Friday, March 25, 2011

Dealing With "Ugly Thoughts"

A friend recently asked me if I would write a blog post about what to do when we are constantly thinking “ugly thoughts.” You know – the kind of sarcastic and rude things that you have enough sense not to say to the person right as you’re thinking them (but probably something that you’ll vent to someone else later on).

Well, goodness knows that I’m really good at over-thinking and just plain dwelling on the wrong things all too often. It’s part of why I was thrilled to have the opportunity to participate a few years ago in the Bible study Who Switched Off My Brain? by Dr. Caroline Leaf. It’s a book (and DVD series) all about the science behind how the brain works. Dr. Leaf takes a topic full of science and teams it up with God’s Word. It’s really an incredibly eye-opening book! She says in her book that, “Controlling your thought life is not about a destination, it is about a journey. The first step on that journey is to understand what a thought actually is, how it grows in your brain, stores memories and ultimately how it affects your health, whether positively or negatively.”

More on that in a minute.

But first, we all probably know this Bible verse that speaks directly to our thought life:

2 Corinthians 10:5 ~ We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

And then there’s also this one, which tells us just what we should spend our time thinking about:

Philippians 4:8 ~ Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Yes. God’s Word has a LOT to say about our thought life. The truth is: the only way for our thought life to be glorifying to God, is for us to take regular snapshots of what we’re thinking and hold those thoughts up to see how they reflect God’s will. Are they true? Are they noble? Are they right and pure? Are they lovely and admirable? If not, then we need to do some cleaning up.

God’s Word calls this act of cleaning up our thought life: renewing our minds.

Check out this verse: Romans 12:2 ~ Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

That’s kind of where Caroline Leaf’s book comes in. She actually teaches us how to stop thinking negative thoughts, and how to start thinking positive ones. Listen to this excerpt from the first chapter of her book:

     “What’s in a thought? More than you probably know. Every thought has a corresponding electrochemical reaction in your brain. When you think, chemicals course through your body in magnificently complex electrochemical feedback loops. These chemicals produce electromagnetic waves which, if you could hear them, would sound like the most exquisite orchestral symphony.”

Wow! Had you ever even given that aspect of your thought life any thought (no pun intended)? It’s really quite astounding. Well, she goes on in her explanation of our brains to explain that each individual thought we’ve ever had becomes a little “thought tree” in our brain. Each of those thought trees (or “magic trees”) is made up of neurons. The more intelligent and accessible the thought is, the more branches the thought tree has. And you want to know the most alarming thing her book taught me? Negative thought trees look like thorny bushes. While positive thought trees look like lush and healthy trees. Big wow again, huh?! I sure don’t want my brain scan to be full of thorny bushes. I want it to be full of healthy trees!

Well, here’s the part of her book that might be the most helpful “nugget” for my friend’s ugly thought question. Dr. Leaf talks about how we constantly have thoughts coming into our mind. But, the only ones that stick around and become “magic thought trees” (negative or positive), are the ones that we choose to dwell on. If I remember correctly, we have about 60 seconds from when a thought first comes into our minds to either believe it as true and keep it in our brains, or to call it false and kick it out of our thought life. Sixty seconds. That’s how long you have to determine whether each thought is worthy of hanging around. Whether it’s going to take root and become a little thought tree.

So, when that ugly thought comes into your mind, just choose to recognize it as false and kick it out. If you are struggling with actually feeling those “ugly thoughts” about the person, then that means you need to pray and ask God to change your heart where that person is concerned. But maybe you’re just thinking something ugly that you heard someone else say. Maybe you haven’t really claimed it as truly something you believe just yet. Well, just because it pops into your head doesn’t mean you have to accept it as true and invite it to set up camp.

And how is it if we know if something is true? If it’s worth having its own piece of magic tree property in our brain? By filtering it through God’s Word, and asking God to speak to us about the quality of our thought life.

Remember: if our thoughts aren’t true and noble and right and pure and lovely and admirable and excellent and praiseworthy…then they need to be kicked out of the magic tree orchard. (You won’t find that term in Dr. Leaf’s book, just so you know.)

As her book states – controlling our thought life is NOT a destination. It’s a journey. The more we bring our thoughts before the filter of God’s Word, the more glorifying our thoughts will become. Don’t lose heart. If this is your struggle too, I’m here to tell you this journey of controlling our thought life does indeed get a little easier as we grow in our spiritual walk. But if you want to really get into the nitty gritty of all this brain chemistry stuff, I hope you’ll pick up Dr. Leaf’s book. It’s…thought-changing!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Letting God Handle Past Hurts

Well apparently, God needed to drive home the point of being still so that I would hear what He really wanted to talk to me about: letting go of grudges. Ouch. That’s not what I was hoping to have a revelation on. Because, let’s be honest, I’m really good at holding onto them. I can still remember who hurt my feelings in the first grade and exactly how they did it! As much as I hoped my quiet times with God this first week home were going to be full of all kinds of warm fuzzies – God has had a totally different agenda. He wants to do a little more pruning. And His focus this time is really hitting where it hurts.

