starting a little bit brighter. What practical applications can you start that will help your focus start to balance? (Comment or message to let me know!)

 

Side note: I’m not trying to be harsh. I’m not downplaying the struggles we all face. We have frustrations, problems, and disappointments. We have sick family members and friends. I’m not saying you’ll always be “happy.” I’m simply saying – don’t let happiness sneak out because of a dumpy outlook on life.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Local Adventure: Jacobs’ Family Orchard

Lifestyle – Travel/Adventure:
My desire is to have a versatile blog – having a little bit of everything for everybody. In this endeavor, I will branch into posting about visits to certain attractions, cities, states, restaurants, etc. This will consist of reviews, pictures, things-to-do, prices, tips, and the like. Some posts, like today’s, will highlight LOCAL businesses, too!

What better way to celebrate the first day of fall than a date with hub to the orchard? (Checking off those Fall Wish List items!)

Image 9-22-18 at 4.11 PM (1)

From the savory apple cider donuts and slushies to browsing their shop of delicious local produce and preserves, Jacobs’ Family Orchard was a hit!

What Jacobs’ Family Orchard offers:

  • Family friendly atmosphere
    • Small petting zoo
    • Large play area/playground (more “rustic” – full of rubber pipes, hay bales, etc.)
    • Tractor/Hay Rides
  • Fresh produce
    • Pumpkins (in a patch)
    • Apples
    • Vegetables
  • Featured Items
    • Preserves
      • Jams/Jellies
      • Specialty Butters
    • Salsas
    • Popcorn
    • Honey
      • This honey is locally made, which is said to help those who have bad allergies! We are excited to give it a try!
    • Sweets
      • Cookies
      • Carmel Apples
      • Candies
  • Specialty Treats
    • Apple Cider donuts (melt in your mouth)
    • Apple Cider slushies (Say, what!?)

If you are ever in Henry County, you must stop by! I love supporting LOCAL businesses! Check out their website: (https://www.jacobsfamilyorchard.com/)

Photo creds: Yours truly

Take the first step.

Sometimes, it is just about taking the first step. The step of obedience. The step of trust. The step of faith.

Joshua 3:13-17:

13 And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests that bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of Jordan, that the waters of Jordan shall be cut off from the waters that come down from above; and they shall stand upon an heap.

14 And it came to pass, when the people removed from their tents, to pass over Jordan, and the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people;

15 and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest),

16 That the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap very far from the city Adam, that is beside Zaretan: and those that came down toward the sea of the plain, even the salt sea, failed, and were cut off: and the people passed over right against Jericho.

17 And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clean over Jordan.

Background:

Moses chose Joshua to replace him as the leader of the Israelites after he passed away. As Joshua faced this new door of opportunity and leadership, God assured him of the following: “Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). What a promise! Now, after wandering in the wilderness for forty years, God’s people were ready to follow Joshua into the Promised Land. They were ready to conquer in the name of the LORD. They were ready to see and retrieve the wonderful land that God had promised to give them.

Point 1: Consecrate your life

First things first, though, they were commanded to purify themselves. According to the commentary in my Life Application Study Bible, “The consecration ceremony pictured the importance of approaching God with a pure heart.”

Application:

What about you? Have you consecrated or given your life completely to Christ’s control? Are you bearing Christ’s name wherever you go? Have you obeyed God before you take the next step, before you expect Him to answer your prayers or give you a blessing? Are you walking in all the light God has shown you (1 John 1:7) before you claim the promise in Romans 8:28 that “ALL things work together for good to those who LOVE God”? You can’t live for yourself and expect to reap the benefits of being God’s child.

Point 2: Listen to God’s voice

Next, Joshua commanded the people to – before commencing battle – come together and listen to what God had to say (Joshua 3:9).

Application:

When was the last time you TOOK the time to stop and listen to what God has to say to you before you rushed into a decision, gave an opinion, etc.? According to my Bible’s commentary, “Before making your schedule, take time to focus on what God wants from ALL your activities.” Wow! God should rule and reign in your daily choices and activities.

Point 3: Take the first step

Then, God gave His people “specific instructions” (Joshua 3:13) on how they were supposed to start their journey to overtaking their enemies, which happened to be crossing over the Jordan River, currently in flooding season. The priests who were carrying the ark of the covenant were supposed to STEP into the water. When their soles – bottoms of their feet – NOT just tiptoes – were in the water — then, and ONLY then, would God perform His miracle. He was going to PART the huge Jordan river. Say, what?! Yes, for the second time in their history, God was showing His people who was boss. He controls the winds, the waves, and even the weather… Everything!

Application:

What difficult task has God ordered you to do? What step has God commanded you to take? What situation is facing you that has you shaking in your boots? Sometimes it is just about taking the first step. Surrender your life to God’s control. Choose serving God over everyone and anything else. Read the Bible. Listen to what God has to say to you, and then. . . OBEY. Do whatever God wants you to do. It might be something simple. It might be something complex. Either way, you MUST take that first step. If the priests had decided they were going to stand on the bank of the Jordan River until God parted the waters, they would STILL be standing there. They had to step into the raging river before God performed the miracle – before He stopped the waters. It might seem foggy in your life right now. That first step might be incredibly scary. HOWEVER – don’t let that stop you! Don’t “tiptoe” into what God tells you to do – plunge into the river. Trust that God is with you. Obey quickly and fully. Then, the waters will be part, the skies will become clear, and the presence of God will surround you.

The first step is the hardest. If you never take it, though, you’ll never know what miracles God was going to perform in your life. Take that first step of faith.

Resources:

Life Application Study Bible, New American Standard Bible – Updated Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.

Photo by Artem Bali on Unsplash

It’s OK.

