7 Day Contentment Challenge

In a “more, more, more” society, Mountain Lake Church has taken the plunge for more, too.

More contentment, that is.

For the next 7 days we are attempting to cultivate grateful, appreciative hearts rather than stoking the raging fires of greed or materialism. And since I greedily just ate my kids’ Easter candy and then coveted new patio furniture, I figured I better join the challenge. Check it out

contentment

I’m diving into this challenge (now that I’ve eaten the candy and logged off of Pinterest), and I’ll be honest enough to say I don’t struggle in all of these areas. I tend to be grateful for and generous with what God has already given me. However, when my eyes wander to my neighbor’s back yard or a HGTV design show….well, I become acutely aware of what I don’t have.

And what I need.

Right now.

Like a back patio with fire pit. I need that. I’m virtually positive that most of my problems would eradicate if only I had a covered porch (with recessed lighting, of course) on which I could lounge while writing bible studies and returning emails. For sure, I would be sitting on deep, cushioned chairs with candle lanterns hangings from the support columns and cute outdoor curtains tied back for visual detail.

But, I digress. Apparently, I really need this challenge.

So, today I’m taking steps to succeed. My eyes won’t be wandering the millions of pins on Pinterest or the stellar episodes of Fixer Upper (I totally want to be Jo and Chip’s friend). I won’t focus on what I don’t have. Instead, I will treasure what God has already given me. A thankful heart is a happy heart, and today my heart will be ecstatic!

What about you? Will you take the challenge, too? If so, figure out which step trips you up the most and make a plan to win! 

1 Timothy 6:6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.

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Perpetual Planning Paralysis

more actionI’m not one to make rash decisions. No spontaneous big purchases. No impetuous schedule changes. I’m what one would call a “planner.”

When hosting parties in my home, I orchestrate the details of guest lists, seating arrangements, and clean up well in advance of the soirée. When I supervise church events, oversized post-it pad papers full of instructions plaster the walls of my planning sessions. And if my husband offers a last minute change to any of my schemes, well let’s just say marital discord looms.

Being a planner has its upside. Considering all the details of an event or decision helps to avoid pitfalls like surprise expenses or overlooked guests. The world needs people like me. But all that planning has its downside, as well.

Let me give you an example. I’ve been planning a bedroom makeover for my 6th grade daughter. Her room is a hodgepodge of hand-me-down’s, and it’s time to give her a more grown up space. For the last several months (months, I said), I have pinned paint colors on Pinterest, made wish lists at Target, and searched decor ideas in magazines. Months. I have plotted and planned for months without taking any real action. No new furniture has been purchased. No wall has been painted. No old things have been thrown out. Apparently, I have become stymied in perpetual planning paralysis.

Well, no more. Determined to break out of my slump, I posted pictures of my daughter’s current bedroom suite to an online sales forum, and it sold in 20 minutes! That’s right, I’m the genius who sold all of my daughter’s furniture without anything to replace it. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting such a quick response, and now I feel slightly disconcerted knowing I must make quick decisions to complete the room red0. Painting the room and choosing furniture will most likely rock my world for the next few weeks, but it needs to happen. Too much planning and not enough action were getting me nowhere fast. Taking the drastic action of selling everything was just the kick-in-the-pants I needed to get moving in the right direction!

Maybe you aren’t a planner, like me. Maybe you are more of a free spirit that takes action when the mood strikes. Either way, all of us must take action in life.

In decisions.

In relationships.

In discipleship.

In leadership.

Planning paralysis and moody moments can rob us of becoming the people God created us to be and being effective in the hand of God.

Are you a perpetual planner? Do you, like me, simply need to take action? Or do moody moments prevent you from doing the things you ought? Do you need to:

  • have that difficult conversation you’ve been dreading?
  • cut up your credit cards and create a monthly budget?
  • engage in a mentoring relationship?
  • exercise?
  • disciple your family?
  • date your spouse?
  • use your God-given gifts in the church?
  • step out in faith?
  • obey what God has commanded of you?

