Live life looking forward

I watched a futurist TV program recently and in it the characters could play back their memories through a chip in their brain. The memories could be projected onto a screen so they could watch alone or with others. They could rewind, zoom in and watch again and again. At first this is revolutionary technology, to be able to rewatch and relive wonderful memories of getting married, of having children, amazing holidays and parties. But instead each of the characters replays failed job interviews, arguments and mistakes, picking apart every subtle movement and every word, trying to figure out what went wrong and still each person would have a different opinion of the experience depending on their perspective.

It might seem like just sci fi and unrealistic but in reality that is exactly what we do when we look back. Have you every re-lived an experience through your thoughts, going over every word you said or did not say, or each response you received back, trying to mind read what others thought of you?

We can get stuck looking back, instead of looking forward.

Most often when we look into the past and dwell there, we are looking at the negative experiences we have had. Looking back at past mistakes and failures and reliving those experiences again and again. It gives us a distorted view and also creates false memories. If you are only running the same experiences looking for the mistakes, you start to believe that your interpretation of events is the actual truth of what happened. The more you think about it, the more important and true the event becomes to your brain. For example, you may have gone to a party and met someone new at that party. That person had just finished a funny conversation with someone else and laughed as they were introduced to you. Because of the timing of that laugh, you interpret it as they were laughing at you. You play that over in your mind again and again looking for the reason or reliving the embarrassment, creating an answer in your mind and now your only memory of the party is negative. But in fact except for that moment, the rest of the party was great but as you only focus on that experience and relentlessly tell yourself he was laughing at you, it becomes your memory.

Always looking back, in a misguided opinion that you can fix or change something is pointless, only ending up in frustration and insecurity. In the present wonderful opportunities and incredible experiences are right in front of you, but looking behind you, you will miss them.

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:13-15

Practical tips to looking forward

  • Be alert to present opportunities and new blessings – pay attention to what is on your plate now. You have enough to do today, don’t lose time and energy thinking about yesterday. There is work for us to do today, lets put all our effort into that.
  • When stuck, take baby steps. If the present scares you and the past seems more familiar and safe, take baby steps into your future. We can get stuck in the past, even though it was not good because it is what we know, we know the outcome. It is like watching a rerun of a old movie, you know what is going to happen and you know the main character will make it to the end. But watching a new movie is uncertain and unknown, you don’t know what will happen next. Life is uncertain, there is risk just being alive, but there is also happiness, joy and fulfillment ahead. You don’t need to take huge leaps and jumps into the unknown, you just need to take little baby steps.
  • Don’t believe everything you think or remember. Your thoughts and feelings can not always be trusted. They are our interpretations of the world based on our knowledge and experiences, the same is true for memories. Be wise about what you choose to focus on. If you are unsure get some guidance from a trained professional. They will help you work through the truth and the distortions in a safe and compassionate environment.

Not so Merry Christmas

Coping with grief at the holidays


As the end of the year approaches, everywhere we turn someone is wishing us a Merry Christmas or a Happy New Year. Well wishers encourage us to be happy, but sometimes Christmas is not so merry. Christmas can be incredibly painful when you are grieving.

In the season that celebrates love and family, the sense of loss and grief can feel strong and raw. Whether the loss was weeks ago, or months or even years ago, grief can hit hard at Christmas.

Grief is a very normal and healthy response to a loss. It is the emotions you feel when you lose someone or something important to you. We can grieve for many different reasons, including the death of someone we love, divorce or the breakdown in a relationship, or being diagnosed with a serious illness or changes in the health of those we care about, or the loss of a job or a business.

Grief can feel isolating and people around us might not understand what we are feeling. But we don’t need to put on a brave face, it is ok to feel sad, for tears to flow, to honour the person or honour what we have lost.

Grief is a normal reaction to loss, it is not a sign of weakness or lack of faith but the price of love. 

