Many years ago I worked in a bank. Banking is a fine career for someone with financial aptitude; but for me, it was just a job, and not a job I enjoyed. I felt bored, stifled, and out of place; but I dragged myself through work each day because I was afraid to give up the steady paycheck and health insurance. I had many other dreams for my life, but I told myself I needed that job, and I settled for punching keys at the bank while wishing I were anywhere else.

God doesn’t want us to settle for life that makes us feel stifled and unhappy. He tell us we are capable of reaching the goals and dreams he gives us. Often it is our lack of faith that keeps us from achieving our full potential. Over the years I’ve noticed a few behaviors that keep people from achieving their best.

Limiting Beliefs:

I don’t deserve it. I’m not good enough. I can’t do any better.

Negative beliefs are usually fed into us by other people who believed the same about themselves. This has been the hardest area for me to overcome, and I’ve never found an easy answer. At some point in my journey I decided that I will never know how much I can accomplish until I try, so I at least want to be able to say I made the attempt. That new belief has kept me persisting despite my doubts and persevering toward my goals during many times I wanted to give up and settle for less.

Making Excuses:

I’ve worked all day and I’m tired. I have too much to do. It’s not my fault.

Excuses deflect responsibility, blame others for our failures, and free us from the expectation to work hard. Excuses also prevent us from becoming the people we are meant to be. Becoming all we are capable of means taking responsibility for our actions, discovering how to motivate ourselves, and making the effort necessary to reach our goals. When I stopped complaining about being trapped in my job and started looking for a way to change, my situation improved and new opportunities presented themselves.

Habitual Thinking:

I’ve always done it this way. It will never get any better.  

Habit thinking is hard to identify because so often our bad habits are unconscious and automatic behaviors. It is easy to stay in roles, routines, and relationships that are bad for us because they seem so comforting and familiar. The best way I’ve found for changing bad habits is to work in the smallest possible increments and build up to achieving greater goals and bigger accomplishments. When I decided to leave the bank and began college, I started with one class while I worked. Over time I added more classes and worked up to full-time enrollment.

“I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

Each small step we take leads to the next phase of our journeys. I spent years of working to change my limiting beliefs and reach some of my goals; but I still have far to travel. When we choose to believe that God wants us to live more abundantly, we can faithfully follow wherever he leads.

For more information on changing limiting beliefs, check out this article. For an article about how to stop making excuses, click here. For information on how to change bad habits, check here.

How do you motivate yourself to reach your goals and dreams? How do you choose to live abundantly?

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“Are we there yet?”

Two years ago, my husband planned a romantic weekend getaway at a bed and breakfast in the heavily-forested corner of our state. He found the destination online, made the reservations, GPS’d the route that would take us to our secluded getaway. We packed the car and struck out for a few days of rest and relaxation.

But something went wrong. The GPS route took us on miles of out-of-the-way winding and wandering roads.  We cruised through darkened, mysterious forests and unexplored, dusty trails. We steered the car through steeply twisting paths, over green hills, down dark valleys, and around sharp turns. We passed abandoned, unpainted barns and tilting, empty houses. Gravel roads pinged the car with scattered stones. We drove around the countryside for miles, always following the curvy blue line on the GPS screen, but seemingly getting no closer to our destination.

“Are we there yet?”

Sometimes our lives lead us on long and winding roads and across unbeaten paths. We circle back and loop around through the curves and redirections, all the while worrying about where we are headed and wondering when we will ever arrive.

On that long and wandering drive, I could have complained about the endless delay, the bumpy roads, the flying gravel dust. I could have fretted about the desolation and isolation of our path, the long suspense of waiting to find a functioning bathroom. Instead, what I remember now is the beautiful scenery: the green, shading trees and fields of blooming wildflowers, the grazing deer and soaring birds, the interesting old barns and spooky, empty houses. When we finally arrived at the secluded B&B, we felt more grateful for the welcoming room, the comfortable bed, and the wonderfully functional bath.

We can complain about the unexpected twists and turns our lives may take, worry about frustrating delays, fret about arrival times, argue about the best and most efficient way to proceed. Or we can relax and enjoy the ride, watch the passing scenery, appreciate the beauty of God’s creation that surrounds us. We can choose to be happy and grateful for the time we spend traveling together; and when we arrive at our destination, we will be more aware of the warm and welcoming greeting that awaits us.

