A New Resolution

By Bindu Adai Mathew

This year I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions. Now don’t mistake me. There’s plenty I want to improve about myself and my life, but this year I decided on a different approach. I created New Year Intentions.

A New Year Intention is a conscious, dedicated, yet kinder, gentler approach to achieving specific goals. Now I know the experts say without a detailed plan, measureable goals, a specific deadline, accountability, yadda yadda yadda, a goal is less likely to be achieved.  And for some things like tasks and projects, I would agree that is probably the case. But for other things, such as the yearly goal most people have to get into shape or start living healthier, I realized telling myself to cut out sugar, caffeine, carbs and working out 4-5 times a week might work for the month of January, but by February or March, I either get bored or “too busy” or too tired to continue. I love my morning toast and chai. And my afternoon Spicy Cheetos.

Make realistic goals would be some experts’ response. Yeah. I guess. But somehow the yearly New Year’s resolution eventually becomes something I abhor. I intentionally shirk from it after a few months. Because whether it is a lofty, unrealistic goal or just something minor I want to change about myself, I find that anytime I don’t follow my goal for that day or that week, I start reaching for the eject button and am ready to abandon my goals.

A New Year’s Intention, on the other hand, is a shift in mindset. My New Year intention isn’t just a goal that I attain… it’s a lifestyle change. Rather than focusing on a specific amount of pounds to lose or a specific size of clothing, I, instead focus on making healthier choices, whether it’s what I decide to eat or how much of it to eat. It’s recognizing I want to be healthier, that I need to eat better, work out more. And that is my intention every day. That is my intention even when I don’t work out for a few days during the week and that is my intention as I bite into a sweet, soft donut that someone brought to work on Friday. Yeah, you heard me. So as I eat that donut, I’m not plagued with guilt. I’m not plagued with worries about my skinny jeans no longer fitting. That I don’t have a right to eat this donut because I didn’t work out earlier in the week. And neither am I plagued with thoughts of getting to the gym that night or the next day to “burn off” that donut. Instead, I’m enjoying that donut for all its sweet, warm gooey goodness. BUT. I know that donut is not healthy for me. So after a few bites, I realize that my initial desire for the donut has been curbed and because I’m not plagued with a “heck, I already screwed up, I might as well finish it and then grab another donut” thought, I can actually set the donut down and not feel I have to eat all of it. I’m no longer “feeding” my guilt or shame. I can listen to my body and create that space between want and truly need and make a better decision. And because my mindset has shifted, I don’t feel “forced” to make a healthier choice for food at lunch, but realize I want to. Because I truly want to give my body what it really needs. Because that is my underlying intention. Every day.

The same goes for working out. Become more organized. Procrastinating less. Spending more time with God.

This past week, it was hard to find some focused quiet time in the morning to read my Bible. So instead, I turned on some praise and worship music and worshipped God as I made my daughter’s breakfast and packed her lunch and then had a conversation with God on my way to work and during my afternoon break. I think of “time with God” less as a formal, set time but rather than a continual, all-day awareness that He is with me, that He is in control, and I often now speak to him throughout the day like I would with a close friend. And eventually I’m back to reading my Bible on a more consistent time frame.

A New Year’s Intention isn’t casual or half-hearted. In fact, as its name implies, it’s very intentional. It has to be well thought out and some specifics do need to be identified and followed through. But most of all, it has to be something you are ready to do. It requires a commitment. And perseverance. But it’s guilt-free. It allows you to be human. To “mess up. “ But you never have to get back in the saddle, for you never got off.

So whatever changes you want to make in your life, remember, above all else, be kind to yourself. And persevere. For as Ecclesiastes 9:11 says, the race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong.

To You, Sue

By Bindu Adai Mathew

Today the world lost an amazing person – Susan (Sue) Varghese Thomas – after nearly a 10 month battle with cancer. She had a bright smile, endless optimism, a creative energy, and a beautiful heart.  In many ways, I considered her a kindred spirit because like me, she was an aspiring writer. We shared similar struggles with getting published along with the ups and downs of carving a legitimate career out of our passion for writing. She was Indian and Malayalee like me, and most importantly, she was a sister in Christ.

But I never met Sue. In person, that is.  It was a close friend we had in common, Suja Jacob, who brought us together. Because of our shared love of writing, Suja always told us about each other. So when Sue published her book, The World from My Fire Escape, I felt personally invested in her success as a writer. I followed her on her blog, and when Facebook became popular, we also became Facebook friends.

It was through Suja that I first learned Sue had cancer. It was also through Suja that I learned that Sue’s cancer had worsened when she called me a week ago after seeing Sue. She was in tears after seeing Sue’s condition.

