Charleston Shootings – Is Forgiveness the Way?

Another horrific massacre took place last week in Charleston, SC. A twenty-one year old young man opened fire in a bible study group and killed nine victims including an 87 year old woman as well as the pastor of the church. The young man was eventually apprehended and his license plate bore the emblem of the confederate flag. In a video, the tearful pained voices of the victims’ relatives expressed their hurt and forgiveness to the unemotional lad who stood between prison guards. How does one respond to such an injustice as the loss of a loved one. Is it wise to offer forgiveness to an unrepentant soul?

Now I am all for forgiving others, but I wonder if perhaps this process has been misunderstood by some so I began to do some research. When we are hurt or offended by another person, we usually experience a wide variety of emotions, so let’s explore these for a moment to see how they are to be handled.

When someone hurts us, there are many reactions we may feel; some of these are healthy and some are not. We may feel hurt, grieved, saddened, and sometimes devastated. These are all normal emotions and especially in the case of the death of a loved one. We need to allow ourselves to feel these emotions fully. To deny or forgive the other too quickly is both unhealthy and unwise. We need to take the time to feel and to grieve. Another response is the desire to want to get back at the other person. This is known as the desire for vengeance. So what about when we feel the need to “pay them back” for the hurt they’ve caused us?

The sense of injustice is reasonable. However, when we harbor thoughts of vengeance, these negative thoughts poison our mind and steal our peace. It would do us well to remember that we, too, have hurt others. When we let go of this need, and give it to God, we rid ourselves of that poison. It may be difficult, even painful, to forgive, but unforgiveness hurts us even more in the long run.

I was surprised at how quickly the relatives were to offer forgiveness to the perpetrator who showed absolutely no sign of remorse or regret. Does such a person deserve to be let off the hook, so to speak, so quickly? Is this even biblical?

There are many verses in Scripture that tell us to forgive and how many times to forgive. There is one verse however that may shed some light as to when to actually forgive someone. It is found in Luke 17:3 and reads “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.”. This is from the King James Bible, perhaps the oldest and most accurate version. Notice the caveat – if he repents. In other words, we are not commanded to forgive unrepentant people. Let’s use another scenario.

Say your child tells you a lie or steals money from you and you find out about it. As a parent, you don’t stop loving your child, but would you insist the child apologize? Or would you say “I forgive you” and then let the whole issue drop? If you do, the chances of having a repeat performance is likely to occur, would you agree? The role of a parent is to develop character in their children and teach them right from wrong. When we insist on moral behavior it does not mean we do not love our child. In fact, good discipline is a necessary component of raising healthy adults. There is one more consequence of forgiving too quickly.

When we forgive someone who is unrepentant, we take away the opportunity for real change and growth. Most human beings have some sort of conscience, and without the chance to repent, the person will wallow in guilt and shame. The purpose of true guilt and shame are to bring someone to accept responsibility for what they have done and to change. Then and only then, are we to forgive them for they have shown a change of heart and a true sorrowfulness for their actions.

Now this post might be controversial. I would like to hear your thoughts on this topic. We must stem the tide of these killings and hold the perpetrators responsible. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Until next time, keep looking up!

Ariel

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Choose Peace and Find Favor

I hate getting lost. It doesn’t happen often but when it does, I know I’m in for a test. It seems like it happens when I’m in a hurry to get someplace. You know the feeling, I’m sure.

It was a Friday night and my son, Jon, and I were out celebrating his 30th birthday. We had just finished a lovely meal at a Spanish restaurant in Houston and were headed to a dance studio to take a salsa lesson at 9 pm. We had less than 30 minutes to get there. On the way to the car after dinner, I started to get excited about the evening. It would be the first dance lesson my son has had and perhaps I was more excited than he. I had found a coupon for free entry if we arrived before 9:30.

“This is going to be so much fun!” I exclaimed as I settled into his new Nissan with the homemade birthday cake on my lap.

Now, Houston is not exactly the easiest place to get around. The city is huge and so are the highways. Jon plugged in the address of the studio into his trusty GPS and waited. And waited. And waited. No response.

“I know where this place is,” he announced and pulled out of the parking spot.

“We’re looking for 59 north,” he said.

As we headed out of the city, it seemed we were going into nowhereland.

“I don’t see any signs for 59 north,” I said. After circling the side roads, we eventually hit a dead end. Jon’s tone was becoming firmer and the tension in the air was thickening by the minute.