What road are you traveling this spring? How do you appreciate and enjoy your journey?

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“I got one!”

The fish splashed, flipping on the end of the line. I pulled him in slowly, through grasping weeds and past jutting rocks, then held him at arm’s length in an awkward photo pose. Tom carefully removed the hook and returned the tiny, spiny sunfish to the water’s edge. The fish quivered a moment in the shallows before disappearing into the depths.

All afternoon we cast and reeled, celebrating when we got a bite, quietly watching the water when nothing stirred. Hours of waiting left me plenty of time to contemplate how fishing is the perfect metaphor for living a life of faith.

Fishing teaches patience. To fish, we stand for long hours beside a dark and mysterious pool, endure lashing rain or blistering sun, all for the chance to capture a prize. Faith requires willingness to wait through times of storm and shadow, all to receive the promise of our future reward.

Fishing requires courage. To fish, we board tiny boats and brave towering waves, knowing monsters lurk beneath the murky depths. Faith requires fortitude to step onto the water and face roaring storms and churning seas, knowing God quiets the tempest, and the wind and waves obey him.

Fishing demands wisdom. When we fish, we have to know which catch is big enough to keep and which must be returned to swim another day. Faith understands there is a time to gather and a time to release; and when life becomes hopelessly tangled in strangling weeds and debris, we may have to cut bait and start again with a different lure.

Fishing builds hope. When we cast that fishing line, we know that some days the big ones get away and we turn for home with an empty bucket, planning to try again tomorrow. Faith believes that we will always catch enough to fill our needs, and when we push off from shore and row to the middle of the stream, the blessings often leap into the boat and land, wriggling, at our feet.

“Simon said to him, ‘Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless, at your word, I will let down the net.’ And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking” (Luke 5:5-6).

When we listen to God’s command, trust, obey, and act in faith, we discover that we capture more good things than we ask or expect. When we cast out and accept the gifts that swim our way, we often find our nets filled to overflowing.

How do you stay patient while living in faith? How do you build courage, wisdom, and hope?

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On a gray and rainy day in a dark and drizzly week, all I wanted to do was retreat to the sofa with a book and a blanket. All the cold and damp aggravated my old knee injury, so just hobbling to my desk seemed like too much effort. All I wanted to do was curl up in a cocoon on the couch.

Instead, I called Terra, a former coworker, and asked her to meet for lunch. I braved the tempest and limped through the crowded Chinese restaurant. We ate beef and broccoli while Terra told me about the breakup of her marriage, her upcoming move to a new city, the medical problem that put her in the hospital for two days.

“But I’m not crying anymore,” Terra said. She shook off her slump and again became the cheerful and positive friend I worked with years ago. “I know God is taking care of me. God will work it out.”

“This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

On that cold and dreary day, I was reminded that my aching knee is not the only pain in the world. My story is only one of many stories. God hears every prayer, and he knows every concern. Each day he offers me a new opportunity to choose joy in the life I am given, look for the reasons I have to be grateful, trust in him for the resolution of the future, and care for someone else within my reach.

Leaving my cozy and comfortable home reminds me of my purpose: to reach out and connect with friends, offer companionship and support on our shared journey, spread cheer and encouragement wherever I am able. When I trust that God is taking care of me, I am free to forget my small problems and focus on caring for others instead.

When we choose to confront each new day with joy, give thanks for all we are given, and love others we meet on the way; then the drizzle becomes less dreary, and the sun begins to break through the clouds.

How will you face the new day the Lord has made? How do you rejoice and give thanks for God’s care?

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I collect pitchers from garage sales, flea markets, antique malls, thrift stores. I display them on my kitchen cabinets, bookshelves, and dresser top. I prefer ceramic, but have found specimens in delicate china or glass, sturdy stoneware or enameled metal.

I love pitchers because of their simple, graceful shapes and the concept they symbolize. Pitchers hold and serve all manner of good things: fresh milk or cold water, tart lemonade or sweet tea, cut flowers for display or wooden spoons for stirring soup, collected spare coins or secretly saved dollar bills. Pitchers are always ready, waiting to receive what we give them and spill out what they have to share.

“We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Pitchers remind me that we are all empty vessels waiting to be filled with the blessings God wants to pour into our lives. If we keep open hearts and receptive minds, we will be filled with God’s power and share the good things provided by his Spirit: peace and grace, generosity and forgiveness, joy and acceptance, courage and hope. When we recognize our true purpose, the power of God’s Spirit flows into and through us, only to stream out again and be shared with others.

