Who Are Your Cheerleaders?

Who Are Your Cheerleaders?

Mom, how did you do that?” my daughter asked me a couple months ago as she studied this old photo.

“Practice,” I told her, “And abs. I had really strong abs.”

I ignored her skeptical glare.

The truth is, some days I can hardly believe this myself.

But I was – at that point – fit and, come game time, loud.

Today, I make it a point NOT to raise my voice. And my abs? Well, I exercise, but I’m 45 and have brought 3 kids into the world. They are worth every bit of physical sacrifice, but I don’t wear bikinis anymore.

Way back then, I was a cheerleader, which in theory means we were encouraging others to play to their best abilities.

And whether we were effective at helping the football team win (questionable – but it was SO MUCH FUN!), the fact remains that our role precipitated one we’d all need forever.

Throughout life every person requires cheerleaders in some form. We need individuals who are rooting for us when times are hard and we forget how to summon the strength within ourselves to meet the current challenges.

So who are your cheerleaders?

Last week, I rediscovered a couple of mine when I suffered from a strong bout of anxiety.

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, unease, and nervousness, sometimes for no apparent reason, but typically related to an imminent event with an uncertain outcome.

For me, the attack was triggered by the realization that at the writer’s conference I would attend on Saturday (my very first ever), I would show some of my work to editors, who could offer criticism. (The idea that they might also approve of it never factored into my thinking.) Selecting a piece and the idea of having to “sell” my writing to potential publishers filled me with such dread that I sailed right off the ledge of reality and into a pit of fear. I had myself convinced that I had never strung two words together that made a bit of sense, and that I must be a moron for ever having started a blog in the first place.

Thank goodness, I’ve learned that anxiety is not something you entertain, and I called in reinforcements, which arrived in spades in the form of four good friends.

One of them texted with me over two days until my head was in a better place. Here’s just a sample of her words to me:

This brief exchange illustrates how your best cheerleaders: 1) remind you that you can handle the struggle, 2) call forth your truest self, and 3) push you back into the game.

Your cheerleaders should be people who share your values. People who speak the truth about life in a tone that shows their love and concern for you and your welfare. They build up and never tear down. They should focus on what can be done instead of obstacles and limitations. They care about the state of your soul, mind, and body.

My cheerleaders also have these things in common with me: they trust God and have an interest in reading and learning about Scripture; they listen for the promptings of the Holy Spirit; and they know that their identity is found not in their accomplishments or worldly assets, but is rooted in Jesus Christ and His unconditional love. If that last bit makes no sense to you, here’s a piece that might help.

As adults we don’t often publicly admit that we have moments of self-doubt, abject panic, and baseless fear, but it does happen. And we need people we can count on who won’t laugh at us or call us cowards.

We need people who will rush in to talk, laugh, cry, and pray with us. We need a loyal team.

So consider – who are your cheerleaders? And who do you cheer for?

Choose your core supporters wisely. And when you need them, don’t be afraid to call them in.

“A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you’ve forgotten the words.” – C.S. Lewis

A New Use for Holiday Cards

A New Use for Holiday Cards

Let me ask you: What did you do with all of the Christmas, holiday, or New Year’s cards you received back in December and January?

If you’re like me, you held onto them for weeks, believing that one cold winter day you would sit down with a big mug of tea and re-read them, save the extra-special ones, and maybe even call or write those super-human individuals who had taken extra time to pen novellas of their lives in the past year. (Those people always impress me; I can barely get my cards mailed by Dec. 22nd, much less tell everyone what we did in the previous 12 months!)

Or maybe you even had grandiose plans of crafting with the cards you received – making a collage or ornaments out of them. Yes – one ambitious year perhaps you even admired all those sweet faces of your friends’ kids and planned to photograph each card, saving them to your hard drive or the cloud! (I actually did this. Precisely ONE time.)

But in all likelihood – you did none of that. You eventually let out a big sigh of co-mingled regret and relief, and recycled the colorful stash, secretly hoping that no one would ever ask you to recall the cards’ contents.

By now, the cards my family received would usually have been appreciated and tossed. But not this year.

This year, we are trying something new: we are making the cards a part of Lent.

In our home, we “say grace” before meals. It’s a good habit – one that’s meant to remind us from Whom we receive our nourishment.

Typically, we say the traditional Catholic blessing:

“Bless us, O Lord,
and these Thy gifts,
which we are about to receive,
from Thy bounty,
through Christ Our Lord,
Amen.”

