The Year of Persistence

It’s December 31st.  A day in which I always write an extra long journal entry and reflect on the past year as we turn the corner to embrace a new year ahead.  Some years are a joy to review.  Others are more difficult.  This year as I think back on some of the highlights, they paint a difficult picture.

On the difficult side are the barrage of current event stories that wounded my soul over and over again.  Those range from the Charlottesville clash around statues and white supremacy to the Las Vegas mass shooting to one sexual misconduct scandal after another coming to light.  We can’t forget the series of intense and damaging Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.  The political division and viciousness taking place in our country is like nothing I have ever witnessed.  I have historically not been someone who worries a great deal about things, finding it a drain of precious energy and emotion.  But this year, I have learned how to worry.  The lack of trust and acceptance of untruths in our culture is growing at an alarming rate and civil discourse is all but disappearing.  To disagree with someone is to be accusatory or unpatriotic or simply wrong.  Instead of iron sharpening iron it is a fight to prove who is right and who is wrong.  And even then, facts don’t necessarily prove someone to be right anymore.  It’s confusing and disheartening to see the acceptance level of our society shift in what feels to me like an unhealthy shifting of our moral compass. I have been surprised at how much this cultural dynamic has weighed down my soul.  Leaning into my faith has once again, proven to be critical to my spiritual well-being.

Of course the biggest disappointment for me this year came personally.  Although Greg and I lost one of our beloved pet cats, there was another more significant loss for me. After training for 8 months to tackle a personal goal of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, 7 days before boarding a plane to set off on a 2 week adventure, I stupidly twisted my ankle resulting in an injury I could not overcome in a week.  The trip was canceled, my hurting ankle and deep disappointment sent me into a funk this fall that tested my inner strength far more than that 19,300 foot peak ever would have.  To literally think about something every single day for 8 months and then have it slip between your fingers threw me for a loop I didn’t easily mentally or emotionally recalibrate.  For various reasons, I’m not sure I’ll make it up that mountain this year but some day.

Lessons learned from not climbing Kili has and will prepare me for many other disappointing moments in life, I am sure.  Professionally, I look back at the year and wish some things were in a different place.  As faithful as I have tried to be to God, my calling, the church, and my God-given giftedness, it still hurts when ministry doesn’t go the way you hoped.  And serving in a career where the church is in a mighty struggle with culture and society that is causing seismic changes to the way we do ministry faster than we seem able to adapt appears to be the new norm.  That is not easy for any organization nor its leaders.  But as always, ministry is an adventure and that is one of the things I have always loved about the work I do.  You never know what challenges the church has the opportunity to embrace or solve.

So before I sink any lower into the year in review I must celebrate one of the most thoughtful gifts I received for Christmas this year.  A friend gave me a t-shirt that said “Nevertheless, she persisted.”  Before you go all political on me just remember after the year I have had personally, this meant a great deal to me no matter the original cause for the tagline.  When I think about some of the positive highlights there is a theme of persistence I can’t ignore.

First of all the Tarheels won the NCAA Basketball National Championship almost as a year of redemption after coming so close in 2016.  It was a year of persistence for them that ended in a moment of triumph and joy.  And of course I celebrate the release of the Wonder Woman movie- a childhood hero brought to the screen reinforcing the message that women are capable of being so much more than our stereotypes define for us.  Which brings the upside to the sexual misconduct scandals, for the first time people are actually listening to the women.  The upside to the Kilimanjaro fiasco is I still trained to be in the best physical shape I’ve attained in years.  I know I can do it.  And in lieu of my adventures in Tanzania I experienced two new things I have never done before – hanging upside down on a wall and meditating in a deprivation tank.  Excellent but unusual experiences.

Persistence.  As we head into a new year that I hope will be and feel different from the one fading in the distance I believe I will bring persistence with me into 2018.  Persistence in my faith to remain grounded in my love for God and God’s love of me.  Persistence to not let my moral compass waver a single degree in spite of the vacillating ethics of our times.  Persistence in my calling that in spite of the rapid changes in the spiritual landscape surrounding us, helping people develop their relationship with Jesus Christ matters.  Persistence in taking care of my body, mind and spirit no matter the extra effort that seems to take as I get older. Persistence in loving others no matter how challenging.  Persistence in believing I was created to discover peace, contentment and God’s unmerited love.  And so were you.

1 John 4:7-9 (CEB)

Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God. The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love. This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him.

So I am claiming it now.  The Word of the Year for 2018 is going to be Persistence.

Happy New Year,

Lory Beth

 

Brilliant! They Won’t Be Expecting That!

