Gratitude Challenge Day 4: Be Present

One of the things that impedes joy the most in our current society is our choice to not be present. There are many things that we allow to distract us from our life, from learning, growing and progressing. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of distractions in my own life is my cell phone. It has many good uses. It allows me to research interesting facts or facilitate my scripture study. It helps me stay connected with friends and family. It give me tools through social media to maintain relationships that would otherwise be lost with distance. It gives me a platform to share my witness of Christ and to spread light. But when I am not intentional in how I use it, it can easily become an escape from life. I can spend hours scrolling on Facebook, pinning on Pinterest, or get completely sucked into a game. I can get caught up in feeling sorry for myself as I compare my life to the pictures of what my friends are experiencing in their lives. I can even become frustrated and discouraged with myself as I begin to believe I am not doing as well as some of them are in my role as a wife or mother. In essence comparing my “behind the scenes to their highlight reels”, as Pastor Steve Furtick wisely put it. All of these things distract me from living the kind of life I know God wants me to live. He wants me to love my life and find joy and gratitude in it. He wants me to be focused on growing closer to Him and learning how to live more like His son. He wants my time to be spent serving others and spreading His light and love to the world. And to do that best, I need to be present. I need to be aware of my time and how I am spending it. How often have I allowed opportunities of truly connecting with another person through conversation or participation in an activity because I was distracted by my phone? These lost experiences haunt me at times. It is something I need to do much better!

Another way that we get distracted from being present that is worth mentioning is when we choose to live either in the future or in the past. Some people spend so much time working and building the future they wish to have that they do so at the sacrifice of the present. They lose the moments that are happening now because they are so focused on what they hope is coming. Far more of us, I’m afraid, miss out on the present because we are too focused on what we have left behind. In a class I was taking a few years ago a woman who had lost her husband suddenly and had grieved deeply mentioned that she had to learn to stop coveting her old life. I found that profound! How often, especially in hard times, do we spend our days thinking about and wishing we had back the happiness and contentment we remember from a past time in our lives. I know I have spent good chunks of time in my life living in a fantasy that no longer exists, so caught up in this memory that I am not engaged in my present life, focused on improvement and gratitude of my current blessings. This can cause us to sacrifice current opportunities, desires, and even relationships. I know this in not what our Father wants for us. Of course He wants us to plan for the future and He wants us to learn from our past, but He wants us to live in our present. He wants us to enjoy the life we have, appreciate the blessings that are currently ours, focus on serving and loving the people around us, and He wants us to work on discovering and pursuing our own special purpose on earth. This is where our time is best spent, living, truly living in the present!

Romans 12:

1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
Song: Love Like Jesus by Rhett Walker Band

Today’s Challenge:

Challenge Video by Oléa:

Gratitude Challenge Day 1: Intentional Appreciation

Thank you so much for joining me for our Gratitude Challenge. I’m so excited about this week! I am looking forward to sharing some things I have learned with you as well as feeling the lift that I know comes from focusing on gratitude. (Please forgive any typos I may have in these memes I created. My brain is pretty tired this morning.)

(See challenge at end of post.)

Today I want to focus on Intentional Appreciation. Our brains are such amazing things! They really do find what we are looking for, whether that is positive or negative. And if we don’t like the way we have been feeling or habits we have created our brains are capable of being retrained. We can literally change the neuropathways of our brains. These little pathways are like ruts that have been created through a field as we walk the same path over an over again. When we intentionally focus on new things, better things, we create a new pathway and eventually the old pathway will grow over and the new more positive thoughts will be as natural as the old negative ones were. So I challenge you today to be mindful of when you are thinking negatively and stop yourself in your tracks and think about something you are grateful for. Notice even the small blessings in your life, the things you typically take for granted. See if you can go the whole day without allowing a negative thought to last longer than a couple seconds before you recognize it and squash it.

Our Savior loves us so much and truly desires for us to be happy and to appreciate the many things He has blessed with. Many times in the scriptures Christ tells us to be of good cheer. I know that He desires our happiness. Not only is it something He wants for us, but we also best show our love for Him as we show gratitude for all that we have been blessed with. Neuropathways

Colossians 4:

2 Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving

Song: Gratitude by Elevation Worship

Today’s challenge:

Day 1 Challenge Video by Oléa:

Casting My Net One More Time

Casting Net

I want to share with you what I have learned about casting your net when it is so empty and you are so tired.

