Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Day 30 - More thoughts on Peace and Happiness

Again, I am always surprised when I am directed in different ways toward a similar theme or topic. I've spent a lot of time in the car lately, and Sunday had the opportunity to listen to part of  a sermon on Philippians 4. The chapter fits perfectly along the lines of Isaiah 26 and finding peace.

Rejoice. Be gentle. Don't worry. Give thanks. Pray. "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." I'd say that's a formula worth trying. 

On a side note, I just read an opinion peace in the New York Times on Sandra Bullock's situation and whether or not the Oscar was a good trade for a broken relationship. The author of the piece, David Brooks, says no. The focus of the column really isn't the actress, but research on how personal relationships bring more happiness than career successes and material wealth. It's research worth pondering in a gimme, gimme culture.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Day 25 - Conditional

Isaiah 26:3 keeps coming up this week. After listening to an audiotape yesterday, I have been challenged to think of the conditional way in which I trust and love not just God, but others as well.

In the English language we have compacted so much into the word love that it's nearly got very little meaning left. We love pizza and milkshakes. We love blue skies and thunderstorms. We love flowers. We love this city or that. We love a certain brand of clothing. We love our cars. We love our family and our animals. And we use the same word to express the love we feel for each other that we use to describe our affection for pepperoni? Does that make sense to anyone?

However we express love, the real thing that I've been pondering is do I love. Period. Or is my love dependent on an if, then phrase. Do I trust. Period. Or is my trust conditional?

It's easy to trust God and others when everything is smooth sailing. But do I trust people, when they make a decision contrary to the one I want them to make? Do I trust God even when my life takes a downward turn? Is my trust dependent on an if/then? If I get the job, then I will trust you God. If I get what I want, then I will trust you. When I get what I want, then I will believe that you want the best for me.

But life doesn't work that way, does it? As children our parents didn't let us eat an entire basket of Easter candy, not because they didn't love us, but because they did. Like our parents, God doesn't give us everything we ask for. He knows that what we want isn't always what's best for us. But we are called to trust. Period.

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.

Trust. Period.

Not trust if you feel like it. Not trust when everything is good. Just trust.

The same can be said of love. We are told that love is not selfish. If love is not selfish, then we are to love. Period. Love even when we don't feel like it. The Bible does not say, love when it benefits you. Love when you are loved in return. The Bible says to love others.

Love. Period.

It is not easy when we have been hurt or when life takes us in a new direction. It is not easy to trust or to love. But sometimes we have to make a decision with our minds even when our hearts don't feel like following. Decide to trust. Decide to love.

Isn't that what this happiness challenge has been all about? Making the choice. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Day 23 - Trust

I am not a singer, or even musically inclined. I do know how to read music and can peck out a few tunes on the piano. But songs come to me at times. They get stuck in my head. All kinds of songs. At random moments. Lately, the songs that come have been hymns. I guess we could blame it on my early years in Baptist churches. I only know verses 1, 3, and 5. Or 1, 2, and 4, depending on how many there are in the song. The churches of my youth rarely sang all the verses. Last night, Great is Thy Faithfulness took over my brain.

How can you not wake up in a good mood when at 1:30 a.m. you wake up with "Morning by morning new mercies I see" running on repeat. For most people, the words of praise may not be the first thing they think of in times of trial. But really, the words are perfect for anyone going through a difficult time. God does not change. God is compassionate. He provides all we need. He forgives. He is merciful. He provides strength. He gives us hope. God is faithful. 

As I was flipping back through the parts of Positive Thinking that I've read and dogeared, I came across a point where Peale talks about Isaiah 26:3 in finding peace. God will keep in perfect peace those whose mind are steadfast, because they trust in God.

Do you want perfect peace? Trust in God. He is faithful.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Day 22 - One moment at a time

Moment by moment. That's how I am learning to live. I am extending this happiness challenge, as 21 days was simply not enough. I continue to wake each day and try to meditate on the phrase, "God is here. He is with me. He will see me through."

Today, I  read back over Peale's suggestions for prayer. One stood out to me today. He reminds readers to be willing to accept God's will. It's okay to ask for what you want, but be willing to take what God gives. Remembering that what he has may be better for you.

