Lessons from 2014

We’ve reached the end of another year. Today’s the last day of 2015. I can’t believe it’s already been 365 days since we started this year and now we’re just about to step into a new one. It’s scary and exhilarating all in one. I wanted to finish the year today with where I started the year, Galatians 5:22-23:

“The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”

This year we’ve looked at these fruit and forgiveness, compassion, and thankfulness as well. I’ve learned a lot this year, and if you’re on my newsletters you read a couple things I learned already. But the lesson I wanted to share with you today was one of faith and trust. I have a long way to go on both of those things, probably a lifetime, but this year I learned that I should trust myself, that I should believe in myself, and how important it is to surround yourself with people you believe in and trust.

We’ve seen a lot of upheaval and unrest around the world from missing or downed airliners to people rioting and fighting, the world is an unsettled and confusing place and it’s hard to find the line between right and wrong sometimes. But Galatians 5 reminds us of 9 things that are right and will always be right. Love is always the answer. Peace is beyond all our understanding. Kindness can do what words can’t. Self-control can transform the world. Joy is such a treasure. And there isn’t a price you can put on forgiveness.

It’s hard to know what’s real and what’s not, but we can look to these foundational principles and find some guidance to how we should live our lives. 2015 will bring some new things, shake up some old and reinforce others. What has 2014 been for you and what will 2015 be for you, what will you make of it?

Hope for 2015

One of the things I love about God is that He’s big on second chances, new opportunities and new lives.  It feels like some days we just make mistake after mistake, and if they’re not complete failures, they’re little things that bug us that we could have done better or fixed easily and yet we didn’t notice or didn’t try. I’ve probably said it before but I could spend days on listing my faults, and take a lot longer to come up with a list of good things, simply because we’re so used to thinking in the negative and not the positive.

But it’s something I’ve worked on over the years and have learned to give more attention to the positive and less to the negative, with a lot of effort put into avoiding or letting go of things that would depress me or drag me down so that they’re not as distracting and I have more time to focus on the positive.

If you’ve struggled through 2014 you’re probably relieved that it’s almost over. If it’s been a good year you’ve got fond memories to look back upon. But being that He is a God of second chances, I know He would rather us look towards 2015 with hope and anticipation rather than fear and dread. If you start off the year assuming it will be bad you’re setting yourself up to be miserable and discounting whatever miracles God wants to work in your life and the joy He wants to bring you. Will you join me in anticipating 2015?

“But those who die in the Lord will live; their bodies will rise again! Those who sleep in the earth will rise up and sing for joy! For your life-giving light will fall like dew on your people in the place of the dead!” Isaiah 26:19

Free To Celebrate

On Monday I shared a few thoughts about fear and the role it played in the Christmas story. It’s appropriate that the Christmas story started with challenges and fears because that’s often how it goes in our lives. We face challenges on a daily basis and have to choose our response, usually fear, joy, panic or hope, just like they chose their responses back in the Christmas story.  We often start with one emotional response to the event and end with another, which is good news for us.  It means that even if your initial response was fear, like many of those in the Christmas story, there’s hope for your story to end on a high note too.  Today, with Christmas just a few hours away I want to go back to our topic for the month, joy.

The Christmas story is one that just like any story has highs and lows, moments of panic and tears of joy.  It’s a story we can get immersed in, and many of us can imagine ourselves as the main characters.  The Christmas story, like our lives, is a story of transformation.  Where the story begins is almost never where the story ends.  It’s an important lesson for us to learn in our lives, and one that gives many of us hope that our pasts don’t have to crush our futures.

As you gather with family and friends over the next few days I encourage you to open your heart and mind to joy and the possibility of transformation.  No, everyone isn’t willing to transform and do the work and face the hardships that often come along with the transformations that many went through in the Christmas story, but I never give up hope that people can see the light of living life in a way that isn’t about crushing anyone and everyone in their path but rather living life in a way that lifts each other up and gives hope to those struggling to get from fear and pain to joy.  Merry Christmas.

From Fear to Joy

We’re just a few days away from Christmas. With a few flurries in the air yesterday, and more lights going up in and on houses, it’s really helping to set the mood and raise the excitement level. I don’t know about you but I’m ready for all that Christmas means and brings. With this last Monday before Christmas I wanted to talk about an emotion that we don’t want to associate with the Christmas story but it’s there throughout: fear. It’s almost the opposite of our topic for this month, joy, but it’s one that is everywhere in the Christmas Story. From fear of not speaking to fear of becoming pregnant to fear of traveling to fear of no room to fear of giving birth to fear of angels, from the beginning there is fear.

But what we tend to forget or ignore when it comes to the topic of fear is that when the fear is over, something so much better usually replaces it. For the people of the Christmas story they all experienced joy, from births of babies to the gift of angel songs, their fear was transformed into joy.

The choice we have is what we’ll do when we experience fear. Mary could have refused and let her fear win, Joseph could have caved under the pressure, the shepherds could have stayed on the hills in fear, the Wisemen could have let Herod win. It’s very easy to let fear win. What’s hard is making the right decision to work through the fear and stay the course. What will your choice be this Christmas?