As I have been studying in the Gospels this year I have been amazed at how many applications I can make from the lives of the apostles to my own. This last week I was thinking about how chaotic my life has been over the last year. So many changes and so quickly, like a whirlwind. Many of them have left me feeling unstable and reeling! And yet, amidst them all I have felt the peace of my Savior. This has come in surprising ways.

It seems like when I am going through the craziest most difficult times God will ask me to do just one more thing… for Him. Like the apostle Peter, He will ask me to cast my empty net into the water one more time. In my own very human mind I will say to Him, But can’t you see that I’m in the middle of a mess right now? I am so tired and worn out. My net is so empty and I don’t know if I have the energy to cast it one more time.

But because I want to be faithful, I do it anyway. I do the one more thing… for Him. And somehow, by some miracle, this one more thing ends up being the thing that saves me, the thing that actually fills my net. This thing I did for Him, ends up being the thing that draws me closer to Him and gives me added strength and energy and renewal. This thing I did for Him ends up being such a blessing from Him to me. I am so grateful that He knows how to fill my emptiness and pushes me to do just one more thing.

Get Anchored

This morning as I was preparing to create my first podcast *eek* on overcoming the loss of hope, I had a lot of thoughts bouncing around in my head. One of my thoughts came as I acknowledged a particularly bad day yesterday. I believe our fight for hope is often fought on an almost daily basis. Even when everything else in life seems to be going fairly smoothly, we can have a day that just knocks the wind out of us. We feel inadequate, useless, and just plain lousy! I have come to recognize these feelings as an absence of hope. I believe the solution to overcoming these feelings comes down to acknowledging them for what they are. Then, when we have given ourselves adequate, but not excessive, time to experience them, we know what to do to start conquering them.

At that point we do those things that help us personally anchor in Christ. For me, that looks like getting down on my knees and crying to my God a little, or a lot depending on the need. Then asking Him to free me from those feelings, to give me the confidence in Him to know that eventually everything is going to be okay. Then I have to get up off my knees and act like I’m ready to be done with the gloom and doom feelings. I immerse myself in His word for a little feast to fill my emptiness. Then I turn on some good upbeat Christian music, because a little private karaoke session is always good for my soul. Finally, I stop isolating myself (I can’t be the only one who prefers to be miserable alone) and I call a friend. If there is no friend available at the time, writing is a close second for me. Somehow when I process those feelings I’ve been having it releases me from their grasp. When I feel securely anchored, I can feel those peaceful feelings of hope returning and I know that Christ and my relationship with Him are a prize worth fighting for!

Hebrews 6:

13 For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself,
14 Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee.
15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.
16 For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife.
17 Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath:
18 That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us:
19 Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil;
20 Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.

Song: Prize Worth Fight For by Jamie Kimmett

Inky Johnson’s loss was much greater than a day’s dark feelings. But I love how other people’s stories of overcoming loss can really help me put my own discouragement in perspective.

What can you do today to anchor more securely in Christ?

Look Up!

About a month ago my life imploded! A little dramatic maybe, but that’s how it felt. Things were going smoothly and relatively peacefully. It seems that God allows us to have those moments before it’s time for another growth spurt.

About a year ago we decided to put our house on the market. Three months later we had fixed anything that needed fixing, listed it, sold it and signed a one year lease on a rental house. Four months later my husband got a job in Tremonton (the area we were initially wanting to move to).  He was given a company car for the commute and a year to relocate to that vicinity. All of the sudden, about a month ago I started feeling a real urgency to look for our next move.  To be honest, I wanted to just bury my head in the sand and wait until the end of our lease to start looking. I did follow the prompting though and after some time looking, a lot of stressful feelings, and a little discouragement at not finding the place that felt right, the perfect option appeared out of nowhere!  We found a builder willing to carry the loan on a newly built house and we put an offer in on the lot.  This decision is extremely exciting and equally as stressful.  There is a lot of second guessing yourself and hoping you are making the right decision. There is also a lot of waiting on other people and hoping they are doing their jobs efficiently without anyway to verify.