Clearing out an entire room of furniture was the drastic action I had to take to start moving in the right direction. What drastic action is needed in your life? Don’t get paralyzed by perpetual planning and don’t wait until the mood strikes. Take action to become the person God created you to be! Take action to influence the world around you! 

I want to spur you on! Tell me: are you are a Perpetual Planner or Free Spirit? What change do you want to make?

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Prove It

love_heart_uidaodjsdsewThis month my family has taken a challenge to focus on acts of love toward each other and the world around us. Our goal? To perform one act of intentional love each day. In a world full of self-centered antics, Shawn and I want to disciple our kids to love others, and we want to inspire them to be proactive in their faith. Each morning we look at the huge post it paper I’ve hung prominently in our den to choose from a list of 30 ways to show love. Then, at dinner, we chat about our day and tell stories of who we loved and how we loved. Check out a few suggestions from our list:

Include someone

Plan a surprise

Go the extra mile for someone

Give someone your undivided attention

Invite someone to church

Make someone’s life easier

Be a shoulder to cry on…without having all the answers

Find something in common with someone different than you

Say I love you

Simple, really. But, small actions like these can have a grand effect. More importantly, talking about it as a family ingrains in each of us the most important commandment Jesus ever gave: LOVE God, LOVE people!

My challenge for you today is this: Find a creative way to love the people around you (family, co-workers, neighbors) and allow God to stretch you in this area. After all, love isn’t love until it’s proven. Include your family and have fun! And if you have a good experience let me know!

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 1 John 4:7-8

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The Best Teams Do THIS!

She didn’t like me, and she told me so. Very bluntly. I was naively blind to her frustrations, and she was kettle pot of irritations waiting to explode.

And she did. She pulled me aside to vent her anger leaving me stunned and speechless. As I reeled from her biting words, my mind struggled to understand how she and I got so far off-track.

That was 2 decades ago. We worked together in the mortgage industry, and it was my first experience with staff teamwork, or lack thereof. That season of my life taught me many lessons, not the least of which was love (especially on a team) is work.

These days my experiences with teamwork are vastly different. Not because our team is composed of Godly Christians who always do the right thing, but rather because our team lives by a code – a code which guides us to interact wisely and avoid those “off-track” moments.

The Code is our set of Ministry Team values at Mountain Lake Church. It sets the tone and trajectory for how we get things done. Each of our 7 core values is important, but I daresay one is critical.

Honesty.

Working alongside people with different agendas, personalities, and strengths presents its challenges, but those challenges are exponentially multiplied when we aren’t honest about how we feel. When our staff relationships become strained, our ministry quality takes a dive. Have you ever found yourself in these situations:

  • When that staff member makes a hurtful comment, we give the cold shoulder and avoid him/her.
  • When a team member overlooks us, we feel underappreciated and grow bitter.
  • When the actions of someone else costs us, we choose not to help him/her in the future.

Conflict happens. On every team. In every church. On every staff. Unresolved conflict leads to an unhealthy team. The key to success, however, lies in our response to conflict.

At Mountain Lake, we’ve chosen honesty as our response. Leaning on Ephesians 4:15, we have agreed as a team to speak the truth, in loving ways, to each other. These conversations are:

  • always done in private.
  • never “vented” about to other people.
  • handled immediately.
  • initiated with phrases such as, “You probably don’t realize it, but when you said____, it bothered me.” Or, “I’m sure you didn’t intend any harm, but when you ______, I was a little frustrated.”
  • ended with grace.

We’ve learned that the best ministry teams are made up of people who love each other. We’ve also learned that love takes WORK. Some teams aren’t willing to work that hard. But the best ones are.

If you or someone on your team is struggling in this area, let me encourage you to be honest, talk through your issues, and offer grace to one another. It’s not easy, but it’s oh, so worth it. Join us at Velocity 2015 for more great ideas like this….I have it on good authority that the Pastors’ Wives Track is going to be the bomb!

Ephesians 4:15 (NLT) Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.

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Show Me The Love

Each month I write an article for a local magazine, Up In Cumming. As always, I like sharing the articles with you guys! Hope you enjoy!

