Happiness Questions

Ready to think about your own happiness? Want to have more meaningful  conversations, whether you’re driving your teen home from school or having family dinner? Or (do what I did) gather a group of friends and have a chat about happiness.

Here you go!

1. Share a happy childhood memory.
2. Which of your possessions make you feel happy? Which don’t?
3. Describe your perfect happy day.
4. Do you think others perceive you as happy? Why or why not?
5. What changes have you made in life to increase your happiness? What changes could you make?
6. Name 5 things guaranteed to make you smile.
7. “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” –Dr. Seuss
What memory does this quote remind you of?
8. Name some things you do regularly that increase your happiness. What do you do occasionally that increases your happiness?
9. What obstacles get in the way of your happiness, and how do you handle them?
10. When have you felt happiest recently?
11. “Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present.” –Jim Rohn (American businessman)
How are you designing (or not) your present happiness?
12. What happiness do you add to others’ lives?
13. Who do you admire for their happiness and why?
14. What do you think is the key to your happiness?
15. How do you balance what makes you happy now with what will make you happier in the long term?
16. Why is it sometimes hard to do things you know will make you happier, and easier to do things you can expect to bring unhappiness?
17. “There is only one happiness in this life: to love and be loved.” –George Sand
Who loves you toward happiness?
18. Is happiness the same as joy? How would you define each?

Guest Post: A.J. Brown

Our 2018 theme is “Connect” and my dear A.J. Brown wrote about “Community,” which seems just right: we live in community, we invest in community, we create community as we knit our heartstrings together. Please note: if you would like to guest post on this blog, please see the link above.

Community.

When someone asks me to write an article or blog post about a certain word, I usually try to start with my knee jerk emotional reaction to that word. For example, when the owner of this blog asked me to write a post about creativity a couple of years ago, that was simple. My beautiful, unicorn and rainbow loving little boy exemplified the word and still does now.

Community.

What does that mean to me? I think the reason this post was hard to write is that community means so many different things to me. The town I grew up in represented a community I couldn’t wait to get out of. Then, when I grew up and became a parent, I couldn’t wait to move back. I can’t imagine raising my kids anywhere else.

Community.

It doesn’t just refer to a geographical area in which we live, does it? Not for me, anyway. Yes, I live in this community. I am part of this community. But, I am also part of many communities within this community, and that’s what I love about this community.

In junior high and high school in this same community, I often felt like the odd girl out. I didn’t have just one posse of friends with whom I did everything and shared everything…I never felt like I belonged to any one group. I was more of a floater. Some months I gravitated towards the popular crowd and the other cheerleaders, other times I’d get fed up with the cattiness and take refuge with the quiet academics. Or, if there was a boy I was interested in (wasn’t there always?), I’d hang around with the athletes. I got really good at being “one of the guys.” I could occasionally be found breathing second hand smoke in a van behind the school listening to “Stairway to Heaven,” or flaunting my impressively flipped bangs and perm at college parties when I was just sixteen. Some lunchtimes, I felt too insecure to join any group at all, and you’d find me in the library, or assisting a teacher. Looking back, I realize that what was so hard about those years for me was that I felt that I didn’t HAVE a community. I was just an occasional honorary member. I didn’t have the self-confidence to just…be. I could not wait to graduate, get the heck out, and finally discover who I really was.

Fast forward several decades, and here I am, living in this same community, with a lot of the same folks who grew up here just like I did. Apparently this town breeds homing pigeons. The difference? Now this finally feels like MY community. This time around, I know exactly who I am and who I want to be. Furthermore, I truly don’t care who likes it and who doesn’t. Interestingly, while I’m a completely different person as an adult than I was as that corner hugging, cringing teenager, I’m still a floater. But this time, it’s not because I feel like I don’t fit in, it’s because I am blessed to feel like I fit in everywhere. Everything about this town makes me happy, and I adore all of the smaller communities that, together, make up this beautiful flower of a larger community. 

