We started a new series last week called The Circles of Life. You can find week one’s post by clicking here.

 

Last week, we introduced the idea that sometimes you are sailing through life, and then all of a sudden things get interrupted. Something happens that sort of makes time stop. I gave a few examples last week; divorce, death, or loss of a job are just a few of the things that can seem to make time stand still. We also said that an interruption might be something good - a raise, a marriage, coming into money. Those are great examples, but as I thought through the concept this week, I realized that the picture we have been using may simplify life too much. Thinking about things in terms of one big circle makes me think that I just need to work the circle when something big happens. When it warrants a Latin term like kairos.

But if a circle is when God interrupts our life to teach us something, well, I think that happens all the time.

My life is a series of small circles, with some big circles taking place around the smaller ones. Sometimes I find myself in a circle when I get cut off in traffic and I'm pulled out of myself, suddenly ticked off by a minor rudeness. (This comes to mind since I was cut off on my way to write this very post, and I annoyed myself by ranting about the unfairness of it all before I began thinking, "Here's a little circle!") Or, I may come across a little circle as I'm scrolling through Facebook, happy in my virtual visiting, and I get to that post. It feels directed at me, or it is different than what I believe, or I'm just annoyed by it. Or, maybe I hop right into a circle when my sweet kids wear on what little sanity I managed to cling to through my work day - and I snap and yell. And sometimes my circles are bigger, like the death of my father last year.

These are all circles that we face every day, and we can invite God into these moments. Once we have this tool in our tool-belt, we can access it in these moments and have a way to step out of the moment and observe what is going on around us. Sometimes, a little mental picture is all we need to get back on track. The circle is our way of snapping back to reality. They can make time start again for us.

As a matter of fact - I think that getting God into the little circles is critical to our growth. The big things need the circle, certainly, but they don't happen (hopefully) every day. But learning to ask God, “What are you trying to teach me?” can happen in the small circles each day. That is a daily opportunity to grow closer to God.

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So we have a circle. Whether it’s big or little, the steps are the same. In a smaller circle maybe you whip your crisis around in a few minutes and get right back to living the full life. For mid-size circles, maybe you need to find your safe person to walk through the process, and maybe you need to give yourself a few hours to do that. For larger circles - it may take months, or years. However long it takes, I promise the journey around the circle is the quickest way to get back on track and hopefully avoid repeat loops.

The question we ask is: What God is trying to teach us? We figure this out in three key steps: Observe, Reflect, Discuss.

Observe: To observe is just that - taking time to be cognizant of our surroundings. It is that initial interruption that allows us to invite God into the picture. We can begin to discern what’s really going on and find the answers to our questions. Why are we so angry? Is this as important as it seems to us right now? What is causing this emotion? Is this emotion and our actions in line with who we want to be? Or, in the case of a positive event: How can we use this as a chance to grow our faith and to be a good influence to those around us?

Reflect: To reflect is to lean on our history and our past experiences. Do we often over react or is this atypical behavior? If another person is involved, has something like this happened before? What role have we played in the problem? Or, in a positive event, what are some risks that we can predict may come with this blessing? What do we need to do to guard our heart against pride or any other risk?

Discuss: When it comes time to discuss, we need someone we can talk to. This may not always be applicable for smaller circles, but certainly in the bigger circles it is important to have a trusted advisor. This can be a counselor, a friend, a parent, a sibling, or our spouse. Anyone that we can sit down with and say, “Here is what is happening with me and this is how I'm feeling.” We have to develop a net of people in our life that we can go through a circle with. Having people that we are comfortable admitting failings to is critical to being able to grow. The ever loving shame of keeping secrets is that your secrets breed shame, and shame breeds isolation, and isolation breeds more shame. It is a vicious tool of all that is evil in the world—isolation in our mistakes and shame. Invite someone in.

These steps of observation, reflection, and discussion, done with integrity, will result in a heart of repentance.

Let's talk briefly about the word repent. I had always defined repentance as confession of how horrible I was and a promise to never do it again. "Repent of your sins to avoid the fire of damnation" was how I was lured to a loving God in my youth. This is not a healthy, or accurate, view of the term repentance. We are going to go back to the biblical definition.