“That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” Luke 2:8-11

The Secret is Happiness

One of the reasons my partner and I have a successful relationship is because I love when he’s happy, and he loves when I’m happy, so we do our best to make each other happy and support each other in things that make us happy, because one’s happiness makes the other happy. I know I have needs and I know he has needs and the ability to recognize and accept those needs is part of what helps us work together so well. It sounds really simple and it is and it’s worked for us for many years, but like other things it does take work. It’s the secret to success for many relationships even if they don’t realize it.

So how can you find happiness this holiday season? Simple: make someone else happy.

If you’ve ever watched a child tear into a gift you got them you can probably remember their excitement over the gift, especially if it was something they really wanted or something that is all the rage and they can’t believe they got. Their happiness and joy over the gift you got them made you happy that you took the time and made the effort to get it for them.

But you don’t even have to spend lots on gifts this holiday season to make people happy. One of the simplest and best things you can do is let them know that you appreciate what they contribute to the world. We’re surrounded by people who constantly tear down others and look for ways to exploit faults and succeed while others fail. Telling someone that you appreciate their attention to detail, the way they have with words, their ability to calm children, or whatever is special about them means the world to most people. Who doesn’t like to have their best qualities not only noticed but appreciated? When you’re celebrating their abilities you’re not just making them happy through whatever influence you have, you’re recognizing their power and ability to be happy and make a contribution to the world.

So who will you make happy this holiday season? Will it be the underpaid and overworked secretary? Your husband/boyfriend/partner/wife/lover that you have neglected recently? Your kids that you don’t give enough quality attention to? Or will it be someone you randomly meet? Let’s share happiness.

“Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though it were his own.”  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The Gift of Happiness

The holidays are here with Christmas lists, lots of gift-giving, and spreading good cheer around. It’s a time when we all share presents because it’s the neighborly thing to do; it’s a way of letting those in our lives know that we appreciate them and are thankful for their presence.

For many of us the holidays are about memories, good and bad.  We remember the fun times we had opening up presents, especially the memorable ones, and we may even remember when we were told or found out that Santa didn’t drop off the presents.  We remember times that we spent with family and friends laughing, playing, maybe even getting into a snowball fight.  For many the holidays are one of the few times that happiness is present in our families that we can remember.  It’s something we treasure as adults and want to share with our kids too.

As adults we know the realities and challenges of this world and we use the December holidays to give our kids and ourselves a little break from all of the stress. True, sometimes our habits create more stress for the rest of the year, but with just a little effort on our parts we can make the holidays memorable and not as stressful in the next few months.

I was fortunate to receive a lot of great gifts growing up, but that’s not what I remember most about the holidays.  No, I remember the music on the radio, the trips to my grandparents, decorating the tree with the same ornaments each year, and the Christmas movies.  Celebrating the holidays can feel like you have big expectations to live up to, but take it from someone who’s been a kid, sometimes all you want and need are the happy memories.

The best present you can give anyone this year is the gift of happiness. With as much suffering in the world as their is, choose to enjoy the time you do have together and the blessings you have. Choose happiness.

“The greatest gift we give to someone who loves us is simply to be happy.” Robert Brault

Together for Christmas

We’re just a few short weeks away from Christmas and the celebration of Jesus’ birth again. Today I wanted to share about a story from later in Jesus ministry, when He was an adult: the story of Zacchaeus. If you remember the story in Luke 19, Jesus is walking along and gathers the usual crowd of people wanting to see him, short Zacchaeus can’t see over the crowd, climbs a tree and Jesus finds him there and asks to come over and hang out at Zacchaeus’s house, which really annoys people because Zacchaeus is a tax collector and they weren’t well liked back then (or now for that matter). Zacchaeus ends up giving much of his wealth away because of Jesus’ gesture and willingness to be with him even though he was probably not the “best” of men.

But the thing about the story that I wanted to talk about this week was the order of the story: Jesus met and talked with Zacchaeus and told him He wanted to have dinner before Zacchaeus made the decision to go straight and not be a bad person (assuming he was). We assume that Jesus was willing to be with Zacchaeus regardless of whether or not he was willing to turn his life around, disregarding the whole All-Knowing God aspect of things of course. Jesus didn’t care about Zacchaeus’s past, He only cared about the future.

One of the things that always amazes me about Jesus was how forward thinking He was. Yes, He knew the scriptures that were written before He came to earth, including those that predicted His arrival. But Jesus wasn’t concerned with what they said or how people had interpreted them for the most part, He was focused on a few core teachings: love, acceptance, forgiveness, and hope. These core teachings totally threw the spiritual world of His time into turmoil and his time on earth totally changed the future for everyone.

As we think about the holidays, and the Christmas celebration, it’s really a story of acceptance, of bringing together people of different walks of life to celebrate being alive, having a future and the gift of being alive. It’s not a time for judging, denial or hatred, but a time of healing and celebration of each other, differences and all.  What will you choose to accept this Christmas?