Devoted to Positive Steps

As we continue our journey through the first month of a new year I thought we’d continue to look at some ways we can do better, be better and make this year better.

Prayer: one of the interesting things about prayer is that there are so many ways that it can be done, that it shouldn’t feel stressful or like a responsibility. Yes, it’s good to sit and do traditional prayers like are done in church, but you can also take a minute to pray before/during/after different parts of your day, and you can also keep up a running conversation with God (it doesn’t have to be this formal thing). The important thing to remember is to do it, to do it by yourslef, to do it in a group, and to do it regularly. It’s not just an expression of faith, it’s your time to talk with God, which is an incredible gift.

Pay Attention: there are lots of things that demand our attention these days, and some of us have taken to seeing the world as though we’re wearing blinders. All of us have opinions, beliefs and experiences that color how we see and interact with the world, and we’re also usually preoccupied by what’s going on in our lives. In many respects the reason the world looks the way it does to you is because of what you choose to see. The challenge for each of us is to take off those blinders and let ourselves be exposed to and open to experiencing other parts of the world. Are you open to seeing what God would show you, or stuck seeing just what you can’t ignore?

Give Thanks: one of the most powerful tools we’ve got in our lives is our ability to be thankful. Regularly expressing our thanks, showing appreciation and finding things to be thankful for can all improve your attitude, make you feel better and make you more likable and personable too. If you’re struggling with being thankful, try just walking outside your door and finding something to be thankful for. Maybe it’s the fact that snow’s not brown usually or that the sun is out or we’re one more day closer to spring or for the evergreen tree that reminds you of happy Christmas memories or the cute bunny prints in the snow. Sure, you could talk about all the not-so-great stuff and you could just see the cool/cold winter world outside your door, but why would you spend a lot of time thinking about that when you could thing on the positive?

So today I encourage you to pick one, or all of these, and commit to working on them in your life this week. Spending more time in prayer, being more open and aware and giving thanks more often can all have a really positive impact on your life, and your faith.

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Colossians 4:2

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Grateful the Day After

Thanksgiving has passed, the turkey is carved, stuffing and pies have been eaten and you’ve possibly (probably) moved on quickly to grabbing those great Black Friday deals and decorating for the holidays. Are you still thinking about what you’re thankful for or have you moved on to celebrating Christmas? There’s nothing wrong with celebrating Christmas or Hanukkah, but I’m not a fan of how quickly we always move on after a holiday. Whether it’s passing the turkey dinner leftovers off to your guests so you don’t have to eat it, or turning off the holiday music at 12:01 am the day after Christmas, it seems like we only have buildup and not any real time to appreciate.

Why are we willing to celebrate up to the holiday and not after? Is it because we have such a focus on the future and moving forward with our lives? I’d argue against that being the reason, or at least the only reason, because there are too many people who are stuck in or trapped by the past and can’t move forward. I do understand the excitement of looking to the future and what’s coming up like Valentine’s Day and summer. But for some things the moment they’re here isn’t really long enough.

I’d like Thanksgiving and Christmas to stick around a little longer than we let them because both represent and encourage values, practices and emotions that we don’t tap into as much or at all during the rest of the year. Some people do have a daily thanksgiving practice, but what about Christmas? What about that joy, peace, and goodwill to all mankind? I don’t think the days or weeks we spend in anticipation are really the same thing as the experience we have on the day of Christmas or Thanksgiving, or bringing that forward into what happens next in our lives.

So my encouragement to you today would be to work on tapping into that feeling of thanks and blessing that you experienced on Thanksgiving and bring it forward with you into December. Take time to appreciate the blessings in your life and the people who have blessed you over the past year, and choose love and peace whenever possible.