“Doesn’t look like we’re going to make the lesson, so we might as well go home,” he announced. It was like someone stuck a pin in my balloon of anticipation and excitement.

“Ok, if that’s what you want to do,” I surrendered.

Then Jon says: “I think the enemy is trying to get us into a fight to ruin the evening. But he’s not going to get his way. Forget this GPS. I think I know how to get us there,” Jon stated with a renewed sense of determination. My hopes started to rise again as he found the way to a highway.

It was 9:20 when we pulled into the parking lot of the studio.

“Let’s take a few breaths,” Jon said and we both sat in silence for a few minutes collecting ourselves.

Peace must be fought for.

We knew we had avoided a close call and we both accepted that fact that we had missed the lesson.

“At least we made it in time to get in free,” I offered.

We stepped into the studio. The place was hopping with activity.

“I guess the lesson is over,” I said to the gal checking us in at the door.

“No, as a matter of fact, it is going to start in 5 minutes.”

Jon and I looked at each other in amazement. We both knew what had happened.

“That’s God’s favor,” Jon says quietly. “Because we didn’t get into an argument in the car,”.

I was grateful for both the unexpected blessing of the dance lesson and for the fact that Jon was so wise to have learned this lesson so young. It had taken me years to realize this.

So, next time you find yourself in a tense situation that is out of your control, remember to defuse it by surrendering. When we choose peace instead of conflict, we not only save our energy and our spirits, but God smiles upon us with favor.

Love to hear your feedback on this adventure and until next time, keep looking up!

Ariel

One Thing You Need to See Your Dreams Come True

We all have dreams we want to see become a reality. Some dream of traveling to an exotic country. Others dream of owning the latest hot sports car. Still others dream of finding the love of their life or writing a best selling book. We can put all kinds of effort into trying to make things happen, but there is one key ingredient that we must have if we want to see our dreams come true.

Some say it is will power. I know my will power only goes so far – just show me a jar of peanut butter. We can try to use will power but sooner or later our will power will run out. It is not brute strength, intelligence, knowledge, or great wealth. All of these things are helpful but without this one key ingredient we will not be successful. The one key ingredient to seeing your dreams come true is the power of Faith. We must BELIEVE it is possible to lose that 20 pounds, run that marathon, write that book, or take that trip of a lifetime.

For example, I have wanted to go to Argentina for 10 years. Ever since I toured the Argentine Tall Ship that docked in the Baltimore Harbor one summer, I promised myself “Someday, I am going to go to Argentina.” Now traveling to South America as a single woman is not exactly an easy thing to do. There are safety issues, language issues, and travel issues. Yet, I had faith. I was going to go to Argentina.

Two years ago, I decided it was time. After a few months of planning, lots of research, and applying for a Brazilian visa, I was off to South America on American Airlines. I wound up visiting not only Argentina, but Brazil as well. It was a dream come true and all because of the seed of Faith that I planted 10 years earlier.

So, what exactly is Faith?

To put it simply, Faith is the positive belief of things not yet seen. It is the belief that our dreams can come true. It is the fuel that fires up our engines. Without faith, we idle through life, never really achieving anything great and watching our dreams go up in a puff of smoke. A life without faith is not the life we were intended to live.

Faith begins with a belief in God because God is the ultimate source of all good things as well as the power to achieve them. When I exclude God from the equation, I am setting myself up for a lot of hard work and eventual failure and disappointment. It is God who gives us the grace and the power to succeed and flourish.

I like to think of Faith as a muscle we all possess. In the same way we need to develop our physical muscles to lift stronger weights, if we want to achieve greater things in life, it is necessary to strengthen our spiritual muscle. Each goal we achieve builds our faith and our confidence. We can stand on our victories and our failures like stepping stones that help us step up to the next level.

We all fall at times. The key is to pick ourselves up and get back in the race. Proverbs 24:16 says “Though the righteous may fall 7 times, but the Lord will always raise him back up.” There is no shame in failing. In fact, failure is one of the best ways to strengthen our spiritual muscle. Look how many times Thomas Edison and Abraham Lincoln failed. Failure builds character and strengthens our spiritual muscle. If you have failed recently, I encourage you to get back in the game. If you’re still on this earth, God still has a plan and a purpose for your life, but it is up to us to do our part to make our dreams come true.

If you have a dream you want to see come true, ask yourself this question “Do I truly believe this can happen in my life?” Stretch yourself. Start saying things like “I believe I can break this habit.” “I believe I can lose this weight.” “I believe I can make it through this.” Whatever you’re going through, use it as an opportunity to strengthen your spiritual muscle and to grow your faith. You will be surprised at the results and when you look back at your life and see how many of your dreams really have come true, you will be amazed!