About this same time I was struggling to make some weighty decisions with my business. I have been selling in some consignment stores for about 5 years now.  It has been hard to watch the “mom and pop” stores decline in business as internet sales have increased.  This was really effecting my sales (both declining at my booths and increasing online).  It felt like the right time to pull out of the stores, but at the same time even though they were not consistently producing, they were kind of my safety net as some months they did do well. It took a lot of faith to send my 30 day notices to these stores and hope that investing the same money in online marketing would produce needed results.  I have spent the last month going back and forth on this decision and feeling very torn.

Finally, about a month ago I was feeling a need to start pursuing my dream of publishing a book I had started and then put on the backburner. I brushed this feeling off and then was contacted three days later by a woman who was offering a course in writing, speaking, and creating a media presence.  I have wanted to do each of these things and my business has partially nudged me into these fields, but of course fear and excuses have held be back from really pursuing them.  This invitation resonated right to my core and after some intense consideration and prayer, I decided to invest in my dream.  Along with the investment of money came a very real investment of time… time for video conferences, assignments, collaborations and a whole lot of pondering!

With all these decisions and thoughts and worries heaped on my shoulders I have found myself walking around with my head drooping and wondering how I am going to do everything that is required of me.  How will I handle the waiting?  How will I make the right decisions?  How will I manage my time well enough to balance my load?  Even though these opportunities are so exciting, they also feel so big and overwhelming!  I was sitting in a church meeting when I heard a phrase that really hit home.  “It is better to look up.”

I don’t think it was until that moment that I realized I had been looking down and worrying about how I would handle everything on my plate.  I had forgotten that I am NEVER alone, I never have to handle everything by myself.  Of course!  When we partner with God, when we allow Him to help carry our load, and validate our decisions, and direct our path the way does not seem so scary or so hard.  And even though I had consulted Him at each of these crossroads, it is easy to slip back into that aloneness of independence on a daily basis.  It must be a daily decision, this looking up, sometimes an hourly one.  There will still be times of concern and doubt, but when these come we can use them as a sort of alarm, if you will, to remind us to conscientiously and intentionally look up!

Isaiah 40

26 Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth.

Psalm 123

1 I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
2 My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.
3 He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
4 Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.
6 The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.
8 The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

Song:

I Will Look Up

Talk:

It is Better to Look Up

http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2011/10/it-is-better-to-look-up?lang=eng

Day 5: Accepting Service

John 13:

4 He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.
5 After that he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
6 Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?
7 Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.
8 Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.
9 Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.

My thoughts on this topic really dovetail into our topic of service from yesterday. There have been situations in my life where I have needed others and would not have gotten through those trials without allowing others to serve me. It is not easy. In fact, I think it’s actually much harder to accept service than to serve. In this example from the life of our Savior, how eager and willing was Peter to serve the Savior always, but when the Savior tried to do this act of service for him it took Peter back and he struggled to allow it.

I believe it is hard for us to accept service because it requires a certain amount of vulnerability to admit we need someone else’s help. It makes us feel weak. And our human nature tends to be that when we look at others we compare their successes to our failures. We don’t recognize that we all struggle with similar things. Life would be so much easier if we leaned a little more on each other.

Over the last year I have felt a heavenly challenge to be more open with others about the things I am struggling with and to be quicker to ask for help rather than trying to bear all my perceived responsibilities myself. It has been eye opening to realize how difficult this is for me and how far from my natural way of doing things. I love this quote from Spencer W. Kimball: “God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other in the kingdom.” I have always loved that quote and it has always encouraged me to look for ways to help others. However, when it popped into my head this morning the thought that came with it was this… How often do we tie God’s hands when we are asking for our burdens to be lifted and our trials to be lightened, but don’t allow anyone else to know that we are struggling and need help?

Song:

When Life Gets Broken

The Servant Song

Talk/Article:

Our Call to Serve and Be Served

https://www.lds.org/study/ensign/2018/03/our-call-to-serve-and-be-served?lang=eng

Soul Searching Question:

How can you be vulnerable enough to accept service from someone in your life?

