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Ending the Year Strong: Forgive Others

Moving forward is never easy. It doesn’t mean that we forget what others did or didn’t do to us. However, we need to forgive others. Not forgiving others is a toxin to your heart, mind, and soul.

Think about this last year. Who hurt you really bad? Was it someone’s words or actions? Here’s the deal, folks. The old saying: sticks and stones may break my bones but words may never hurt me. <—–Garbage saying!

The actions AND words of others will hurt. Sometimes people hurt us on purpose and sometimes they don’t even realize they shoot arrows at us.

To forgive, first go to God. Who do you need to forgive? What person or situation is bothering you? Give it to God and keeping praying to truly release it to Him. It will take more than one time of releasing them in prayer.

Ask yourself if you need to talk to this person about forgiving them. Sometimes this must occur for closure and other times it will just be traumatic for you. Talk to God and someone you trust and then decide.

Forgiveness frees you from a trapped heart and mind. It allows you to live in the now and hope for the future. Without hope, it will be difficult to see what God is doing in your life.

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Ending the Year Strong: Forgive Yourself

2023 is only 3 days from now! In the last blog post, we talked about reviewing 2022 and taking notes. There is something revealing and therapeutic (and hopefully healing) about reviewing the last year. Every year is different. Maybe your year had alot of good surprises or perhaps you had a year that was traumatic and heartbreaking. One thing that we need to do with the last year is forgive ourselves.

When I talk about forgiving ourselves, I am not advocating for some self-help tactics. Quite the opposite, forgiving ourselves means that we take a step towards Jesus. As we take this step, we forgive ourselves for where we screwed up this year. Our year might have been full of bad decisions we made or a year full of indecisiveness. Both active and inactive decisions can lead us closer or further away from Jesus and others. We give the last year to Jesus and seek forgiveness.

A lot of feelings may be brewing inside of you from this past year: joy, disappointment, heartache, failure, grief, suffering, confusion, peace, etc. Regardless of what you are feeling (good or bad), give it to Jesus. In this moment, do not look for the lesson learned. It is too early for that. You need to heal, seek restoration, and gain clarity for the next year.

Here is how this works……

  1. We admit our flaws. We don’t air this out on social media or text a friend. We take this to God.
  2. We repent. Repentance means “to turn away from”. We seek a better way in Jesus and this is NOT performance-based or behavior modification. You can know the rules of Christianity, have nice manners, never miss church, and still not KNOW JESUS.
  3. We forgive others. (This is my next blog post!)
  4. We plan and make changes. This is where you get help. Seek a trusted friend, mentor, or professional whom can help you learn and process from the last year. Process and then plan for the next year. If you hate your job, why is that? If you keep dating people who treat you like crap, then up your standards!

Give yourself some grace. Jesus has already extended it to you. Will you accept it?

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Ending the Year Strong: Take Notes

Some people love taking notes. They take notes at church, at work, and in life lessons learned. And then there is everyone else. These are the folks that only take notes because they “have to”. Which crowd do you belong to? There is no wrong answer! As the year winds down, I will be focusing on a series of blogs on Ending the Year Strong. Maybe your year was great and it was far better than you imagined 2022 would be. Perhaps 2022 was a dumpster fire for you and you are cautious about 2023 and praying for Jesus to return. I encourage you to take some notes today.

We will take inventory in several areas of our lives and how we fared in 2022. This is not a performance tracking tool. In fact, our review of the year is more of a reflection….

  • Spiritual: What did you learn about God this year? If you had a theme for the year, now is the time to establish one (my post from a year ago) for the New Year. Take note of what spiritual practices worked (and didn’t) this year. Maybe you need to pray more or perhaps you need to serve on less committees and feed your soul more.
  • Financial/Career: Check your bank account and your budget. This will tell you where your priorities were for 2022. Do you need to make more money, eliminate debt, or both? On the flip side, what keeps you at the job you are at? If you are only at your job for the cash, you are slowly killing your soul.
  • Emotional/Mental: How is your mental health? Everyone handles their mental health differently and know that there are many tools out there if you need them.
  • Relational: Evaluate your love life/friendships. Do you like where these are and are they healthy or toxic? Are YOU healthy or toxic to others? Check your heart from this past year and if it needs more healing.
  • Physical: How did you take care of your body this year? Find an exercise regimen that works for you. Even a daily walk will be good for you mentally and physically.