If you liked this post, please comment or click on the +1 Google icon. Until next time, keep looking up!

Ariel

The Single Most Important Factor to Success

What is success? How do we define it and how do we achieve it? Many are looking for the answer, but the truth is there is no one answer.

Success is a value. It is personal. Each individual who is motivated to be successful will need to come to terms with his or her own idea of what success looks like for him/herself. Some define success in terms of fame, popularity, and being well-known. For others, it means making a 6-figure income, achieving a high-ranking corporate position, and having all the luxuries of life at their disposal. A third group define success in terms of doing what they enjoy and value such as being able to spend more time with the family, maintaining their health and doing good in the world. What’s more, one’s idea of success can change as we achieve in different areas of our lives and fulfill what Maslow calls our basic human needs.

Whatever your definition of success is, there is one factor that is the common denominator in success of any type. I’ll call it “the ability to show up”. For example, to be a success on the job, we must report to work everyday, arrive on time, and be mentally alert. We must “show up”. After working in a corporate environment world for over 30 years, showing up is a given. A fellow coworker put it this way “They expect us to be on our A game every day” and it was true. You were either 100% or they didn’t need you.

If we want to be a successful parent, it is important to show up there as well: for the baseball game, the soccer match, the school play, the Honor awards ceremony. We might not think of it as important, but to our son or daughter our presence means the world. Kids notice more when we’re NOT there, than when we are. As a single parent, it meant cutting out of work earlier and staying later the next day, but if it means seeing my son hit a home run, get a chance to pitch, or score that goal, it was well worth it.

In our personal relationships, if we tell our spouse or friend we will be available at a certain time to have lunch or dinner will we show up? Or will we call with an excuse at the last minute? Will we be available to help out when crisis hits and a friend is in need? Will we show up to visit, cook or bring them a meal? Will we listen to our spouse talk about his/her day and tune out the television, computer and cell phone? Will we be present?

What about showing up for ourselves? Suppose I want to lose some weight. I tell myself I am going to work out or go to the gym 4 times a week. Will I show up? Will I do what I said I was going to do? Same thing with learning any new skill such as learning to dance, practicing yoga, meditation, reading the Bible, or training for a 10k or a marathon. It goes for writing these blog posts. I’ve been writing them faithfully for six years now. Do you think it’s been easy? Not at all, but I can tell you I’ve learned a lot about showing up even in my free time. I learned to sit myself down at the computer and write. It wasn’t as hard writing the book because I had so much inside I wanted to pour out on paper. It still took discipline to do this after working 8 hours at a mentally demanding career. I tracked the days and the times I spent writing to establish a regular writing routine. You might say I was driven to show up.

Finally, what about showing up for God? When we hear that call to help out at church, visit a sick friend, or volunteer for a worthy charity, will we show up? In the morning when we know God is waiting to meet with us and talk with us in that quiet time, will we show up? Will we rise a few minutes earlier if necessary so we can have that special time with God? I have realized this is the most important appointment of my day. Everything falls into place and I have a sense of peace knowing I am fully protected and prepared for whatever comes at me during the day.

The key, I think, to success in any area of our life begins with this one simple step – just show up. When we want to do something new, something different, something we feel we are not quite ready for, all we have to do is show up. We don’t need to have the whole plan mapped out from A to Z. If we’re on a God-sized mission, we won’t even know the next step most of the time. All we have to do is show up and do “the next right thing”.

What is it you want to achieve in this life? What area of life do you wish to be successful in? Ask yourself this question: “Am I showing up?” This really makes a tough job seem much less difficult. When we want to achieve something new it can seem like a mountain in front of us, but really, as Jesus said, if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we can move mountains. In other words, what may seem impossible to us, begins with the first step of just showing up and believing. If we keep showing up day after day, we are going to make progress. We will slowly climb that mountain. We will gain clarity on what to do next to achieve our goal.

If this post has resonated with you, I’d love to hear your feedback. Please click the Google +1 button or leave a comment. Until next time, keep looking up!

Ariel

Baltimore Riots: The Danger of Pent Up Negative Emotions

Negative emotions can build up without us even realizing it and have disastrous consequences. Take the recent riots in Baltimore, for example. Years of pent up frustration and resentment erupted in a city-wide looting and rioting spree this week. Stores were vandalized. People were injured. Residents are shocked and alarmed. The governor has declared a state of emergency and called in the National Guard. The mayor has ordered a curfew and police are patrolling the city with guns and weapons. The triggering event was the unnecessary death of a black youth while in the custody of city police. But why this violent reaction many ask?