Repentance as it is used in the bible means to change one's mind. I love that. When God calls us to repent of our worldly thinking, it is an invitation to change our mind to match His. And while I can get pretty self-righteous in thinking that I live a fairly good life with little to 'confess,' I can never come close to having a mind like God's. This definition puts me right where I need to be - striving each and every day to have a mind like Christ. And I can learn, with every little circle in my life, that I'm to have my heart in line with Christ's heart.

That is the first half of the circle - and you can see how that gets us around to the bottom of the circle. We have taken an honest look at our mistake or opportunity. We have confided in a trusted friend and discussed how we got in the position we find ourselves in. And our hearts have turned to repentance and a desire to get back in line with God's intent for our life.

At this point, there's nowhere to go but up! Next week we will talk about the second half of the circle: What is my response to what God wants me to learn? We figure this out through the steps of: Belief through Planning, Accountability, and Action.

Does this idea of recognizing a circle when you’re in one and taking steps to move around it resonate with you? Do you see how you can apply this to your life? I’d love to hear from you!

 

I’m excited to start a new series tonight for three important reasons. First of all, being honest here, having a series ensures that I have something to write about for a few weeks. Second, I've really wanted to spend some time delving into this subject, and this seemed like a good way to make that happen. Third, I've been really bad about adding to the blog lately. I'm hopeful this will be a way to jumpstart a renewed commitment to post at least once a week.

So, the new series is called: The Circles of Life!

I know everyone has heard of the circle of life, and if you're of a certain generation, this term is visualized best by The Lion King’s Mufasa holding up Simba to present to the pride. The circle of life is the basic premise that, for instance, in the jungle – lions live, they kill other animals for nourishment, then one day they die and their bodies nourish the earth to make grass for the prey of another lion. Voila! It’s the circle of life.

That's not what we are talking about.

The idea we are going to talk about is how you can leverage the idea of a circle whenever you face a defining moment in your life. And, beyond that, how this circle concept can help you stay on track with your life.

The idea is presented in the book "The Passionate Church: The Art of Life-Changing Discipleship", and it is part of the culture we are building at our new church, The Chapel. Noble (the founder of The Chapel) has talked about it on several occasions, and he gave me the go ahead to blog some about what it means to go through a circle.

Tonight, we will start with a quick fly-over of the concept. The idea is that we are all working our way through life, minding our own business, when boom! We have a Kairos moment. A Kairos moment is defined as:

Kairos: ˈkīräs (in case these symbols mean as much to you as they do to me...it's pronounced keerahs)/ noun 1. a propitious moment for decision or action.

Kairos as traditionally defined is a favorable action - but we are using it to highlight any defining moment that drives you to a decision. The divorce, the drink, the indiscretion, the accident, the death - or it could even be the promotion, the raise, the move. Any defining moment in life that could alter your course - for good, or bad.

So we all have these Kairos moments in which time kind of stops. And it is in these moments where the trajectory of life can be drastically altered. We can mess things up pretty badly and basically derail the train. The idea behind our topic--the circles of life-- is that these moments don't have to change your trajectory. There is a process that you can go through that can actually leverage these moments for growth and positive change.

Here's a picture of our fearless leader teaching the concept at church a few weeks back (With slightly more polished graphics):

As you see in the picture, there are two key questions to ask when you are facing a Kairos moment: What is God wanting to teach me? What is my response?

In order to figure out the first half of the circle - What is God wanting to teach you - you need to: Observe, Reflect, and Discuss which leads to Repent (Repent is a loaded concept that we will delve into more deeply in the series).

In order to figure out the second half - How you are going to respond - you need to: Make a plan, be accountable, and then act.

The fantastical end result is that you don't let a bad choice lead to a bad life. You take the steps necessary to course correct and get back on track.

I'm so excited that this is part of our core culture at The Chapel. I'm so excited to go somewhere that understands that circles happen! I've no interest in pretending that I never have problems or that I have it all figured out. But, in order to live an authentic life, I need a safety net of people who I trust to help me work through the obstacles that come up in life. This framework is giving us all a common language and approach.

I'm hoping as I record the concepts and ideas here that the theory becomes more solidified in my mind. And as I better understand it, I'm I hope that I’m quicker to leverage it - for problems at work or at home. I'm really excited to teach it to the kids so that they start to learn that they can turn things around - sometimes quickly! Of course, there are big life-encompassing circles that take a long time to work through, too. But that's okay, as long as we are making progress around the circle and not just on a downward trajectory. Progress doesn’t have to be quick; sometimes, it takes as long as it takes.