Tips for surviving Christmas

Embrace the meaning of Christmas when you are grieving

Christmas is the recognition of the birth of Jesus and Jesus is the hope for the world. That is true no matter how we feel. God understands our grief and will be our comforter. Focus on the reason for Christmas.The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Sometimes you need to change the traditions

Do things a little different this year, maybe it would be easier to not do certain things that trigger your grief or maybe just do less this year to help manage your stress levels. Your world has changed so Christmas does not need to be the same as last year.

Add a new tradition which honours your loss and celebrates the memories. Light a candle, donate to a charity that is significant to you or make a special meal or visit a place you love. Make a new tradition that remembers.

Plan ahead for what you might not be able to handle

Something will be harder than other things, some people will be more challenging to be around. Make a plan for how to deal with possible difficult situations that might arise and make a plan of how you will deal with that ahead of time.

Take care of yourself

Exhaustion and stress do not help when dealing with grief. Take care of your physical body, get extra sleep, eat well, rest, limit alcohol, lower your expectations and set boundaries when you need to. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself grace, forgiveness and patience.

Let yourself grieve

Grief is normal process and it is healthy to move along the process. Let yourself feel your grief. Tears are ok. Having sad moments is ok.

It’s okay to feel good

Grief will come and go and it is ok to have happy times also. Grieving is not feeling bad all the time and if you smile or have a good day that is ok, is not a reflection on how little the loss or the person meant to you. You can be happy or laugh while grieving, it is ok and you don’t need to feel guilty about enjoying those moments.

Need someone to talk to?

Choose a few trusted people to confide in when you are struggling. Sometimes just letting someone know you need a hug or a break can make all the difference.

Christmas can be a difficult time. Jesus, who Christmas is all about came to heal our broken hearts and set us free. Open your heart to Jesus and let him comfort and heal your wounds.

 

“The darker the night, the brighter the stars, The deeper the grief, the closer is God!”

― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment

Lockdown Learning

One of the most effective habits for personal growth I have acquired over the last few years is in every situation, I reflect and think ‘What did I learn from this.’

There is always a lesson in every situation. Not just what was good or not so good, but what did I learn and what was God showing me in this situation?

Now as New Zealand is starting to open up again, we are getting more and more freedoms and opportunities to return to ‘normal’ life. I am reflecting and asking myself some tough questions;

What did I learn over the lockdown?

What will I do differently going forward?

What do I want ‘normal’ life to be?

Here are 3 things I have learnt this lockdown…

Kindness is sometimes keeping your mouth shut. There have been a number of times I have been in discussions with people who have very different view points than me and it can be frustrating. But I have learnt that it is more important to be kind than right. No one has ever changed their mind through an argument but with kindness and gentleness if you are willing to listen, the other person will also be more willing to listen too.

Rest is a necessity not an optional add-on. I started lockdown with a few health issues, due to working too much and not taking care of myself. Lockdown gave me the opportunity to rest and recover and I found time to go for walks as enjoyment, not just trying squeeze exercise into my schedule. Lockdown forced me to slow down and gave me space to think about how I spend my time outside of lockdown. What is important to me? What is God calling me to do? What do I want to do more of and what can I let go off? What activities am I going to continue to do going forward?

Opportunities are everywhere. I have seen God work in lockdown. He is not limited to our physical world and he can still achieve his purposes. I have had great conversations with people all over the world, hearing the amazing things God is doing around the globe. I have personally seen God move in my work and offer me new exciting opportunities. Once I stopped letting myself be frustrated and disappointed about all the things I could not do or afraid of what the future may hold, God presented me with new opportunities. The future might look slightly different, but God will not stopped. It just might not look like it did before or how we expect it to but we do not need to be afraid of the change because God is still in control.

As New Zealand starts to open up, now is the time to reflect back over the last few months and consider these questions..

What did I learn?

What do I want to continue to do going forward?

What am I going to do differently?

You can’t please them all

Do you struggle to say NO?

Do you avoid conflict and pretend to agree with others?

Do you ignore your own calling, because you are scared of what people will say?