Day 4: One by One

Mark 5:

1 And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes.
2 And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit,
3 Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains:
4 Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him.
5 And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones.
6 But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him,
7 And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God, that thou torment me not.
8 For he said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit.
9 And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many.
10 And he besought him much that he would not send them away out of the country.
11 Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding.
12 And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them.
13 And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea.
14 And they that fed the swine fled, and told it in the city, and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that was done.
15 And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid.
16 And they that saw it told them how it befell to him that was possessed with the devil, and also concerning the swine.
17 And they began to pray him to depart out of their coasts.
18 And when he was come into the ship, he that had been possessed with the devil prayed him that he might be with him.
19 Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.
20 And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel.
21 And when Jesus was passed over again by ship unto the other side, much people gathered unto him: and he was nigh unto the sea.
22 And, behold, there cometh one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and when he saw him, he fell at his feet,
23 And besought him greatly, saying, My little daughter lieth at the point of death: I pray thee, come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be healed; and she shall live.
24 And Jesus went with him; and much people followed him, and thronged him.
25 And a certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years,
26 And had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse,
27 When she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment.
28 For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole.
29 And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague.
30 And Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, turned him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes?
31 And his disciples said unto him, Thou seest the multitude thronging thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me?
32 And he looked round about to see her that had done this thing.
33 But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth.
34 And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague.
35 While he yet spake, there came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house certain which said, Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Master any further?
36 As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, he saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, Be not afraid, only believe.
37 And he suffered no man to follow him, save Peter, and James, and John the brother of James.
38 And he cometh to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and seeth the tumult, and them that wept and wailed greatly.
39 And when he was come in, he saith unto them, Why make ye this ado, and weep? the damsel is not dead, but sleepeth.
40 And they laughed him to scorn. But when he had put them all out, he taketh the father and the mother of the damsel, and them that were with him, and entereth in where the damsel was lying.

41 And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise.
42 And straightway the damsel arose, and walked; for she was of the age of twelve years. And they were astonished with a great astonishment.
43 And he charged them straitly that no man should know it; and commanded that something should be given her to eat.

There are three amazing stories here, but rather than focus on the details of each of them today I just want to share a recent insight that I had using this chapter as a perfect example. For so long when I thought about serving I felt guilty because I have not been involved in very many big service projects. I’ve never flown to another country to serve the poor and the hungry. I’ve never spent weeks on end helping in a community that’s been wiped out by a natural disaster. This has always weighed on me as a feeling of not doing enough to love and serve others. Then about a year ago, I was reading this chapter (or one like it) and suddenly it dawned on me that as wonderful as being involved in projects like this are, especially if you have felt a prompting to be involved, serving like the Savior does not require me to do these huge acts. At once I saw very clearly that the Savior served (and serves) one by one. He spent His days ministering to individuals He found along His way. He saw their hurting and He helped them. Most often His miracles were preformed on His way to somewhere else. He served as He went. He saw a need and He filled it. Instantly serving well, serving as the Savior does no longer felt daunting or unattainable. I wondered how many opportunities I have had to give meaningful service that I have swept aside because I was too focused on the next place I was going or the projects I was trying to complete. But with new understanding changes for the better can be made.

Truly understanding that the little things we do to make another’s life easier are the essence of Christ-like service has really been a game changer for me. It has created a desire in me to be more aware of those opportunities throughout the day. It has made me want to slow down a little and pay more attention to the whispers that come showing me the needs around me. It has helped me feel validated in the little things I do to show love to those around me. Now I feel great when I take an hour to listen to a friend vent, or go out of my way to write a note and create a special treat for one of my kids who is having a hard week, or take the afternoon and spend some quality time with my husband. I have begun to see the time I invest in facilitating my scripture study or writing for my blog as opportunities to serve as I share God’s word and love with those who read my testimony. I never really saw these as service before, and as good as it is to be part of big organized service projects, better understanding Christ’s way of ministering helps me to recognize that maybe service in the little things along our daily path are just as important, if not more so.

Serving in the Savior’s way means keeping our eyes and our hearts open to see a need and fill it, just like He did.

Song:

Dream Small

Talk:

Ministering as the Savior Does

http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2018/04/ministering-as-the-savior-does?lang=eng

Soul Searching Question: How can you become more mindful to be a better minister to those around you one by one?