We can ask the same question about the mass killings of innocent school children at Sandy Hook Elementary School or the shootings at Columbine, Aurora movie theatre, to name just a few. In my humble opinion, the root cause of aggressive violence, barring mental illness, is the inability to process one’s negative emotions. We all have them. Stress from our jobs, school, our relationships, unfair treatment in the workplace and in the community can build up to an intolerable crescendo unless we learn to handle it in positive ways.

A video clip of a Baltimore city mom cursing and hitting her kid over the head has made headlines. Some people are condoning her actions.

I ask this question “What is she teaching her son?” Yes, I understand she was concerned and afraid for him. Any mother would be. But how we parents act in the difficult situations of life is how our kids are going to act when we’re not around. I have seen many a mom smacking her kid, yelling at a child, and in general, being totally out of control. I have lost my temper a time or two when I was raising my kids as a single parent. One day, it dawned on me. What am I teaching my kids? It was a rude but necessary awakening.

Not only do we need to educate the kids on how to handle their emotions, we need to educate the parents. Do you think it is appropriate to curse and whack a child on the head to discipline them? We expect these kids to show respect to others, but if it has never been shown to them, this is an unrealistic expectation. Kids model the behavior that has been modeled to them. Remember the old adage, action speaks louder than words. So what can we do as parents? Here are some constructive ways we can better manage our emotions and hopefully, pass these on to our kids.

1) Allow myself to feel my emotions – negative as well as positive. Do not suppress or “stuff” them. Do not allow them to build up without expression.

2) Do not judge myself for having any type of emotion or feeling. Emotions and feelings are fleeting and temporary but they are messages that have a purpose.

3) Observe myself feeling the emotion. Identify the bodily reactions I experience such as a tight stomach, a headache, or stiff neck.

4) Understand the triggering event. Our thoughts trigger our emotions. What negative thought did I have that caused me to feel this way?

5) Realize an emotion does not control us. We control it. Take a few deep breaths to regain control.

6) Consider what positive action to take to change the situation. If the situation is out of my control, then I need to work on changing the way I perceive a situation. There is always a different way to view things.

7) Commend myself for being aware of my feelings and emotions. We will feel much more in control of our lives when we make a conscious choice rather than act on emotion.

Researchers have long studied the effects of yelling at kids. Here’s a link from Today’s Parent which says “Adolescents whose parents had been using yelling as a discipline method were more likely to have behavioral issues and to act out (including with vandalism and violence).”

This is a difficult and complicated subject to address. Negative emotions are not the only cause of violent behavior, but they are a big part of the problem in today’s society. Many people prefer to put on a happy face and ignore the issues, but sooner or later, things come to the surface in one way or another. Negative emotions are normal. Everyone has them. The key is how to manage them in healthy and appropriate ways.

What ideas do you have on how to handle your emotions? What do you think this mom’s behavior is teaching her son? What other ways do you use to discipline your kids? Do comment below.

Until next time, keep looking up!

Ariel

What To Do When the Unexpected Happens

Do you often find yourself frustrated and worn out trying to solve every problem on your own? We think we’ve got all the bases covered and then, poof – something out of the blue tries to put a monkey wrench in the works. What then? Do we yell and scream? Cuss out the cat, the dog, the kids, or the spouse?

As a single parent and the child of an alcoholic father, I have felt the need to control situations probably more so than I need to. Perhaps, like me, you’ve felt you have to “do it all” and found yourself crumbling under the mountain of to-do lists. In the past, I chalked it all up to “being responsible” but I think there is more to it than that. No matter how much I may think I have things under control, inevitably something happens to let me know that I am not. What’s good about this is that no matter what happens, all I have to do is give it to God and He will step in and make things right. Somehow. God’s grace is an amazing thing and when we start to expect it and look for it in our lives, more of it seems to show up. To give you an example, allow me to share a situation that happened this week and see what you think.

About a month ago, I purchased airline tickets online for my mom, my son, and myself. My mom’s tickets were purchased on a different airlines since she would be flying from another city. I filled out the credit card information, selected seating, and even put in a request for elderly assistance. My mom was adamant that we get the flight paid for quickly since she was getting a good price. When I submitted the information, I am quite sure I received a confirmation message because I remember uttering a sigh of relief.