Moment by moment I am doing my best to trust that God is still in control. Today I am trusting that God, the healer, God, the restorer, will heal hurts, mend dreams, and bring blessings unimaginable. Psalm 84 says, "No good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. O Lord Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you."

Blessed or happy is the man who trusts in God. Did you hear that? Today, in this moment, I choose to continue to trust in God. 

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Day 20 - Remember

Do you remember Day 1 and the mantra from Peale?

God is here. He is with me. He will see me through.

Cling to those words today. I know I will be.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Day 19 - Gaining Perspective

In the blur of the last few days, I admit that I have not been reading much of anything. I still cry big and ugly at times. But I have also been getting more sleep. And the time between the ugly cries is spacing apart at least in millimeters. After more sleep than I've gotten all week, I woke up this morning feeling a little numb. The sharp pains that were gripping me even last night are, at least for the moment, a numb pain like the headache left after a sharp migraine. I am trying to put this all in perspective - and I realize it's so early, so new to be trying to do that. But as much as I hurt today, when I think about all the people out there who have experienced a loss so much greater than my own, it helps me. When I read about people who have lost so much, yet they managed to turn to God in their grief, it gives me hope. When I read about people whose lives were changed by loss, who perhaps a few years later are now experiencing joy again, it gives me hope. This is not the end. This is only the beginning of something else. The morning will come. The sun will shine. The birds will sing. And there will be joy again. Unfortunately, that doesn't make today hurt any less. In my hurt today, I will try to trust. I will try to believe. I will try to hope. Happiness is still a choice, even if today I have to look harder to find the things to rejoice in.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Day 18 - Praying for Peace

It has occurred to me that day 21 is swiftly approaching. But as I've recently been thrown in the need to find happiness, I may choose to extend the 21 day challenge. We'll see. In my college years, I was always struck when my different courses would take on a similar topic or theme. And I am still surprised when I find those connections in my daily life. Sunday's sermon tackled the idea of happiness and joy from John 15. You can download the podcast here. What I got out of it was, if we turn to God for our happiness, instead of turning away from him, we will find joy. Which is what I think Peale's point is. Turn to God. Fill your mind with his word. Words of faith and happiness. When you do that, there is no room for thoughts of doubt and despair. Believe me, I know this is easier said than done.

I also read this article at CNN.com. A woman went on her own purposeful search for happiness. She doesn't really say anything about turning to God, but she talks about purposely looking for happiness in her life. She says that simply asking the question, "Am I happy?" Made her happier as she thought about all the things she has to be happy about. Kind of like counting your blessings, right?

That said, the search for happiness is still on. I am taking it moment by moment at this point. I don't always have complete control of my emotions, but I am trying to be okay with that. I sang my hymn today. The first time that I've been able to get past the first verse in a few days. I made it through the third verse. Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord. Oh my soul.

I am trying to praise God and trust in him right now. I am praying for peace in all this turmoil. I am not there yet. But I have hope. I have a loving Father in heaven, I have a loving family, and I have so many gracious friends who are taking care of me right now. I have so much to be thankful for. What gets you through a rough time? When your world seems to crash in an instant, what do you do to get back on track? How do you go about building new dreams?  

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Day 16 - The Time Has Come

What good would a challenge be if there were no actual test, right? My time for testing has come. Happiness will not come easily for me today, but today I choose to find happiness in the midst of my sorrow. As I walk to work in the glorious sunshine, I will remind myself of Psalm 30, "weeping may remain for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning." It will not be easy. I know there will be times that I fail today, and in the future as I face this struggle and the struggles to come. But today I choose to be thankful for tears. As Bebo Norman sings, "It's the way that we mend." I pray today for mending. Yours and my own.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Day 10 - She laughed

It's day 10, and I realize that I'm a blog slacker. I'll work on it. Now on to my post . . .

She turned three last week. The little girl with a voice too big for her body. Full of energy. Curious. Driving her distracted mother batty. Some may say she is out of control. Lacks discipline. She was naughty. Did everything her mother told her not to.

Her mother felt the need to apologize. Explain. Wednesday was her birthday. "Tell the lady why you're sad," her mother told her. But the little girl didn't listen. Nor did she act sad.

On her third birthday, the little girls daddy died. So young is this little one, she really doesn't know what it all means. How is a three-year-old supposed to act when her daddy dies? I am sure it will take time, even years, for this girl to comprehend the death of her father and the impact it has and will have on her life.