When I go to Starbucks in the morning, I love that I see the same faces, day after day. I don’t know many of their names, but they know my face and I know theirs and we greet each other with smiles that are genuine. I love the groups of older (than me, which is all relative) folks who commune there every single morning. They have an amazing community. I love that when I’m working out of Starbucks, as I often am because my home and office get lonely during the day, never a day goes by where I don’t see several people I know and whom I am genuinely happy to see. This silly little chain store coffee shop is a community all its own. Just as I’ve been sitting here writing this, I’ve been greeted by a teenager, several moms, a dear friend of a dad who happens to be working at “home” today, a newspaper reporter I adore for whom this is home base, a friend I went to high school with, and one of my favorite neighbors who’s treating her kindergarten son to a treat after a traumatic dentist visit. And that’s just in the space of an hour.

I love that I can’t ever go to the gym without seeing at least one friendly face I know. I’ve been taking the same Friday morning spin class for several years now, and the group of people that show up with me, week after week, through good times and bad, is a community all its own. I love these people, and I love the pixie sized, tattooed sprite who inspires us and pushes us to the point where I’m not sure if I’m going to throw up or pass out, and yet afterwards I feel amazing for two days. I love that when I’m having a really bad week I can cry my way through class and no one blinks an eye, they just hug me when we’re done. I’m literally tearing up writing this just thinking about that group of people and how much they mean to me even though I really only see them once a week for an hour. That’s community.

Our kids’ schools, of course, create their own communities. We’re so fortunate to live in a place where the parents work really hard to help make the schools great, and we are blessed with teachers and administrators who have passion about kids and education. It tends to be the same group of parents year over year who volunteer for everything, but instead of that feeling like a burden, to me it feels like a gift. It makes me part of THAT community, and that is an amazing group of selfless parents and school staff that I’m blessed to be a part of.

If you know me, you know that I could, of course, write chapters and chapters about this community and how it rallied around my family when our daughter got diagnosed with cancer (almost three years ago, WHAT?!?). I’ll save that for another post. Suffice it to say, I truly learned the meaning of the word community when the $4i% hit the fan, as people I didn’t even know in this community banded together and raised us up when we were in danger of sinking. During that time, this community felt more like a TRIBE. It still does. At unexpected moments, I will be approached by a complete stranger who will tell me that she has followed my (prolific) Facebook posts about our journey with cancer and that she was inspired by our story.

I could go on and on about all the other communities within this community that add joy to my life…from the moms who became friends when our kids were in preschool and even though the kids are now spread out across different elementary schools, seeing them still makes me feel like part of a special family. There are the “dance moms,” moms whose children share a passion for dance at the academy where I am lucky enough to work, and who make me feel blessed every time I go to work to be a part of that community, one that brings the gift of joy and grace and strength to kids through the art of dance. There are the sporty moms, the philanthropic moms, the working moms, the mindful moms, the activist moms…and now as then, I float. I love ALL these groups of moms. I AM these moms. All of them. Why should I pigeonhole myself?

I can’t close any discussion about community, though, without mentioning the one community-within-my-community that feeds my soul the most. On Thursday mornings, I skip the gym in favor of strengthening my spirit instead of my body. I go to a group called Moms’ Council, which is held at my church and is a group of about 150 mothers of all ages and generations who come together each week to…commune. Each session has a theme and there are always wonderful speakers to engage the mind, but for me, it’s the community of women that truly feeds my soul. I’ve sat at the same table with the same group of women for three years now, and I can’t describe the feeling of sitting down with them any better than I feel like I can just…breathe. Breathe in a way I can’t anywhere else. These women are my safest of safest places. We can rage, cry, fall apart and emotionally vomit all over each other without judgment and without ever worrying that what we say won’t remain just between us.

Because, as outwardly perfect as many of our lives may seem, we’re all dealing with our own burdens, fears and pain. Sometimes, you just can’t carry it alone. Sometimes you need more than your family and faith in God to help with the weight. Sometimes you need…community. And no matter how messy or difficult my life may get, that is one area in which I am incredibly blessed. I am rich in community, and for that I am very, very grateful.

 

 

A.J. Brown is a mother, wife, friend, sister, daughter, employee, volunteer, taxi driver, gym rat, health nut, lover of wine, travel, books, dessert, cooking, meditation, Buddha statues, and a compulsive throw pillow purchaser.

