Good Intentions Lost in the Shuffle

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We’ve all been there—moments when we make mental note to carry out a certain action at a later time. A time that’s more convenient, more sensible, or simply more doable. A time when we actually have a chance to see some white space on the current page of our lives.

That’s right, sometimes we are in the midst of situations or schedules that make it next to impossible to add anything else to our to-do lists. I bet many of us are just now emerging from such a time. The month of May fills our calendars to overflowing, becoming second only to December in pushing us to our limits.

For me personally, my busy season started several months ago. In addition to the regular demands of life, some caregiving responsibilities presented themselves as I helped care for my husband after his injury and then began making trips to help take care of our twin grandbabies.

During such demanding seasons, it’s easy and natural for our good intentions—those moments when we make those mental notes—to get lost in the shuffle of life.

During one of my out-of-town trips, I received an email update from missionary friends sharing news of their rather abrupt and early retirement. I told myself I’d drop them a note later when I wasn’t on duty at baby central. After I returned home, however, it seemed to only cross my mind at other hectic times—which, of course, was nearly all the time since I was busy playing catch-up amid the normal pulse of life. I hate to admit it, but it was over six weeks before I made good on my plan to jot that note to my friends.

When we fail to carry out our good intentions—and some of them are much more critical than writing a note—we tend to get down on ourselves, but instead, let’s give ourselves some grace and then go ahead and carry out the action. Like the old adage says better late than never.

Who knows, my note arriving weeks late (in my estimation) may have come at just the time for my friends. And other good intentions, whether starting an exercise regime or investing quality time in a relationship or learning a new skill, can still be carried out regardless of the delay in getting started.

Let’s not miss out on blessing someone or being blessed because our good intentions get lost in the shuffle of life. Let’s reclaim those good intentions and remind ourselves that it’s not too late to act. Let’s live in grace and victory!

“But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” 2 Chronicles 15:7

*Do you have any good intentions you need to reclaim?

*Flickr photo by m4r00n3d, Creative Commons License

Look for the Blessings

4748549566_820fe023ff_zHave you ever been through such a dark time that you had trouble noticing any light around you? Has your burden ever been so great that the blessings in your life seemed to be swallowed by the darkness?

The Bible tells us in the book of Ruth that Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi experienced this very thing—she missed seeing a wonderful blessing. It’s not hard to understand, though, when you consider all she’d been through.

While living in a foreign country to escape the famine in their own, Naomi’s husband died. About ten years later, both of her sons died as well. She and her daughters-in-law Ruth and Orpah were left alone. Can you imagine the depth of grief they must have experienced?

Eventually, the famine lifted in her home country, and Naomi decided to return, taking her daughters-in-law with her. As they were traveling, Naomi realized that Ruth and Orpah would be better off to stay in their home country with their own mothers. At Naomi’s urging, Orpah finally decided to head back home, but Ruth could not be dissuaded to leave Naomi. She pledged her allegiance and continued on the journey.

When Naomi was recognized and greeted as she and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem, Naomi summed up her life of late by focusing on the dark times and saying, “‘Don’t call me Naomi … Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty.’” (Ruth 1:20-21a)

Yes, Naomi had every reason to feel covered by a blanket of grief, but she allowed it to blind her to the fact that she had a great blessing in her life—she had Ruth. God had not brought Naomi back empty. She, however, couldn’t see that yet. Because of the darkness she felt, her blessing escaped her notice.

As we face dark times in our own lives, do we fail to see our blessings? Let’s do our best in those times to remember to look for the light around us. Let’s lift our eyes upward and outward and see the good things God has placed in our lives. Let’s look for the blessings.

“Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man.” Psalm 112:4

*How has God blessed you during a particularly dark time in your life?

*Flickr photo by Lel4nd, Creative Commons License

Following Through on Repentance

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“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Matthew 3:8

Do any of you have sins, weaknesses, or offenses that you confess to God (as well as to others whom you’ve wronged) but then find yourself doing the same things again and again? If so, you’re not alone. I have a few problem areas like that, too.

For example, at times I get irritated too easily. I end up reacting too quickly and sounding more harsh than I should. And regardless of the offense that prompted me to lose my cool, I really don’t want to act that way.

I’m fairly quick to realize my wrong behavior and confess it, but many times I have trouble with follow-through—with, like mentioned in the verse above, producing fruit in keeping with my repentance. It’s easy to say we’re sorry (and yes, it’s harder for some), but changed behavior can be an ongoing challenge.

True repentance should manifest itself in our actions, shouldn’t it? If we’re truly sorry for certain behaviors, attitudes, or thoughts, shouldn’t we make a real effort to avoid those shortcomings in the future? Of course.

One simple thing we can do to help correct our shortcomings is to memorize the verse above from Matthew. The Holy Spirit can then remind us of it when we are tempted to slip back into the wrong pattern. He might also bring it to mind when we make the same mistake again, correcting us and exhorting us to keep on trying to produce the fruit that matches our repentance.