We come in differing shapes and varying capacities, but we are all designed to receive what God offers and pour out what he gives. God does not intend to keep us displayed on a shelf. He uses us to serve and share his love.

What qualities do you want God to pour into your life? How can you share these gifts with others?

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“Look what I made for you, Mama.”

From the arts and crafts room at the YMCA summer camp, my daughter brought home beaded keychains, pressed flowers, handprint hearts, crayon drawings.

One summer she gave me two little clay pots, each barely big enough to hold a ring or a handful of paperclips on my desk. She had painted them bright green and purple, pink and gold, and fired them in the Y’s art room kiln.

The pots stood slightly lopsided, their sides thick and unevenly shaped by my daughter’s eight-year-old fingers. Despite their lumpy and imperfect appearance, I loved them because she made them.

“We are the clay, and you our potter; And we are the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8).

God crafts us carefully, lovingly molding each of us to fulfill his desired purpose. We are turned and shaped by his sure, gentle hands and then fired to give us strength and substance. Some emerge from the kiln hardened, cracked, or broken hearted. Some shatter in the process and are painstakingly glued together again. Every one of us is uniquely designed and brightly colored by our creator.

We may look imperfect, clumsy, or slightly off-kilter; but we are always treasured and perfectly loved because he made us.

Today I pray you remember whose hands formed you to fulfill a special purpose. I pray you always know that you are loved!

Are you feeling imperfect today? Do you know God loves you just as you are?

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“Abby is giving henna tattoos in the cafeteria after yoga class!”

We moved through tree pose and downward dog, then rolled our mats and hurried to the cafeteria.

The big room echoed with the voices of a few scattered groups sitting around at tables. The dimmed lights made the atmosphere calm and serene while Abby patiently painted brown henna dye onto offered forearms and hands.

For me she designed playful paisleys and sunbursts. My daughter requested a blooming flower surrounded by swirling waves. While Abby worked on my daughter’s design, I chatted with Hank.

My daughter and I had attended this women’s nature retreat together for two years. We hiked in the woods and watched for birds in the treetops, stretched and twisted through yoga class, aimed arrows toward paper targets, roasted marshmallows over the late-night bonfire. Hank, my favorite workshop instructor, had led the birdwatching hikes.

As we talked over tea cups in the cafeteria, Hank told me about his health problems, his wedding anniversary, and the appreciation for family and friends he developed as he grew older.

“Enjoy your life while you can,” he told me. “Enjoy your partner while you can. You never know how much time you have left.”

Abbey finished her work on my daughter’s arm. I thanked Hank and said good-night, left my cup in the kitchen window, and retreated to our cabin for the night.

It occurred to me that I may not return to the nature retreat next fall. I may never sit and chat with Hank again. That evening’s talk in the cafeteria may be the last conversation he and I will share.

In the morning we packed the car and headed home. The henna dye had cracked and crumbled. The dust washed off in that night’s shower. The red markings that remained gradually faded through the next week of washings.

“You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).

Our lives are like henna tattoos, beautiful designs lovingly crafted and carefully painted into place, destined to give temporary joy before fading into memory. Our lives are as beautiful and brief as flowers that fall in the field, clouds that skim across the sky, waves that break and churn upon the shore.

“Enjoy your life while you can. You never know how much time you have left.”

We cannot know how long we have to share with the people who improve our world. All we can do is decide to be grateful and choose to enjoy the special moments and companions while we have them.

Today when we pray, I encourage my friends to give thanks for every moment of our short and amazing existence.

Thank God for every minute we spend with people who encourage and cheer us.  Appreciate conversations shared over teacups, wisdom offered and welcomed, and every chance to speak positive words into someone else’s life.

Thank God for beauty of trees and birds, clouds and sky, made more precious because we know this world around us is constantly changing.

Thank God for opportunities to help others and share, for the privilege of praying for the people we love, and the time we can spend enriching someone else’s experience.

Thank God for the unique abilities he has given to each one of us, for all the talents he entrusts us to invest, and for every cherished gift that blesses our days.

I thank God you are reading today and I pray you will remember that every life is a work of art. We are all merely the creations of God’s generous and loving hands.

What do you have to thank God for today? How can you be grateful and appreciate each beautiful moment of your amazing life?

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