Create Challenge Top 10

never-stop-creatingDuring 2016 I invited people I admire for a host of reasons to guest post on Miracles in the Mundane. The topic: creativity. Wednesday became one of my favorite days of the week for having the opportunity to share their stories of creativity, expressed in as many ways as individuals: writing, painting, poetry, business, and relationships. Through their posts they inspired me to live more creatively and more authentically.

Here are the Top 10 posts based on numbers of readers–which really means, not only are these great posts, but also that these folks encouraged the people in their lives to hop on over to read their contribution. You may have missed some, so here they are again!

Creating forgiveness: “Just one time.” by Karyn Bergen.

Creating a safe place for the creatives: Unicorns & Rainbows by A.J. Brown.

Creating colorful waves of art: Daydream Painter by Matt “Cheeks” Hoag

Creating space to hear God through the creative process: To Unite Creativity to Communion with God by Danielle Humphreys

Creating courage in others: Create Hope by Kelly Bermudez-Deutsch

Creating peace for his inner child artist: The (Wounded) Artist by Paul Quinlivan

Creating hope in Haiti: Empowered for Creative Investment by Scott Sabin

Creating a welcoming table: The Table by Cari Jenkins

Creating an openness to God’s plan in painful circumstances: Creating Trust by Sarah Johnson

Creating a fulfilling and thriving new business: Leap of Faith by Shirley DeFrancisci

How about you? How do you create? What do you create? And why?

 

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Creatively Connecting People to Great People

You know what I mean: some people just light up the world. Not just the room, but the hearts and faces and lives of everyone she encounters. Tori is one of those people. The last time I saw her, she arrived on my doorstep with a delightful squeal, an armful of flowers, and a story about the new friend she made in line while waiting to purchase them. People flit to Tori like hummingbirds to sugar-water, displaying in bright bursts their truest beauty.

Which is why I am so excited for you to read the story of her dream come true. As a gifted People Person, Tori was already successful, professionally and personally, at helping people into their best version of themselves. And yet she had a bigger, God-given vision. I first heard about what would become WIT years ago as we traveled to and from an evening event. Earlier that day she’d had an important business meeting to flesh out some of the hard and necessary details to turn this vision into reality. I was so impressed at how BIG she was dreaming and how HARD she was willing to work to make it happen.

Your story isn’t hers, but I wonder… What are your unique gifts? What path have you uniquely walked? And what bigger creative vision might God call you to?

Create Challenge #17: Tori Dabasinskas
A glimpse into the story of creating WIT Professionals

happens

Have you had ‘life happen’ and wondered, “Who in the world do I call?”

As someone who gets A LOT of these calls, I created WIT Professionals (Wellness Integrated Team) to honor my passion for connecting people with the right people.

WIT is my way of being creative! I am excited about WIT. I am excited to see how WIT is developing and growing. I am excited it is creatively doing the job it was set in motion to do: connecting people with great people when life happens and seeing individuals, families and businesses achieve positive change as a result of creative connection!

But first, let’s glance at the relationship story that under girds the business story.

A Glimpse of My Story
As a therapist/pastor’s wife, my experiences in social settings are funny. People either run and hide from me while holding their glass of wine behind their back or engage me in some incredible story while offering to buy me a drink! People either freak out or cannot wait to talk! Trust me, no event is ever the same.

I have walked intimately with relationship dynamics throughout my life. I am a daughter of a mayor and a teacher; a sister to a commercial developer and a politician; a mother of two beautiful teenagers; and a wife of a pastor deeply involved in local and international communities. In my professional world, I am a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice, and founder of WIT Professionals.

Personally and professionally I am deeply aware of the significance of relationships. My heart is full of stories of the rich value of people being connected to the right people when ‘life happens.’ When I say intimate dynamics, I mean it. My conversations over the years have rarely focused on surface issues.Paper Family

As a daughter: My parents were entrenched in community development. I had a front row seat to the value of connected relationships as well as to the destructive nature of painful ones.

As a mom: I was rooted in a community of school children and families. Moms were all in it together: scheduling, parenting, doing marriage, listening and participating in adult community gossip and story telling. At times it’s junior high all over, the issues just ‘more adult.’

