Friday, March 31, 2017

Audacious? Presumptuous? Opportunistic? Or just faithful?

As this month winds down, I've noticed some habits I'm not sure what I think of.

I catch myself saying "Nah" rather than "no" or "No, thank you," "No, sir" or "No, ma'am."

I invite myself places. I did it again today. The results turn out good for me, but I'm sure it violates all the rules of etiquette. I try to make it clear to the other person that they can say no, if he or she would rather me not come along, and sometimes that's what they do.

It just seems like if I wait for someone to invite me, I'll end up doing things alone or not at all. 

What I've noticed about this is that it's easier for me to ask if I can go along to someone else's event than it is for me to invite someone to come to mine. That's partly because when I have invited someone, it usually hasn't worked out, which makes it harder for me to try again. Plus, I'm always doubting whether anyone would really be interested in what interests me. (Bassmaster Classic, anyone? I actually had a pleasant surprise when friends did accept my invitation and enjoyed getting to know about this distinctive fishing event.)

On today's deal, I could have just shown up on my own, but since I know someone who had indicated on Facebook that she was going, I called her to confirm. That's how I ended up inviting myself to be her guest.

Another part of it is that it really does seem like God put this opportunity in front of me. I had been wanting to see the friend. I missed my regularly scheduled spiritual gatherings this week. Through Facebook, I became aware of Ladies Night at her church, with the program on Fear and Anxiety. And then my husband planned a quick trip that would take him away from home overnight, so I would have been alone for the evening.

But was it really God's plan? Or was this just me trying to control a situation and do what I wanted to do? The fact that I called my friend was pretty far from the norm for me and a clue that divine intervention was involved.

What continued to happen as the evening progressed provided further evidence to me that none of this was coincidence. The meeting's prayer focus and my renewing of a bond of friendship will strengthen me as I move through a period of transition (typically a major source of fear and anxiety) in important areas of my life.

Looking back at where I started this, I'm sure I'm OK with being aware of those habits. The first one, my casual way of saying no, should be fairly easy to correct now that I have it in mind. "No, thank you" will be my preferred response.

As for inviting myself to do things with other people, I choose to see it as following the prompting of God. I never do it without praying, including a request that God stop me from intruding if it's not His will. Still, it's not always clear. And I'm very aware that it doesn't follow the rules of etiquette. But I also know that God's ways are not always our ways and don't always follow the rules of man or etiquette experts.

I'm grateful to realize I'm also having more success at inviting others to join me. I just remembered another case in which I will follow through tomorrow. Reaching out, whether to invite someone to join me or to ask if I can join  someone else, requires me to face some fears and self-doubt, which I can only do by trusting in God. And He is always faithful to be present with me if I will allow him to,

"God has not given me a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind." (2 Timothy 1:7)

"I can be strong and courageous. I will not be afraid or tremble, for the Lord goes with me. He will not fail  or forsake me." (Isaiah 41:10)

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Could this be it?

Last week, I wrote about feeling directionless and lacking purpose.

I always try to come up with a positive spin for whatever I write, but I'm pretty sure I was acting as if, and that my hopeful tone last Wednesday night was wishful thinking.

But guess what? Pursuing that positive spin may have paid off again.

By Saturday afternoon, I had written down a goal that still excites me four days later. I've even considered some of the steps and discipline it will take to achieve the goal. I will need some new skills and to refresh and refine some old ones.

Can this old cat learn new tricks? I don't know. I won't find out until I begin the process.

Today, I started seeing how working toward that goal will not only give me a sense of purpose, but achieving the goal could yield some results that none of my previous best efforts could produce.

I have to live my life one day at a time. So, even though I wrote my goal down as something I hope to achieve for an event next March, I cannot take much time thinking about the results. I'll be busy enough planning what I need to do and then doing it.

Something I read last Friday (before the goal came to me on Saturday) is instructive here. Even as I plan and even if and when I take action, I cannot control the results.

What I read Friday helped me identify control (more precisely, the desire to be in control of my life) as a prized possession! I tend to think of myself as a people-pleaser, which at least at first glance seems the opposite of controlling, but when I saw this in "Jesus Calling," I was convicted: "THIS IS A TIME in your life when you must learn to let go: of loved ones, of possessions, of control. In order to let go of something that is precious to you, you need to rest in My Presence, where you are complete. ... As you relax more and more, your grasping hand gradually opens up, releasing your prized possession into My care."

Writing and posting this is an important step of letting go and trusting God.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

In pursuit of passion

Once again, I found myself in a moment of feeling directionless, wondering what my purpose is. And very soon,  just going through the actions of my day, I found words that reminded me the importance of pursuing my passion.

But what is my passion?

Today's reading from a 12-step devotional (Overeaters Anonymous' "Voices of Recovery") triggered thoughts.

"To recognize where my passion is."

I've thought this before, and it's what comes to mind again: My passion is to help and encourage others. But how?

Among my desires: I want to write. I want to sing. And I want to help and encourage others, to God's glory.

But how? I'm still stuck, but today it seems a little clearer: I need to write encouraging words. That's what I've been doing, but it hasn't seemed significant. But maybe that's because I haven't believed in its merit.

The turned-back page on my other daily OA devotional ("For Today") sent me back to this that I had flagged from yesterday:

Yesterday is when I was questioning my purpose. Why am I here, on this trip to Houston accompanying my husband, who is working?

These words helped so much: "Today, I consider a day well spent if I have enjoyed something I once took for granted ... when I see a self-defeating habit go ... when I risk closeness ... when I forget what I have to do and let myself feel the moment."

