Brain Teaser

I have never known why, but for some reason, I absolutely love brain teasers, word puzzles, and riddles. I put a daily brain teaser up on the board every day for my students to solve and it always excites me to see then compete and try to get it right first. They shout out wrong answers and rush into the room at the start of the period to try and be the first to see the problem and the first to solve it. Their competetive spirit is exciting and I often find myself encouraging each of them, but am careful to give away any hints. As I walk through my life, I realize that perhaps, the reason I enjoy these games is because my brain plays similar games on a daily hourly basis. My mind operates as the ultimate brain teaser, and often I myself can’t find the answer to the riddle.

I think it’s safe to say that we all have our struggles. It’s refreshing to remind ourselves that we are all a work in progress, and that process won’t be over until we meet our Maker. Philippians 1:6 says, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” For me, I struggle with my thoughts. It seems so simple, but in all honestly, I have spent a good portion of my life allowing negative thoughts to take up camp in my mind and make a comfortable home. I didn’t even realize how serious it was until my mentor taught me a new technique that aids in taking my thoughts captive. 2 Corinthians 10:5. She was teaching me something she learned from reading and studying Dr. Caroline Leaf’s book, “Who Switched Off My Brain?” Though I plan to buy the book, she felt I needed to learn the technique today, so that I can begin the life-changing process now instead of waiting for the book to arrive. Let me tell you; I can’t believe how effective this process is! I had no clue how many thoughts I still had in my head from (literally) 13 years ago. It makes sense the phrase “what you feed will grow” so real to me because I have fed into these thoughts, and they’ve grow a home for themselves; probably have a few kids and a dog running around in my brain too!

Here is my major issue with all this, the fact that it’s MY brain! No thought should be allowed into my mind if I don’t allow it. I learned today that I have full control over what thoughts have an “all access” pass to my brain and which ones are on the “banned forever” list. I never realized that winning this brain teaser game in my head could be done through practical steps and discipline. It’s as if my thoughts have been taking me captive and I’ve simply been a prisoner in my own mind. After today, I know that I literally hold the keys to the only door that enters my brain and nothing can get in if I don’t allow it access. How powerful!!!

Of course, this is going to take a lot of time. It took 26 years to get good at this game, so it’s going to take some time for me to get better at winning! Even as I went into a meeting tonight confident in my new revelation, I found myself sinking back into my comfortable way of thinking and mentally (and quite brutally) beating myself up. This is unacceptable. This is not of God. This is NO LONGER going to be of me, either.

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Exactly what I needed

It’s impressive how well God knows us right down to our very core. It’s even more impressive how, no matter how frequently the Lord reminds me of His sovereignty, I am still amazed. God knows exactly what I need.

I have been so fortunate and blessed in my life, that it’s funny how often I forget the good while in the middle of the bad. God has been pulling at my heart so that I may hear a few solid truths, but I have been reluctant to really HEAR these things, though they have been repeated to me by various sources at various times throughout my life. This week, however, I heard, for the first time, what God wanted to me to hear about a particular area of my life: my thought process.

I used to be very pessimistic. I fully believed in Murphy’s Law (partial definition, if something can go wrong, it will) and I thought that good things happened to everyone BUT me. I truly believed that I would be alone (single) for the rest of my life and that God would bless the people around me with the desires of their hearts. I felt unworthy to be blessed, therefore, I would be passed over. When I started on my journey into a relationship with Jesus and God, and began to toss those negative thoughts aside. I thought I had fully turned into an optimist, but I was simply putting a makeup on a dirty face. In trying to cover up the truth, I was lying to myself. I have been lying to myself. I still think negative thoughts on a daily basis; I still feel unworthy.

The funny thing about faith in God and the belief that Jesus died for my sins is that I, indeed, AM unworthy of all that has been done for my salvation. No amount of work or service or doing is going to get God to love me any more than God already loves me. I know this to be true. However, the problem with my negative thoughts is that I am putting negative energy out into the world, and not allowing my mind to truly believe that positive things can, and will happen to me. Now, some areas of my life are fully cleaned up and my mind game is tight. I think positively about certain aspects of my life and future, while other areas I am lacking. I realized this week that it’s time I start cleaning up my WHOLE mind, so that my WHOLE life can be fruitful and positive.

This week, it felt like I was being hit by consecutive truth bullets, one after another. The attack started Wednesday night, when my dear friend and sister in Christ, Mary Held, preached out having a solid prayer/devotion/meditation life. I am a seminary student who does not read the Bible on a daily basis. I have yet to read the Bible in its entirity, and this is something that eats at me every minute of every day. I have a strong passion and hunger and thirst to know God’s Word more than any other book ever written. However, I don’t DO what I need to do to have that wisdom and knowledge. I spend quiet time with God every day in my car. I recently started praying before I get out of bed each morning. I pray almost every waking hour of the day. But, I am not where I need to be (especially if I know God is calling me to pastor in some capacity). After hearing Mary’s powerful message, and looking at the practical plan outlined in the church manual, I know now that it’s going to take true discipline and tactical steps to get to where I want to be. Last night, I bought a coffee put with a timer and starting tomorrow, I am going to be waking up an hour earlier each morning so that I can start my day in true devotion to God.

