Tag Archives: stress

Review: Simply Tuesday, by Emily P. Freeman

Simply Tuesday, Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World, by Emily P. FreemanSimply Tuesday, by Emily P. Freeman (Revell, 2015)

Subtitled “Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World,” Simply Tuesday calls readers to live in the everyday moments without the pressure to perform or to push on to the next big thing. Even the cover art, a quiet bench with birds and dragonflies, calls us to slow down.

Sections consider our home, work, relationships and souls, as well as a vision for what’s ahead. Readers are invited to find ourselves and our loved ones in the present, and to be present to Jesus with us. The book is part memoir and part an exploration of Christian living, shared by one who’s still learning through life (as opposed to one who’s nailed the answers).

It’s approachable and easy to relate to, an invitation to embrace and celebrate our smallness instead of condemning ourselves for our humanity. My favourite lines:

What gives moments meaning is not the moments themselves but the presence of Christ with us in the midst of them. (p. 47)

True belief is movement toward God even in the midst of confusion or frustration or fear. (p. 78)

I can’t prevent storms from coming, but I can decide not to invent my own. (p. 209)

Emily P. Freeman writes with a transparency and a conversational style that will be familiar to anyone who follows her blog. Something I hadn’t noticed in her blog posts that made the book a little harder for me is the fluidity with which she shifts from past to present and back again. We do this in conversations, to add immediacy: “Fifteen years ago, I’m working at a local high school… It’s morning and the bell rings…” (p. 206) In printed form, I find this jarring. Maybe it’s the editor in me.

Simply Tuesday offers refreshment for anyone struggling in the try-hard life while her soul aches for a simpler pace and a bit of fresh air. It’s not anti-performance or opposing busyness. Instead, it’s a glimpse of what life might look like if we began to nurture the small things in our lives and if we accepted ourselves as who we are instead of always pushing to be more than we are. Highly recommended for weary souls.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: The Reluctant Caregiver, by Bobbi Junior

The Reluctant Caregiver, by Bobbi JuniorThe Reluctant Caregiver, by Bobbi Junior (Word Alive Press, 2014)

I knew this was a book I’d value, from the dedication:

Dedicated to my brother, husband and children, who never said “You should…”

And to Jesus, who said, “Let me.”

On one level, this is a memoir of one woman’s struggle to demonstrate the love of Christ to her mother, Nancy, who has dementia. Without a power of attorney in place, Bobbi Junior and her brother, Lawrence, can’t take the conventional advice to “put her in a home.” As a Christian, Bobbi feels called to treat her mother with love and dignity, even though they had a difficult relationship since Bobbi’s childhood.

On another level, it’s a story for every Christian walking in a hard place.

The Reluctant Caregiver is transparent about Bobbi’s ongoing battles with her attitudes, fears, and the desire to take charge. Most of the time, she rises to the challenge in a way that will have many readers shaking their heads in admiration (and a few readers putting the book down, angry that she doesn’t retaliate or walk away).

When she fails, or when she’s floundering, her journal entries give us clues to how we might handle similar experiences. (What? You haven’t failed or floundered lately?)

The book reads like a journal-style novel, and I found myself reading every chance I could. It offers insight not only into the difficult role of a caregiver but also into the pain of an intelligent woman who knows she can’t think straight anymore – and who now berates herself as “stupid.”

The chief take-away is that we can’t manage life’s challenges in our own strength, but that Jesus is ready to take the lead if we’ll only let Him. Because we’re human, this is a day-to-day or minute-by-minute process. We get better at it, but only in the sense that practice helps us learn to turn to Him more readily.

The Reluctant Caregiver is a valuable resource for Christians who are or who will become caregivers, and for those who find it easier to take control than to surrender it to God. I’m in a wide-open space in my life right now, but even in my small stresses I found Bobbi’s prayers and journal entries showed me a better way. I’m challenged to walk closer with Jesus and to ask Him to show me His way instead of insisting my own. Even in the little things, it’s hard to do.

Bobbi Junior is a Canadian author and speaker who shares what she’s learning about life and caregiving at her website: bobbijunior.com.