It covers all the most important points and when said with genuine heartfelt devotion, offers the gratitude that’s due.

There is danger in repetition, however. After awhile, it can be tempting to ignore the words – to just go through the motions of saying them without concentrating on their meaning.

One way to recharge a mealtime prayer with its intended significance is to change it up a bit – not by re-wording it necessarily, but by adding to it.

So at every meal this Lent, we are taking a couple Christmas cards from our stack and praying for the families that sent them. Our prayers are not fancy or flowery, just straightforward expressions from the heart that the One who sees and knows all will grant our friends the virtues and strengths they need most.

If you wonder what that looks like, here’s what I said last night after the basic blessing:

“Heavenly Father, we thank you for our dear friends Pete and Amy and their children Brendan, Zach, and Ellie. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen them but we know they are in Your loving hands. Please watch over them and bring them closer to one another in 2018. We pray too for Uncle Bill and Clara. May you bless their new marriage and new home in California. Amen.”

Sharing these cards every night has given my husband and I opportunities tell our kids a bit more about old friends – people with whom we ‘swap’ Christmas cards but rarely see – people we knew long before the kids came along. It’s a side benefit I wouldn’t have considered before starting this Lenten effort.

Remembering people and holding them up….

We can start anytime.

Flip through your phone’s address book, glance over your Facebook friends, make a list of names.

Fold your hands and lift up a friend. Today.

How a Friend Saved Me Yesterday

“Are you writing your blog?” asked a cheerful voice I’d recognize anywhere.

“I don’t want to interrupt, but I do want to say hello, Sweetie,” my beautiful friend Ana continued, as she sat beside me at the little round table in the taekwondo school where our sons have practiced together for years.

I finally looked up, still scowling, still hunched over my laptop, and ignoring my daughter, who was now reaching across the table to slowly push down my screen and force an end to my misery. She too, wanted to rescue me.

“Yes,” I conceded. “I’m trying to write a piece about the presidential election.”

Ana’s eyes grew wide and everything I needed to know was right there in her expression.

“I know. It’s a bad idea. And I’m so, so frustrated!!”

I had been writing and rewriting the piece for hours, obsessing and rehashing, all the while feeling angry and uninspired – all of which are warning signs for me that I’m not in a good frame of mind and shouldn’t be writing on the topic. But was I paying attention to the little warning bells going off in my head? No.

Ana could see that, I’m sure. Because I probably looked like this.

Photo from http://jedaniels-adventures.blogspot.com/2008_03_01_archive.html
Photo from http://jedaniels-adventures.blogspot.com/2008_03_01_archive.html
It’s a small wonder she approached me at all. But she’s a brave one. So she then proceeded to do what good friends everywhere do.

Commiserate. Empathize. Act as a Sounding Board. Encourage. Divert from the Source of Tension. And Ultimately – Pull Me Out of the Muck.

And the stuff I was writing about? Well, “muck” is a nice work for it, isn’t it?

My friend reminded me to look for the positive. And in that moment, I just couldn’t do it on my own. So God sent her to me.

Today, I just want to thank the Lord for my friend Ana, and remind you that if you’re trying to figure it all out on your own, you’re working too hard. We were never meant to be alone. We have each other. By Divine design. Let somebody who cares about you defuse you today.

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. (Job 2:11)

My Facebook Problem

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2009 was the year. I signed on to Facebook and so did just about everyone else I knew. It seemed like people were coming out of the woodwork. Men and women from high school, college, jobs I’d had, and my community, all became ‘Friends.’ It was nifty really, to find that despite all of the dreaming, planning, and working we’d done, we had similar lives. In essence, we all cared about the same things.

Like most people, I typically only post good stuff on Facebook. Or the things in my life for which prayer or consolation are appropriate. I hope they are events that my ‘Friends’ see as relevant and noteworthy, because we all want to find that others relate to us. But we don’t need to share everything. No one wants to see dog vomit, right?

Several years ago, my dad asked me how many ‘Friends,’ I had. When I answered, he probed a bit.

“Do you actually know all of them?”

I told him, “Yes. Or I knew them fairly well at some point in my life.”

That all changed sometime in the last couple years, because now I have ‘Friends’ of Friends. They are people I have minimal knowledge of. People who really don’t know me. You probably have some ‘Friends’ of the same sort.

If, in real life, I would usually have no idea that ‘Jen So-and-so’ vacations in the Caribbean twice every year, why in the world am I spending time viewing photos of her beachy getaways? And if ‘Dave What’s-his-name’ has political opinions that unnerve me, why am I allowing his caustic comments to get under my skin? I have learned to switch my news feed settings, but there is A LOT of stuff out there that doesn’t pertain – in any way – to me.