Grudges are sneaky. You think you’ve handled the issue and that all is well. Then all of a sudden, something new shows up and brings the old grudge right along with it. Like it’s bringing an old friend home for dinner. Or rather, an old unwelcome guest. Unfortunately for us, feeling this way just means we never really dealt with the problem in the first place. Somewhere along the journey of trying to heal from that old hurt, we chose to hang on to some it – instead of handing it all over to God and letting Him truly heal our hearts. Then we wonder why our stomach gets all tied up in knots when something comes along to remind us of the experience.

My husband and I are walking through one of those moments right now. A friend is going through a job loss situation (my husband’s former employer as well) that is nearly identical to what my husband went through two-and-a-half years ago. Right about the time I had thought I had completely gotten over all the anger and fear of the experience…I feel like we’ve just been thrown right back to that horrible place. A place where the people are mean and vindictive. Where lies are told, and the saga is drawn on and on. Where it felt for a while that we were living smack dab in the middle of a bad dream. A place that I really wouldn’t have wished upon anyone, let alone upon our friends.

Not only are we sad to see our friends have to walk through this, we’re also full of anger towards the people who are doing this to them. Their tactics haven’t changed much – still downright mean and nasty. They’ve just gotten a new target. The fact is – it still hurts.

As I started to pray about this, I heard God reminding me: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) Don’t you just hate when the Spirit brings a Scripture to your mind that means you have to be the one to go into action? Especially when it means putting aside our selfish ambitions? As much as I know it’s exactly what I need to do, my rebellious side sure fights it tooth and nail.

Pride. Now there’s another part of the whole grudge-holding deal. In fact, maybe this is the true heart of the matter. See, I think in the past I’ve not recognized grudges as being prideful. I think I’ve always justified the grudge-holding by assessing the magnitude of the past hurt. For instance – if I felt that the thing done to me was deliberate and extremely cruel, then I’ve given myself the okay to occasionally go back and re-visit that grudge. Ring any bells? Never mind that if I were really being honest, I could come up with some pretty insignificant issues that I was still holding onto a grudge about.

Oh, and then there’s this tiny little truth (which really sums the whole situation up for us): all sins are equal in God’s eyes. He’s not qualifying our sins (thank goodness). So why in the world do we do that when others sin against us? And where do we get off not showering others with the same grace, mercy, and forgiveness that our Heavenly Father constantly showers upon us every single day?!

Oh my. God’s really hitting me upside the head with this one. Is this something you need to hear as well?

Refresh your memory on this passage, and pay special attention to the last line:

Galatians 5:22-26 ~ But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Did you catch that last line? “Let us not become conceited”? Sounds like pride, doesn’t it? We grudge-holding pros better not overlook this one.

I’m convicted to go before God right now and ask forgiveness for all the people I haven’t fully forgiven. Some of them are from years ago. Some are very recent. No matter what the situation, they are hurts that belong in God’s hands – not mine.

I imagine that I’m not the only person God is trying to speak to about letting go of grudges. Did any of this speak to you? If it did, I pray you will get on your knees before the Lord and handle this matter right away too. I actually can’t wait to let God clean out all my old grudges. It’s a much bigger deal than I’d ever realized before.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Creating Stillness

Ahhhh…it’s back to reality for us. After a much needed vacation away from cold & dreary Michigan, we are back home from warm & sunny Florida and ready to jump back into our busy schedules. Or, at least that’s what is supposed to happen after vacation. Somehow, instead of feeling rejuvenated and refreshed today, I’m feeling overwhelmed by the reality of our day-to-day life. My ten days off seem to have just left me with the desire to take a few more days off!

Can you relate? I know I’m not in this boat alone. We are a very busy homeschooling family of five. With three busy kids, it seems there’s always a lot going on each week. I’ve become much too good of friends with the calendar feature on Outlook. Our vacation came at the end of an intense four-month season of homeschool basketball for the twins. Between all their practices and games and running to and fro, this overbooked Mom was about at her wits’ end. I literally told my husband that if we postponed the vacation just one more week, I was pretty sure I was going to have a nervous breakdown. He must have taken me seriously since he had to miss his own church basketball league play-offs to make our vacation happen when it did. What’s that saying, “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”? Well, I think my man was taking that one very seriously in our house.

Ever since school began last fall, our schedule has been full of: school, church, Awana, sports, tap dance, laundry, dishes, bill paying, vacuuming, scrubbing toilets, running errands, socializing with friends…and the list goes on and on. Does any of this sound familiar? Ultimately, it all adds up to this Mom being overbooked and overwhelmed and ready for vacation!

Of course, being the good homeschool Mom that I am, I did take time to prepare some vacation homework for our 22-hour car ride and any bored children. Much to the dismay of the teacher side of me, there were no “bored children” and the car ride only produced about twenty minutes of homework being done. But the burned-out Mom side of me really didn’t care a lick about that homework once we pulled out of our driveway on Day 1. At least I can say we left prepared.