I cannot believe Christmas is upon us!  I will keep this short and sweet because if you are like me, there is far too much to do then time allows.  So if you want about a 5 minute break that will make you smile and think (and practice hearing a New Zealand accent) as well as get you ready for Christmas, check this out! Video

This vignette called An Unexpected Christmas is performed by children  and gives an explanation for why God chose to send an answer to struggling humanity in the form of a new born baby Jesus.  My absolute angelfavorite character is the little boy with big glasses wearing random costumes repeating, “Brilliant!  They won’t be expecting that!”  (By the way, there is an American version of this but these New Zealand accents are so much better to listen to!)

May this depiction of the nativity make you smile and deepen your gratitude for God’s amazing love for us that we celebrate in a few days.  And all day long on Christmas may you find reasons to say, “Brilliant!  They won’t be expecting that!” as a reminder of God’s unexpected but amazing love for us.

I wish for you a very Merry Christmas.

Lory Beth

Happiness Strategies

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What makes you happy?  Christmas trees, hot chocolate, golf, taking a nap, taking a drink, shopping, making money, spending time with family and friends? Many of us find ourselves in an ever-increasing pressure cooker kind of search for happiness.  Particularly during this season of the year, it’s supposed to just ooze from us naturally, right?

Well, maybe not.  But there are some things we can do in our lives that can increase the happiness quotient within us.  And I think these things, in general, increase our quality of life and helps separate what is contentment and what is simply temporarily pleasing to us.  God longs for joy and peace in our lives.  God does not promise 24 hour happiness.

But first, I need to come clean with you.  I will read articles or listen to podcasts and take notes and then tuck away for a sermon or a blog.  I found one of those pages of notes but there is no notation on what I was reading or listening to.  So I’m sorry.  I don’t know where I got some of this information.  I think it was an interview with a happiness researcher on NPR.  But I think it is still worth sharing for our reflection as we count down the days to Christmas.

Happiness Strategies:

  1. Gratitude- First up is living a life of gratitude increases the happiness quotient.  Studies have found that people who literally counted their blessing every Sunday night were happier than those who were not so intentional with practicing gratitude.
  2. Doing Acts of Kindness- Studies also show that doing acts of kindness for other people is the most effective way to increase your happiness quotient.  If that is true than that also explains why people really do appear to be happier during Christmas if they have not experienced a serious loss.  We tend to do more generous acts for others during December and that makes us feel better.
  3. Nurturing spiritual emotions – Emotions like gratitude, compassion, love and altruism are spiritual emotions that when present in our lives lead naturally to growth, living a life paying attention to things larger than ourselves.  This stimulates the frontal cortex of our brain where happiness is felt.  Worship is indeed good for your long term happiness!
  4. Physical Activity – Increasing the release of Dopamine inside our brains makes us happy and physical activity most easily leads to the release of that brain chemical.
  5. Responding well to Adversity – This always leads to greater happiness.  When we are devastated it hurts for a short period of time then we usually successfully overcome great stress because God created people to be resilient.  When we are happy, it is fleeting at best.  It lasts for just a while.  So when we are able to overcome adversity, we are able to have sustained contentment.

One caution to try to avoid that is our consummate human trap – the “hedonistic treadmill”.  This antidote to happiness is when we find ourselves wanting more and more and more.  It’s not possible to sustain and eventually that treadmill gets to going faster and faster and we can’t keep up.  An interesting finding a study discovered is that the difference between people’s happiness quotient is pretty big for people who earn a $5000 salary compared to those who earn $50,000.  That makes sense because it’s very hard to cover our basic needs with only $5000 a year.  But the happiness quotient difference between people who earn $50,000 and $500,000 is negligible at best.  How interesting.  We think money is the key to happiness but it is not.  People who have enough but not much figure out how to be happy with what they have.  People who have much often want more.

One final thought to leave you with again during this season of supposed abundant happiness.  There are a list of things that studies have found consistently bring people happiness.  They are play, new experiences, friends and family, doing meaningful things, and knowing how to appreciate what we have.  The interesting common denominator in all of those things is that they are free.  Maybe these are the kind of gifts we need to try and share with one another as we figure out Christmas gifts to give those we love.

My prayer for you this Christmas season is deep and meaningful happiness.  If reflecting on the findings of this new area of research into our happiness leads to choosing happiness inducing behaviors than wonderful for you.  Life can work against our happiness quotient and even our own choices can adversely affect our happiness.  May you find ways to nurture the compassion and well-being within you so that your happiness quotient flourishes.  Personally, I highly recommend making sure regular worship is on your list, but then again, I’m a little partial when it comes to that area.

Merry Christmas,

Lory Beth