 

As I thanked my friend for a lovely evening and prepared to leave her home, she encouraged me to drive slowly. Apparently someone was posting the license plates of potential subdivision speeders on the neighborhood Facebook page. I chuckled because this wasn’t the only neighborhood dealing with the exact same problem.

Theirs is not the only community experiencing a war of words on social media, either. One neighborhood Facebook page publicly names offenders and offenses of conflicts. Still another airs dirty laundry – as prayer requests, of course. My own neighborhood Facebook page has had its share of grievances and conflict, too. I am relatively sure every group Facebook page falls victim to occasional disagreements.

Do you know what each of the people who write online posts about these situations have in common? They are right. Speed limits should be obeyed. Conflicts should be addressed. Prayers should be offered. Did you know, however, that it’s possible to be right without being righteous? To be correct without being kind? Any time we wag a moral finger in piety or hate we are guilty of being right without being righteous.

With Valentine’s Day upon us, this month is all about love – kind sentiments and thoughtful gestures. Yet, love is truly more meaningful than a dozen roses and a box of candy. Love is seeking to understand before being understood. Being kind to people who don’t act or think the way we do is one of the most difficult things we will ever attempt, yet if we teach ourselves to think beyond our own desires and seek to understand another’s viewpoint, we just might reach common ground and peace.

For example, instead of complaining about the shenanigans of the neighbors, invite them to dinner. Get to know them. Then, love them.

I’m not suggesting we deliver roses and candy to our neighbors. I’m suggesting much more practical application, and the Bible is replete with ideas.

Motivate one another (Hebrews 10:24). Serve one another (Galatians 5:13). Humbly relate to each other (1 Peter 5:5). Be tender hearted toward one another (Ephesians 4:32). Don’t provoke each other (Galatians 5:26). Forgive one another (Colossians 3:13). Handle disagreements in private in order to protect one another’s dignity and reputation (Matthew 18:15).

If ideas for loving our neighbors are needed, God’s Word is a one-stop shop. But before we forward this page to that difficult person in our lives (there’s always one), let’s turn our wagging finger around and focus on ourselves. The bottom line is if each of us becomes a better lover of people, most of our conflicts would end more quickly and less painfully. Being right without being righteous will never win friends and influence people. It only serves to alienate.

Love, however, covers a multitude of sins. Ours and theirs. Whether we are the offender or the offended, let’s choose gentleness. Let’s choose respect. Let’s choose empathy. Let’s choose love.

1 Corinthians 16:14 “And do everything with love.”

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This Muscle Needs Stretching

encouragementBeing a parent is sometimes a thankless job. Moms and dads drive kids around town, take care of them when they’re sick, and solve childhood crises all without much encouragement from the people around them.

Being a teenager can be exhausting, too. Heavy school work loads, peer pressures, self-esteem issues, and transitioning from child to adult…..well, who wants to face all of that without a little understanding from the people around them?

What about being a younger child? Or a neighbor? Or an employee? Or a boss? Don’t we all face issues in our daily lives in which we could use a little encouragement? A pat on the back? A “way to go!”

I think so. That’s why this month my family has taken a challenge to be better encouragers. Not only do we need encouragement from others, but we need to learn how to encourage others, as well. This is a spiritual muscle we ought to stretch!

So, here is our working definition:

Encouragement: something that makes someone more determined, hopeful, or confident.

Our goal: do or say at least one encouraging thing each day.

Simple enough, right? Well, I thought so, too, until about 1 week into our challenge. When I realized that our encouragements only consisted of compliments to others (Your hair is pretty or I like your jacket), I knew we had better expand our understanding of what it means to encourage.

Now we have more specific goals. Check it out:

THINK positively! 

  • Bring sunshine into the room!
  • Catch someone being good!
  • Ask God to give you a positive attitude!

SPEAK positively! 

  • Make more positive comments and fewer negative ones!
  • Show appreciation, support, and respect!
  • Compliment before you complain!

THAT’S encouraging! Our challenge isn’t magically turning my family into 5 perfect people, but we are learning from it. After all, perfection isn’t the goal, transformation is. Slow, steady transformation into who God created us to be.