I justify my time on Facebook by acknowledging its value. There is useful information that helps my writing and guides my reading. And if it weren’t for this social medium I wouldn’t have known that an old, dear friend lost her niece to suicide, or that the prayers of thousands are helping to heal another friend’s husband – a Marine who was gravely injured overseas. I want to know what’s going on, and if I can contribute something worthwhile to my friends’ lives, however remote they might be.

But instead, I am sucked in by catchy (though not original) everyday truths about coffee, friendship, parenting, or the mourning process. ‘LIKE’ and Repost if You Agree!

Last week, I shared my woes with a friend. A “real-life” “in-the-flesh” “we met for coffee” friend. Together we renewed our vow to only look at Facebook at certain times and for certain reasons (mine having to do with participation in a writer’s group). My efforts have been valiant, but I am still not following through on that promise. I have wasted time – scrolling.

This morning, the Word spoke to me loudly.

Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power.

-Ephesians 6:10

As a Christ follower, I have been made a new creation and given the enormous power of the Holy Spirit to overcome my flesh, which is prone to stray from the abundant life that He has envisioned for me. If I’m struggling in my inner battle, it’s because I have NOT relied on Him.

This life is a concrete, physical life – NOT a virtual one. God designed it that way. He gave me, you, and all my ‘Friends,’  bodies with which to taste, touch, smell, hear and see the physical world. In these ways, we can truly experience the richness of life, and by extension, the richness of Him.

Lord, renew me today. Help me to dispense with the wasted time I spend dabbling in worldly chatter – which I KNOW diverges from the fullness I have in You.

 

Grab that Umbrella – Finding Faith for Everyday Storms

Grab that Umbrella – Finding Faith for Everyday Storms

Who are your “heart friends?” The ones you can count on anytime to help you through whatever it is that ails you?

I am blessed with a few, and there are two in particular who pray with me, and for me, regularly. We have a 3-way message group that perpetually stays near the top of my devices, because we lean on one another via texts nearly every day.

As the snow fell yesterday afternoon, this message popped up on my screen:

Can one or both of u spend 5 min praying with me over the phone? I know it’s a snow day so may be too hard to break away I just feel it would be so good. Not urgent and nothing too serious just felt it would be a good blessing to do this.

My friend reached out when the Spirit prompted her, hoping that one or both of us could ‘be’ with her for a time, and it was my privilege to do so. In fact, I could see immediately that our conversation was what had been planned for me.

I’d been feeling a rather nondescript sluggishness all day – the let down after a wonderful Valentine’s weekend away perhaps – but the feeling was also rooted in my lack of trust and faith.

It’s easy to believe you are living a joyful existence when beautiful music plays, the food is delicious, and your eyes have new sights to behold. But when life returns to its normal pace – when the kids are bored during another snow day, a variety of real-world concerns plague your mind, and you are adding to the month’s to-do list while berating yourself for not making things “perfect” – where is the joy then?

It’s in these moments that I turn to my friends – my fellow believers in the world unseen. They remind me of life’s true purpose – that it’s not about how much we accomplish, or whether things turn out the way we expect or hope they will. In fact, there’s a very real chance that nothing will go according to our plans. That while we believe everything is working for our ultimate good – we won’t see this ‘good’ in our lifetimes. Scripture doesn’t promise us a smooth journey, just that we will never be left to navigate it alone.

And I write this from a place of incredible privilege. I am a citizen of a free country and so are my children. I’m in good health and so is my family. I have not known the pain of hunger or poverty. My suffering, compared to that of others, may be small. But is that the point, either?

No. God’s hand is on me and He knows my circumstances and those of my friends, and He’s dropped me into this space and time for His purposes. And as believers we know that we are given His strength, which we can find in one another at the times when we need it most. Our friendship is not mere chance. We were placed in one another’s lives for a reason – to help each other weather whatever storms come.

Last summer, I watched a local theater production of Mary Poppins and I was momentarily struck dumb when the delightful nanny says to her charges, “When will you learn to look past what you see?”

When will you learn to look past what you see-

Learning to see beyond is actually a process of conscious and constant surrender, and it’s not easy. But we are promised the greatest reward possible. Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” (James 11:40)

So once again, we grab that umbrella of faith, our own or the one we borrow from a trusted friend, and we allow it to lift us higher, to the place of hope and true joy. This is the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine of life go down.