[Review copy from the public library.]

On Joy and Interruptions

How did I lose the joy of Christmas?

It would be easy to blame the commercialism and hype. The music that starts too early in the stores. The trees that pop up, fully decorated, after Halloween – not even pausing for Remembrance Day.

Or the details, oh, the details. What to buy? Make a list. Be sure everyone gets enough – enough stuff they don’t have room or need for. Cringe when the bills come in.

Beneath it all, the dread – what if I can’t find the perfect gift for each loved one? They like money, but it always feels like I’ve failed to come up with anything better. The giving, after all, is to please them – not just a hollow ritual.

Pull out the same old decorations. Hang them in the same places. Bake. At least the baking’s fun – and the eating, if not the weight gain.

Cram an already-full schedule even fuller with extra events and gatherings – and with the unstated pressure to do it all, “because it’s Christmas.”

Jesus didn’t come to bring expectations and guilt – just the opposite. He didn’t come to drive us into debt or anxiety, but to set us free, enrich our spirits, and pour His peace into troubled hearts.

He came to interrupt our mundane lives and give us new life – abundant life. How often do I cling to the mundane instead?

I think that’s where the joy went – brushed aside because my agenda is as full as the Bethlehem inn.

This year, instead of carrying the weight of the doing, I want to cultivate the being. Being still with God, daily exploring the message of Advent. Being open to the interruptions that December brings to my plans. Not resisting the decorations as one more clutter-filled chore, but embracing the chance to love my family by creating a festive environment.

Choosing to enjoy the opportunities to spend time with friends and family. Hearing and celebrating the music of the season. Being with God, even in a crowded store, and listening for His nudges in what gifts to buy for whom.

I don’t want to miss the joy of Christmas by clinging to the mundane. I’d rather be a shepherd than a sleeping (or grumpy) citizen of Bethlehem.

Writing this post on Sunday helped me articulate the issue and put me on a better track. There’s something about identifying the problem that lets us begin to fix it.

This may be too early in the season for me to experience Christmas joy, but I’m finding meaning in deliberate, daily Advent readings, and once I stopped avoiding the Christmas activities, I’ve even begun to enjoy those. We have no decorations up yet – my husband and I are both sick. But we did a bit of shopping Wednesday night, and in God’s sense of humour, He helped us find a surprising amount of gifts (including one for us).

If you’re experiencing Christmas angst, you might check out Janice Dick’s post, “Christmas Stress.”

I encourage you to pop over to Carolyn Arends’ website and click on her song list to play “Vacancy.” It’ll bless you 🙂

In Stress, Remember God

God’s strong name is our help,
the same God who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 124:8, MSG*

This psalm is a celebration of God rescuing Israel from their enemies. They had no other hope, no chance. Without God, they’d have been destroyed.

We have life-or-death crises too. More often, we have lesser struggles that can still overwhelm us. This verse offers two strategies to help us hold onto God by faith.

Remember God’s strong name. His name reveals His character. It’s who He is. Healer. Provider. Ruler. Deliverer.

Remember God’s acts. He made heaven and earth. He parted the Red Sea and the Jordan River. He sent His Son to die for us and break the power of sin and death.

God is, and has done, so much more than this. And He hasn’t aged or gotten tired. He’s the same now, and He’ll be the same tomorrow.

Our God, we find confidence in Your unchanging nature. We praise You for who You are and what You’ve done, and for what You will do. Please strengthen our faith and help us to rely on Your unfailing love.

Listen to Chris Tomlin sing “Our God” and be encouraged today.

*The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

God and Time Management

My times are in your hands;
deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
from those who pursue me.
Psalm 31:15, NIV*

The most important thing I learned in university had nothing to do with my field of study. I learned, through experience, that when the deadlines loomed and there was more to do than time to do it, I could ask God to help.

Our God is outside of time. He made time. We live in it, and He gives us enough to do what He has for us to do. I remember one specific time in university, praying that somehow He would stretch time to allow us to finish a hefty assignment.