What steps could you take today to be a more encouraging person? Go ahead. Stretch that muscle. We all need the exercise. 

Hebrews 10:24 Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.

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What My Family Will Be Doing In 2015

Wow. December was a blur of doctor visits, pharmacy runs, and Lysol. 

Lots of Lysol.

Our family fell victim to the flu bug. Yes, the flu. 6 days of the flu for my husband, and 9 days for my daughter. The fun didn’t end then, either. Upper respiratory infections and sinusitis wreaked havoc, as well. I had little time for extra activities (like posting blogs) while I was busy sanitizing every item that Shawn and Madison touched. I couldn’t help but smile in the chaos, though. In one of my wiser moments, I had decorated for Christmas and completed most of my gift shopping before December 1! I can’t tell you how much less stress I faced during December because my to-do list was done. My neighbors probably rolled their eyes at my Christmas decor in November, but my family was happy and peaceful. Score!

Last night we said goodbye to 2014, and I’m still shocked that I didn’t fall asleep early. As I blinked my sleep-starved eyes, I listened to my family walk down memory lane. They looked at pictures we had taken throughout the year and read all the notes in our 2014 Memory Jar. It’s the only thing that kept me awake. We laughed as we reminisced, and I was thankful to be home – alone – with the people I love most.

This year, I plan to once again fill a Memory Jar with special moments, but we’re adding a twist. Each month of 2015, our family will focus on a new virtue. Love, contentment, respect….12 different virtues in all. Our goal? To practically apply the principles by which God wants us to live. Sometimes (ok, most of the time) people find it much easier to talk the talk but not walk the walk. Well, not us. Not in 2015. We are going to find creative ways to live out our faith each day. Up first: encouragement. We’ll write notes to others, memorize bible verses, and speak positively to friends and strangers all month. I’m already pumped about the potential of this plan to disciple my family and bless those around us.

What about you? What are your New Year Resolutions? Happy 2015, friends!

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Griswold (Don’t) Wannabe’s Part 2

griswold houseNext week the first wave of holiday festivities rolls in with Thanksgiving! I, for one, can’t wait for walks in the woods, pumpkin pie (which I’ve already been enjoying), and the Alabama/Auburn game. Some years I have hosted the festivities; other years I’ve been a guest in a family member’s home. Either way, all those festivities require responsibilities of me.

Yesterday, I shared a Holiday Help List for those of us who will be guests this year. Our goal should be to be a blessing not a burden to those who host us over the holidays. Our hosts likely spend hours, if not days, in preparation for our arrival, and the least we can do is to show our appreciation while we visit.

If you are hosting people in your home this Thanksgiving and Christmas, you might be overwhelmed with a never-ending task list: fresh linens, polished furniture, the perfect menu, a manicured lawn, and the facade of a peaceful family. Yikes! By the time your families arrive, you might be already tapped out! Never fear. your Holiday Help List is here! I’ve compiled a few tips to help you manage a house full of people and still keep your sanity.

Do lower your expectations – things aren’t going to go perfectly. Don’t expect your dysfunctional family to suddenly act like Miss Manners has personally mentored them.

Do provide your guests with a space to call their own – make space in a closet for their items and clear out a bathroom for their use. Giving them space means their clutter is out of view and not underfoot.

Do delegate – ask others to pitch in to set the table, get something out of the oven, or take out the trash. Ask kids to put ice in the glasses and refill drinks. Request everyone to help clear the table when the feast is over. Asking for help doesn’t make you less of a host; it actually invites people into your world where memories are made.

Do model the way – begin the holiday meal by sharing why you have invited everyone to your home. Be specific as you share why you are thankful. Your words will be a blessing, and they just might be contagious.

Do share your plans – letting your extended-stay guests know what to expect will help everyone. Planning a few activities at specific times gives everyone something to look forward to (movie night, shopping day, meal time, etc).

Do relax – sit on the couch and chat with your family for an hour or two. Play cards. Drink hot cocoa and go for a walk. Don’t do…just be. Your guests will actually relax more if they see you relaxing, too. Trust me, if they need something, I’m sure they can find the fridge or the TV remote.