“I really thought God would have healed her,” Suja said, her voice and spirit broken with pain. “I don’t even know how to pray. Do I pray for God to take her so she’s no longer in pain? Or do I pray for her to be healed? Of course, I want her to be healed, but I don’t want to see her suffer like this.”

“You definitely pray for her utter and complete healing, “ I encouraged her, my voice strong with conviction. “With her body wracked in pain, you must stand in the gap and believe for her. You believe God, despite Sue’s condition, can and is willing to heal her. And then you pray for God’s will to be done.”  As I spoke encouragement, I felt faith well up in my own spirit. Yes, I felt, God is the healer. He who brought the dead back to life, He who created Life out of nothingness, He is able. What is impossible for him? Nothing.

“If it’s not her time, she won’t go,” I reminded Suja. “No one, but God can give or take life.”

So this week, I really prayed for Sue. I prayed the pain she was in would subside and be tolerable. I especially prayed for her complete healing and that she, too, would have the strength to believe despite her pain and circumstances.

So you can imagine my shock when I got the call that Sue had died this morning. As I comforted my friend, I felt sadness overwhelm me as well. Gone too soon. I think of all the books she still had in her, waiting to be discovered by new readers. The places she had yet to explore. The love she still had yet to share.

And then suddenly her passing seemed so wrong. But we prayed fervently, I reminded myself. And I know God heard us. And just like all things we don’t understand, I am reminded that God’s ways are higher than our ways, and while He was fully able to heal Susan, He decided it was her time.  And then I’m reminded she is in Heaven. HEAVEN. What am I mourning but our loss? For she has truly gained her reward. As she is pain-free in Heaven in the presence of a God whom she truly believed and loved.

As it reads in 2 Timothy 4:7:  “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Now enjoy your reward, Susan. You’ve earned it. I just wish you could have written about your experience… oh what a bestseller that would be!

A Mother’s Heart is Universal

The wind doesn’t just blow. The origin of its direction and momentum begins with a breath from a maker.  We cannot always see this invisible leading, but it is always there. This leading is the same with our mothers.

Winds carry us, and even turn our direction, when necessary. Winds blow our hair away from our eyes so that we can see what is in front of us. Winds toss objects that were headed for us, away from us. This protection is the same with our mothers.

Winds do not follow maps, but intuitively cooperate with an orchestra that is masterfully playing. Winds arrive and disappear exactly at the perfect time. This intuition is the same with our mothers.

Mothers lead, protect and intervene in their child’s lives. When there is heartache, a mother comforts and supports. When there is pain, a mother mends with wisdom and strength. Where there is victory, a mother rejoices.

With confidence, I can say that a mother’s heart is universal. These qualities of leading, protecting and encouragement pass cultural lines. International boundaries. Shades of skin and belief systems. When a mother cries out for her child, she is heard and felt by the heart of many mothers.

This is why my heart cries for the daughters – – the victims – –  of human trafficking.  There is no other evil that declares its enemy quite as decisively as the sex trade. A daughter is the target of this darkness. The target of this weapon is her unique ability to lead and protect.  This weapon depletes her freedom, steals her hope and breaks her body. My heart cries for these daughters, their mothers and their grandmothers.

This is why we are four generations – – daughter, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother – –  standing for daughters who are trapped and living with only a grain of hope.  This is why the four of us are traveling to the Grand Tetons with Freedom Challenge this summer. We are accepting a physical challenge to climb. We are claiming victory for the daughters who cannot yet claim their own freedom.

This generational effort is only a mirror of the strength that has been displayed to me over the years. Who I am and who I hope to be has been spoken into me by the words and prayers of my mother and grandmother. Their spiritual and emotional strength has been matched by their time and resources. Their winds, sometimes gentle and sometimes like a hurricane, have blessed and moved mountains in my life. I believe that the strength of four generations climbing has the power to move global mountains.

If you are a woman, you were made to blow strong like the wind. Your invisible strengths like wisdom and intuition have great power to impact many daughters. Your visible power such as time and resources has immeasurable power to change the lives of many hopeless and trapped daughters.  Your winds can blow for local and global change. Blow, gentle Spirit, blow in us so that even our very last breath is one that carries another daughter to her freedom.

This post was recently shared on Freedom Challenge’s blog.  I encourage you to learn more about human trafficking and The Freedom Challenge.  You just may find yourself climbing for another woman’s freedom.

 

 

The unlikely seemingly partners: Joy and Pain by Chris Sweet

I am a notoriously optimistic positive person (the sickening kind).  I hate feeling sadness and grief. I have this weird belief that if I go through a difficult moment in life and I get all sad and stuff that I am a failure at Christianity.  Yup not joking.

So when I went through my recent tragedy and I got depressed. I felt like a failure for feeling depressed.  I started apologizing to God for not being happy through my storm.  I felt again a mess.