We didn’t get a flashy miracle like the Old Testament king who saw the sun’s shadow move backward, but we got the peace and the enabling to do the work. And somehow, we had the time as well.

I told this story to one of my sons on the weekend, hoping to encourage his own stress load. Then I stopped and looked at him. “I learned this. But I haven’t been applying it.”

My husband, on my other side, was valiantly not saying a word. But I saw agreement in his eyes. He knows how heavy my to-do list has grown, and how I’ve been stressing about how to meet my responsibilities.

Knowledge not applied isn’t much use. Remember to pray. (Click to tweet)

God our Maker and our Sustainer, You never asked us to do life on our own. You ask us to let Your Holy Spirit indwell and empower us. Of course when we look at our responsibilities, they seem too much for us. You’ve designed us to rely on You. Forgive us for those many times when we’ve tried to carry the load in our own strength. Thank You for the opportunities in our lives. Please give us wisdom in our choices and faith to rely on You. What You give us to do, You will equip us to do. Help us not add in other things to weigh us down, and help us stay close to You.  

Chris Tomlin’s song, “How Great is Our God” includes a reference to this week’s verse, and it’s a good anchoring one for us to sing.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

Fear as Opportunity

Stress and pressure are like strong winds. They knock us off our feet and send us tumbling, flailing for support.

As long as we keep God at our backs, we can stand.

I often use the prayer picture of a piece of paper, wind-plastered against a cliff, pressed so tightly against the rock face that you can see every groove and jut in the rock.

Isn’t that our prayer as Christians? “Lord, shape me to be like You.”

Life’s struggles are often His best tools.

So why hadn’t I recognized that fear is only another tool? Carolyn Watts writes that “fear can be an assetif we learn how to let it lead us closer to Jesus.” (see How to Turn Fear into an Asset)

Or as a good friend said to me the other day, “Fear is a driver—it can drive you to God, or deeper into fear. Pray to choose wisely.”

This puts fear in the same category as trials, temptations, stresses and even gifts: something God can use in our lives to develop perseverance and endurance. Instead of freezing up or shrinking inward, we can invite Jesus into our fear, ask Him to use it to draw us closer to Him—to let it press us into His likeness.

We can praise Him and rejoice over what He’s going to do, even though we can’t yet see what that will be.

Thanking God in our fear, instead of letting it close us off from Him… this is delightfully subversive and not at all what the enemy of our souls has in mind, I’m sure. But it matches Scripture: “For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow,” (James 1:3, NLT) and “Be thankful in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18a, NLT).

It comes down to this: who/what do we believe is stronger, God or fear? The loyalty to God that I’ve been reading about in the Book of James gives me my answer.

Not that I’m going to welcome fear, to throw open the door and invite it in, but this breaks its power. This lets me press into God, lets me know I’m in good hands and it’ll be okay. No matter what.

[If fear is one of your struggles, I highly recommend following the posts at Hearing the Heartbeat, beginning with How Do You Hear God’s Don’t Be Afraid?]

For the Little Troubles Too

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.
James 1:2-3, NLT*

Yes, these are the same verses two weeks in a row. What makes them such treasures to me is they’re not just for the huge troubles that life occasionally sends our way. They’re for the little trials and stresses too, even the things we might think are too minor to bother God about.

One night last week, I was late making supper and my husband had to leave promptly afterward. My family can tell you this is not a new state of affairs. It always stresses me, which tightens my muscles, inhibits my thought processes, and generally slows me down. And it makes me cranky.

But I’d been reading the first part of James 1 for almost two weeks by that point, and it was sinking in a bit. In the middle of “where did the time go, why am I always behind and I wish I could learn to do better,” I caught myself wishing I didn’t have to deal with this so often.

Wishing the trouble would go away.

Forgetting to see it as an opportunity to grow.

That stopped me and shifted my focus. Instead of fretting, I chose to say “God, thank You for this chance to learn to rely on Your strength and not my own. Thank You that this is an opportunity to practice living by faith.”

I kept praying. And working.

Calm replaced the frenzy, supper preparations went better, and my sweet husband even had time to eat his meal without rushing. And I think the whole family appreciated not eating with a frazzled cook.