Fast forward to this week, my mom was asking questions about her ticket.

“Let me see if I ever got an email from the airlines confirming your flight,” I said as I perused my inbox.

“Nope, nothing. I don’t see anything from them. I don’t remember whether I put my email address on your ticket or not,” I said.

A few hours later, I’m taking a nap, and my cell phone starts going off. It was my mom.

“I just called the airlines and they said my ticket was cancelled. I called my bank and they have no record of the ticket being purchased either,” she said in a frenzied tone of voice.

“Ok, Ma, calm down. Let me call the airlines and see what happened.”

Sure enough, the agent tells me there was one ticket in the system but it was put on hold and then the system cancelled it out. This certainly seemed bizarre to me. There was no way I had put that ticket on hold, as adamant as my mom was to get the fare.

“Is there any way I can get repurchase the ticket?” I asked.

“Not at that price,” replied the agent. “That price is no longer in the system.”

Not knowing what else to do, I asked to speak to a supervisor.

“Hold please, while I get one for you,”.

It was quite a while before someone came back on the line but I did have time to send up a prayer.

“Lord, please show us your favor in this situation. Thank you so much.”

When the supervisor finally came on the line she said her name was Miss Sophie. Funny, that is my mom’s name too.

To make a long story short, the supervisor agreed to repurchase the ticket for us at the exact same fare, with better seats and with no additional fees for phone service.

I hung up the phone.

“Hallelujah! Thank you, Lord!” I exclaimed.

I have to admit. This is quite a change of behavior from years past. I would let someone else’s upset become my upset. Now I have learned I don’t have to take on emotionally or energetically someone else’s problem. I don’t have to fix everything by myself. Here are some simple steps I use to help keep from losing my cool when something unexpected happens.

1. Take a deep breath and pause before responding.

2. Maintain my composure by keeping my voice low and slow.

3. Reassure the other person everything is going to be fine.

4. Pray! Ask God for wisdom and direction.

5. Take time to step back and think logically about a solution.

6. Take the necessary action steps without apprehension about what could happen.

7. Relax and give the outcome to God. Trust Him to handle it after I’ve done my part.

We all have unexpected events show up in our lives. The key is to not let them throw us of kilter for very long. If we get really good at it, perhaps there will come a day when they won’t throw us off kilter at all!

Love to hear your feedback on this post so please leave a comment or click the +1 icon. Until next time, keep looking up!

Ariel

7 Communication Styles & How to Improve Yours

Have trouble communicating with others? Are you shy and introverted or gregarious and extroverted? Good communication is an art and a practice. It is a critical component in healthy long-term relationships. The way we communicate with others can make or break a relationship. People have different styles of speaking. Some, like my Mom, like to chit chat about what ever is going on in their day, others like to discuss sports or the latest news event, while others prefer to discuss deeper topics that stimulate thought and reflection. All of these are perfectly fine, depending on the circumstances. The key is to recognize what style we use and be aware of how to connect with people who have a different style than our own.

Today I am sharing the 7 types of communication styles I have encountered. There are probably more, but these are the ones I have noticed. Perhaps you recognize yourself in one or more of them as I do. Sometimes we are not even be aware of our communication style and wonder why we have difficulties in connecting with others.

But first, what actually is good communication? Is it simply idle chatter or is there more to it? Good communication is uplifting and edifying to the hearer. Words are spoken gently rather than harshly so that our words are soothing rather than abrasive to the listener. It is not only the words we speak, but how we say them.

Good communication is a two-way street. There is a healthy give and take between speakers. One person does not monopolize the conversation for long periods of time – that is called a monologue. In order to foster intimacy and connection, we need to be willing to share our inner thoughts and feelings with safe people.

Three questions we can ask ourselves before we open our mouths are these:
1) Is it kind?
2) Is it encouraging?
3) Is it necessary?

If what we are going to say does not pass this litmus test, it may be best to remain silent. Listening is a gift we give to others. I used to tell my sons we need to listen more than we speak and that is why God gave us two ears and one mouth.

Today we’ll take a look at some different styles of communication. Not everyone has the same style of communication and it is important to realize this in any relationship if it is to flourish. The more aware we are of our own communication styles, the more selective we will become in choosing friends and partners in life. It is not a matter of one style being better than the other. It is a matter of the two styles meshing together harmoniously. Most of us use a mixture of several styles and sometimes we may need to modify our style to foster better connection.