If so you might be a People Pleaser. But what is so wrong with wanting others to be happy?

A people pleaser is someone who tries very hard to make others happy. They will often go out of their way to please someone, even if it means taking their own valuable time or resources away. It sounds like a good thing to care about people and want to help them, but when people pleasing comes from a place of pain and low self esteem it can result in feelings of overwhelm, stress and resentment.

People pleasing is often motivated by a need for approval and to avoid rejection. The striving and work hard is not coming from a place of fullness and joy but a place of emptiness. Instead of serving from self-less love, people pleasing is serving to meet a need for personal validation. People pleasing at a deep level is striving to please ourselves through the praise of others.

The danger in our desire to please, we might overlook or put up with behaviour which not acceptable. We might get carried away with a crowd and not stand up for what we believe because we don’t want to risk rejection. We might burnout because we take on too much responsibility.

We are not called to make other people happy. We are called to LOVE people not to please people. They are very different things.

Love can be gently challenging or correct someone.

Love can be saying NO to a request because they need to learn on their own or it is not good for them or someone else deserves an opportunity.

Love can be telling the truth about your own feelings even though it might hurt someone’s feelings, but result in a deeper honest relationship.

People pleasing is about serving YOU. Love is about serving GOD.

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Galatians 1:10

You can recover from being a people pleaser

Practice listening and expressing your own thoughts and feelings, with kindness and love.

Take your decisions to God in prayer, rather than asking everyone else opinion.

Set boundaries. Respect yourself and other people, by being reasonable, honest and clear.

Encourage, respect, love and serve others. But do not compromise or bend to get their approval. You do not need it.

Not just a book

Yesterday I rearranged the bookshelf in my office.  I found that I have a number of Bibles, different sizes, ages and translations, some brand new and others with well-worn pages.  These days I am more likely to use the app on my phone than pick up a physical Bible, but looking at these beautiful Bibles I am struck by the realisation of how much I take for granted these incredible books that sit on my bookshelf.

As a new Christian I devoured the Bible for hours as a staving person devours a delicious meal.  As I have matured in faith and my need is not so urgent, it is easy to lose the hunger and the awe and wonder of the scriptures, that I had at first. 

Looking at the Bibles sitting on my bookshelf I am renewed in my appreciation of this incredible book.  I am so incredible grateful that I live in a time in history that the Bible is freely and abundantly available to me.  I am grateful that I have the ability to read, it is in a language I understand and I have the liberty to read it whenever I like.  It is a privilege to own a Bible, a privilege many people around the world do not have.

Today I challenge you to take a moment to reflect on the beautiful, complexity and creativity of the Bible.  This precious holy book which holds the story of Gods love for us.  Consider the privilege we have owning a Bible and thank God for His great gift of scripture. 

Pain Management

Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

Westley, The Princess Bride

In the iconic and well loved movie the Princess Bride there is the above quote, which I love. Westley was right. Life is full of pain, that is the cost for the human experience. It comes with grief, disappointment, anger, hurt feelings and pain – physical and emotional. We tend to think that pain is the problem in our life, but pain itself is not the problem. The problems comes because we do not want to face our pain, we want to hide from it and so we look for something to ease our pain.

There are thousands of self-help programs, people, organisations that promise to take away all our pain and they promise us that we can be always be happy, feel good and be successful. But just like Westley said, these people are always selling something.

Another way we avoid pain is through mood altering substances or behaviours – alcohol, drugs, smoking, sex, sugar, Netflix, exercise. There are so many things we can use to change the chemical balances in our bodies artificially or naturally, to make ourselves feel better. As a recovering addict I know how attractive it can be to dull the pain for a moment. But those things only ever do the job for a moment and the pain returns.

By making ourselves feel better and using temporary avoidance of pain, we do ourselves a disservice. Because…

Where the pain is, is where you find growth.

Where the pain is, lies an opportunity to get closer to God

Where the pain is, we identify the truth about ourselves.

