Get Messy

It’s free but it is expensive and it can be messy.  I’m referring to putting your time, effort and heart into the lives of other people.   Whether a big investment or a small gesture, never disbelieve the power of your sincere care, encouragement and kindness toward another human being.

 

We live in a rushed society where most of us are striving to build a life.  Providing for the needs of our family is godly but we can easily get caught in the trap of wanting more stuff or being involved in every activity under the sun.  Are we too pressured trying to get to the next activity to even smile at the stranger that comes across our path? How about the elderly person that might need our time, ear and patience?  Have we taken notice of that person sitting alone that might be in desperate need of some companionship or encouragement?  Are we so over-committed that we can’t invest in a young person’s life?  How about that friend who has been through a difficult period and would benefit from some empathy and support?

 

To demonstrate the impact of one life investing in another, I would like to tell you a short but true story.  There was a woman who for various reasons, endured many years of persecution.  She was treated hatefully, wrongly judged, falsely accused and alienated.  Due to circumstances that were outside of her control, she could not leave this environment.  The many years of this treatment shattered her self-image.  She began to believe that she was worthless.  By the time that she was removed from this environment, she was a wounded, broken shell of who she had been.  She kept to herself, rarely letting anyone get close, because deep down inside, she believed that no one wanted to be her friend.  One human being, who was gifted and sensitive in the area of noticing hurting people, began to talk to her.  This person began pointing out her strengths and gifts and they became faithful and supportive friends.  She began to believe the good things that she was hearing about herself.  This one person took a step toward another person and made the investment of their time and friendship and a hurting soul received healing.  Without the investment made by this person, this woman might have continued on in her hurt and probably retreated further into the protective cocoon that she had knitted for herself.  Instead, she is now encouraging others.  So many people are benefiting because one person reached out to bind her wounds and now the cycle of blessing continues.

 

If you lighten up your load and look around, you will see hurting humans – unfortunately, they are in abundant supply.  They might even be in your own household.  Be available for these God appointments.  What appointment does He have for you today?  God says that pure and undefiled religion is visiting orphans and widows in their affliction.  Ministering to the lonely, broken and needy is pure and undefiled too.  Let Him send you into someone’s life, so that you can get a little messy.

Playing All Your Hearts

Rare and generous, they are created with a unique capacity to love.  They give of themselves liberally and expect very little in return.  This is the bright side, but what about the dark side?  Too often, these large-hearted souls attract a person that is unable to return love due to their own circumstances, personality, emotional problems, mental illness or addictions.  Worse yet, sometimes their love is met with critical, rude or malicious behavior.

 

It would feel better to be like most others – able to let it roll off and move on but usually the person who loves deeply does not do this with ease.  They put great effort into relationships and when there is failure, their emotional wound can be deep.  If they are the type that is willing to examine themselves, they will probably blame themselves for the failure.  If this is you, you may long to be like others but God created you with this capacity to love and yes, there will be times that you will get hurt.  The question isn’t “how can I avoid getting hurt” or “how do I make the hurt go away quickly?”.  The real question is “what will I learn from the experience?”.  The greater the investment, the greater the gain and in every failure, there is always a gain.  Learn to look for this and be thankful for it.  What you gain isn’t always from good.  Sometimes, it is a lesson learned from a negative experience.

 

If you are that person who is putting all of your cards on the table, and they are all hearts, it is crucial that you are learning from the good and bad that comes out of your relationships.  People with a great capacity to love, will often take two or three steps forward, while the other person involved takes fewer steps, or even none at all.  Every healthy relationship is like a waltz.  Even though the gait and physicality of each person is different, there is a rhythm and mutual movement to make the dance beautiful and mutually satisfying.  A waltz wouldn’t work if only one person wants to dance or performs all of the movements?  What should we learn from this?