Let’s not just “make it through” the holidays. Let’s relish our time with family and friends! Let’s not sweat the details….let’s lavish our families with love and attention. Perfection isn’t the goal. Memories are. So, clear out a closet and pull a few extra chairs to the table, and then be with your family and friends. No, really. Be with them. Love them. Make memories with them.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

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Griswold (Don’t) Wannabe’s

griswold familyI thoroughly enjoy this season of the year and all of the traditions my family has come to love.

Like watching our all-time favorite movie, Christmas Vacation. Even though we’ve seen that movie hundreds of times, we still laugh at the true-to-life scenes.

Remember the scene in Christmas Vacation when the extended Griswold family arrives? Too loud. Too many critiques. Too much information. And as their visit continues, they are needy, messy, demanding, and yes, even embarrassing.

I love that family because it’s a fictional one that makes me laugh at the awkward moments they cause, but no one – trust me, no one – wants that family to come for a visit. Ever. So to help us all avoid being that family, I’ve compiled a Holiday Help List to ensure our families are a blessing to our hosts, not a burden.

Do take a gift – a small gesture of gratitude at the beginning of your stay goes a long way to setting the tone of your visit. Remember, your host likely spent hours preparing for you. Be appreciative.

Do lend a hand – pitch in to prepare meals and cleanup afterward so that the host isn’t overwhelmed. But be sure to follow the host’s lead. It’s not your kitchen!

Do contribute some groceries – bring a few side dishes or desserts. If your visit lasts several days, consider taking your hosts out for dinner one evening or supplying a few meals at their house. (Unless, of course, your name is Aunt Bethany. No one wants Jello Mold with kitty litter topping.)

Do show interest in others – disregard any notions you already have about your extended family and get to know them in a fresh way this season! (That includes getting to know crazy Cousin Eddie. You can do anything for a few days, right?)

Don’t leave your belongings lying around – keeping your items in your room helps to eliminate a little clutter from an already full house.

Don’t let your children run wild – your hosts WILL talk about you after you leave. Don’t give them ammunition. Send the kids outside to play or keep the noise level to a minimum. Prep the kids in advance to say please/thank you and be respectful.

Don’t be a couch potato – get out of the house! Being gone for an hour or two each day of an extended stay allows your host to have a mini-break. No matter how much they love you, they need a break!

Trust me, even if we follow these guidelines, we can still find ourselves in the middle of frustrating or awkward moments over the holidays (think: the swat team busting through the Griswold’s windows after Cousin Eddie hog-ties Clark’s boss). If we plan to be a guest in someone’s home this Thanksgiving or Christmas, let’s at least make a plan to be a blessing rather than a burden.

If you are the host rather than the guest this holiday season, check back tomorrow for a Holiday Help List just for you.

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Sunday Summaries: Holiday Head Start for Generosity

holiday head start no date squareYesterday, our church continued our teaching series Holiday Head Start with a challenge to become more generous. It was more specific than that, though. My husband wasn’t asking us to be randomly generous whenever the notion strikes us. Rather he challenged us to be intentional and personal in our giving.

As Shawn taught, he asked one question that gave me pause. Pause to consider my own actions in the area of giving. Here it is:

Are you raising your standard of giving while you’re raising your standard of living?

My family gives away what I consider a large percentage of our income in the form of tithes, offerings, and meeting needs. But I’ve never – never – considered raising my standard of giving when I raise my standard of living. Sure, we increase our tithe and offerings as our income increases, but my mindset has never been to find ways to creatively give more.

I find ways to creatively MAKE more, that’s for sure. I sometimes dream about a roomier house or a blinged-out backyard which of course costs money. I have no problem dreaming up ways to spend money, but I can honestly say I’ve never dreamed of ways to give money away.

Why not? Why not determine a finish line for my consumerism (as Shawn suggested in his message)? When is enough, enough? How could I spend less on myself and give more away?

How do you respond to that question? Are you raising your standard of giving while you’re raising your standard of living?

*Want to watch the message for yourself? Click here and search Holiday Head Start Part 2.

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