1. The self-conscious speaker:
This type of person shares slowly and very little. They speak in short sentences and are usually the quiet ones in any group. They need to be made comfortable and then coaxed to come out of their shell. Once a certain level of trust is achieved, they will slowly share more. They need to be encouraged when they do speak.

2. The small talk speaker :
These people love to spend hours on the phone just talking about their day, their dog, the weather, the latest sitcom. These people like to “shoot the breeze” as it’s called. They value talking for the sake of talking.

3. The negative speaker:
These folks come in different flavors but the commonality is their conversation is negative. They also focus on negative events as a source of discussion. They complain often. They bemoan their lot in life on a regular basis. These conversations are unhealthy and unproductive and they do not foster healthy relationships. Negative speakers have a negative world-view and unless you are one of them, you may not enjoy a relationship with one.

4. The goal-oriented speaker:
These folks call with a purpose in mind. They have a request, or a question that needs answering. They consider small talk a waste of time. Their conversations tend to be direct and to the point. They need to understand others are not all like this and balance their conversations with some personal connecting.

5. The self-absorbed speaker:
These people are similar to those in #2. The difference being they only talk about themselves and what’s going on in their lives. They rarely, if ever, ask you about your day, how you are feeling, or give you time to share something from your day. If they do, they are usually not paying attention to your response and move on to their next sentence without a validating response to what you have said. These are the people that go on and on and you can’t get a word in edge-wise. They need to take a breather and learn to listen more and give feedback on what the other person has shared.

6. The withholding speaker:
This person is on the secretive side. He/she shares, but only partially. If you are around this person long enough, you will begin to realize information is not being shared in a timely manner or you will hear the “news” from other people before you hear it from them. They do not realize that withholding information is harmful to the relationship especially if the other person is sharing personal information and they are not.

7. The deep thinkers:
I’ve been told I fall into this category. I much prefer to talk about deeper subjects rather than mundane ones. I like to get to know a person’s innermost thoughts and beliefs and understand the why of things. Deep thinkers tend to see connections where other people don’t. These types of speakers need to seek out other deep thinkers. They will be on the same wave-length and feel less irritated by people whose communication style has less depth.

One more tip for good communicating is to utilize pauses. After you finish a few sentences, take a breath. Wait and count to three and allow the other person to respond. If you are on the listening end, pause and count to three before you start talking to make sure the other person has finished what they wanted to say. This will help to ensure a smooth and balanced flow to the conversation.

Have you identified your communication style in any of the above? What changes can you make to improve your conversations? Would love to hear your feedback on this topic so please leave a comment. If you enjoyed this post, please click the +1 Google icon to let me know.

Until next time, keep looking up!

Ariel

God Feels What You Feel

Emotions are powerful. They can energize and motivate us and they can bring us to our knees. They put the spring in our step and take the wind out of our sails. Emotions are God-given and to be honored, not suppressed. Some of us are more emotional than others and this is sometimes seen as weakness. In reality, the more we are in touch with our emotions, the more we are in touch with our heart, the hearts of others and the heart of God.

What grieves your heart? Is it rejection? Abandonment? Loss? Unfaithfulness? Abuse? Being misunderstood? Jesus suffered all of these. He knows all about pain. He endured it all for our sakes and to save our souls from death and eternal separation from God. I cannot even fathom how it must have grieved God to see His only Son hanging there on the cross, pierced and bleeding for our transgressions. What grieves God the most today?

It grieves God when we deny our emotions and we stuff, suppress, and ignore the still small voice deep inside otherwise known as the Holy Spirit.  God is always speaking to us. The question is are we listening? Emotions are one of the ways God speaks to and thru our hearts. But we must allow ourselves to be sensitive. It takes a lot of courage and the grace of God to do this.

Both men and women struggle in this area of emotions. Society has taught us it is weakness to express emotion and that it is shameful to cry. The truth is there is no shame in crying. The shame is in hardening our hearts and putting up a wall around them. When we cry, it shows we care. Do you think God didn’t cry when he saw Jesus on the cross? Do you think he doesn’t cry when he sees injustice and mistreatment?

Although others may shake their heads in disgust like the Pharisees did to Jesus, God sees what each of us has and is going through and He cries with us. He does not mock, jeer, or judge like the crowds did. People, like myself, who have been wounded much by the punches of life, have a lot of tears. But God promises that one day He will dry every tear. He has captured them all in a bottle. He sees every punch thrown at us because He allowed it to happen.