 

First, remember that trust in a relationship must be earned and trusting too soon, will eventually lead to difficulties.  Second, in order for a relationship to withstand the test of time, each person should, in their own way, be giving to it.  Reciprocation doesn’t have to be exactly in the same fashion or equal amounts but there should be energy poured into the relationship from each side.  Third, invest appropriately – don’t take three steps forward when the other person isn’t also taking steps forward.  Finally, in a situation where only one person gives, you have a ministry – consider whether or not this is acceptable to you.

 

Whatever the reasons, when a relationship is unfulfilling, it can cause heartbreak to the person who has loved and poured into it.  Your investment isn’t wasted.  Even if the other person didn’t appreciate you, they probably benefited from knowing you and with the insight that you have gained, go out and love again but this time, know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.

He’s Not a Fan of That Game

What does every male have that he loves very much?  Two things come to mind immediately, but we’re not going to discuss the one that just made you chuckle.  Today, we’re talking about the females in man’s life – a mother, sister, grandmother, friend, girlfriend, daughter or wife.

 

Just tell me what you want.  What did I do wrong?  I’m so eager to please you.  These are the pleas of a son, brother, grandson, male friend, boyfriend, father and husband.  The men in your life, would like you to know, a woman can relieve a load of pressure from her relationships with men, if she would communicate her hurts, complaints and desires.  When a woman becomes silent, responds with a curt answer or withholds kindness or intimacy, he interprets this as a manipulative game play and he’s not a fan of that game.

 

How can a woman avoid this behavior?

 

>If he has hurt, upset or disappointed you, tell him.  Calmly.  Don’t make him wonder, beg or plead.  The tension is a relationship killer.  If you are too hurt or angry to behave respectfully or warmly, let him know that you will talk about it when you’re calm and then make sure that you do.  Don’t let it build and don’t withhold kindness in the meantime.

 

>Don’t ignore a man and then suddenly use sweetness or flirtation to get what you want.  If it is appropriate for you to flirt with this man, flirt but not because you want something from him.

 

>If you ask a man for input on decisions, then listen to his point of view.  Don’t bother asking if you’re not going to consider his ideas, feelings, tastes or dislikes.

 

>If he asks you where you would like to go out to eat or what you would like to do, don’t respond with “I don’t care – you decide”.  Usually, men don’t want to make this decision on their own.  If you have nothing in mind, ask him to offer a few choices and then pick one.  He wants you to enjoy yourself.

 

>Do you want or need something from him?  Make your request be known.  Don’t make him guess and then get upset when he doesn’t “read your mind” correctly.  Does it need to be done immediately?  Let him know why.

 

>Don’t use social media to display passive aggressive or other negative behaviors.  Your snarky remark isn’t gaining you points.  In fact, it hurts him and he loses respect for you.

 

>If this man is your husband, do not withhold sex as a punishment.  Clearly, intimacy is emotional for a woman, so work out your differences as quickly as possible and then return to a great relationship.

 

Respectful communication is crucial.  Learn how to communicate your hurt, requests and expectations calmly.  The golden rule can be applied here, so speak in the same manner that you would like to be spoken to.  You’ll likely get what you want and need and he won’t be walking on thin ice out in the freezing cold.  Everyone is a winner.

Do You Love a Stuffer?

I live with and love three of them.  By stuffer, I mean a person that tends to suppress their emotions.  My stuffers sometimes frustrate me and make me feel helpless.  I’m a reasonably good listener and definitely make myself available but sometimes, they just don’t want to talk about it.  If you have a stuffer in your life, it is no accident.  They need you – really they do.  How do you minister to a stuffer?

 

>First, be prepared to spend time waiting.  A stuffer must know that you will wait as long as it takes.  They will release little puffs of information as they are ready.

>Second, you must be in full listening mode.  Don’t worry – you will have plenty of time between puffs to formulate your response.

>Third, you must not interrupt them once they are ready to talk.  They must be able to complete their thought all of the way through.