But He’s been teaching me about pain and joy being like family members to each other.  These emotions need each other although both really don’t want to hang out with the other because each thinks the other is cramping their style (or swag).   Isn’t that so typical of family relationships?  Often family members love each other but there are moments when they may not want the other there all the time.

Rob Bell, Christian author, says beautifully thatPeople moving towards each other, lamenting together, this is where God is.”   Isn’t that beautiful? As we express sorrow and our pain together, God is present.  We need to know what pain is to be able to recognize joy.  “If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”  Anne Bradstreet, poet.

Margaret Manning Shull author and teacher of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries describes perfectly the description of the tug of war for Christians.  She says, “For Christians, ‘being happy’ can often resemble the language of victorious living and resurrection, to the exclusion of Jesus’s matter-of-fact instruction to his followers that in this world ‘you will have trouble, but I have overcome this world.’(1) I too easily forget that many who have gone before me as that great cloud of witnesses did not yet receive what was promised.(2) They, too, lived in a land of ‘maybe,’ and in the bittersweet juxtaposition of joy and sorrow.”

So let’s welcome the full range of emotions as we deal with difficulties and be ok with feeling those feelings.  Brene Brown, best-selling author, says:  “When you numb your pain you also numb your joy.” Sadness and pain have their time and season.   But don’t give up.  Remember God has you even as you are feeling the full extent of loss and pain.  Each difficult time has the potential for you to learn the tools needed for the next difficult event. And when the joyful moments come (because they will) allow yourself to feel that too and appreciate its time with you.  It’s time for us to welcome the dynamic of joy and pain at the family table together.

Read more at: http://www.azquotes.com/author/19318-Brene_Brown/tag/pain

http://www.preachitteachit.org/fileadmin/SiteFiles/LegacyUploads/Rob_Bell_Part_3_Lamentations.pdf

http://rzim.org/a-slice-of-infinity/for-the-joy-set-before-him

Child-like Faith

By Bindu Adai Mathew

When I was young, I was taught to pray to God, especially when I needed His help with anything. Back then I felt blessed when my prayers were answered. And for the times they weren’t, I was disappointed, but I never recall being hurt or angry with God when things didn’t happen the way I prayed. I always knew he was all-powerful, and I always believed He was all loving. But honestly, luckily for me, my problems never felt overwhelming to the point where I was bitter and angry at God. Or maybe back then, I just had that child-like faith.

Even when 911 happened, I didn’t question God’s sovereignty or His goodness. Even when one of my best friends from high school was murdered by a serial killer in 1999, I didn’t question God’s sovereignty. I was shaken, scared, and I questioned why God allowed it, especially since He had protected me from being there. I still recall the week before she died, we had initially made plans to have dinner and maybe even have a sleepover so we could talk into the wee hours of the night like we did when we were in junior high and high school before I headed back to grad school. But just the day before, she cancelled, and the very night I should have been with her, she was murdered. So while I was upset, shaken, and had lots of questions for God, I still didn’t question His essential goodness.

As I’ve gotten older, in many ways I believe my faith is deeper. I know that He is truly Omnipresent, Omniscient, and Omnipotent. Yet with that knowledge, there is also a deeper testing of my faith, especially as life’s challenges beat on our souls and hearts like pounding waves in the midst of a storm. In the desert, in the waiting, I often find myself looking up and not just asking, “Why?”  But now my “whys” aren’t just a question. They’re sometimes an accusation.

We know that every blessing comes from God, and when you see movies like “Miracles from Heaven,” our faith is renewed because that is the kind of God we serve:  a God of mercy, justice, and love. It is with movies and testimonies like that when we know that all things truly do work together for good. But yet, each of us know of plenty of other prayers that haven’t been answered in the way we had hoped.  A beloved family member or friend still died of cancer. The couple struggling to conceive continues to remain childless. A marriage that was prayed over never got restored and still resulted in divorce. A wayward child or family member is still lost.

So when we seek God. When we pray. When we stand in that gap and believe that God is good and that He can and is willing, and things still don’t work out, what then? When we experience things in our lives that are contrary to His will, what do we believe then? Is God still good? We KNOW the answer is yes. But we may not always feel that way.

I believe it is when we believe and continue to trust God even when the situation looks hopeless that we then truly grow and we truly experience the miracle we were seeking. It is when our eyes can look past the natural and our hearts are resolved to trust that we see the supernatural. We see glimpses of God in His glory. It is when we focus on God and not just what we want or prayed and refuse to give up our faith that not only does God shine… but we shine. And it is when our faith is not based on what He does or doesn’t do but what He did on the cross and who He is that we then truly experience that life-transforming answer we were seeking.