The good news is this. God never wastes the pain and there is a purpose in every punch. We may not understand at the time and that is where we have a choice. We can either respond in doubt and unbelief, or in trust and faith. Pain is how our faith grows stronger. Every punch life throws at us is another opportunity to trust God.

As we remember what Jesus went thru on the cross, how we was abandoned by his closest friends, and even by God himself, let us remember – Sunday is coming! Victory over our pain and circumstances can be ours when we put our faith in Christ and not in men.

What punches has life thrown you, dear child of God? How many tears have you cried? How many times have you been judged unfairly or misunderstood? Rest in the knowing that God sees all and he is faithful to wipe away every tear and replace them all with unspeakable joy. Until then, do not harden your heart or put up a wall. Reach out to others who are hurting and God will reach out to you.

Until next time, I leave you with one of my favorite prayers by St. Francis of Assisi and I encourage you to embrace both the joy and the suffering of the cross. Jesus paid for all our sins and indeed He is risen. Happy Resurrection and to God be the glory!

Has Easter Lost Its Meaning?

What will you be doing this Easter Sunday? Spending time with family and friends? Sharing a meal? Or perhaps you’ve chosen to take a vacation. If so, you are blessed. But there are many who do not have family and friends. Others don’t have money to put food on the table much less take a vacation. Some will be working hard this Sunday. Theirs is quite a different Easter.

Statistics show church attendance continues to drop, yet the innate hunger we feel to be spiritually fed and comforted is still within the human heart. We search for avenues to assuage our guilt, our pain, and our shame. Many hide under a facade of fancy clothes, a big house, or the latest techno gadgetry. But God sees the heart. He sees the pain, the shame, and the guilt that burden us. He wants to set us free from all of these and that, my friends, is the meaning of Easter.

Easter is a time for renewal and for forgiveness. It is a time to let go of the old, and embrace the new. It is a time to let God heal our heart, by filling it with the great love he has to offer us through His son, Jesus Christ. It is up to each of us whether or not we choose to receive this love.

As a soul who has endured much pain in this life, I am thankful for the love of God, for His great grace and mercy in my life. I am not perfect. I sin many times, sometimes daily. But I know, through the blood of Christ, I don’t have to bear that burden into tomorrow. My life has been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb; so in a spirit of humility and thankfulness, I offer some reflections on what Easter means to me, and I trust that they will encourage and comfort you. When we pause to look at the cross, somehow it puts our “light and momentary afflictions” in perspective.

Easter reminds me that:

– I have another opportunity for transformation and change

– miracles still happen if we have eyes to see

– God’s grace is sufficient for me

– Jesus paid the price for all my sins and mistakes

– God is always there no matter how far away I drift from Him

– no matter how dark it may look on Friday, Sunday is coming

– when I wonder “Does God really love me?” all I have to do is look at Jesus’ outstretched arms on the cross and hear him say “I love you this much”

– when I am suffering, I know Jesus has suffered so much more than I ever will and that makes my pain more bearable

– no matter what I have lost or how much I have been hurt or mistreated, God can bring me healing and peace

Easter still has meaning for those of us who choose to visit the cross. Yes, it takes courage. Yes, it takes boldness and strength, but remember the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi who wrote these words:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O
Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

May this Easter fill you with the love of God, heal your broken places, and make you new.

Until next time, keep looking up!

Ariel

Mindfulness Meditation 101

Forget your keys or your cell phone? Misplaced your wallet or your purse? Say something obnoxious or rude and then wonder how that ever came out of your mouth? No, it’s not Alzheimer’s setting in. It’s not a senior moment. You can relax and stop worrying about either of these. Most likely, you, like many in this fast-paced culture, are suffering from – mindlessness.

What is mindlessness?

Mindlessness is when our thoughts run amuck, kind of like monkeys in a cage. They jump from here to there willy nilly. I know my mind is constantly processing. I’ve often been told “You think too much” and maybe so having worked in an analytical career for over 30 years. My job was all about problem solving and finding links and root causes. Plus the added pressure of being a single mom and having to manage everything myself, my mind was on overdrive for years.

Most of the time we operate out of routine and schedules like we are on auto-pilot. We are so used to moving fast in an endless struggle to accomplish more and more, we plan our days to the max, and then as our head hits the pillow at night we often wonder where did the day go? Did I enjoy it? Was I really present? Did I make choices that are in line with my values? Was I kind? If the answer to these questions is no, today I am going to share a technique to help us all with this unproductive and often stress-filled way of living.