If my Bible game was tight, I would definitely have the tools I needed to be consistently thinking more positive thoughts. I realized Friday, while crying for an hour at the gym, that my mind is not in the right place. If you know me, you know that I lost 80 lbs from 2008-2009. I was working with a trainer in Florida and fully dedicated to the process. Upon moving to Atlanta in June of 2009, money was tight and I wasn’t able to stick to the plan. Since then, I’ve gained 30 lbs back. In October of 2009, I started working with a trainer in ATL but I wasn’t dedicated to the process. However, I got dedicated in January of 2010. For the past 8 weeks I’ve been hard core in my weight loss attempts, with the goal of losing 50 more lbs to complete my original goal of 100 lbs off and gone forever. Yesterday, I had a heartfelt conversation with my trainer which included a lot of tears on my part, because in doing everything right, I’ve not lost 1 lb this time around so far. He reminded me, as he does every week, that my mind isn’t in the right place. I don’t believe enough in myself, and therefore, I am getting in my own way on a regular basis. I have to transform my mind in order to truly transform my body. It’s going to take discipline and will power; two things I KNOW I have, but haven’t been tapping into. So, again, God has shown me that not only do I need to read His Word more, but in doing so, I will be able to overcome my negative thoughts, thus overcoming and transforming my physical. More details about this to come, as I think this part of the transformation is going to be very interesting and fun.

Mary also spoke about allowing your life to be interuptable. I don’t do this and I actually fear praying it each day. I often help strangers and don’t mind talking to people I don’t know as long as I feel like it. The point is, though, that God needs and wants me to be a vessel even when I don’t feel like it. With my busy schedule, I don’t allow for much time to socialize during the week. Even on the weekends, I rarely see my friends because I am either sleeping, studying, working out, reading, or typing a paper. I often joke that even if God wanted to use me, He would have to get in line! This is horrible! Well, this week God taught me how an interruption in my schedule could be exactly what I need.

My best friend, Michael, has held that title since the first week of school freshman year of college. We instantly clicked and haven’t stopped talking to one another on a daily basis for the past (yikes-I feel old) 9 years. We’ve only lived in the same city the first year of our friendship, and since then have maintained a friendship solidified by phone called and yearly visits. He moved to Korea last year to teach English and was back in the states for a few months on break. He left again today to go back to Korea for another year and will probably stay there for a while after that year is over. I didn’t think I would be able to see him before he left (my schedule, money, etc.) but low and behold, he missed a plane in Atlanta and had to stay for the night. Though, at first, I was annoyed at the fact that I wouldn’t get any sleep Thursday night, it turned out that our interaction with one another was everything I needed to rejuvenate my spirits, and rekindle the love that exists in our long distance friendship. We laughed, we ate dinner, we watch Will and Grace, and we just talked for hours. Knowing I had to wake up early for work on Friday didn’t matter after a while, because I was with my friend and I was enjoying the brief moment we had with one another in person. Interrupting my schedule was the best medicine.

So, I have a lot ahead of me (as always). A lot to learn, a lot to do, a lot to accomplish. I have God, though, and that’s really going to be the force that guarantees that by my submission, I will succeed.

Danni

Holidays away from home

I moved away from Ohio(my family and my closest friends) in July of 2006. I set out on an unknown adventure, and God totally blessed me with a job, a new car, and a place to live. In the process, I officially dedicated my life to God and found myself in a season on truly knowing what it’s like to be alone.

I met some amazing people in Jacksonville, and have already made some very close friends in Atlanta. God has provided me with so much, but the one aspect of my life that I feel is missing (aside from my husband) is close core group of friends. I am always reminded of this want and need around holidays, especially when I spend these holidays alone. I was along on Thanksgiving this year. I didn’t do anything yesterday for Valentine’s Day. Last Easter Sunday, I ate dinner alone at Cheesecake Factory. I don’t mention all of these things to get sympathy; on the contrary, I say it because I know there has to be other single people out there who are going through the same thing as me. I’ve been invited to spend holidays with people’s families, but I have to be honest and say I don’t want to spend a special day with people I have never met before.

I want a solid, organic group of people who I can fellowship with, share meals with, and who I feel comfortable inviting into my home, especially for holidays. I haven’t found this group of people yet. Most, if not all, of my friends here in Atlanta leave town for holidays, or are married and spend these days with their spouses or family. I love my friends, but we’re not on the same level when it comes to things like this.