Next week we will take a deeper look at the first half of the circle. The need to do this was driven home this week when I read a news story about a preacher in Georgia who took his own life while his family and congregation sat in church waiting for his arrival. He suffered from manic depression but didn't feel like he could step away from his role as pastor to ask for help. This story made me realize that traveling these circles of life is important work. This idea that we start acknowledging that mistakes happen - circles happen - and we have to be there for one another, it's important stuff.

Thanks for walking with me. We will start the more in depth look at this next week.

 

It's been a hard week. I had a situation occur this week that really hurt me.

As a result of this hurt, I went researching others' hurts and how they have handled it and don't you know, I ended up blessed to find these two nuggets. I had read both before, but very long ago, and they hadn't stuck the way they will now. So I thought I might share them with you, in case you are having a hard week as well:

 

Let nothing upset you,
Let nothing startle you.
All things pass;
God does not change.
Patience wins all it seeks.
Whoever has God lacks nothing:
God alone is enough.

St Teresa of Avila

In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

Augustine


Both of these brought me great comfort. (The only glitch I had was when I found some really vile commentaries on the Augustine quote - fighting over what was essestial and what was non-essential....the irony of the situation seemed to be lost on all involved.)


The other thing I found was some great writing on how often we focus on what hurts us and how unfair that is to the people that love us. Why do we give our attention the minority rather than the majority? I had some really great things happen this week, too. All in all, I'm up, right? But no, still my heart is heavy. Perhaps it is because God gave us a heart for unity and peace. Strife is not inherently a part of our nature and therefore strife rubs at our heart much like a bad tooth. You know how when you have a bad tooth and your tongue just continuosly seeks it out....you don't even know it's there except that your tongue keeps going out of it's way to find it and remind you. That is probably a defense we've developed to keep from letting something fester.....hmmm.


So I'll let my heart remind me of this hurt for a while. I'll pray about it, learn from it, and if a path is found I'll try to find a fix for it. But I will also keep posting my thank you's in this most awesome month that takes us apart from our festering problems and asks us to look up and see the hundreds of blessings scattered all about us. This time of year that helps us focus on that majority that is cheering us on, lifting us up, making us laugh, walking beside us - even when it gets dark. Thank you dear majority.


Let nothing upset you,

Let nothing startle you.

All things pass;

God does not change.

Patience wins all it seeks.

Whoever has God lacks nothing:

God alone is enough.


Thank you, St Teresa.






 

