handwritten thank you on craft paper
Encouragement, Health, Mental Health, Relationships

Rewiring your brain with gratitude

Growing up, my mom made us sit down and write thank you notes to family members for birthday and Christmas gifts. As a young kid, I found it a chore. It seemed silly, writing a thank you note when I had already thanked them for the gift in person! But, I’d do it anyway. 

handwritten thank you on craft paper

And, though I found the exercise tedious, I must admit I felt an uplift in my spirit as I sealed the envelope and dropped the letter in the mailbox. It seemed the act of thinking back on something, and showing gratitude for it, made my heart feel a little lighter.

Though my mom hadn’t read the research, she was on to something. 

A few years back, a study was conducted at U of C, Berkeley. They followed the mental health path of 300 adults as they sought counseling for depression. The group was split up into three parts. The first part, along with counseling, was assigned to write a note of gratitude to a different individual each week for 3 weeks. The second group was asked to list their deepest complaints and grievances. The third attended counseling without either assignment (Brown & Wong, 2017).

It was discovered that the group who expressed gratitude through their writing practice, reported better mental health at 4 and 12 weeks, over the other two groups. So, not only did expressing gratitude help them feel better in the moment, it also had effects long afterwards as well (Brown & Wong, 2017).

They continued the research further and found some more surprising things about gratitude.

To read the full article, visit Kingdom Edge Magazine, who featured my article.

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group of people making toast
Anxiety, Depression, Encouragement, Intentional, Love Your Neighbor, Relationships

3 time-wasting busters

We all like the idea that our time is not wasted, yet how often do we fall into the time warp of distractions: social media, emails, procrastination, streaming videos, and lack of priorities. We know these things can suck up our time, but yet we fall into their traps time and time again. How can we break free? 

With small, intentional moments.

Of the myriad of things we do each day, we want something to count– not just in a quantifiable way, but in a soul-filling, joy-inducing way.

God’s word calls us to be purposeful with our time, even calling us to “redeem” it. To redeem something means that you buy it back. But, how can you take back something that is fleeting and slipping away constantly?

We have an Enemy that wants to distract us, to keep us from our mission of spreading the Gospel and God’s love. Every moment spent distracted from that work is a moment that he has won. So, to redeem the moments we are in right now, we can intentionally take it from the enemy that wants to distract us, and focus these moment on lasting things. We can take a temporal moment and use it to fulfill something on an eternal timeline.

Sounds great, but how?

Be aware that you are an ambassador
Colossians 4:5-6
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
Even when you don’t think anyone is watching, someone is. It may only be one person, but to that person you may be the hope and encouragement they need to desire to seek a joy-filled life like yours. Keep your words kind and be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in you.

group of people making toast
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Encourage others with God’s Word
Ephesians 5:19
…Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…
The world is full enough of discouragement, be the one to encourage. Find ways to spread the hope of Jesus to your fellow brothers and sisters. Be willing to take the time to listen to another’s hurts, be willing to pray, and to point them back to the hope of Jesus.

crop psychologist supporting patient during counseling indoors
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Look for ways to do good
Titus 3:8-9
The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 
There is always an opportunity to do good. Prayer, generosity, showing grace, choosing selflessness – these are all excellent and profitable. Choosing to step away from discussions that you know will go nowhere, choosing instead to have those intimate chats with a person’s heart can move more obstacles than a rant on a social feed.

man couple love people
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Your turn. How are ways you can redeem your time this week? Where can you take back the time that the Enemy distracts and use it for furthering God’s Kingdom work? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Encouragement, Intentional, Relationships

How are you smelling?

A few years ago, when my grandparents were moving from their home into an Assisted Living facility, I helped them sort through their things in storage. I came across some old pillowcases and sheets and thought they could be repurposed into a craft project someday. They gladly passed them on to me.

Not long after, I pulled out one of the pillowcases from my grandparents’ home. I loved the vintage flower pattern and I could remember summer nights, falling asleep on that pillow, listening to the peaceful sounds of the country and farm life.