Let’s take a moment today to think about the sins that trip us up and ask ourselves if we are producing fruit in keeping with our repentance. If not, let’s ask God to work in our hearts to bring about the fruit he—and we—long to see. Let’s follow through.

“‘But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.’” John 14:26

*What other things can we do to help bring about changed behavior and/or thoughts?

*The next issue of Life Notes, my quarterly inspirational newsletter, will come out next week. Sign-up is free and to the right!

*Flickr photo by prodigy130, Creative Commons License

Focusing on Second Best and Missing the Gold

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Photographers—even hobbyists like me—are always on the lookout for photographic gold. You know what I’m talking about. The shots that make the one behind the camera say yes and grin like a Cheshire cat while those later viewing the photos say “Wow” as they experience wonder, joy, peace, or any number of other reactions. Good photographs move us, don’t they?

I find much of my photographic gold in wildlife shots, especially birds. Why birds? Mainly because they’re plentiful here in town where I live. But they are also beautiful and amazing creations of God.

The sanctuary I’ve created for my winged neighbors by providing a backyard bird feeder and bird bath gives me the opportunity to focus on several different visitors on most days. Many of the birds are the ordinary varieties of our region, but every now and then I spot more interesting or seldom-seen-by-me birds stopping by for a snack or a quick refresher at the bird bath.

In my zeal to capture photos of my backyard visitors, sometimes I’ve almost missed seeing an unusual bird because I was so focused on getting shots of the more visible, ordinary birds that stop by. I’ve sometimes missed the photographic gold while focusing on the second best. And boy, do I ever kick myself when that happens.

Missing the gold while focusing on second best can happen in more spheres than just photography, can’t it? Do we perhaps miss the gold of building relationship or memories while doing one more chore or checking off another item on our to-do list from work? Do we spend our spare time pursuing a hobby rather than spending time with an elderly parent or friend? Do we miss time with God while opting instead to stay in bed for another thirty minutes?

Let’s look sharp for the extraordinary in our lives. Let’s not spend so much time focusing on second best that we only catch a fleeting glimpse of the true treasure. Let’s not miss the gold.

“‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better . . .’” Luke 10:41-42a

*When have you missed the gold while focusing on second best?

*My photo

Failing To Reach a Goal

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I failed to reach some of my goals last year—and a couple of them were high on my list. Anyone else have the same experience? No one likes to fall short of achieving her goals, but since my theme word for 2013 was finish, this particular falling short stings a little more than usual.

The biggest goal I failed to reach last year was finishing my book. I almost made it, but I didn’t quite complete the task. I finished writing it, revising it, and sending it through to my critique group, but I didn’t get the final edit and polish done by year’s end.

As mid-year arrived, I was on track and felt confident that I would finish the project so I put it on hold during the summer. I didn’t even want to attempt a final read-through while my husband was on his summer break and life was more hectic than usual. I would finish it in the fall when I could concentrate without so many distractions.

What I didn’t fully anticipate was the amount of time and work it took to be ready to attend a writers conference in late September. Nor did I realize that the writing advice I would get there would show me that my manuscript needed more work than what I had been planning on. The final read through I thought I’d do turned into another edit and polish.

And then life happened as well. Within days after submitting my book proposal and polished sample chapters in mid-October to agents and an editor who had expressed interest at the conference, my mom was in a car accident. Shocked and heartbroken, we watched her die a few days later.

In November, in the midst of grief, I got back to work on the manuscript, but I also had the good fortune of being offered representation by a literary agency while another agent also showed interest. I had to take time to communicate with the interested agents, pray, research, and contact other authors the agency represented to find out what their experiences thus far had been like.

All of this helped me achieve another goal of signing with an agent, but my work on the manuscript was interrupted again. And then of course, the last two weeks of December was devoted to family and Christmas break. Year’s end came, and alas, I had failed to achieve my goal of finishing my book.

I know I’m not alone in failing to reach a goal—so what do we do when it happens? If you’re like me, you’ll kick yourself for quite awhile. After all, it’s natural to feel aggravated at yourself and disappointed with missing your mark. But after we work through our initial discouragement, what do we do then?

The way I see it, we have three choices. 1) We can walk away in defeat and abandon the goal altogether  2) we can pick ourselves up and keep going for it or  3) we can reevaluate and see if we need to alter the goal in some way or perhaps break it up into more manageable pieces.

Which will you choose when you fail to reach a goal? I choose to press on. The goal is worth achieving, and I’m almost there. Distractions and roadblocks will most certainly keep occurring for all of us, but if we persevere and call on God for help or for guidance in reevaluating, success will surely come—even if it’s not what we first envisioned. Let’s not walk away in defeat. Let’s press on.

“But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” 2 Chronicles 15:7

*How do you stay determined to reach your goals?

*Flickr photo by Omer Unlu, Creative Commons License

*The next issue of Life Notes, my quarterly inspirational newsletter, will come out in early February. Sign-up is free and to the right!