Attitude Adjustments

I have been thinking a lot about attitude lately. In general, how does one cultivate a good attitude especially when one has a tendency towards a poor one? As with so much in life- once we are thinking and spending time pondering an idea, we hear all sorts of advice on the subject.

Recently I was part of a women’s retreat. It was a time full of faith and fellowship. There was much authentic sharing during the weekend. I was amazed at how quickly, humbly and willingly women were in sharing their hurts and sorrows.

While I am amazed at the depth of courage and strength these women shared, I couldn’t help wondering, what is wrong with me? For whatever reason, I feel that I am not in a place of deep sorrow or hurt. In fact, life is pretty good. I felt almost a pressure to say my life was terrible when it really isn’t. I am always cognizant of the pain and sorrows of others and generally do not share all the good going on in my life because I don’t want it to seem like a competition or a “in your face,” etc. However, by not sharing my story in my “abundance” I am not being truly authentic with others, and by my unspoken words, have made it a competition.

That is wrong of me. It keeps me separated from others and is not the community into which God has called us .

I realized that we do need to share with one another ALL the things going on in our lives. The good, the bad and the ugly (equal emphasis on all, not just the bad and ugly). For focusing on all aspects of life, helps keep things in perspective. When I am going through difficulty and I hear someone share about the good things in life, I can see that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Although I must admit that in my immature moments, I can be a little jealous of the shared good times. However, many times the stories involving good times have difficulty woven in. When I hear the total picture, I can learn to be grateful for others’ stories and not focus solely on myself. Conversely, when I hear that someone is having a tough time, I can reflect and be grateful for what I am experiencing and also (if it seems like an appropriate time) be able to share my perspective.

God is good and He wants to give good things to His children. Sometimes we do not recognize His gifts as good but when we gain eternal perspective, it is all good. Hearing all sides of life- good, bad and the ugly helps me gain that eternal perspective.

I also think the tendency to negativity is another way that the father of lies tries to chip away at our soul and keep us separated. It is all part of the “not good enough, nothing will ever work out, hopeless state” he wants to keep us in. The Father of Light tells us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, there is a future and plan for each one of us and that through Christ there is hope in an eternal tomorrow.

And so as I have been thinking about optimism, I have come across these ideas:

A mosaic made during the women’s retreat to demonstrate how our brokenness is used by God to create something unexpected and beautiful.

A mosaic made during the women’s retreat to demonstrate how our brokenness is used by God to create something unexpected and beautiful.

  • No-Complaint Day. One practical way to stay optimistic is to practice a set amount of time with no complaints. Typically starting for one day and continuing each day without complaints for about a month. However, if you are a complaining type person (yours truly somedays), you might want to set the bar low at first (1 hour or half a day). But if you can, try and go a whole day without complaints.

  • Glad Game. If you are the type which complaining rolls off your tongue and even one hour of no-complaints gives you pause, you might have to institute the “glad game” while you are resetting your thoughts. The glad game comes from the old Pollyanna books/movies. Pollyanna, the main character would play the glad game whenever she felt sad or disappointed. Instead of saying the such and such happened she would say, “I am glad such and such happened because… (and reframe the negative to a positive). Kind of corny but as a person thinketh, so he/she doeth. If we start thinking positive thoughts, we are more likely to remain positive.

  • Smile more. If you do not think that smiling matters, try it for a day. When you are out and about, or even among your family and friends, try smiling at people. Again, if this is not your nature, those who know you might wonder if you have lost a few marbles. But, most people respond by smiling back. It creates an atmosphere of joy and encouragement.

  • Repeat positive affirmations: Some people have a daily mantra of positive thoughts. I prefer to remember the truths that God has said: I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am his cherished child, He has a plan and purpose for my life. Find scripture that has meaning for you and say it in the morning and throughout the day. Especially when the father of lies gets into your head to tell you otherwise.

  • Each day when you wake, choose to be optimistic that day. Some days may be quite easy to remain positive: the sun is shining, you get a good night’s sleep, you feel reasonably well, there were no “crisis phone calls” in the middle of the night and your hair isn’t frizzing. The real test will be when the days are dark, damp and miserable and your soul feels the same way.

What about you? Are you naturally optimistic or pessimistic? Do you naturally complain? (Or as I like to justify my complaining, “just stating facts…”) Are you going through a really tough time? Is there someone you know who might have gone through something similar and is now in a different place? Could you reach out to him or her? How do you re-frame your thoughts?