I can't point to a particular thing about yesterday that this applied to, but it is a perspective that changes everything and renews my hope. And it pushed me toward this writing, which I'm pretty sure is a step toward recognizing my passion and letting it loose in a positive way, to God's glory.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Desire for discipline

I'm more about living than writing right now. But I haven't given up on writing, so I keep coming back here, as an act of discipline.

And that reminds me of one of the themes I thought of exploring recently: "Desire and Discipline," which was the title of a sermon Feb. 19 by the Rev. Jim Shepherd at Goodrich United Methodist Church.

When I wrote the word "discipline" above in regard to my writing routine, the word "desire" came to mind, courtesy of that sermon title. And it made me think of how, as Jim preached from a more theological perspective, the place my thinking went to was writing.

I often have desire. I much less often have discipline.

Among my New Year's goals was to write more. I planned to schedule at least 30 minutes for writing most days. It took a while, but eventually I started doing it.

It takes time for new actions to become a habit or routine.

The thing I've noticed recently is that not only is it hard for me to get started at something new; it's hard for me to keep at it. Even when I like the process and the results of new actions, it's not unusual for me to notice a week or two later that I've lapsed. I can think of at least three such instances in which this has happened regarding major goals, including writing, since the start of the year.

What I'm trying to do now as I work on becoming more disciplined and structured is, when I realize I've let something lapse that is important to me, to get it back on my list!

The list itself is one of the new disciplines or practices I'm trying to do. The WOOP* (Wish-Outcome-Obstacle-Plan) approach I'm using encourages me to write what I hope to be the outcome; list what I see as possible obstacles; and articulate my plan for fulfilling the wish.

I've added to my spreadsheet a line for the results. Several days, I had gotten to where I was just writing the wishes/goals and the results. But after I realized I was missing the middle steps, I've returned to the full practice.

At my best, I also include another extra step: scheduling some of the most important goals onto my day's calendar. Working on all these steps helps me to prioritize and reprioritize throughout the day, and that helps me to be more effective. And that brings me a sense of peace that I've desired for a long time.

Now, as a person of lifelong Christian faith and a member of a 12-step recovery program for most of my adult life, it might seem I should be far beyond needing such rigorous structure outside of either of those affiliations.  And I certainly don't want it to sound like this WOOP and scheduling structure is the answer. It's really  just a tool that I am able to use as a result of continuing efforts to grow as a person of faith, seeking to know and do God's will, to His glory.

* I found the WOOP method, created by psychology professors Gabriele Oettingen and Dr. Peter Gollwitzer of New York University, in an article by Melody Wilding via Quartz Ideas.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Letting go of perfectionism

As often happens and, in fact, I predicted, this year's experience of Lent seems to be taking its own shape.

It seems like the start of Lent is no different than the start of a new year or other such beginning when it comes to my tendency to set a standard to which I hope to adhere perfectly.

But before Ash Wednesday was over, I had failed my loftiest goals. And by the end of the second day, I had failed to achieve what seemed like a very doable daily goal.

So, I realized again the value of "progress not perfection."

I still have hopes of filling at least 40 bags of things to let go of (including trash) during Lent.

But following the letter of my law isn't the most important thing.

A big part of how I experience humility is through having to let go of perfectionism. The process continues.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The pull of repentence and reflection

I didn't really plan to write today, but here I am.

Ash Wednesday. I can't escape the pull to a Lenten season of repentance and reflection. But, as usual, I have been unsure of what shape that will take for me. Is it sacrifice? Discipline? Service? Bible study? Fellowship? Does it have to be daily or can it evolve over the 40 days, not including Sundays, leading up to Easter.

A friend's Facebook post stayed with me all day:

"The purpose for Ash Wednesday, ushering in Lent, is to repent of our sins and to reflect on our Lord and Savior and His great gift to us by saving us by His grace alone from the wrath of a righteous God. It is NOT to promote a political agenda or a perceived social issue. Once we move the focus from God, His Love and Grace and our repentance and reflection, we are promoting falsity. It is time for a reawakening of the churches who have strayed from God's Will and Purpose."

One of the disciplines I have pondered is to let go of a bag of stuff for each of the 40 days. This may seem like a superficial act to some, but as I went through some of my possessions earlier today in an effort to fill the bag, I was aware time after time how I cling to things, and only by focusing on God's love through Christ could I make the decision to just put it in the bag.

I was also aware after filling one  bag that I couldn't even tell anything was missing from my possessions. And that's often what it's like after I've spent time trying to get honest and prayerful  about my sins and shortcomings and asking God to help me release them to Him, to His glory. Even when I take a step of progress in this area, the magnitude of faults and shortcomings still seems overwhelming.

During the Ash Wednesday service at church, I prayed to know what God would have me do. On the way home, I was thinking about how fasting is mentioned as part of the spiritual discipline for Lent. Here it was 7:45 p.m., and I hadn't chosen to "fast" anything. It occurred to me I could sacrifice my evening snack. And guess what? I was not willing to do that. So I rationalized that giving up some of my possessions (so far, clothes, shoes and bags) that I've clung to is a type of fast. But I'm not convinced.

The Lenten devotional I started with today is one published by United Methodist Women. The theme is "Wearing the Mantel of Faith." I'm new to the UMW, so I don't really know what to expect from its Lenten focus.  And now I see that may not be a series. So ... I have no idea what my reading focus will  be tomorrow.

As it turns out, it looks like this Lenten journey will be another evolution. I really don't know where it will take me. But I am confident where it will lead me: to Easter and a renewed spirit of faith in the Risen Christ and the power of God's sacrificial gift of love for me.