This post is just a sample of how we will tackle Ending the Year Strong. Stay tuned, friends!

Your Soul and Autumn

Autumn is ALMOST here. Almost. However, the PSL (Pumpkin Spice Latte) lovers have been rushing this season since August. As I type this, I am seated at a cafe’ that has about 10 Autumn-themed drinks on their menu. Slow up!

While I joke about the early entry of Autumn flavors, we would benefit from looking at the importance of Autumn and what it does for our soul. Summer is a time where kids are off of school; however, most people go non-stop during the summer. We cram in that vacation we never took and try to make up for all of the time we spent at work all year-long. And we limp to the finish line of the summer known as Labor Day.

Autumn should slow you down. It needs to and you need it to. Why is this? There is a natural transition between seasons. Summer is time to sow and Autumn is a time to reap. It is time to enjoy the harvest. It is a time to slow down and get outside. Summer is usually a time of busyness outside –AKA yardwork, home renovations, etc. Autumn gives us less daylight but provides us with so much more: fall foliage, bonfires, cooler temperatures, and a rhythm that is sorely needed.

Autumn slows us down. Take a moment to ponder this question: do you enjoy the pace of life that you are living at right now? Is this pace of life sustainable or is it going to lead you to burnout? Even though Autumn does not officially begin until September 22, here are some suggestions on preparing for the transition to Autumn.

  • Take notes in a journal or a Notes app on your phone. Document how you are feeling as Summer has ended. For most people, the start of Autumn is a busier time of the year with work and family obligations. Be honest and patient with yourself as you write.
  • Plan for some fun during the new season. Do something that involves being outside.
  • Do one hard thing. Clean out that room you have avoided for 5 years. Make the phone call. Write the letter. Visit the cemetery. Say “I love you”. Whatever it is, take a risk.
  • Take daily walks. Unless the weather is terrible, go for daily walks. This is the time to admire God’s beautiful artwork known as fall foliage. Take pictures or draw what you see.

I pray that your transition to Autumn is one that is beautifully disruptive–a movement that awakens your soul.

Why the Church Cannot Be Silent On Mental Health

If you are reading this article, there is a good chance that you or someone you know has mental health needs. Unfortunately, the public perception of mental health (MH) and what it truly is are often two different entities. I worked in the MH field for around ten years in a variety of settings. I learned from colleagues with various educations and backgrounds. Some of these people became good friends of mine. In my work in MH, the success rate of clients was much higher for people who also have “spiritual supports”. Spiritual supports may be: involvement in a faith community, a relationship with a religious leader/mentor, active use of spiritual practices, etc. And this is where the Church comes in.

In my experience in the Christian faith as a believer and as a pastor, the Church has not done well in dealing with MH. Our prayer requests in our churches are often focused on the physical and spiritual needs of ourselves and those we deeply love; however, how often do you hear a prayer request for one’s own MH needs? It is rare. It is rare because people are hesitant of how others will respond to this. Will I get judged for having this diagnosis? Will people think I need to pray it away? (I will address this later!)

Let me tell you something you need to hear. Most Americans struggle with Depression and/or Anxiety–diagnosed or not. The pace that we “do life” does not help us. The common issue here is we treat MH differently. If someone has heart issues or diabetes, we never tell them to “suck it up”. We usually respect that they need medications or lifestyle changes to deal with their physical health issues. People with MH concerns need to be treated the same way as those with physical health concerns.

What can the Church do? The Church –> AKA the people, programs, and cultures….