Lord, I choose this day to be positive for you- to relinquish all control, all fears, all doubts, all worries to you. Come into my heart, soul and mind and transform my negative thoughts and actions to positive ones. I rejoice that you will always be near me, that you are before and behind me and that you guide my steps. Amen.”

What the past can tell the future…

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The other day I was talking to our son. I cannot remember the specific topic but it brought to mind a slim volume that I purchased years ago, “Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior”. In it, are 110 rules for civility and decent behavior in company and conversation. George Washington wrote down these rules when he was 14, drawing upon a French book of maxims that were intended to “polish manners, keep alive the best affections of the heart, impress the obligation of moral virtues, teach how to treat others in social relations, and above all, inculcate the practice of a perfect self-control”. Of course there were rules that seem applicable to that period of time. Some rules are still said today but use different verbiage. And other rules are timeless. If only certain Presidents referred to this book, I wonder how our foreign and domestic relationships would be?

Some of the rules are priceless:

#2: When in company, put not your hands to any part of the body, not usually discovered.

#13: Kill no vermin as fleas, lice, ticks &c in the sight of others; if you see any filth or thick spittle, put your foot dexteriously upon it; if it be upon the clothes of your companions, put it off privately; and if it be upon your own clothes, return thanks to him who puts it off.

Interestingly, the 45th maxim:

#45: Being to advise or reprehend any one, consider whether it ought to be in public or private, presently or at some other time, in what terms to do it; and in reproving show no sign of cholar, but do it with all sweetness and mildness.

Other great advice:

#48 Wherein you reprove another, be unblameable yourself, for example is more prevalent than precepts.

#38: In visiting the sick, do not presently play the physician if you be not knowing therein.

Just last week I heard a story on NPR about a new book Love Your Enemies by Arthur C. Brooks. He talks about disagreement, civility, and getting along. He has some passionate and interesting theories on what the country’s discourse should be but I did agree with his interview’s final statement:

“Disagreement in a democracy is the source of our strength. If it's performed with respect and warmheartedness — even with love — that's how we avoid stagnation and mediocrity. I'm all about disagreement, but it has to be done in the climate of respect, warm heartedness and love.”

Also last week there was a protest by both sides of the aisle: March for Life, ACLU, conservative and liberal organizations. They were united against the National Park Service proposal to charge a fee for protest costs. (extra security, barriers, etc.) In a rare instance eight seemingly polarized organizations banned together and submitted a letter to the NPS explaining their position:

“Our organizations do not agree on all issues, but one principle we unreservedly support is our right to gather together to express ourselves,” the letter said. “The quintessential locations for these expressive gatherings in the United States are the National Mall and the public spaces surrounding the White House. . . . We are very concerned that, should these rules go into effect, they will chill speech and harm our national discourse.”

How refreshing to know that we CAN agree on something. Perhaps that what unites us is stronger and bigger than what divides us. What unites these groups is the recognition of all rights to protest- not those who can afford it.

What once again strikes me about “civility and decent behavior”- it is all about putting the other person first.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Easier said then done but necessary for all our sakes.

What about you? Have you read or heard any thought-provoking words lately? Were they new ideas or a rehash of one’s that have been around? Why is it that we need to “repackage” in a fresh way, ideas and thoughts that are not new? What other ideas unite seemingly polarized groups?

This week, be aware of the stories and news you hear. Are there common denominators in seemingly opposite views?

How can we demonstrate civility and decent behavior in company and conversation?

A Year of Delights

One place that brings me joy- the beach. Winter at sunset. I love the colors of the sky.

One place that brings me joy- the beach. Winter at sunset. I love the colors of the sky.

Last week I heard a snippet of an interview on the radio. It piqued my interest. The writer Ross Gay has written a book called, The Book of Delights. On his 42nd birthday, Mr. Gay gave himself the challenge to write about something delightful every day for a year. The book contains a collection of some of those delights: nicknames, fireflies, air quotes, garden weeds. As he shared with the interviewer, it wasn’t as difficult as he thought in finding delights around him. At first he thought he would have to really work hard on finding delights, but after a while he realized that he was more attentive to all the delights happening around him.

I love the premise- intentionally looking for things that are delightful in our lives. As with so many things, it doesn’t take much money or effort to be hyper observant, but it does take time. One has to slow down enough to see what is around. As Mr. Gay noted, once he began finding delight in his day, it affected the rest of his day. He also noted that delight is interdependent with others because what he found to be delightful were often personal interactions.