>Fourth, you must never respond with unhealthy criticism or judgment.  A stuffer will clam up if they sense this.  Before you speak, ask yourself whether or not it is helpful or even necessary.  Often, we verbalize what is our opinion and it should really be kept to ourselves.

>Fifth, once they have completely finished – ask open ended questions to encourage more dialogue which will also round out your understanding.  Don’t require them to answer.  It might be helping them to roll your question around in their mind.

>Sixth, you must be trustworthy.  Your stuffer must be confident that you will not tell others.

>Finally, you have to accept that they may never open up.  Sometimes, they can’t or won’t.  Just pray for them.

 

Stuffing down emotions and feelings can be an inherited trait but it can also be a learned behavior.  Some stuffers have learned to keep it inside because they have felt emotionally unsafe.  Other stuffers feel that it is a waste of time and energy to hash things out verbally.   They prefer to work things out in their head and then be done with it.  Either way, you can be a key to getting a stuffer to open up and realize the benefits of sharing their burdens and lightening up their load.  A problem can seem huge in our head and much smaller once we have shared it with a trusted person.

 

I’m a work in progress and I’m much better at this now but I definitely can improve.  Would you join me in putting these techniques into action and be the trusted person who is willing to wait as long as it takes?

The Soothing Balm of Listening

There is an art to listening.  Most of us believe that we are reasonably good listeners but the truth is, we could all improve our skills to effectively listen and show empathy to other human beings.

 

I believe that listening well makes you a far better communicator than speaking well.  Simply put, listening well demonstrates that you put others first.  It is a selfless action to listen rather than being heard.  When a person needs someone to listen to them, essentially they need someone to relieve them of their burdens.  When we listen well, we unlock their mind and allow the burdens to release.  Have you ever been overwhelmed and confused by the challenges in your life?  If you were given the opportunity to unload, you felt better, right?  Since this is so important, let’s look at a few of the most important ways that we can develop good listening technique.

 

>Concentrate.  Focus on what is being said instead of how you will respond.  Most of us tend to hear while we are actively thinking about how we will respond or how we can relate to what is being said.  You must completely focus on what they need to say.

 

>Let the other person speak without interruption.  When you interrupt with your questions or your thoughts, the person doesn’t feel a sense of getting to complete their story.  You have interrupted their train of thought and even though you may understand the situation, they may perceive that they were not listened to.  If you are concerned that you will forget your questions or the points that you would like to make, try taking notes.

 

>When they are done speaking, then you may ask questions.  If the person is looking for advice, here is where you may offer it.  If they are not looking for advice but are instead trying to problem solve, try drawing them out with open-ended questions.  Asking questions is also a great non-confrontational way to help someone see truth or error in their thinking.  They are more likely to come to conclusions without feeling judged.

 

>Exhibit pleasant facial expressions while listening.   Natural eye contact with a relaxed smile will make the other person feel cherished.  If appropriate, nod your head but be careful here – you can give the impression that you are agreeing and that may not be the impression that you want to communicate.

 

>Summarize what you have heard in conversational style.  This is your opportunity to make clarifications and prove that you have been actively listening and that they have been heard.

 

>Finally, make sure to follow up with the person at a later time.  Following up demonstrates your sincerity and it shows that you care about and value this person.

 

Let’s look at another type of listening.  Listening to someone who is upset with us.  Too often, we feel the need to defend ourselves.  God’s word gives us much help in this area.  James 1:19 says “so then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath”.  Proverbs 15:1 says “a gentle answer turns away wrath, a harsh word stirs up anger”.  As difficult as it is, a confrontational situation can be defused by following these very simple words.

 

Listening is so much more than using our hearing sense.  When we really listen, we are fully engaging many of our senses.  We not only hear but we see the other person’s emotional state and we feel compassion and empathy.  One of the most powerful ways to minister to another human being, is listening to them.  Most people don’t need someone to solve their problems – they need someone to listen.  When we give our time, and make the effort to really listen, we lighten the burdens of another human being.  Most of us won’t get this completely right every time but try putting a few of these tips into practice every time that you have the opportunity.