  • Pray for ourselves. This sounds odd yet we need to do this before we can adequately walk with others. We must pray for ourselves. Which of our own mental health concerns do we have?
  • Pray for others. As we pray for others and begin to walk with them through their MH concerns, please DO NOT tell them to “pray away” their struggles. Someone who is slightly anxious is one thing. A person who has a clinical diagnosis of Anxiety is another. No one tells you to pray away your Diabetes; don’t do that to others!
  • Look at people as a whole person. It is crucial to know that if something is off in another part of someone’s life or body that it will impact their spiritual health. Life is a jigsaw puzzle and we need Jesus and others in the details and in the missing pieces. Be slow to speak, quick to listen, and ready to act when needed.
  • Guide people to getting care for themselves. Medications, therapy, support groups, reading and writing–these are just a few of the options that people may need in their journey. Encourage others (and yourself) to get the help that they need and know that EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT.
  • Start addressing MH concerns from the pulpit. As a pastor, we have talked about tons of stuff from the pulpit in the last few years but I hear few statements on MH. I know it is foreign territory to most clergy. We cannot be silent about this. Let’s be open to having the conversation.
  • Create cultures for people to feel spiritually safe. When people come to our churches, they should feel the Holy Spirit. They should feel loved. As Christians, it is our JOB to create that. People should feel safe at church. This is also a Bully-Free Zone.

A Letter From a Pastor: Why I Don’t Post About Politics

Politics is a messy world, is it not? Blue versus Red. Democrat Versus Republican. Dumbocrats Versus Repugs (I see y’all posting this! Jesus is watching you!). Conservative VS. Liberal. Right VS. Left. And then my favorite one (sarcasm intended): The biblical Vs. the unbiblical.

I am writing from the perspective of a pastor–and a concerned one. I moved to my current location during a very heated and controversial Presidential Election. People would love to ask where I stand on stuff and I usually would have half-hearted answers. I have had people tell me that I “need to pick a side.” Pick a side? Okay, well even if I have picked a “side”, they both are very flawed because there are humans being involved.

The following reasons are why I do not endorse political sides and/or candidates online:

  1. It takes the focus off of Jesus. While this may sound like a Sunday School answer, I believe that too many pastors have been in bed with politics in the form of publicly endorsing people from their pulpits and social media platforms. At a time where people are spiritually starving, we are too focused on our “side” winning. I never saw Jesus getting into politics. I want to be so Kingdom-focused that my trust is fully in Jesus and not in this world or who is living at the White House.
  2. It confuses people. As a pastor, I am aware that people follow me online. Some like seeing pics of my kids and some are looking for me to say something about something/anything. When us clergy start pushing a candidate or a way of politics, it confuses people. They see pastors down the street voting different ways and want to know what Bible we are reading. People are confused enough and this leads me to my next point.
  3. It divides. I usually don’t even discuss politics with most people because it divides. When we talk politics, we usually want to be right. Then we try to back it up with Scripture and this usually leads to a mess because the person quoting Scripture misinterpreted the text JUST TO WIN AN ARGUMENT. I want Christians to get over themselves and be united in Jesus.

I hope this letter finds you well. In the next blog, I will write about ways for the church to address mental health amongst its members and the community. Take care!!

Why A Comeback is TWO Parts

Everyone at one point will experience a comeback. It may be relational, professional, spiritual, financial, etc. Over the years, we will all experience this beautiful and disruptive event. This experience is a learning experience. What sets the stage for the comeback? A LOT of THINGS. Heartbreak, grief, trauma, loss, divorce, disappointment, death, bankruptcy —-these can all prepare you for a comeback.

Part #1: The Main Event–Denial is often associated with loss, grief, and trauma. As we are in the thick of our Main Event, we are grasping at every safety net possible. “If only I could……”. “I wish I could change……..”. We have all uttered these phrases. We cannot change the past. We cannot change other people. We cannot control the decisions that other people make for their lives or in reference to our lives. However, we can change how we respond. As The Main Event hits us, we start to feel out this event. Emotions hit us. Many emotions.