In preparing to use the fabric for my project, I needed to iron it. As I pressed the iron to the material, a sweet scent wafted up from the fabric – the scent of my grandparents’ house.

The scent was so reminiscent that it stopped me in the middle of my activity. I stood there at the ironing board and cried.

wildflowers with quote

It was such a nostalgic, beautiful scent that it took me back to the nights I would snuggle under one of my grandparents’ comforters, falling asleep on their couch. It evoked happy memories with cousins and the security of my grandparent’s home.

It brought back so many wonderful memories of time spent at their house.

In II Corinthians 2:14-16 Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (ESV)

quotes with wilflowers

In the Old Testament, priests would offer up sacrifices to God for the sins of the people. The aroma of a good sacrifice would be pleasing to God. It wasn’t so much what was actually burning on the altar that created the pleasing aroma, it was more about what the sacrifice represented – substitutionary atonement for sins. The shedding of blood is required as a payment for sins and the animal sacrifice was given as a substitute for the sinner themselves. The same was said for the grain offerings, those given as the first-fruits back to the Lord in thanksgiving. These sacrifices, when given with a humble heart, were a pleasing aroma to God.

Jesus came and fulfilled the Law by becoming the ultimate sacrifice for all of our sins. And we, when claiming Jesus as our Savior, claim that ultimate sacrifice to cover our own transgressions. And, in doing so, we become part of that pleasing aroma of Christ to God.

So, how are we smelling? Just as Paul was encouraging the Corinthians, are we “spreading the fragrance of knowledge of Christ” in how we live? What aroma do we give off when we are living our daily lives and the pressure and heat of life, like an iron, is pressed upon us. When we encounter other people are we giving off a pleasing aroma or one that stinks and causes the other to wish they had just stayed away? Are our actions ones that reflect our Jesus; grace-filled and loving? Our actions and words are born out of where our heart is rooted. Our truest nature comes out when we are put under pressure or the heat is turned up. It’s not difficult to be a pleasant and loving aroma towards those who compliment us, make us happy, or fulfill a need. But when someone makes us late, misunderstands a conversation, or takes from us without permission it can be challenging to continue to give off the aroma of grace. In order to be a pleasing aroma to those around us, we need to have our heart’s scent rooted in Truth and Love.

flowers in bloom with quote

Is our scent one that reminds others of Jesus? Does it fill other believers with joy, and maybe a few happy tears, as they long for their home in heaven? Does your aroma give life to other believers, encouraging them on their journey?

If we are truly living for Christ, our aroma will be a sweet reminder to our fellow believers that our Jesus is a living and redeeming God. It can also smell sweet to those who do not yet believe, but have a soft heart, ready to receive the Truth. They smell that sweet fragrance and want to have that aroma, too.

Just like how that little bit of material’s scent reminded me of happy memories, I want my aroma to be pleasing to God; a scent that glorifies Him.

So, how are you smelling these days?

quote with wildflowers in bloom

This post originally was published with Kingdom Edge Magazine.

Encouragement

when you’re not the first choice

“I feel like I am never anyone’s first choice.”

Those words broke my heart. Not only because they came from the mouth of my own child, but because they were words that often echo in my own heart as well. Friendships can be hard to navigate. I thought by the time I was 40 that it would be simple and straightforward, not like the precarious friendships of middle school. Maturity and age do help, but it turns out that the trials that make friendships tricky are still there, it’s just looks different.

With the fast pace of life and the jammed-packed schedules of families, it’s easy to assume that everyone is just busy. But then you hear of other women getting together and you wonder, “what about me?” You may get asked occasionally, but usually it’s because everyone else was unavailable. You’re never the first choice. You’re on the B list.

There is an episode of Seinfeld where Jerry is competing with a step-mother for the first spot on a certain woman’s speed dial.  Certain actions and words puts them in this woman’s good graces and therefore, #1 spot on the phone list.  There’s jockeying and threats that go on between Jerry and the stepmom and a general unease that they know at any moment they could lose that spot to each other….or to another.