Thankful for Success

We have so much we can be thankful for in our lives! As we celebrate Thanksgiving in the US today I’m making my list of things I’m thankful for. And as I type those words and think about this blog post and other work I have to do, I’m reminded that it’s important to be thankful for success, and how thankful I am for the different successes in my life that I’ve experienced. Yes, we’ve talked about celebrating our victories, but that’s a little different. As much as giving thanks is a celebration, there’s also often a lot of humility involved as well.

Giving thanks for our successes means being honest about how difficult it was, seeing the failures and close calls for what they were, and feeling the relief that you’ve accomplished as much as you have. You can certainly share words of gratitude during your victory celebration or success party, but it’s not usually shared from a bragging perspective, but rather with a distinct down-to-earth feel.

As you take the time to reflect on your successes, the way this year has gone, and your dreams for the future, I encourage you to make time to be humble, grateful and honest about it all. Recognize what has gone right, create time to fix what went wrong and needs to be better in the future, get the support you need, and thank those who have played a crucial role in your success, whether they knew it or not.  What or who are you thankful for?

I Choose Gratitude

Sometimes the topic of being thankful comes up when we’re talking about lives that are cut short by tragedies or from people who are facing terminal illnesses. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact it’s great to finish out your days being thankful rather than being bitter about the wrench life has thrown at you. But for the rest of us who are fortunate enough not to know that our lives are ending soon, we sometimes forget to be thankful more than on Thanksgiving Day. So I thought I would share a bit of wisdom on the topic of being thankful for today, and encourage you to take just a few moments to read it slowly and really take in all that is being said.  Maybe Scott’s words will encourage you to be more thankful on a daily basis in your life.

“Today, I choose not to take my life for granted.

I choose not to look upon the fact that I am healthy, have food in my refrigerator and have clean water to drink as givens. They are not givens for so many people in our world. The fact that I am safe and (relatively) sane are not givens. That I was born into a family who loves me and into a country not ravaged by war are not givens. It is impossible to name all of the circumstances in my life I’ve taken for granted. All of the basic needs I’ve had met, all of the friendships and job opportunities and financial blessings and the list, truly, is endless. The fact that I am breathing is a miracle, one I too rarely stop to appreciate.

I’m stopping, right now, to be grateful for everything I am and everything I’ve been given. I’m stopping, right now, to be grateful for every pleasure and every pain that has contributed to the me who sits here and writes these words.

I am thankful for my life. This moment is a blessing. Each breath a gift. That I’ve been able to take so much for granted is a gift, too. But it’s not how I want to live—not when gratitude is an option, not when wonder and awe are choices.

I choose gratitude. I choose wonder. I choose awe. I choose everything that suggests I’m opening myself to the miraculous reality of simply being alive for one moment more.”
Scott Stabile

Giving Thanks For Today’s Victories

As we think about Thanksgiving less than 2 weeks away I was reflecting on a Thanksgiving devotional I’m receiving and it reminded me that sometimes we give thanks even when the battle isn’t over yet. Take a look at a passage from Genesis about Miriam and Moses and the Israelites from right after the Red Sea crossing.

“Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord: “I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; He has hurled both horse and rider into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song; He has given me victory. This is my God, and I will praise Him— my father’s God, and I will exalt Him!”” Exodus 15: 1-2

For Moses, Miriam and the Israelites their journey was just beginning. They just left Egypt after the 10 plagues (and being slaves for many years), and got away from Pharaoh’s army who drowned thanks to God in the Red Sea, both of which are excellent reasons to celebrate. But what many weren’t thinking about in that moment was exactly what would come next: where do they go? What do they do? Now that they’re free, what next? This was just the beginning of their journey, and yes, they had reason to celebrate, but there’s so much more to go.

The thing about victories is that very rarely do they happen in one fell swoop and that’s it. In most cases victories are earned step by step, for example you lose weight by not buying the cookies at the store this month, cutting down on the ice cream next month, and buying more fruits and vegetables each month. There’s no rule book that says victories have to be earned all at once, in fact, it’s better to earn them a little at a time, and to celebrate them as you go along. Yes, you should celebrate when you lose a lot of weight, but you should also celebrate when you lose those first 10 pounds and keep them off.  If you’ve been struggling with your relationship, yes, you should celebrate when you really resolve years of issues with your partner, but you should also celebrate when you get through a week without yelling at each other.