So during this month, I pray that those April showers fertile your heart… may they wash away your guilt, your anger, your bitterness. May that child-like faith, along with love and joy, bloom into beautiful flowers in your soul that not only last through the month of May but throughout the year.

 

Thinking of Palm Fronds

By JMathis

Reflecting on the many uses of palm fronds today.

Palm fronds screaming with rockstar abandon, “Hosanna in the highest!!”

Palm fronds dusting off the cobwebs of my hidden sins and deepest shame.

Palm fronds exalting high the Name of all Names: King Jesus, my Savior!

Palm fronds sweeping away the pride of life from the pathways to my heart.

Palm fronds bowing before Him, humbled by how fiercely He loves.

Palm fronds shaking off the filth of my biases, prejudices and my “judgy eyes”.

Palm fronds swaying to the voices of angels, dancing like Wild King David.

Palm fronds brushing off muck from years of thoughtlessness and apathy.

Palm fronds nudging me towards worship and closer intimacy with My Father.

Palm fronds mopping away tears of regret, sorrow and remorse.

Palm fronds lifting My Redeemer to the highest realms of praise and adoration.

Palm fronds blowing off my years of cruelty, disregard and callousness.

Palm fronds standing tall before Him, victoriously waving flags of Healing and Deliverance. Salvation and Joy. Goodness and Justice. Miracles Unending.

Palm fronds loosening the worldly ties that bind my soul to darkness.

Palm fronds leading the procession of The Widows, The Orphans, The Abused, The Mistreated, The Neglected, The Abandoned and all those He holds tightly to His heart.

I lay my palm fronds on the dirt roads of my innermost self, Lord, giving way so that You reign over my thoughts, words, actions and dreams.

I offer my palm fronds to You as an act of my reverence, submission and devotion.

Use those palm fronds to cleanse and wipe away anything that is not of You.

 

Pray, Joy, Thanks: My New Mantra

By Chris Sweet, guest contributor

God has been teaching me about feeling the joys of life while pain is present.  I’ve learned that His love is in the reflection of the shattered pieces of glass reflecting our brokenness.  It’s the glimpse of light on its shards.  The broken edge reflects the Creator’s loving gaze, who picks us up, roots for us to get up, heals us, and showers us with grace and mercy.

I’ve been encouraged by amazing books on the topic of loss and finding joy such as those written by Dr. Mary C. Neal and Pastor Levi Lusko who themselves have suffered unimaginable loss.   Dr. Neal wrote the book “To Heaven and Back” and Pastor Lusko wrote “Through the Eyes of a Lion”.  Dr. Neal died and went to heaven and returned to tell her story about Jesus, heaven and the angels.  She also suffered the loss of her son.  Pastor Lusko suffered the loss of his daughter.  The tragedies suffered by both are our worst nightmares.  But they talk about Jesus and their interaction with Him and the hope and healing He provides.  Dr. Neal in an interview said that the verses that were pressed into her spirit when she returned back to her body after dying were simple but powerful:

Pray without Ceasing 1 Thess 5:17

Be Joyful Always 1Thess 5:16

Give Thanks in All Circumstances  1 Thess 5:18

I love this simple mantra so much (Pray! Joy! Thanks!) that I wanted to share it with you.  When he lost his daughter, Pastor Lusko reflected on the assurance that what can’t be seen with the naked eye is being also worked out by God.  He states in his book that “This is the war:  every moment of every day, we must make the all-important choice of whether we will rely on the naked eye.  Will we trust what we can see is there, or believe what God says is there?  …  The apostle Paul put it this way:  ‘So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen.  For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.’  2 Corinthians 4:18 NLT.”

We have all suffered such tragedies in our own lives.  Remind yourself that Jesus loves you.  Hold on to the things that cannot be seen.  He is always working behind the scenes of your life.  His intent toward us is love. Take the verses in the Bible as God’s promises to you that He has you.  And as we continue our days on earth in whatever form and with whatever condition, let us hold these verses as our mantra “Pray without ceasing, be joyful always, and give thanks in all circumstances.”  Here are some ideas for living that mantra:

Pray without ceasing.  Have an open conversation with God that starts in the morning and just talk to him throughout the day and ending in the evening before you go to bed.

Live with Joy.  Laugh, tell jokes and enjoy conversations with family and friends.  Take a moment and look at nature and appreciate the beauty in this world.  Do things that make you happy and try to figure out ways to make others happy (e.g. by sending that encouraging text message).

Be grateful.  Tell God all the things you are grateful for.  Have your family and friends name off things that they are grateful for when you get together.

And, don’t give up on your dreams that God has whispered to you from the time you were born.  Do your mission and live “Pray! Joy! Thanks!”  (Love it, love it, love it).