I was thinking about this little one today as I read Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest, a gift from someone else who has since passed. I went back and read March 7, because, as with my blog, I am not diligent it reading this book, but the title was The Source of Abundant Joy. Fitting for this challenge. In this daily devotion, Chambers references 2 Corinthians 7:4, when Paul said, "I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation." Chambers says that saints find joy because of tribulation, not in spite of it.

It got me thinking, am I joyful in trials? I was trying to remember a time when I'd been able to find joy because of adversity, and that's when I thought of the three-year-old girl. Now, I realize that she doesn't comprehend the trouble that has descended on her life. But she is joyful. I hope that her distraught mama will find joy from her daughter in the difficult circumstances she is facing. And I am reminded to be constantly aware to find joy in everything.

One thing that has given me great joy today happened after I put the book down. I looked over at the African violet plant in my window and I noticed a new shoot. And I laughed. Now mind you this thing hasn't bloomed in well over a year. Leaves keep coming, but no blooms. And today I saw the start of a bud. I can't wait until it blooms. The sky was trying to spit snow on me this afternoon, but my African violet is finally going to bloom! I am happy.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Day 6 - Obstacle Man

I missed Day 5. It wasn't an off day. Just a day away from the computer. I wanted to write about the comedy show I saw the other night. I don't remember the last time I laughed that much. My jaw was hurting. Yesterday, was a day spent trying to remember each joke. But today I'm back on track. Read more of Mr. Peale. The story about the Obstacle Man. A man who when faced with a new project at work was always looking at the problems that were bound to arise. Until finally a colleague, a guy I call the Possibility Man, spoke up. It made me wonder, am I a Obstacle Woman or a Possibility Woman? I want to be the Possibility Woman. Not expecting trouble at every turn. But also not living in denial, thinking that no trouble would come. But rather having confidence that when troubles do come, I will find a way to remove them. And I can be, just like everyone else, it's a choice we get to make every day. We get to choose to fill our minds with positive thoughts. Thoughts of confidence. Thoughts of happiness. Or we can choose to fill our minds with the negative and constantly focus on the obstacles in our way. Who will you choose to be? The Obstacle Man/Woman or the Possibility Man/Woman? The choice is yours. 

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Day 4 - Laugh

I admit it. I am easily entertained. Perhaps it comes from being raised without television. My expectations for entertainment seem to be much lower than most. I don't need surround sound and high tech graphics. The same joke or line from a movie/television show, can keep me laughing for days. Seriously. I found myself nearly in tears last night as I repeated a t.v. line that I'd heard over and over for the last week. It still tickles my funny bone this morning. At this point, I can't imagine the line getting old.

Now, I didn't admit my fondness for lame jokes for nothing. The point is that laughter is contagious. I've found that if I repeat a cheesy joke that makes me laugh, even if my audience is not entertained by the joke, they can't help but laugh because I'm so tickled. When we look for things that make us happy, that make us laugh, we'll find them. And sometimes, I think maybe God sends us little gifts of laughter when we need it most.

Case in point, I was offered a new job last summer and had to quit the position I was in. I was on my way to work the morning I was to resign and not looking forward to it. That's when I heard a clip of a parody song about Chick-fil-A. It sounded funny. I looked it up when I got to the office. Before I turned in my letter,  I watched the music video once more. It was a silly song. But a song that let me just laugh. It may be odd that a ridiculous song would put me in the frame of mind I needed to be in, would give me the confidence I needed, to accomplish the task at hand. But it wasn't about the song at all. It was simply something that made me happy. That song got me through when I needed it most. I like to think that God sent me that song to see me through the day.

Be it silly songs, lame sitcom lines, or Laffy Taffy jokes, what makes you laugh like a hyena, while those around you scratch their heads? Has God sent you a gift of laughter?      

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Day 3 - Hodge Podge

I stayed up too late last night reading more of Mr. Peale. I was struck by the fact that many of the techniques he suggests to relax and find peace are things that I already know. I've practiced relaxation techniques before. Tensing each muscle group and then slowly releasing that tension. Feeling yourself relax.

What I've recently found to be helpful to relax is simply deep breathing. In through the nose, out through the mouth. It doesn't take long, just a couple of slow breaths and I feel my shoulders relax.