In The Main Event, this is when “all hell breaks loose”. Everything that was once “was” is no longer. Safety is replaced with uncertainty. Future plans are overshadowed by the darkness you are now swimming in. There is a lot of work to be done during this time. Not physical work but soul care. In the traumatic time of pain and suffering, our beliefs and faith are tested. Who are we trusting in this time? Why am I going through this?

During the dark time of your pain, be careful. Invite a few trusted people to walk with you. They need to help you walk and limp along. Make sure your core values line up to who you let walk with you. You will be like a sponge during The Main Event. This is when you are most vulnerable. And please, protect your heart! Don’t be throwing it all over the place. It is damaged enough. It will get stitched up soon.

Part #2: The Rebuild–This part of your comeback is the one that stretches what you believe you are capable of achieving. In The Rebuild, you have learned (hopefully) that God is into comebacks. God wants to heal your heart and renew your mind. This DOES NOT mean we will not have scars. When you are healed, you will have scars. Scars are a sign of God’s faithfulness during our time of healing. Scars are a reminder of God’s Story and our Story coming together as we love God and love others.

The Rebuild is probably harder than The Main Event. Why? In The Rebuild, you are laying the foundation for what life (with God and others) looks like moving forward. You are trying new things to establish your life. You are meeting new people and going new places. Your mind might be right and your heart might be stitched up but this part of your comeback makes you vulnerable. What if you get hurt? What if you fail?

Take your time and guard your heart. Set boundaries for yourself and who you let into your life. And what if you fail? Failure is not final. As we saw in Part #1, we can rise up from failure. We can learn. We can heal. We can rise. And as you are rebuilding, remember to do what someone did for you in Part #1…..

Extend a hand to someone else who is laying in the dirt with their open wounds. They need it. And you need to pass on the LOVE and HOPE of Jesus.

Your Theme for 2022

Today is the last day of 2021.

Today, everyone will make New Years’ resolutions and will break them by January 2.

A New Year, so what?

Theme. What is your theme for 2022?

First, you are wondering how and why you should create a theme for 2022.   A theme is different than a resolution.  A resolution is often something that is broken in a short amount of time.  A resolution is focused on the short term.  A theme will give you focus for the entire year.  A resolution is something that we put little thought into because it is obvious.  A theme is something that shapes the whole year and is sometimes something that is only revealed through prayer.

How does one develop a theme for 2022?

First and foremost, you want to start around Thanksgiving. Yes, it seems early; however it gives you time to not rush into your theme. Because you are not rushed, your heart and mind are not anxious and you are more open to hearing God’s voice. It is similar to using a Crock-Pot or the microwave for cooking meat. Which tastes better? The Crock-Pot. Slow and steady for developing your theme.

I get it. Today is New Year’s Eve and you are party planning. In your mind, it may be too late to plan for a theme for 2022. Wrong! Start the process now and give yourself about a month to hear from God. Don’t rush it! What you are praying for is a theme of one to two words. Don’t complicate it! And remember, you cannot do this solo…..

Next, you want to involve a trusted friend or two into this process. With these folks, you can explore how your theme is playing out throughout the year. Are you receptive to what God is doing in your life? Are you open to others who can help you with your theme and how it applies to your life? God cannot work with a closed heart.

Journal your progress throughout the year. Document the ups and downs that you encounter as you seek God in the year. This journey is about your progress in the Process. Jesus is never done refining you and molding you to be more Jesus.

Lastly, learn to breathe. This is a theme to guide you–not strict guidelines!

Here’s to a vision-filled 2022!

End of the Year Wrap-Up: Goals

We continue our series on wrapping up the year; however, today we take a lighter approach. This short and sweet post will hit all areas of your life!