Let’s be real. The road of life is full of twists and turns, foggy curves, confusing signs, and too many bumps and potholes to count. It’s not all bad, but sometimes it surely feels like it! So many people are going through life – day in and day out – carrying so much baggage. They don’t want to fall apart or admit they are in need of support.

I’m here to let you know that it’s OK, my friend. 

It’s OK to ask for help. Look, you ain’t perfect, honey. You can’t “know” what you haven’t learned. It’s just not possible. There are people that are better than you at certain things. Get that advice. Pursue growth. Don’t wallow in frustration when you could own understanding. I’ve been there too many times to count. Humble yourself. Become a better person. Just ask!

It’s OK for someone to constructively criticize you. If this hasn’t happened to you, sooner or later it will. Accept the criticism. Step back from the situation. Evaluate what was said. Compare the person’s criticism with your life. Adjust accordingly and if needed. Thank the person for their concern and apologize if appropriate or necessary. Grow. Change. Endeavor not to let that area be criticized again. Repeat if needed. [Side note: Not all constructive criticism warrants an apology or adjustment. In fact, some constructive criticism is simply off-base and the person misunderstood. Take that into account. I have found, however, that most times I have been confronted with constructive criticism, I came face to face with the truth, resulting in (sometimes painful) growth.]

It’s OK to not have it altogether. No one’s life is “Insta-Worthy” 24/7. It’s alright if your clothes aren’t always (or ever) ironed. It’s acceptable if you don’t feel like cooking dinner every night. I don’t know about you, but I usually tend to be harsh on myself. I am learning not to beat myself up about not always having my i‘s dotted or my t‘s crossed. Do your best and leave the rest up to the One who is bigger than yourself.

It’s OK if your feelings get hurt. You’re human, ok? People aren’t always nice, kind, considerate, loving, helpful, or understanding. Let yourself process the emotions that come your way, but don’t you dare let negative emotions control you. Deal with them, but don’t be afraid to feel them.

It’s OK if sometimes the closest people to you don’t understand you. To be quite frank, no one is EVER gonna “get” you 100% of the time… not even your Mom, your spouse/significant other, or your best friend. But, I know of a Friend that sticks closer than a brother or sister, and that’s Jesus Christ (Proverbs 18:24). When others don’t understand, rest in the fact that you are (like the lyrics of Tauren Wells’ song) “fully known and loved” by the Creator of the universe! (Link to song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6T28lsTPwc)

It’s OK if you don’t want to give anymore. Some days I come home from work completely spent. I have given and coached and taught and tutored and adjusted according to a crazy schedule – from start to finish. I just don’t feel like doing or giving anymore. That’s normal. You’re not a superhero. Don’t ever stop giving love and grace. Take care of what you need to. However, you should never forget to take time for YOURSELF. Regroup. Recharge. Find a hobby. (For me, Saturday is my “unofficial” Recharge Day… I do some things I “have” to, but I do my best to accomplish at least one thing I have wanted to do, perhaps even something off my seasonal wish list!)

It’s OK if you need to take a break. Take a minute. We were only meant to handle so much at one time. Breath in; breath out. Sit down. Take a walk. Eat a snack. Brush your teeth (my go-to stress reliever in college). Call someone. Check the Bible app for the Verse of the Day. Make a list. Deal with one thing at a time.

It’s OK if you need to cry it out. Sometimes keeping it in is the worst thing you can do. Hurt is just real life. It comes. It happens. Embrace it, learn from it, and move on.

It’s OK to be yourself. In a world where “acceptance” is supposedly on the rise, there is actually more judgement and division than ever before. Don’t let that stop you from being who God created you to be. If you’re a little louder or taller or bigger or shorter than the person next to you, don’t sweat it. Be confident in yourself, your personality, and your purpose. Don’t let anyone dim your light or put you down. You deserve better than that. (P.S. This is not an excuse to be obnoxious and overwhelming just because that’s “who you are” – Be tactful, alright? — i.e. How loud I am when I’m with my best friends is 10x louder than I am when in a group of strangers.)

It’s OK to move on. Sometimes life leaves us no option. We outgrow places, people, friends, relationships, feelings, stages, grudges, and so on. Don’t let toxic people, places, or circumstances run your life. Don’t hate — compensate. Find some new friends. Visit new places. Look for a new job. Let go of the grudge. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Move. On.

I hope these ten different pieces of “OK” advice encourage you. Don’t give up the fight. You’ve got this!

(Photo creds: Unsplash.com)

Truths for your Monday blues.

  1. God’s strength is made perfect in your weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
  2. If you are a child of God, all things in your life – no matter how impossible they seem – are working together for GOOD. (Romans 8:28)
  3. When you just don’t know how to pray or what to say, the Spirit is making intercession to the Father for you. (Romans 8:26)
  4. God promises His peace. Perfect peace. Claim it! (John 14:27; Isaiah 26:3)
  5. The God of the Universe – the One who controls the Angel Armies (Hosts) – is on YOUR side! (Psalm 46:7)
  6. Your enemies are nothing compared to your big God. God’s got you! (Psalm 18:2-3)
  7. God’s love and compassion for you lasts forever. (Psalm 136)
  8. Don’t let the devil hold your past sins over your head. As far as the sky stretches from east to west – that’s how FAR God has removed your sins from you! (Psalm 103:12)
  9. If you have accepted Christ as your Savior, your mansion in heaven is being prepared for you… right now! Jesus is going to come back and get you to spend forever with him! (John 14:1-3)
  10. You serve the living God.. the Alpha and Omega – the Beginning and the End. Read the back of the Book – God wins! (Revelation 22:13)

(Photo creds: unsplash.com)