God never promised we would not suffer pain, in fact in many parts of the Bible we are told to expect suffering, persecution and pain. But God had a plan for us. Not in the comfort of people selling us a false dream or in activities that dull our pain but in faith and trust as we journey through our pain and into healing.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

Isaiah 43:2

God tells us to expect suffering and pain, but also promises to comfort us, strengthen us, protect us, care for us and love us as we walk through the pain. Let yourself feel the pain, sit with it and process it and reap the benefits of walking out the other side. On the other side of pain is perseverance, strength, wisdom and truth.

Waiting for the phone

Imagine these two pictures…

The first is a headmasters/principal’s office, big desk, big chair, angry man behind the desk looking all stern, super busy with loads to do and annoyed at being interrupted and having to deal with you. This is how we can see God at times, as an authority figure disapproving and too busy with running the universe and dealing with the worlds ‘real’ problems to want to deal with us and our little problems.

But then imagine a picture of the old type of phone with a cord attached to the wall, do you remember those type of phones? By the phone is an excited teenager waiting for a special phone call.  I remembering being a teenage girl, having an old phone like that and desperately waiting for a phone call from a friend. I would sit by the phone all night, just trying to make it ring with my mind power. I would be worried about leaving to go to the toilet or to get food, in case it rang and I did not get back in time (no leaving messages back then). Every now and then I would pick up the receiver to check the dial tone, to make sure it was still working, then hang it up carefully so it was properly in place. 

These 2 contrasting pictures shows us to different ideas of God. But God is not like the grumpy old man, he is more like the teenager excited and desperately waiting for us to call Him.  He is waiting for us to pick up the phone, to call to tell him about our dreams, our hopes, our fears, our struggles and to ask Him about the plans he has for us. 

A phone call is a two-way communication. And God is waiting eagerly for us and is eagerly waiting to talk to us and share with us His plans.  In the old days the phones where connected to a wall so you had to just stand there and talk to the person on the other end, totally focused on the conversation. Now days we walk and we chat and do the dishes, watch Tv, send emails or whatever, the person on the other end does not have our full attention. But God wants a old fashioned phone call from us.

God has some really exciting and important things to share with each of us but we need to pick up the phone.

Can I challenge you to not only expect to hear from God but be open and willing to listen. Be prepared to hear something that we might not expect or be comfortable with.  Gods plan maybe something you don’t want to do or something you never thought of doing or something so far outside your comfort zone it terrifies you.  And that is GOOD, growth happens in the space beyond what we know and it is time to explore that.  Gods plans are for our good, to prosper us and not to harm us, for our future and to give us Hope.

Gods plans are not to leave us where we are, it is always about growth, moving ahead and becoming more and more like Jesus.

Lets create space to hear from God where we are listening with expectation and with an open heart to hear HIS plans without filtering them through what we want to hear or through our own plans. Let God tell you HIS plan for your future.

The 3am Wake Up

God loves to talk to me at 3am. I will be fast asleep then suddenly I am awake, wide awake. God is there with something for me to hear.  It has happening to me so many times I have now learnt it is best to listen.  So now when I am woken at 3am I am expecting to hear something from God.

I have had most of my big life revelations at 3am. Most of my book ideas or speeches are planned with God at 3am.  This is the time when I am most likely to hear from God and hear His plans for me.  So why 3am? 

From the moment I wake up I am running around ‘doing’ things and even when I do pray and read my bible or do church activities, I can be just checking of another item off the to do list. They are good habits to have, but at times I can perform them but not really engaged in the activity. I am doing the action but not fully tuned in.  When I read and pray it is easy to rush off to the next thing and not stay silent or still long enough for God to speak back to me.  The noises and the activity of my life can be distractions and barriers to hear from God. So when God wants to tell me something important and have my undivided attention He calls at 3am and at 3am there is no Netflix or kids or emails to distract my attention, it is just God and me.

Maybe you can relate?