Lovely Woman

What does she look like?  I mean to say, what are the traits that characterize a lovely woman?  A lovely woman can have many different physical characteristics.  She might be physically beautiful and or dress well or she might be a bit of a wallflower, feeling more comfortable in simple attire and appearance.  She might have the personality that lights up a room or she might prefer to be “backstage” in life.   To discover the truly lovely woman, we must look deeper than her appearance and visible traits.

 

You will recognize a lovely woman by the lives that she has impacted.  The impact will start within her closest circle – the people that she lives with.  Acting like the energy of an earthquake, her lovely influence will begin in the epicenter of her home and radiate outward.  It will be spread not only by her, but also by the people that through her example, learn about grace.  She is not defined by how many reactions that she receives on Facebook or even how many women seek to be in her company.  Her definition is determined by the deep love and admiration of the people that really know her inside and out and those that she has touched.  These people are living a life that is forever imprinted by her time in their life.

 

This woman is not self-consumed.  This woman cares for her household and then goes beyond to reach out to others outside of her own household.  This woman cares about others and she is aware that they have struggles, difficulties and challenges.  This woman is thoughtful and blesses others in big and little ways.  This woman is sincerely joyful.  This woman really listens.  This woman speaks words of encouragement.  This woman is genuine and lovingly honest.  This woman treats everyone with respect. This woman does not easily dismiss others from her life.  This woman makes others feel better after they have been with her.  This woman knows how to forgive.  This woman has compassion for the difficult and challenging personalities that come across her path.  This woman brings light into a dark burdensome world.  This woman is relational, responsive and nurturing, all very feminine and womanly traits.

 

If you are a lovely woman or striving to be a lovely woman, thank you.  If you know or have known a lovely woman, comfort her heart and tell her thank you for being a lovely woman in your life.

My Significance

How many ministries do I have?  How significant are they?  Do they get as much recognition as that other person’s ministry?  If we struggle with these questions, we must also ask, does God measure the value of our work for Him, by the size or notoriety of a ministry?

 

If God gives me something to do, that is, if He places me in a certain era, locale, circumstance or relationship, then it is significant, no matter how it is measured by humans.  The woman that puts her career on hold to stay at home and nurture her children, the husband that goes to an unpleasant job to provide for his family, the church helper that cleans the toilets and runs the vacuum, the friend that carries a burden and faithfully prays, the daughter-in-law that cares for her husband’s aging Mother.  Most of the time, these are not recognized as ministry, at least not by other human beings, but God sees.  He knows every difficulty.  He sees the sleepless nights, the exhaustion and the self-sacrifice.  He appointed you to this ministry, and He will see you through it, all of the way to the very end.

 

If this is really true, why then do we feel so burdened in this God appointed ministry?  Simply put, we might believe that we are somehow responsible for the result.  In reality, we are only responsible for faithfully doing the work each day and God will take care of the rest. There is freedom and peace when we finally strip down to the simplicity of doing our best with each moment and trusting God to bring beauty out of our efforts.  You are His hands here on Earth, but just remember that He is God.  He is the same God that spoke creation into existence.  He is still seated on His throne.  He is God and we are not.  Phew, what a relief!

 

No matter how small or hidden the ministry – if God calls us to it – it has great significance in God’s economy.  Focus your passions on things with eternal significance and don’t squander the opportunities that God places before you.  Work with excellence and intentionality.  Do the work each day and then rest and watch Him bring great, great beauty.

 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Jesus Christ

From Crushed to Soaring

Last week’s post entitled Crushed Confidence, received feedback that revealed the existence of many people who have been wounded and are in need of appreciation, affirmation and encouragement.  Some of these people, are within our sphere of influence.  We shouldn’t underestimate the power that we have to bring relief, hope and joy into their life.   We shouldn’t allow ourselves to think that someone else will come along and do what we should have done.  Is God placing us in the right place at the right time?