I thought that I would give myself a challenge- to find and write about one thing each day that brings me joy, tickles my funny bone, puts a smile on my face or just is downright delightful. The item can be big or small. It can be an activity, a person, a place, situation or idea. I would like to write @ 300 words, but It doesn’t have to be a specific number of words. If pressed for time it can just be a note, phrase or even a list.

What about you? Are you up for a challenge? Do you think you could find something delightful about which to write each day for a year? If you truly feel you cannot, could you give it a try for 30 days? Or plan on writing just 3 or 5 days/week. If writing is not your thing, how about pictures? What if you took a picture each day of something about which you found amusing or interesting? You could post it each day on whatever social media account you use.

What do you have to lose? You might gain some insight about yourself.

Click here to read the interview. Another person who is uber observant of her life is the actress Sarah Jessica Parker. Her Instagram has various pictures of her observations living and working in NYC. (Click here for her postings.)

It Is Well

Recently I was asked to give a devotional for a group of women. They were exploring the idea of wellness in body, mind and spirit and wanted to use the old hymn, “It is Well with My Soul” as the theme for the day. It made me think, how does one say “it is well with my soul” when life doesn’t necessarily provide an environment conducive to that? For many of us, things are so far from being well in our soul. We are anxious, upset, hurt, broken, or troubled. There is no peace. Or as I say to my husband, some days “there is no joy in Mudville.”

There are certain mysteries of life. One is how, through God we can say that we have the peace that passes all understanding. I think that when we realize that we are fearfully and wonderfully made and that God loves us (and likes us) unconditionally, we can begin to put life into perspective. When we realize that we have eternal life with God, our temporal life on earth doesn’t require as much angst.

Certainly that doesn’t mean that we become anesthetized to the tragedies and difficulties of life. Far from it. But I think when we recognize Who is in control, that He is the one who created all, we can then adjust our attitude and thinking and take a longer view of what is and is not important.

The writer of the hymn “It is Well with My Soul” seemed to understand that. He was no stranger to tragedy.

Horatio and Anna Spafford

Horatio and Anna Spafford

Horatio Spafford was a prominent lawyer and business man in Chicago during the mid to late 1800’s. In 1871, he and his wife Anna were living with their four young daughters in Lake View, Chicago when the Chicago fire occurred. Even though Horatio lost money in a property investment deal due to the fire, they were grateful to have survived with their home intact. For the next two years they helped others in the recovery of the city.

In the winter of 1873, the family decided to take a respite and go to Europe with friends. At the last minute, Horatio was detained on business with the plan on meeting the family as soon as he could. Anna and their four daughters set sail on the Ville du Havre. Four days into their journey, the steamship was struck by another boat in the middle of the night. Within twelve minutes the steamship sank. Only 27 of the approximate 300 passengers survived. Anna was one having been found unconscious floating on a piece of debris. Tragically all four of their daughters drowned.

When Anna arrived ashore she sent a telegram to Horatio, “Saved alone. What shall I do?” Anna was bereft but she had a strong conviction that she was saved for a purpose.

Horatio set sail on the next ship. When they boat came to the approximate location and latitude that the Ville du Havre sank, the Captain called Horatio to the deck. After standing on that deck, he penned the words to the hymn.

The Spaffords returned home and in time had two more children, Bertha and little Horatio. Sadly, little Horatio died of Scarlet Fever when he was three years old. After the birth of their last child (Grace), the Spaffords with some friends decided to move to Jerusalem. Over time, the small group become known as the “American Colony”.

Just as they had done in Chicago, they befriended their neighbors in need regardless of ethnicity, race or religion. During WWI, the colony nursed wounded soldiers on both sides of the conflict. When needs arose with orphaned children, the Spafford Children’s Hospital came into being, which is still running today.

From one family’s tragedy arose help and good work for others.

I find it incredible that a family who lost 5 of their 7 children could still have empathy for others and that they would and could reach out to others. I think I would’ve just shut down. It seems to me that in order to be empathetic there must’ve been some peace in their lives. Some reconciliation of their new reality.

What gave them peace? How did they accept the situation that befell their family? (or did they?) By their actions and lifestyle, they continually reached out to others. Was it realizing that there is a bigger plan of life than just what affects them? Whether they felt it or not, they demonstrated obedience, purpose and trust. They felt God calling them to a new venture and so they went.