But when you need answers from God or you want to know Gods plans, we don’t want to rely on 3am wake ups. The answer is to create those 3am moments at other times in the day.   Creating 3am type moments throughout your day, when God has your attention and you are connected, and you are listening.   Being open for God to speak to you through all your activities and PAYING ATTENTION.

God speaks in so many different ways. We can hear from God through the Bible, song lyrics, a chat with a friend when they say the thing you really needed to hear, in prayer, listening to a speaker or in quiet moments of reflection and in journaling or writing.  For each of us finding that space to hear from God is going to look different.

Be intentional in creating quiet moments in your day with your ears open and expectant.

When you cannot sleep at night, have you ever thought maybe it’s God saying “We need to talk and you now have time”.

Annoymous

Being busy is not the problem

Being busy is not the same as being stressed. You can be very busy and not stressed or conversely you can be very stressed but not that busy. Stress is not related to how much you have on your plate but how you deal with it.

I am a very busy person. I love being busy and having many projects on the go at the same time.  I used to run on stress, feeling like I was always overwhelmed and under pressure and I was making myself sick from it. But I have now learnt that there is a difference between being busy and being stressed. It is possible to very busy and NOT stressed. It is not how much you are doing but how you deal with what you are doing. Now I do more than I did before but have significantly less stress in my life.

Stress comes from feeling like you have no control and can not cope.  When you feel like your life is running away from you and you are chasing it, running as fast as you can but you are out of breathe and always behind, never catching up. Stress from unmanageable and unrealistic work loads or expectations or the responsibilities placed on your shoulders that you carry alone and struggle under the weight. Situations that are uncertain or unfamiliar can cause stress too. So how do you regain control of your life?

Firstly realise that no matter the situation, personal or in your work, you have choices. You might not have full control over a situation and you can not control what other people do but you always have control over yourself.  You have control over your expectations, your words, your attitude, your thoughts and feelings, your behaviour, what you will accept and put up with, when you say yes and when you say no, your schedule and your priorities.  It might not feel like you do, but in reality you have so much more choice that you realise.  Stop telling yourself how stressed and overwhelmed you are, instead fill your mind with positive, empowering and encouraging words. Exercise your control, make healthy choices.

Secondly where do you get your strength from?  Are you trying to do everything under your own strength?  Jesus said

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus has already offered the solution for stress and worry. The exchange Jesus offers is incredible, he will carry your burdens, so you can live light.  It does not mean there will not be work to do, you might even be called to do more, but Jesus will carry the weight of it and will provide peace and joy when you work under Jesus. I know that when I work under the strength and guidance of Jesus, my stress and anxiety are lifted and I can cope with far more than my natural abilities and capabilities allow.

Thirdly, what practical things can you do?

  • Prayer is the antidote to stress. In prayer, you hand over your burdens, release the things you can not control and ask God to guide you in the areas where you have choices. So many times I have been feeling stressed about a problem I can not find the answer too and then remember to take it to God in prayer and immediately the answer pops into my head or I get a call or email with the solution. God cares about our worries and wants to help, we just need to seek Him.

  • Ask for help. We are not designed to do life alone and we can not cope by ourselves. We need each other and we need to ask for help. Do not be a martyr and struggle through alone, bring people into your life and let them work with you. It is not failure to need help or to ask for help, we all do at times. Today you need help and tomorrow you help someone else. In community we can achieve so much more than alone.

  • Lists, I love lists. Whatever is running through your head and overwhelming you, write it down. Get it out of your head and on to paper so you arrange your day, plan your time and your priorities. Be intentional in spending time on what it important to you. Take control of your time and take control of your life.

I Would Love to, But … I Can’t Do That

Extract from ‘I would love to, but…’ by Staci McLean

… I don’t know how to do that.

… I could never be brave enough to do that.

… I don’t have the skills to do that.

… I don’t even know where to start.

Excuse or Obstacle?