It’s called mindfulness meditation. Now for those who may be new to this technique, there are many different kinds of meditation. This post is going to focus on what is called mindfulness meditation. In other words, we will be discussing a method on how to train our minds to be more attentive to the present moment. It is a skill that will serve us well in many areas of our lives and you can learn it right in the comfort of your home. You don’t need any special tools or equipment. All you need to start is 15 minutes a day by yourself. That’s it. You can carve out 15 minutes a day to live a life more fully engaged, right?

But first, let’s address the common concern many people have about meditation. It seems meditation has gotten a bad rap, especially among Christians, who balk at the very idea. Some disdain or dismiss it, thinking it is ungodly or against their religious beliefs. I would like to put your fears at rest. There are many verses of Scripture that encourage us to manage our thought life. One of them is 2 Cor 10:5 which exhorts us to “Take every thought captive”. Colossians 3:2 says “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things,”. The Apostle Paul knew the value of managing our thoughts and not allowing them to manage us. We are also encouraged to “Be still and know that I am God”. When we manage to sit ourselves down and clear our minds for a few minutes, we release stress and tension and we are able to sift through the cacophony of inner voices that chatter to us during the course of the day. Calming the mind is not the only benefit of meditation.

Here are some additional benefits you may be interested in:
– Lowers oxygen consumption.
– Decreases respiratory rate.
– Increases blood flow and slows the heart rate.
– Increases exercise tolerance in heart patients.
– Promotes a deeper level of relaxation.
– Reduces blood pressure
– Reduces anxiety attacks by lowering the levels of blood lactate.
– Decreases muscle tension (any pain due to tension) and headaches.
– Enhances the immune system. Research has revealed that meditation increases activity of ‘natural-killer cells’, which kill bacteria and cancer cells.

There are tons of books and now websites that offer to teach us how to meditate. Some of them can be unnecessarily complicated and confusing. Websites usually involve a fee at some point. Today I am going to share an introduction and some simple steps to begin your meditation practice.

Yes, meditation is a practice. It is a spiritual discipline just like reading your favorite sacred text or praying daily. Think of it as sending your mind to the gym. Just as we train our physical bodies to perform at their optimum level, so our minds need to be trained to perform well. We are constantly barraged by external sensory input: cell phones, noises, traffic, music, texting and talking. No wonder we have trouble hearing from God with so much input coming at us all the time. Just like defragging the memory on our laptops, it is important to clear out the mental clutter and basically do a reboot on our minds.

So here are some simple steps to help you get started.

1. Find a time of day or night, preferably both, where you can get quiet for 10 – 30 minutes. Make sure the cell phones are off and tell the family you are taking a quiet time break. Encourage them to take one as well.

2. Make sure your clothing is loose and comfortable and the room temperature is appropriate. We want to eliminate anything that could distract us from our task.

3. Sit in a comfortable position either in a chair or on the carpet. Use a cushion, pillow, or a folded blanket if you like more support. Make sure you sit up straight with an erect spine. I like to sit in half-lotus which is cross legs with one foot on top of the other knee.

4. Close your eyes and rest your hands either in your lap or on your knees palms up.

5. Begin to focus on your breathing. Start breathing through your lower belly rather than your chest. As you settle, your breathing will get slower and fuller. You may put one hand on your belly to make sure it is rising and falling with each breath until you get the hang of deep breathing.

6. Scan your body and relax and release any tension or tightness in your muscles. Relax your shoulders, your face, your hips, etc.

7. Once you have completed the body scan, continue to focus on your breath. The breath becomes a focal point of your practice. Observe the air coming in and out through your nostrils. Observe the length of your breaths. Keep your mind focused on your breathing. You will notice many thoughts come into your mind. This is natural at first. Notice the thoughts and let them float by like clouds. As your breathing slows down, so will your thoughts. Continue to bring your attention back to your breath each time it wanders.

8. Resist the urge to keep checking the clock. If you’d like, set an alarm. The longer you can sit the more relaxed and focused you will become. You will feel refreshed, relaxed, and energized to go about the rest of your day. Meditation is also a great practice to do at night before bedtime. It quiets the mind and prepares it for a restful night’s sleep.

As you can see, beginning a meditation practice is not all that difficult. The benefits you will receive are well worth the time you put into it. Like anything else, implementing a regular meditation time means decluttering your life to make room for what is truly valuable and useful. Turn the television off sooner and use that time to meditate.

Hope you enjoyed this post. Love to hear if you try my tips and how they work for you. Until next time, keep looking up!

Ariel