There are conflicting accounts of the Spafford’s true reasons for moving to Jerusalem yet I don’t find the differing opinions taint my regard of the story. If we examine ourselves, we would admit that each of us is inconsistent in our behavior and thoughts. Our reasons for doing something can be quite complex. Whatever reason they had for moving to Jerusalem and whatever interpretation of their behavior, one cannot argue that they gave back to the community regardless of their circumstances.

I think Anna’s feeling of a purpose helped her. In reading Bertha Spafford’s account of the family’s life, she describes her mother as taking to heart the advice from Evangelist Dwight L. Moody to get involved helping others. Anna did just that even though she grieved for her children her entire life. Bertha mentions in her book, Our Jerusalem, that her mother was quite affected from the drowning of the girls- Anna could never touch corduroy as that was the material of the sleeve of her one daughter as Anna grasped in the dark sea to grab her.

I think purpose helps keep us afloat. My limited life experience has shown that purpose brings depth and understanding to our lives. It gives meaning to situations that on the surface may seem meaningless.

A prayer at Anna’s funeral seems to sum up what the family realized in their hearts: “Life is eternal and love is immortal; And death is only a horizon; And a horizon is nothing; Save the limit of our sight.”

I hope and pray that if I ever have such a life experience as the Spaffords, that I can say “It is well with my soul.” I pray that I can look beyond the immediate and see purpose. I pray that I can trust in Him who suffered and died so that I wouldn’t have eternal death, but life.

What about you? Is it well with your soul?


When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.

Refrain: It is well with my soul, It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, Let this blest assurance control, That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!— My sin, not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live: If Jordan above me shall roll, No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait, The sky, not the grave, is our goal; Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord! Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight, The clouds be rolled back as a scroll; The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend, Even so, it is well with my soul.

Click here to hear a beautiful rendition of “It is Well with My Soul” narrated by Hugh Bonneville.

Getting Along

Spoken by the man who lived his words. Without communication how can any relationship form, maintain and thrive?

Spoken by the man who lived his words. Without communication how can any relationship form, maintain and thrive?

Our church leadership group is reading a book, The Good and Beautiful Community, by James Bryan Smith. It is a book that brings together the ideas of spiritual formation and community engagement. It is thought-provoking as well as practical.

We recently discussed one of the chapters: “The Christ-Centered Community; Loving those we disagree with. What struck me was the emphasis on getting along, something that is in short supply lately. When we really stop and think about it, most times we disagree with others on non-essential issues: ideas or actions that in the long haul won’t matter. Similarly to the big Christmas argument that no one in the family quite remembers the topic. Relationships become tense and possibly broken as each side harbors hurt, wounded pride and misunderstanding. When we really get to the heart of an issue we find that we generally agree on essential fundamentals. Not all the time, of course. And recently there seems to be more and more disagreement on even the essentials of human existence.

In the application section, the author reminds us of the 18th-century Methodist leader John Wesley’s advice on loving those with whom we disagree:

  1. Treat them as companions.

  2. Do not think of speak evil of them.

  3. Pray for them.

  4. Encourage them to do good.

  5. Collaborate with them in ministry.

Granted, this is written for Christ-followers in getting along with other Christ-followers, but I think that it has universal appeal. I think that these truths apply across the board. Just because someone doesn’t have your same beliefs doesn’t mean that you cannot pray for them (or think about putting your shoes in theirs for a while). While one might not call their work, “ministry”, you can still work with others in whatever job/service they do.

Makes me wonder- what would happen if our President and Congressional members prayed for each other? Treated one another as companions? Encouraged one another? Did not speak evil of each other?And, shall we even dare say, collaborated together?

Closer to home, what about the people with whom I disagree? Some times I am so annoyed with others that I do not want to think or pray for them and I definitely do not want to encourage or collaborate with them. Although I definitely want to speak evil of them- to all who will listen! Not a very good approach to building community.

Are you currently not getting along with someone or a group of someones? Are there any of the five suggestions you can try? I am thinking of one woman in particular who drives me crazy. Perhaps I need to stop thinking (and speaking) “evil”. (Evil might be too strong a word. But I do have the tendency to speak those subtle sarcastic remarks which are not encouraging nor uplifting.)

I did hear some wise advice once: find something positive to begin and end each conversation. If only certain twits (Is that the name for people who use Twitter?) would start that practice, imagine how much our political scene would change.

What about you? How do you handle disagreements? With your family, friends or co-workers? Do you ignore them? Provoke them? Love them?

Today, how can you get along with others or help someone else get along?