At intermediate school, I had a teacher who taught aerobics at the Christchurch Les Mills Gym in the evenings. One day at school, she ran a competition and the kids who did the best in the task would go on a field trip with her after school to the gym to attend a Les Mills aerobics class. I don’t remember what the particular assignment was, but I was determined to win. A friend and I did win, and we got to go on the trip. The gym it was exciting, with loud music pumping through the sound system and everyone wearing the brightly coloured lycra workout clothing that was popular in the 80s.

The exercise class was high energy, dancing around with the music. I watched the instructors with amazement. They looked like they were having so much fun, as though they enjoyed teaching the class.

I remember thinking I would love to do that when I grew up, but I could never do that. It seemed so far out of my experience. I had never been to a gym before. I was twelve years old and self-conscious, my developing body scared me. Anyway, I didn’t look like those instructors, so I thought it wasn’t an option for me. I put the dream aside.

The ‘I can’t do that’ statement covers so many versions of the same excuse.

  • I don’t know how to do it.
  • I have no talent.
  • I’ll have to start at the beginning.
  • If I’m not going to be the best at the start, then why bother starting at all?

It is overwhelming to start something new and there will be things to learn.

The Brutal Truth

You say, ‘I can’t do that’, but the truth is you can’t do it at this present moment. Just because you can’t do something at this time doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to do it.

Who came out of their mother’s womb able to do anything?

Everything we do in our lives we had to learn, step by step. You learned to walk, to talk, to tie your shoelaces. You are reading this book, so you had to learn to do that. Then you learned how to do your job. So why, as adults, do we think we should automatically know how to do something?

I’m sure that we fell when we started learning to walk—I know my children did. But we didn’t stop learning to walk. Our parents didn’t say, ‘Look, he fell down. He’s no good at walking. He obviously can’t walk, so let’s stop teaching. He can just crawl everywhere for the rest of his life’.

Or, if you’re starting a new job, they don’t expect you to know all the systems and processes of your new company on the first day (well, they shouldn’t!). No, there is (or should be) an induction or training programme to teach you how to do the job.

When I was training for a marathon, people often said to me, ‘I’d love to do a fun run, but I can’t even run to the end of the street’. That is the most a ridiculous excuse. No normal person I have ever met or read about got up one day and ran five kilometres, let alone a marathon. There are probably some super athletes who could, but they are not the norm.

Every single runner started at the beginning. I didn’t decide to run a marathon one day and run the race the following week. It took years of build-up and training. When I started running, I could only run for thirty seconds. I slowly built up to running longer distances and times.

Overcoming the Obstacle

If you don’t know where to start, find someone who is already doing the thing you want to do, and ask them. Meet other people and learn from them. We live in an information-saturated world. Whatever you want to do, there will be blogs, Facebook pages, YouTube clips, support groups, organisations, books, classes, or workshops to inspire you or teach you.

When you start, accept that you’re not going to get it right the first time. You’ll need to learn as you go, and a great way to learn is through making mistakes. If you’re not making mistakes when you’re trying to learn something new, you’re probably not pushing yourself enough. Get out of your comfort zone! Making mistakes helps you learn faster and become competent quicker.

Remember my story of me as a twelve-year-old girl dreaming of being an aerobics instructor? It took a while, but I discovered Ezymovez dance fitness in my forties. I trained as an instructor and now teach my own class. Yes, it turned out I could do it after all.

All the same old insecurities I had when I was twelve were still present now, as well as quite a few new ones. There were the additional pressures of work and family, but I took it step by step, gained more confidence, and learned new skills.

As an EZYMovez dance fitness instructor I talk to students who say they don’t know what they are doing. Or I talk to would-be students who say they have two left feet and can’t do it before they even attend a class. But many of the instructors started as the nervous student hiding in the back of the class nervous, struggling to move in the right direction. It doesn’t come in just one class. It takes practice and training to get better.

You can’t do it now, but you can learn. You can grow, and you can do it eventually. If it turns out in the end that you actually can’t do it, I guarantee you will have had fun trying, and learned other skills you never knew you could learn.

No lesson in life is wasted as long as you learn something. So have a go.