As a wife: Marriage is as beautiful as it is challenging. Thanks to our faith in Jesus, the love of an amazing husband, our education and intentionality, we work hard to make something full of weakness as strong as we can. We deeply value our covenant to one another, trust God’s strength, and know what struggles and successes in connection feel like.

As a pastor’s family: When do people call a pastor? I will promise you, those calls aren’t about the weather or the stock market…well, sometimes the market, depending on their anxiety level. We are often invited into the messy and the magnificent. Whether I am invited into the specifics or not, I feel ‘the weather’ of my husband’s daily journey with people and organizations.

As a therapist: The ethically-bound and confidential office setting offers the safety for truths in personal dynamics and relationships that are at times precious and at other times almost unfathomable… The ground is sacred, a privilege, a place I consider it an honor to be present.

People’s stories all have a common thread: “Life is happening.” Leader or follower. Rich or poor. Life happens to all of us. I have counseled CEO’s and orphaned teenagers in Third World countries. All of us need connection. Personal or professional. I live in both camps, personal and professional, and almost always hear the same questions:

Who do I call?
How much does this cost?
Where do I go?
What in the heck do I do next?
Will you pray for me?

At the core of my being, I believe in the value and significance of connection. I feel a sense of richest joy and calling when I am at work connecting people with one another.

Wellness-Integrated-Team-logo1

How does a Wellness Integrated Team of Professionals, contracted by a family or company, support connection? Like a pit crew gets a race car driver back on track, a medical crew cares for a mother giving birth, a legal team toils in tandem to support a signed contract, a city council partners to support a proposition, WIT’s network supports a caller, appropriately connecting them with the best person for them when ‘life happens.’

Yet, how do people connect to WIT? Several ways, yet we’ll focus on one: The Employee Effectiveness Program Model. This is where a Business Owner knocks it out of the park on employee care.

  1. Invite WIT
  2. Connect WIT Professionals & Staff Face-to-Face
  3. Give a Gift Card

INVITE: A benevolent owner who wants their employees to feel well cared for and honored contracts with WIT.

CONNECT: The WIT Network of Professionals (1-3 of them) come to the business setting in person for a company coffee and a face-to-face introduction. Everyone connects. The professional is no longer a name on a website, but a safe new contact in person. WIT provides a tailor-made training/workshop as requested by the company (i.e.: managing stress for the holidays, conflict resolution, etc). This gives staff a feel for the professional’s heart and knowledge.

GIVE: In support of the employees, the company gives ‘WIT cards’ (like a gift card) loaded with a company-selected amount of professional consultations with WIT professionals: a licensed counselor, an executive coach, a nutritionist, a mediator, a financial planner, and others. Through a short-term contract, every staff person and owner who faces a ‘life happens’ moment now has a confidential professional consultant in their pocket to contact ‘as needed.’

FROM ANXIOUS QUESTIONS TO CONFIDENT ANSWERS
I know who to call.
The cost to me is $0. (Thank you, caring owner!)
I can do this on the phone or in person.
I can call right now.

After a WIT connection, you will know exactly what to do next. Phew! Anxiety and distraction decrease; focus and productivity increase.

And that’s just the business side of WIT. Can you imagine what we can offer a family?

Connecting people with the right people takes creativity. It is as complicated as it is fun. In my professional, pro-bono, and personal arenas of life, I am deeply intertwined in personal dynamics with people. I live a deeply connected life. Connecting people with the right people when our ‘Lives are happening’ is simply awesome, complicated, and a place I feel called to serve others. It is my passion. I cannot help myself but, by God’s grace and through lots of prayer, be as creative as possible in hope to make those connections happen!