Once we got to Florida, the only thing I wanted to have to plan were my trips to the pool. Thankfully, taking a vacation at Grandma’s means that I was actually able to do just that! Grandma had the meals planned, the groceries bought, and the housework done. I just had to show up. Now that’s what I’m talking about!

But honestly, you want to know what I realized was the best part of the vacation? I was able to be still enough that I could actually hear from God. See, apparently, God had a few things He wanted to bring to my attention. I’ve just been too focused on getting through my daily schedule to really take time to listen. I mean, I certainly take time in my normally busy life to pray and try to discern God’s voice. If I didn’t, there’s no way our homeschooling or parenting or any other aspect of our lives would come close to succeeding. But sometimes, my ability to just shut up and listen needs a little help.

Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to listen when things are quiet? That’s when you can actually hear the birds sing and the wind blow through the trees. When you can distinguish the sound of sidewalk chalk being used to create a masterpiece in the driveway. Or the quiet hum of your little girl playing with her baby dolls in the other room.

Quietness is a gift.

And it’s a rarity in my house.

So as I was working on my tan or swimming a few laps in the pool or taking an evening jog…I was praying. When I stole a few extra minutes in bed each morning just because I could, I was listening for God’s voice. In the long stretches of highway or the seemingly endless Atlanta traffic, I could ponder God’s directions for my life.

As we were on our final leg of the trip home, God reminded me of just how much I need to take time to hear Him. He had a lot He wanted to talk to me about when I gave Him the chance! Everything from my parenting to our finances to following my dreams. He wants me to pray more specifically for my friends, and continue working on being a self-disciplined woman. He wants me to dream big! And not be afraid to take a leap of faith.

What about you? When was the last time you slowed down enough to really listen to God? What things might He be trying to get your attention about?

I know one thing for sure: the next time I’m starting to get sucked into the craziness of my overbooked schedule (like in two weeks when Little League begins), I’m going to make sure I find time to just be still. It’s probably going to mean that I have to get up in the morning long before anyone else is awake. I’m going to have to make a few self-sacrifices so that God can speak to me in the stillness.

In my house, as probably in yours, stillness doesn’t just happen. We have to create it. Because only then, can the gift of God’s presence truly find its way to our hearts.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

She Speaks Conference Scholarships!

Have you heard about the She Speaks Conference? You can check out all the details at http://shespeaksconference.com/ . Here's a quick preview:

She Speaks is a conference founded in 2001 by Proverbs 31 Ministries with the intent of: "encouraging and equipping women as they communicate God’s Word through writing, sharing their testimony, leading a Bible study and speaking from the podium". Whether you're a woman with a heart for speaking, writing, or leading in women's ministries...the 2011 She Speaks Conference is for you!

Here’s what’s in store for 2011:

She Speaks: (Speakers’ Track) Whether you feel led to speak in a large arena or lead Bible studies in your church, you will be equipped with the tools you need to effectively share your message, build your platform, and market your ministry.

She Writes: (Writers’ Track) Learn everything from basic writing guidelines to preparing an article or manuscript for submission, and everything in between. In addition, you will have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with some of the top editors, publishers, and literary agents in the Christian market.

She Leads: (Women’s Ministry Track) This track is specifically designed for women’s ministry directors and facilitators. Learn creative ways to reach your community, determine the best curriculum for your group, plan effective special events, and share ideas and network with other directors.

Right now on her blog, Lysa TerKeurst is offering the chance to win two Cecil Murphy She Speaks Scholarships to this year's conference! Check that opportunity out at: http://lysaterkeurst.com/2011/03/she-speaks-scholarship-contest-2011. The value of this scholarship is $595, which includes your conference materials, conference registration, 2 nights at the conference hotel and meals associated with the conference. You can also sign up for Cecil's newsletter for writers at: http://themanbehindthewords.com/. He's a very godly man and his newsletters are full of encouragement. If you're a writer at heart, I'd definitely encourage you to sign up for his free newsletter.

Ever since I learned about the She Speaks Conference last year, it has been my dream to attend! I've felt God tugging on my heart to begin using my gifts of writing and speaking and my love of His Word in some way bigger than I can currently imagine. I really think that the She Speaks Conference will be the first step towards God unveiling His plans for my life in this area! However, unless I win a scholarship or God works in some other BIG way between now and when registration closes, my dream will just have to be put on hold another year. So I'm going to attempt to win every She Speaks scholarship that I see between now and when registration closes. That's why I'm writing this blog entry today...to try to be one of Lysa's lucky winners!

What about you? Does this conference spark your interest as well? Want to go and be my roommate? I encourage you to check out the above websites and join me in trying to be one of Lysa's scholarship winners. Oh, and leave me a comment if you're as excited about the possibility of the She Speaks Conference as I am. I'd love to pray for you to be able to win a scholarship or see God come through for you too!