Hey! I've been pretty quiet the past couple of weeks. Those of you who also are on Facebook know that I had a little health issue that made it impossible for me to type. Not only did it make it impossible to type, it also meant I couldn't do any photography, either. I've been going a bit stir crazy really. But after finishing my second pack of steroids a week ago, my hands are feeling pretty good. I've been working hard to get caught up on a lot of different things. Quick background on the health stuff: We were camping a couple weeks ago and it was, quite possibly, the longest night of my life. I was freezing and could hardly move to roll over. I wrongly attributed my condition simply to camping, but by Monday morning my hands were so swollen I couldn't close them, so I went to see the doctor. She diagnosed me with adult onset of Fifths Disease. This is a childhood illness that both my kids had a few weeks earlier. It does not typically impact adults, but in rare cases it can cause acute arthritis type symptoms, along with swelling and profound fatigue. After two days of a prescription pain reliever that didn't touch the pain, my doctor prescribed a steroid pack. That, finally, got the pain and swelling under control. By the time I finished the second pack my symptoms were gone completely. The scary, stupid, interweb has stories of this being a chronic or long term illness, but I think that is even more rare than getting it in the first place, so I'm thinking (hoping and praying) that I've seen the last of it. Fingers crossed, prayers said, salt thrown. The Monday that I went to the doctor, I also went on Facebook and asked for prayers. I started to do so on Sunday, but I held back. I can't even tell you why I waited. What I can tell you is what an incredible help it is to see comments of encouragement and prayer just flood in. Friends asking what's going on and telling me they are praying -- I love that. I'm probably considered an over-sharer by some. I do it very deliberately. I even make myself do it sometimes. I do it because, for me, keeping things private is not about protecting other people, it's about protecting me. For a long time I thought, if I keep my struggles to myself then I can put on a mask and be who you think I should be. But what I learn every time I ask for help is that there is strength in letting people love you. There is strength in asking for help. Not only that, but I know what a privilege I feel when someone asks for prayer. What an honor to be able to join together with people and pray for a common need. I love it when I see comments come in from across the country. Along with my lifelong friendships, I have friends who I can count on two hands how many times I have met with them face to face, and I have friends who I have never met in person. It doesn't matter; they will wrap me up in an encouraging comment, and their love lifts me. I haven't always felt this way. For many years I lived far away from my family, and I kept my business very private. It was an isolating and lonely time in my life. I had a few close friends who God sent to carry me through that time, but I was very much alone. A lot of that stemmed from my shame and embarrassment over my choices in life. This is an understatement: I married poorly. Then I divorced. Then I kept on making poor choices. And I isolated myself. Having lived both ways -- in isolation and as an over-sharer -- I can tell you with confidence that living your life out loud and surrounding yourself with a circle of encouraging friends who love you is a fantastic way to live. Letting people lift you up, giving people space in your life to see your struggle - it's a compliment you give the people you love. I said earlier that I don't know why I waited to post what was happening on Facebook, but I do know. I didn't want to complain when I knew there were people out there dealing with far worse. I didn't want to ask for prayers when I knew there were people out there that weren't asking, but needed them far more than me. We do that don't we? We try to minimize our experience because there are others out there seemingly minimizing theirs. Who are we to complain? But you know what? Asking for help is not complaining. Admitting that you are having a really hard time does not negate the fact that others have it worse. There is not a finite amount of love, and just because I know that there are people who don't ask doesn't mean that I can't. On the contrary, we never know who might be inspired to raise their hand when they see you raise yours and say, I need your help right now. Life is hard. Sometimes I need support because the kids won't stop fighting. Sometimes I need support because my grief is overwhelming me. Those are two different spots on the made up scale we have created - but when you are in the midst of either one, you need someone to lay a hand on your back and say, "I'm here." I have surrounded myself with physically present friends, and virtually present friends who have my back. A circle of people who, I know, when I'm down and I throw out an SOS they will surround me with life preservers. I'm thankful for each and every one of them. I hope I return that feeling. I hope they know that when they are hurting, I'm praying and trying to figure out if there is any way I can lighten their load for the moment. 'Cause why? 'Cause we belong to each other. I encourage you to find the people in your life who love you and then let them love you by sharing your life with them. Maybe it is just one or two that you call, maybe it's a whole Facebook gang. Either way I promise, it's a deeper way to live, and it provides a color to your life and theirs that you miss if you live life alone. Much love to you. And a huge thank you to my facebook gang.  

When my daughter was born, well actually, years and years before my daughter was born, I knew that I would name her Grace. It's a family name - both on my mother's side, as well as my father's side of the family. Me, my mother, my grandmother, and two great grandmother's were all Grace. It had traditionally been a middle name, but somewhere around high school I got it in my mind that I would use it as my daughter's first name.

Fast forward and find me in my mid thirties. I did not have the daughter whom I had christened so many years earlier. I didn't even have a husband or a decent prospect. I began to secretly fear that I had shuffled the deck one too many times and a family was no longer in the cards.

And then, in the blink of an eye (almost literally) I found the man of my dreams and we married. One year later we started our family and learned that it would be the little girl I had long dreamed of. And, of course, we named her Grace.

But it was no longer just a family name to me. It was also a daily reminder of the grace that I learned about in those interim years between when I dreamed of my daughter and when God felt the time was right to give her to me. It is a reminder that this child is born of the grace of a loving Father who pursued me relentlessly over time and space. A reminder of his grace that waited me out and found me when I was tired of running and tired of trying to forge my own path. She is a reminder of the beautiful gift of grace, acceptance, and love I found in the faith that was planted in my youth but grown and cultivated through the storms of my adulthood.

This Grace that lives in my home is a daily reminder as her name rolls off my tongue that she is a product of grace, she is full of grace, and she is the gift of grace that God used to convince me of His love.

 

 

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