Giving thanks isn’t just something we do on Thanksgiving or when we reach the Promised Land, it should be something we do each and every day. Giving thanks and celebrating the little victories help the challenges we each face become a little more manageable. They make it a little easier to get up each day, knowing that yesterday had at least one redeeming quality to it (whatever thing you found to be thankful about that day, even if it was just that the bread wasn’t moldy and you could make lunch for the kids).

So what step in your journey are you thankful for today?

Thankful for Christmas

I have to admit that I’ve been thinking about Christmas and am eagerly looking forward to Thanksgiving and the coming deluge of all things Christmas. And while I know it’s a little early what I’m thankful for today is Christmas, of both the religious and secular persuasions.

Christmas for Christians is the hope that many generations longed for, and the hope that reminds us each year that this life is not the end. Christmas, and the birth of Jesus, are a reminder each year that God hasn’t forgotten us, hasn’t given up on us and believes our lives have value. And just like baby Jesus came here with a purpose, each of us have a purpose too. We may not be born knowing that purpose like Jesus was, but we have a purpose all the same. In a world that has so many problems and challenges, to be reminded of the hope of Christmas each year, and be given the opportunity to celebrate life and birth each year is something I’m thankful for.

Christmas from a secular perspective is one of good will to all man kind. Whether you know him as Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick, Sinterklaas, Father Christmas, Santa or something else, he’s the the man who visits every house around the world and leaves presents for good boys and girls. It doesn’t matter to him whether you’re rich or poor or the color of your skin or what culture you belong to, just that you’re good. He is a reminder of how important it is to care for others, for everyone else that we share this world with. His actions are a reminder to each of us to share and care just like he does. Yes, the idea is to leave cookies and milk (and maybe some reindeer treats) for him, and that’s our way of letting him know he’s appreciated.

Just like Christmas is about giving to each other and forgiveness is a two way street, so is being thankful. Yes, you can be thankful for somewhat indistinct things like being alive, but more often than not we’re thankful for people, things and actions, all of which involve someone else, whether it’s a person or God. Your giving thanks means that someone else is recognized, and everyone wants to be recognized for the good things they do and ways they help others or make a positive impact on the world. This week I would encourage you to do a little early Christmas gift giving and give someone the gift of your thanks.

It Feels Good to be Thankful

As I mentioned on Wednesday, Fridays this month we’ll be talking about the topic of being thankful. Have you ever thought about why it feels so good when we’re thankful? One reason I think is because we’re surrounded on all sides by the news, challenges, struggles and issues, and these things just seem to compile day after day. When we’re able to be thankful it’s a reprieve from the not-so-happy things we face in our lives and in our world, it’s like the moment the sun breaks through after days of clouds and rain.

So what if we were to work on being thankful more often? What if we started appreciating life more and started helping others more rather than complaining about things and feeling trapped by circumstances? I think our lives would be better and so would the lives of others, even if for no other reason than having a positive attitude, feeling good about ourselves or knowing that we’re not forgotten or ignored.

So how can you give more thanks in your life? There are some people who make it a daily activity to write in a journal the things they’re thankful for each day. Some people use thankful concepts in their mantras. Others work on being more aware of their surroundings and give thanks for things they see and experience in their day. But one of the simplest things I think anyone can do is remember to say “thank you” to others, and for those who are thanked to say “you’re welcome” or “thank you” rather than “no problem” or “yup.” Don’t brush off their thanks, accept it and let them know that you appreciate being recognized. And if you’re feeling the weight of the world when you lay down at night, instead of going over and over those issues, think about at least one thing you’re truly thankful for from the past 24 hours.

What are you thankful for today?