 

Your comments on my previous post are very appreciated and they really caused me to consider a few questions.  How is it that hurting souls are all around us and we sometimes don’t notice them?  Why do we hold ourselves back from engaging with others?  How do we let these opportunities to help someone pass by?  This happens for many reasons.  Maybe we are too busy, in a hurry or didn’t even notice the need.  We might be fearful of saying the wrong thing.  We might doubt that a simple gesture will be enough.  Maybe we are too self-absorbed and rarely reach out to another person.  Maybe we genuinely believe that we have nothing to offer.  Sometimes, these situations are complicated and messy and we would rather not invite complication or mess into our lives.  My hope is that all of us will be motivated and encouraged, that we will be willing to slow down and notice the needs of others, that we will organize our lives in a way that it will free up extra time or resources and that we will go into action.  For the individual who has been a bit self-absorbed, it’s time to get off of the me-me-me-go-‘round.  Blessing someone else is gratifying and there is definitely no shortage of opportunities.

 

Who would I reach out to?  Think about those who are in your circle.  Each one of them is good at something and has special gifts.  Now, tell them all about the positive things that you notice in them.  Think of the many people that in some way, serve you.  Is there someone who remembers you in their prayers or follows up with you on something that you previously told them?  Is there someone who is thoughtful or someone who shows concern and checks on you?  Is there someone that is constantly caring for others?  Have you noticed a person who often seems alone?  What about the elderly person at the grocery store or in your neighborhood?  How about the person that you walk past that looks sad or bitter?  If you attend church, how about the ministry workers that work behind the scenes cleaning, praying and protecting or that teacher that is faithfully there to receive your child, week after week?  Don’t forget those that serve right in front of you, but put in hours of preparation each week behind the scene, such as the teachers, music team and media team.  There will be a wounded person who will push you away.  In this case, you might try being a little sneaky and doing some secret kindness.  They won’t be able to push you away but they will be blessed immensely by knowing that someone truly cares about them.  It might be the very thing to penetrate through that thick wall that they have built up around themselves.

 

Some might ask, “What do I have to give?” There are no skills required to say hello and offer a smile, a kind word or a sincere thank you.  Try breaking away from your normal group and go say hello to someone new.  Buy a package of beautiful blank note-cards and start writing notes of sincere encouragement, affirmations and appreciation.  Ask an elderly person or person in a wheelchair or motorized cart, if you can help them by reaching for an item placed out of their grasp.  Help a mom with young children, by offering to return her shopping cart, so that she doesn’t have to leave her children unattended.  If you notice how well someone is parenting, let them know.  Take a plate of your dinner over to a lonely neighbor or invite them over and get to know them.  Take some valuable garden produce (not just your abundance of zucchini) over to a neighbor that doesn’t garden and let them know that you were thinking of them.  Offer to help an elderly person to learn how to use their smart phone, tablet or computer.  Take the time to listen to someone who just needs to talk.  Do you have a gift for noticing great qualities in other people?  Tell them what you see.  If you have a friend or loved one, who lives in a critical eye environment, be sure to encourage them by acknowledging their good qualities.  The purpose of all of this isn’t to solve the problems of other people, it is to demonstrate that you value them as a human being.  Remember, the value of a person is so much more than the tasks that they complete – the value of each person is their essence.  It’s their intrinsic nature and indispensable qualities, as a created human being.

 

We live in an era where personal interaction is becoming rare and there are too many people that rarely receive warmth from another human being, so there is no shortage of opportunities to bless, and even a small simple gesture will impact a wounded weary heart.  Every human being needs to feel appreciated and valued.  Be the person that brings hope back into someone’s life today.

 

Thank you for reading.  If you have enjoyed this post, please follow me on WordPress or Facebook.  I love to read your feedback too.