Goals are something we all have—or should have. Goals are what motivate you to get out of bed in the morning. Goals are why you go to that particular job or educational program. Goals get you to think, plan, and execute.

I encourage to look back over this last year. What goals did you have going into 2021? Did you meet these goals? Why or why not? If you met your goals, what (habits) or who (supportive people) aided you in meeting your goals? If you did not meet your goals, what barriers did you encounter that stopped you from meeting your goals?

After taking a look at 2021, we now have to plan for 2022. The Book of Proverbs says “the people will perish without vision”. That also applies to us personally. Our families and homes need a plan. Our churches and organizations need goals. And we have to have a plan with our finances or it all magically disappears into the spending abyss.

Here are some tips of planning for 2022:

  • Spiritual: Dive deeper into your faith on a daily basis. Don’t wait until Sunday at church to talk to Jesus.
  • Financial: Use a budget. Yes, it sounds old-school and like something your grandparents did but it works. Check out Dave Ramsey’s Every Dollar app or his website. https://www.ramseysolutions.com/ramseyplus/everydollar/budget-with-everydollar
  • Social: Get a life. Get back into a hobby, read something new, and turn off the news!
  • Physical: Make your health a priority. Do more than dieting in the New Year. Change your habits and therefore change your life.
  • Mental: I am a firm believer that everyone struggles with something mentally like we do with medical health diagnoses. There is no shame in this. Check yourself on how you are “really doing” and lean in with a friend and/or professional.

Have a great day as you plan for 2022! While these are good steps, my next blog will share how to have an overall theme for the New Year. Stay tuned!

End of the Year Wrap-Up: Trauma

As I continue to write about things we have encountered through 2021, I would be avoiding the obvious if I did not talk about trauma. Let me preface this blog post: I am NOT a licensed therapist or psychologist. I have mixed work experiences in ministry and mental health and have learned from trainings and very respectable colleagues. I am still learning about the impact of trauma on myself, those I love, and the people I pastor.

Trauma is best defined by the American Psychological Association: Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives. Psychologists can help these individuals find constructive ways of managing their emotions. (https://www.apa.org/topics/trauma)

Why trauma? Let you ask you: why not? Can you name one person in your life who HAS NOT come out of 2021 (and 2020) with some wounds? 2020 was COVID-19. 2021 has been COVID-19 and everything else that came with it. Here’s the scary part: there are people that say these things did not impact them. “Nothing scares me but the fear of the Lord.” This is a good statement but it is lacking what happens when you live in community with others. You will experience pain and suffering.

There are two types of trauma: primary and secondary. Primary is what directly happens to you and it alters your life. Secondary trauma is something that you indirectly experience and it starts to stir your soul. We have experienced a lot of this in 2021. Between our own suffering and the suffering of others and being tied into the media Matrix (the news), the arrows flying at our hearts and minds are relentless.

Here are some tangible steps to evaluating what traumas you have experienced in 2021:

  • Stop. Breathe.
  • Pray throughout your day about your 2021. Ask Jesus to reveal your wounds from 2021.
  • At the end of the day, write down your wounds in two categories: primary and secondary trauma. Use pen and paper and chart this in a journal. Physically writing it down (not typing) will slow you down and make you think.
  • Get some help. Whether you need professional guidance or a friend, reach out. The Life with Jesus was never meant to be done solo.
  • Help someone else. There is something sacred about helping someone else in their suffering. Remember your own woundedness when helping others.
  • Identify your stressors. Does watching the news make you angry or anxious? Turn it off. Throw it out the window. Whatever you need to do. Do certain people (yes, even family) get under your skin. Do some work and learn the WHY.
  • Get a life. Go back to that hobby you avoid that brought you so much joy. Read something other than the news and Facebook news-feeds. Find JOY again.

As we experience healing, our open wounds will eventually heal. We will have scars from our experiences. However, behind every scar is a story of hope and redemption with God. May you find healing and lead others to healing–in Jesus’ name. Amen!