Mr. Peale tells stories of people who when they start feeling tense or agitated, intentionally do the opposite of what they feel like doing. Say if you clench your fists when you're angry, purposely force yourself to keep your fingers extended. Or lower your voice to a near whisper. It's forcing your emotions to cooperate with your body, instead of the other way around.

However, I think some of this can be taken too far and be counterproductive. It's not always a good idea to force yourself to be so meek and quiet that you have no backbone. I know a person who is very quiet, but she is not at peace. She is the most nervous person I have ever met. She makes me nervous when I'd around her. She may be quiet, but she lacks self confidence.

For this he suggests visualization. A tool commonly taught to athletes. As I was reading this chapter, I was wary that it was just another Secret. Think good things and it will come to you. But as I read further, I don't think that's was the point he was trying to get across. His illustrations included people who always failed at whatever they did as though there was some curse upon them that followed them everywhere. From sports teams to individuals. Mr. Peale explains that the curse is self doubt. And it's not that simply thinking and believing good will mean that you get everything you want. It's more that with a positive attitude, even when bad things happen, you are better able to look on the bright side.

The illustration he focuses on is of a trapeze artists. A student became fearful and didn't think he could accomplish the task. His instructor said that of course he could and this is how, "Throw your heart over the bar and your body will follow." In other words, don't let doubt keep you from realizing your full potential. Give all you have to everything that you do.

What bar are you staring at this morning? How are you going to conquer it? 

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Happy Day 2

I love birds. All sorts of birds. Even the red-winged black birds that have this sort of annoying call. I love them. I love the little brown birds that hang out in the bushes at my office. They like to hop onto the tailpipes of pickups and chirp and chatter at anyone who walks by. They make me happy. I don't know where my love of birds came from. Possibly from my mom who claimed she'd give a dollar to any one of us children who could spot a red bird. (I'm not sure if she ever paid up). Or I might have really gotten it from the time I spent in Tennessee with a good buddy. We'd fill the feeders. sit in the sun room, and watch the birds and the squirrels gobble it all up. He could name every bird. I just call them by their colors. Red, blue, brown. 

So apparently the singing hymns in the morning, wasn't my idea. It was in the very next chapter. The one I read this morning. The anecdote was about a gentleman who decided to change the pace of his life after watching a bird wake in the morning. The bird stretched. Went back to sleep for a few minutes. Woke and stretched again before singing a little tune and getting on with his day.

So the man started singing hymns each morning. I guess his wife thought he'd lost a rocker or something, but it slowed him down. Luckily for me, nobody is going to hear me sing in the morning. And I know it was only the first day, but I did remember the words when trouble arose. When work got busy, I just laughed. When I met a rather frazzled woman, I simply reminded myself to be calm - "It is well with my soul." It wasn't a perfect day to be sure, I still have to work on the not introducing communism into conversation. No, I am not really talking about communism. I just mean negative thoughts, negative news. It has to go.

I'm off to wake the neighbors. What song are you singing this morning?

Monday, March 1, 2010

The First Day of Happiness

As I face my first day of creating a habit of happiness, I decided to follow Mr. Peale's prescription. Upon waking, repeat Psalm 118:24 three times before breakfast. Say it aloud, strongly, clearly and with a positive attitude.

"This is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it."  

I know you can't hear the positive tone, but you gotta trust me, even at 6 a.m., it's there.

In addition, to repeating this before getting out of bed,  I read a few positive affirmations about the day ahead that Mr. Peale suggests, such as, "I believe today is going to be a wonderful day." And ending with, "I thank God for every good thing." I decided to chose one of Mr. Peale's affirmations and remind myself of it throughout the day.

God is here. He is with me. He will see me through.

Considering the other thing I did to get into this happiness thing, it's really a good thing that I don't have a roommate. I sang, out loud, at 6 a.m. It's scary, trust me. This idea was all my own. The first verse of the hymn It is Well with My Soul, has been running through my mind a lot lately. Especially when my soul does not feel at ease. So, I have chosen this song as my anthem. My happiness anthem. My hope is I will remember the words when something doesn't go right today, or when my emotions - the bad ones - threaten to get the better of me and try to ruin my happy day.

At least for today, be thankful you don't live with me. Think happy thoughts today. It might not make you fly, but hopefully it'll make your spirit soar.