The automatic doors whooshed open, and we walked inside the glass dome. The air felt heavy and humid. Voices hushed and murmured. Despite the general peace and quiet under the sparkling dome, the botanical garden had much to teach about the colorful abundance and orderly chaos of life.

Reach for the light. The flowers in the garden turn their blooms toward the sun and rise slowly upward from the ground. The trees are always striving from the darkness of the earth toward the brightness of the sky. In life, we grow when we look up. We have to keep stretching skyward, always reaching toward a better life and a brighter atmosphere.  

Have deep roots. Tall trees and shrubs spread their root systems downward to hold them firmly in place. The taller the tree reaches, the farther its roots spread beneath, and the stronger the trunk will stand. The values we practice and the beliefs we hold will secure us firmly when storms rage and winds blow. The higher we want to go, the stronger and deeper our foundations need to be.

Hold on to what you love. Vines entwine great tree trunks and climb forever upwards with their support. Their clinging branches need something to support them as they seek for higher ground. We all need others to hold us up and help us reach our highest purpose. When we find the causes and people that give our lives meaning, we need to wrap them tight and hold them close.

But know when to let go. The earth turns, the air cools, and trees lose their once-green leaves. Seasons of growth and change are part of the natural progression of life. We need to recognize when old situations or relationships are no longer helping us learn. Sometimes we will have to release what we once had and move on to a new season of growth.

Be colorful. Each leaf in the botanical garden is different. Every bloom is a carefully crafted original of beauty and design. Each person is made to fulfill a different purpose within God’s vast creation. Every one of us can find her perfect place and perform her unique contribution.

The doors whooshed shut behind us when we left the garden. The trees continued reaching, flowers went on blooming without our interference. Life moves on without our constant direction or control. The earth turns at God’s command, and we can be comforted that all is safe within his hands.

 

How do you recognize the abundance of life surrounding you? Where do you go to remember the perfection of God’s creation?

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Show dogs are trained in gaiting --- trotting around the ring with their heads held high. Keeping the dog’s head up displays her form and motion for the judge who awards the final prize.

My dog is no show dog. On our morning walks she strains on the leash with her head down, snuffling along the pavement. She pauses at every abandoned candy wrapper and discarded cigarette, sees only the dead leaves and clumps of dried grass left withering on the sidewalk. Ahead of us rabbits leap for cover and birds flutter to higher vantage points, but my dog never notices them. She is too distracted by the clutter and garbage that litter the ground, and she misses the excitement and activity that cross our path only feet away.

Too often we keep our heads down, focused only on the road under our feet, gazing at the small patch of earth only inches ahead of our toes. We forget about the wide world, and we become unaware of the rest of life teeming just beyond our sight. We limit our perceptions and stifle our experiences when we do not raise our heads to see what lies before and around us.

I want to always be looking forward, scanning the distance for new and exciting opportunities. I want to be always fully aware of the broad and beautiful world that lies beyond my next step, and I ask God to guide me as we travel the path together. I pray I am always ready to discover all that lies behind each new horizon.

My dog is no show dog, and neither am I, but I can lift my gaze from the pavement of our daily walk and see the sights beyond my own small circle. I pray I will always examine the wider view and explore everything God puts in my way.

Have you ever limited your view of the world? How can you look beyond your immediate surroundings to perceive a broader horizon?

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Who am I now? What should I do with myself?

Moms facing an empty nest when their children leave home may ask themselves these questions. These moms may find the answers in the book, Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest, written by Barbara Rainey and Susan Yates, and produced by Bethany House Publishers.

The book describes the premise of the Season Principle: our lives naturally move through different seasons of experience and development. The newlywed season is different from the new parent season, which is different from the parenting teens season, and the empty nest season is different from them all. Throughout these changing seasons, it is natural for moms to experience various and changing emotions. We have to give ourselves time and permission to experience our feelings and grow into our changing roles.

To help women make adjustments and experience healthy growth, the book offers many tools and techniques readers can use. Women are encouraged to build strong relationships with their husbands; nurture friendships with other women; turn to God through scripture study and prayer; assess their strengths, values, giftedness, and priorities; and develop mission statements to guide each new season of life. The book offers many practical resources to assist this process, including: suggested books and websites, Bible verses for reflection, a values assessment exercise, and a small group study guide which includes discussion questions and prayer prompts. All these resources may be helpful to moms who are adjusting to changing roles and developing relationships.

All women occasionally need support as we experience life changes. Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest provides resources and encouragement that many women will find useful.

I received a free copy of Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest from the publishers in exchange for writing a review.

How do you feel about facing the empty nest years? What techniques do you use to adjust to the changing seasons of your life?

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This spring I planted flowers. I filled plastic planters with potting soil, dug hollows, pressed delicate seedlings into place. I dragged the pots to the areas of best sunlight on my patio. I watered and watched, arranged and rearranged, worried and waited for something to grow. And waited.

Days passed without a stirring of greenery on the patio outside my window. I watered more, arranged again, watched and monitored, grumbled and complained that nothing seemed to be happening.

“I planted . . . but God gave the increase”

(1 Corinthians 3:6).

Faith so often means patiently waiting, and it is hard to practice patience. We want evidence that our work will be productive and positive. We want proof that our efforts will create the increase we desire, and we feel anxious when the bounty isn’t immediately delivered.

Growth so often takes place below the surface. While we work and wonder above ground, roots develop and spread beyond our sight. God controls the reaching and expanding that occurs without our knowledge. God generates the life that stirs before we see its presence.

All we can do is faithfully tend, water, weed, and wait. We have to choose to believe that God is acting and will produce the final harvest. We have to cultivate trust that the outcome belongs to God and the result will blossom in its season.

Weeks have passed, and my patio is finally covered in green. All I did was plant, water, and watch the good things grow.

What are you waiting for today? How do you trust God is working while you practice patience?

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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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