The note says: I love you Casee, From Grace.

Writing is powerful stuff. Grace learned to write and read in kindergarten. (Which is crazy by the way, I learned how to color and not cry all day in kindergarten. When did they figure out that kids were ready for this stuff at five?!? I digress.)

Grace learned to write in Kindergarten and all summer we have found little sticky notes in her room, stuck to her windows and walls. Sometimes we have even been the recipients of these little notes. I’m always struck a little dumb when I find them. It seems like all the wisdom in the world has been boiled down onto a little bitty sticky note. The ability to take what you feel and show the whole world. What an amazing power she has. At five.

When we find these notes, I imgaine how they came to be. I see her gathering up her supplies, and then hunched over the paper trying to decide what to write. Paper and pencil in hand, she sits poised to make her inside thoughts known to the outside world, the only question is what to say. I see her furrowed brow and pursed mouth. It’s hard to decide sometimes. She gazes around her room until finally her eyes rest on Casey. Her heart swells up and she knows exactly what she wants to say.

Gracie & Casey, 2013

I imagine her smile as she decides what to write to her sweet and faithful friend. I see her thinking through how to spell each word. Confidently sounding out each one and making it fit on the oh so small paper. I’m sure when she is finished she has a huge grin. Then she lets Casey read it and they decide together where to keep it. I can just see them looking up at it smiling, and Gracie patiently reading it to her buddy.

When she sees that Greg or I have spotted her note, she has this look of pride that makes me melt. Her smile yells – I did that! And I know that feeling. I remember that feeling. I want to both preserve and protect that in her, and simultaneously revive and breath life back into my own feelings of accomplishment and pride.

Her simple expression of her feelings, her pride in writing it out all on her own, and her excitement at us having discovered this note of love – all these things make me thank God that I get to parent her and her brother. I’m so grateful for this amazing circle of life that reminds us of joy and laughter. They remind me to marvel not only at the world, but at my part in it.

It is so very easy to get bogged down in the mess of each day. Am I good enough? Do they like me? Should I have tried that? Why did I say that? I should be doing x instead of y. I’m wasting my time. I’m wasting my life.

None of that is true. It’s all just liar’s in our head holding us back and using our own fears against us. We are capable of anything. We can re-invent. We can improve. We can relax. We can enjoy. We can create.

Here’s the recipe:

Gather your supplies – in this case, your pencil and your sticky note.

Sit down and think. Listen to your heart.

Create what is in your heart.

What will you create this week? Because the possibilities are without limit.

 

 

We are working on a series about leveraging the idea of circles to stay on track when life throws us a curve ball. This is our third installment and you can catch up pretty quickly by clicking through to our previous installments:

Week One: We started with a high level overview of what we are talking about when we talk about circles in life.

Week Two: Where we dive into the first half of the circle and identify the first steps to take when we find ourselves in one of those kairos or 'time stops' moments.

Here is a nice graphic of the concept that Noble used at The Chapel to walk us through the idea.

This week we are going to look at the second half of the circle. I was thinking over the past two weeks about circles and some of the stories you have shared through private messages. I started picturing all of us curled into a protective ball. I think this is what our initial reaction is when something big happens. We want to turn inward and protect. We want to keep everyone else out. That is not a bad thing. I think this is our first reaction, because we are created for that to be our first reaction. We need to turn inward in the beginning. We need to shrink life down into a manageable space and we need to make sure that we are safe.

The problem starts when we stay in that position. It is hard to move forward when you are curled up. So this week we are going to talk about how to get back on track and start moving forward.

(My mad drawing skillz are not improving…I had help…drawing stick people.
Did you see that ipad drawing of Morgan Freeman this week? I had help with this…with drawing stick people.)

Ok, moving on…

So, leveraging this idea of the circle – we are now ready to look at the second half – the part that swings us back up to the path we were on, or maybe even a better path. In the first half we asked, What is God trying to teach me? Now we are ready to ask, What is my response to what God wants me to learn? We figure this out through the steps of: Planning, Accountability, and Action. All of this is predicated on a belief that change can happen. We will talk about that more at then end.

We can see how important it is to go through the first steps of observing, reflecting, and discussing. Without a clear, and honest, view of the problem it will be impossible be create an effective plan. But once you have that, you need to commit to moving forward.

To move forward you need a:

Plan: In the planning phase we map out what we need to do differently. I love the Einstein quote, 'The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results'. Not having a plan is exactly that. When we find ourselves struggling with the same problem again and again, we can feel pretty confidant there is no plan. During this phase we need to figure out steps we can take to remedy the problem, and avoid the problem in the future. Maybe we need to make amends by apologizing. Perhaps we need to confront a situation that we have let linger too long. There are as many possible plans as there are problems in the world. What's important is that we have identified clearly what has happened and we make plans to address it.

Once you have a plan you need:

Accountability: This is an easy enough concept but a challenging thing to put in practice.

Accountable is defined as: to be required or expected to justify actions or decisions. We bristle at that, at least I bristle at that. Especially in western cultures we typically pride ourselves on our independence and the idea of accountability certainly goes against the idea of independence. But the truth of the matter is, no one is ever successful at life alone. Isolation is not a natural state. We were made for community. Now some of us prefer small communities and some prefer large, but we all need someone in our lives that helps us to be honest with ourselves.

Ok, so we are going to (some reluctantly) agree to accountability. This means we choose someone we trust and we share our problem, and our plan. It is important that we choose to honor someone who is trustworthy and will lovingly help us remember our plan. Well, that is what is important to me. Others may need someone who is a trustworthy drill seargent. No matter, as long as it is someone that we respect and will accept guidance from.

And now it is time for:

Action: This one is pretty clear cut. There is another saying, 'paralysis by analysis'. At some point we have to quit evaluating what went wrong, we have to stop making plans, we have to pick a plan, and put it into action. This is when you find yourself back on track and moving forward. It is important to put some type of structure around our accountability process so that as we move forward with our plan we are talking with someone who will help us continue with our forward momentum.

And over the entire process: Belief.

So how does belief fit into all of this? This second half of the circle? The part where we uncurl and move forward? This second half takes tremendous courage. It requires a flicker of faith and belief that if we try to hear what God is saying, He will step up beside us and keep whispering it in our ear as move forward.

This is the hardest part, this belief. It was so hard that I couldn't even remember exactly what was meant by belief in the context of the circle until I called Noble for a reminder.

It is so hard when we are doubled over in pain and frustrated at being in the same position for the umpteenth time or for the umpteenth year, it's hard to remember to believe. And sometimes, what makes that even harder is not the idea of believing in a loving God, although that is challenging for some. Sometimes what is most difficult is finding belief in ourselves.

Sometimes the hardest thing to believe is that we can do things differently.

But we can. We were created to overcome. We were created to rise up. No matter whether you are struggling with yelling too much at your kids or if you are hiding from the world – All things are possible. All things are possible for everyone. All things. Even your thing.

I've known people in my life who never worked through their stuff. They got stuck. I don't want that for anyone. It is hard work but it is so worth it. We are more than our mistakes. If you don't have anyone to walk with you – send me a message, I'll walk with you. Don't let a bad decision leave you with a bad life.

All things are possible with God and that means all things are possible for you.



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.

_________________________________________________

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!

 

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