God who saves us, who loves us too much to leave us in the sorry states you found us, thank You for how You patiently grow us. As much as we sometimes wish You’d just zap us and make us perfect, strong and whole, we know Your way of training and building us up is better. It grounds us in You, and it will last. Thank You for loving us.

A song I love that helps keep me focused: Geoff Moore‘s “I Believe“.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Joy Under Pressure

As pressure and stress bear down on me,
I find joy in your commands.
Psalm 119:143, NLT*

If that’s not a Christmas-related verse, I don’t know what is.

All jokes aside, you can’t read Psalm 119 and not see how the psalmist loves the Law of the Lord, how he thrives on it. I’ve been praying to better understand and follow his example.

At first this verse didn’t make sense to me. Pressure and stress bearing down… and he finds joy in God’s commands?

Pressure: God is the ultimate authority. This verse reminds me to trust Him to care for me and to ask for equipping wisdom or deliverance.

Perspective: It’s not me against the universe. God is bigger than the problem.

Focus: Centering on God’s way builds an attitude of God-trust instead of futile human striving or fighting the circumstances.

Wisdom: God’s code of conduct helps us know what to do, how to act in difficult situations.

Joy: There’s no joy looking at stress, but there’s deep joy in belonging to God. Keeping His Law, precepts and principles as the Spirit enables us keeps the barriers down between us.

Life: The next verse says

Your laws are always right;
help me to understand them so I may live.
Psalm 119:144, NLT*

Doing it God’s way brings joy and life in the midst of stress. What’s not to like?

God all-wise and loving, we can’t do this on our own, and that’s one reason You gave the Law in the first place, to help us see our need. Help us learn and understand, and through Your Holy Spirit keep us focused and following. Thank You for the joy and life You give.

The NewsboysWhen the Tears Fall is a song of trusting God through hard times. That’s not happiness, but it’s joy.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

6 Links on Living Slower, Plus a Song

Rainbow: be still and trust GodAt The Write Conversation, Edie Melson encourages us to Be  Still and to realize that there is Time Enough.

At Michael Hyatt’s Intentional Leadership blog, he explores The Practice of Stillness.

At The Kill Zone, Jordan Dane shares Ten Simple Relaxation Techniques and Stress Relievers for Writers.

At This Day With God, Mark Shields offers simple advice on Using Time Wisely.

At Hearing the Heartbeat, Carolyn Watts invites us to live gently, not urgently.

Bonus song: Here’s a surprisingly peppy call to Be Still, from Canadian singer-songwriter Carolyn Arends. It’s so catchy, it’ll get in your head and remind you all day to slow down. 

Relying on the Truth

I know the Lord is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.
Psalm 16:8, NLT*

Sometimes we just need to declare the truth and choose to believe it, whether it feels true or not.

God is patiently retraining my responses to stressful or fear-inducing situations, and my part is to remember—and rely on—the truth.

Travelling to and from Write! Canada the other week let me practice. My route to the conference involved two planes, a commuter train and a bus. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I actually suspect God allowed me to miss my train stop as part of the lesson. Not that He caused me to forget, but it was just after that stop a thought popped up: check where you’re supposed to get off.

It really was good practice to get off at the next stop muttering “I have a good Shepherd” and using the truth to subdue the muscles that wanted to clench. I repeated it in my mind when I had to ask a transit information worker for help.

My Shepherd had a friendly person on the desk, who didn’t yell at me or make me feel stupid. Instead, she told me what bus to take from there. No backtracking, no paying a second fare.

This retraining will be ongoing for some time, but after all, it took years for the problem to get this deeply entrenched. And it’s getting easier as long as I stay on guard.

God who rules the universe and yet who knows our smallest need, thank You for Your care. You love us, You save us, and You don’t leave us in the messes where You find us. Thank You for the truth in Your Word. Help us use all the armour of Christ and to cooperate with You in working out our salvation. Thank You that who the Son sets free is free indeed.

As an echo to today’s verse, here is Vineyard Music’s “I Will Not Be Shaken.”

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.