Crushed Confidence

Not being too sure of ourselves can be a positive trait but what happens when it goes too far?  What happens when you don’t trust your decision making, your memory or recall of facts and your interactions with others?  Where does this lack of confidence come from?  This post is not about blaming others, however we will explore how others can damage our self-image, but the real goal of this post is to help us take responsibility.  By taking responsibility, we learn that we do have control over what we choose to believe about ourselves.

 

Someone who usually doesn’t feel positive about their abilities or accomplishments, or has a low opinion of their value as a human being, might have a crushed spirit.  How does a spirit get crushed?  Usually it is a result of regularly being controlled, manipulated or criticized.  Sometimes humans are unintentionally cruel.  They may even believe that they are helping you with their words and actions, by pointing out how you are doing it or saying it incorrectly.  It is only the unusually manipulative person, who actually seeks to tear down another human being with their critical spirit.   Either way, a lot of damage can be done. We must be warriors and fight to retrain ourselves.  We must learn to use God’s word, not the words or actions of other humans, as our guide when we question or examine ourselves.

 

You may find this hard to believe, but I struggle with a low self-image.  Where does this come from?  For me, I was created with a sensitive temperament and ironically have been exposed to critical eyed humans at every stage of my life.  Critical eyed people come in many forms.   It can be a parent, spouse, teacher, instructor, boss, friend or even an older child.  They are people who are skilled at finding and exploiting the chink in your armor.  They can be picky, demanding, critical, know-it-all and controlling.  Do you recognize them?  They seek to run you.  Notice that I carefully chose the word seek.  That cannot run you unless you allow them to.  I’m not saying that this is easy, just that it is simple.  They seek to control how you spend your time and who you spend your time with.  They seek to control how you accomplish tasks.  They correct you when you’re telling a story, even though the exact facts are unimportant to the hearer.  They are full of the “you should have” or “that’s why I wouldn’t have done it that way” or “why did you do that?”.  They might pay you a compliment, but then add how they think that you could do it better next time.

 

Being exposed to these behaviors, can over time erode self-confidence.  We question our judgement.  Do I understand that situation?  Am I reading that person correctly?  Is that the right action to take?  Did I say the wrong thing?  Am I the problem in every relationship that has difficulties?  Did I offend that person who is treating me differently? Some even develop obsessive compulsive disorder – returning home to check if they unplugged the iron or locked the door, for example.   If someone is communicating to you that you are wrong on a regular basis, it is natural for certain personalities to begin to believe it.

 

I would like to take a paragraph to specifically discuss these dynamics within marriage.  Husband, are you crushing your wife’s spirit with your critical eye?  This is a misuse of your leadership role in the home.  God says “husbands, love your wife as Christ loved the Church”.  Wife, are you causing your husband to be weak in his ability to trust himself to lead and make decisions, by regularly communicating to him that he is wrong?  While, we are on the subject of marriage, I have extreme disdain for the “yes dear” lie, where men believe that they are to agree with whatever the wife says for fear that her wrath will be unleashed.  This is a form of control and manipulation.  Men, I’m all for treating your wife like a queen but technically, that makes you the king.  Neither spouse should ever be allowed to “run over” the other and there should never be fear of punishment from your spouse.

 

So, what do we do with all of this?  For me, I came to realize that I had power and that each time it occurred I was completely capable of making a decision by asking myself one simple question.  Does God’s word say that I was wrong or was that just another person’s opinion or desire to wrongly control me?  Like I said earlier, not easy but very simple.  God defines me and also, there is the fact, that I wouldn’t have made it this far, if I was a complete idiot.   Picky, critical eyed, controlling behavior is their stuff, not yours.  You put a great meal on the table and didn’t even burn it.  You completed that task in your own way, and the result was just fine.  You told that story wonderfully and you were darn charming too, so what if some of the details are a little inaccurate – you remembered the important stuff.  Put your deflecting armor on and start asking “what does God think about this”?