I’ve decided, through my years of struggles, that it’s time to get started on a major part of the ministry I know God wants me to have. So, from now on, I am going to host events on all American holidays that I will be in town in Atlanta. Some will be home made meals, some will be bowling events or movies, some can just be eating out or lounging around with close friends. I decided last night that when I am married, I want my husband and I to host events like this every year for our single friends, or our friends who don’t have family in the town we live in. Why wait for that time when I can start doing this now? This is a calling on my life and I am going to answer it! So, here is what I need from you: if you’re reading this and you can relate, send me a message! If you’re reading this and you have a friend in Atlanta who you know needs a group like this, message them and tell them to message me. If you’re in Atlanta and want to be a part of these events, get in touch with me! I am going to get the ball rolling soon, and with Easter right around the corner, I want to start meeting up with people and forming a group now!

I trust God to send the right people.

I trust that through this step of faith, I will form solid friendships with some amazing and Godly people!

I trust this will work out for His glory!

I am excited….

Danni

Consider it all joy…

My mentor, who has been pastoring for the entire length of my life (26 years), ALWAYS tells me to “count it all joy.” Though I consider her wise and experienced, this is the one piece of advice that she offers, but I simply struggled to take. I am not even going to try and lie and tell you that this phrase has cheered me up when I heard it. Sometimes, it put things in perspective for me, but most of the time, if I am honest, it confused me. I found myself questioning how to count something joy, and what this whole concept really meant to begin with. What scripture was she quoting, and in what context was she using it? Was she simply trying to cheer me up, or did her words have a deeper meaning? I had so many questions until I really looked at the scripture for myself and thought about what it really means when the Author of Life is asking us to “count it all joy”.

I would wonder to myself, how am I supposed to consider that every little thing that happens to me, good or bad, should be counted as “joy”? When someone broke into my home in December, I was supposed to be happy? When I picked up and moved to a new city thinking I had a job only to find out that the job went to someone else after I had moved, was I supposed to smile and be glad? Sound outrageous, right? As a matter of fact, one of the first definitions for joy in any dictionary reads: the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying. What’s confusing about the Bible verse I am referencing is that the speaker is telling the audience to be joyful, even when the situation isn’t good or satisfying.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
-James 1:2-5

I have read, and re-read this text numerous times. Tonight, it spoke volumes to me. First of all, this scripture isn’t saying IF trials come; it’s basically letting you know that WHEN trials come, be joyful, for God is preparing you for bigger things! There is no mention of being joyful ONLY when the events of your life warrant joy; on the contrary, the writer is telling us to be joyful especially when joy is the last emotion you want to feel. In other words, be joyful even when it hurts. When you are tested, know that God will use this test to mature and strengthen you. It’s almost to say that if you’re not being tested and tried and stretched and pulled and weary and weak and about to give up, then you’re not doing something right! When my laptop and all my hard drives (which contained everything I have ever written for work and personal life) were stolen from me, one of the first thoughts that popped in my head was that God is telling me that I don’t need those things to move forward in my life. I can be successful without those things; I can still “count it all joy” because through this loss, God is building me up for bigger things!

Looking back on my reactions to 4 months of unemployment and the shear madness that was 2009, I didn’t spend all the time considering life joyful. My situation was dismal and scary, so I spent a lot of my time in prayer, but still felt scared and helpless. I listened to my mentor and her advice, but I didn’t really know how to be joyful even when I felt like my heart and mind couldn’t physically feel happiness even if it was injected into my body by a long sturdy needle. I am learning that true maturity and strength isn’t reacting to what I see or how I feel, but reacting to what I know to be the ultimate truth. That truth is this: God’s Word will never return void. God’s will will always be done. God wins. God loves me and promises to provide for me. God is God, and if I just let God be God, I will have more time to count my blessings and be joyful.

I am learning as I go, and in light of this, I CAN count it all joy….

Show me how to love…

….like You have loved me. This is my cry for today, and everyday I walk into work. Lord, show me how to love people, even in their messiness and imperfections, just as You love me in my chaos and sin. Lord, enable me to be a vessel that You can use for Your good, and move my desires, my pride, and my weaknesses out of the way so that Your goodness and Mercy and Grace shines through. In other words, Lord, replace me with You.

Do you realize how absolutely difficult it is to show love to someone who is darn near close to spitting in your face? Have you experienced a time when you genuinely just wanted to run away from a situation or person, but you knew that God was sternly telling you that you had to stay and stick it out for God, regardless of how you felt? It’s not easy; it’s actually impossible to make it through these parts of life without the strength of God. So today, and everyday, I pray that strength over myself and each of you. I want to love as God loves me, I really do. I want to rise above my personal feelings of hurt, neglect, embarrassment, hatred, anger, annoyance, loathing, spite, greed, and the like and truly be able to emulate what God exudes: love, joy, peace, acceptance, warmth, passion, grace, forgiveness, strength. I want that, because not only do I need it, but so do the students I teach. They need God’s attributes wrapped around them each day, and not my human weaknesses.

So, Lord, they need You, and so do I.