We can laugh through the silliness of the whole thing. I mean, who really cares if you are #1 on someone’s speed dial? And, to be honest, how many people these days even know what speed dial is? But, if we take a more serious look at it, when the laughter dies down, we realize that we may have fought, though inwardly, with a very similar kind of feeling.

Because you have never been #1 on anyone’s speed dial.

Many people can point out friendships that were pivotal for their young years. Those best friends who, when they had great news to share, were the first person they wanted to tell. Friends that they knew always had their back. Those besties that, if you found one, you always found the other. Either you were one of those, and didn’t realize how great you had it, or you were one who was watching from the sideline, wondering what you were doing wrong – the B-list friends.

The B-list friends were those who you would call your friends, but not best friends. They were nice and polite. They were good for an occasional sleepover or a birthday party. If you look at snapshots of a group hanging out in the bleachers, they were 2 rows above, a slight smile, trying to not look too awkward or out of place.

There are a lot of things about school that are far, far in the past, praise the Lord. But, shouldn’t mid-life friendships be easier? It seems we’re still hanging out in the back row, trying not to look awkward.

Because when the good news comes, we’re not #1 on the speed dial. We aren’t the first person anyone thinks of when they want to share good news. We aren’t the person that someone is calling because they finally have a free morning and they want to catch up. We aren’t the shoulder that someone is looking for when they need a good cry. But, we really would like to be.

This is a reality for many. It can feel isolating, as if you are the only one. As if everyone is hanging out without you.

What do we do? Do we wallow in self pity? Complain to our spouse? Scroll social media and feed our insecurities? Those are all natural responses that will breed only jealousy and contempt.

As I sat on the couch, trying to come up with the words to comfort my daughter after she uttered those jarring words above, I honestly felt at a loss. Because I needed comforting words spoken to me, too.

So, I started with the first response I have whenever I’m stuck on how to act and what to do: follow Jesus’s example.

  1. If you want a friend, you need to be a friend. Jesus approached His friendships as a servant. He made Himself available to help others. Offer to make a meal for someone who’s struggling. Remember birthdays and send cards or texts. When you ask someone, “how’re you doing?” mean it and wait and listen for the answer. These aren’t done to manipulate people into liking you, but rather to show genuine love and caring for other human beings.
  2. Make a “U”, not an “O.” Be inclusive. If you happen to be standing with a group of people, be sure to leave room for more. Look around outside your circle and see if there is someone standing alone. Invite them in. They may refuse, but most appreciate the invite nonetheless. Though Jesus had his 12 disciples, He never turned away someone who wanted to be a part. In fact, He was constantly inviting.
  3. Be the initiator. We can wait around for someone to reach out to us, but in reality, there are a lot of others out there waiting for the same thing. It may take some courage and even a few false starts, but boldness in Christ’s grace has broken down many doors. If God has placed someone on your heart or mind, don’t hesitate. Offer the hand of friendship, praying as you go, seeking God’s glory in the relationship. Jesus invited many to be fishers of men for the Kingdom. We can’t ask people to follow us, we don’t have the glorified position or authority, but we can invite others into our lives, share the Light with them, and encourage them to walk after Jesus as well.
  4. Pray. Though this is listed last, it doesn’t mean it should be the last resort. If you are feeling lonely, left out, or forgotten, take it to Jesus first. He understands all those feelings because He has been there Himself. Ask God to reveal to you why you feel this way. Is your loneliness misplaced? Perhaps your eyes need opened to the friendships right in front of you that you aren’t even aware of. Pray that you may have a heart for those that also ache for friendship and that He would be the One to first fill that need in you so that you can go out and be a friend to others.

Father, I know you have made us for community. Our hearts long to be included, accepted, and loved by others. Help me to not misplace this desire. I pray that I long to be included, accepted, and loved by You first before all others. Give me a heart for the hurting and open my eyes to the needs of others around me. I know in order to have friends, I need to be a friend. Give me opportunities to be a friend to others. May it be a way for me to shine Your light and give you glory.

Free Download of the pdf version of the prayer HERE