TDaboTori lives in the Seattle area with her husband and two teenagers. She finds pleasure in anything outdoorsy—including hiking in the beauty of the Northwest, along the waterside or in the mountains—and especially, as life permits, horseback riding and playing tennis. One of her happy places is coffee and conversation with good friends; another is hot tubbing with her family and eating really great authentic taco truck-style Mexican food. She likes yummy wine, and also spinach in her smoothies. Connect with Tori through her website: www.witprofessionals.com

 

 

 

 

Create Hope

I have known today’s guest post writer for close to half my lifetime, and she has been one of God’s best gifts to me: laid back and passionate; thoughtful and whip-smart; kind and prayerful. She also has one of the best laughs I’ve ever heard. She seriously listens and together we laugh until we cry. She’s also the rare bird who thinks I’m funny, which also makes me laugh. Kelly is one of the most encouraging people I’ve ever met, and I pray you will be encouraged by reading her post.hope-sun

Create Challenge #9: Kelly Bermudez-Deutsch

While I could make you laugh at my many attempts to “be creative” and the pintrosities (Pin-tros-ity: a deeply troubling creation inspired by a beautiful picture on Pinterest that bears no resemblance to its original inspiration) that have resulted from my pursuit of artistic expression, I have slowly come to realize that my creativity lies elsewhere.

I have a gift for building relationships with almost anyone. With those who live inside and outside my same-ness, that is, my culture, language, religion, political affiliation, socio-economic status and life experience. I also have this crazy ability to speak truth and encouragement (or, in-courage-ment: putting courage into someone) for the next step of their journey. In so doing, my creative expression reveals itself in the unique way I help to build hope in the hearts of the people I meet.

Creating hope sounds great, but what does that even mean? How do you create hope? Does that even count as real creativity? Believe me, I’ve had this conversation with myself a thousand times. Creativity manifests itself tangibly, like on a canvas, but creativity is not limited by artist’s tools. It shows up in our everyday. And my way is found in this nebulous, ever-changing dynamic of relationships. It’s in discerning what God is doing. In walking with someone to the edge of their next leap of faith, reminding them that no matter what God is with them, for them and can be trusted with their whole heart, even when God has asked them to do scary things.

How do you create hope? I can’t give you a formula. We’ll all do it a little differently, but I have no doubt that we are all called to do so. The Bible says, “God puts poor people on their feet again; he rekindles burned-out lives with fresh hope, Restoring dignity and respect to their lives— a place in the sun!” We are called to partner with God in His work in the world, and part of what God is doing in the world is rekindling burned-out lives with fresh hope. Here’s the really exciting part: when we get onboard with His work rather than our own, God shows up in the most awesome ways.

God gives us hope and yet, at times, I have lost it. During difficult moments, my heart identified with David who cried out: “O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? Turn and answer me, O Lord my God! Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.” Honestly, my prayers have been less gracious, filled with more colorful language, wailing, screaming, even (shudder) cussing at God. I have felt pushed to the brink of ending the relationship I gave my life to so long ago. Broken and frustrated, I didn’t want to continue with “the plans God had for me” if they were going to be like this.

At the end of my own rope, my own effort, my own desires to appear righteous in my own strength, at the end of my own all-figured-out version of Christianity, something ordinary and extraordinary happened.

????????????????????????????????????

After years of silence, a friend picked up the phone. “What in the world is going on with you?” she asked. “God has put you on my heart and I can’t stop praying for you.” I burst with deep sobs and blabbered something about the pain and sorrow I strained to carry. And in that vulnerable moment she said something I will never forget. “Kelly, I know these last few years have been painful for you. I can hear it in your voice. But God has good plans for you and is laying the groundwork for something far greater than you could imagine. I know you don’t have the strength to believe that right now, but I do. And with my portion of faith, I will carry you to the cross until you believe in His goodness once again.”

I can’t explain what happened, but somehow everything changed. Her words and prayers touched me and a hope that I believed dead started to stir. God allowed her to be a part of how He “lifted me out of the ditch, and pulled me from deep mud.” She saw how “He stood me up on a solid rock to make sure I wouldn’t slip and taught me how to sing the latest God-song, a praise-song to our God” (Psalm 40:1-3).

Shane Claiborne talks about catching hope: “You can’t really learn God’s hope like you learn the logic of an argument or the details of a story. It’s more like learning to belly laugh. You catch hope from someone who has it down in their gut” (The Irresistible Revolution). God uses those who have hope to share it with others.

My personal friend, Merriam-Webster, defines hope: “to want something to happen or be true and think that it could happen or be true. Hope implies little certainty but suggests confidence or assurance in the possibility that what one desires or longs for will happen.” Hope is both noun and verb. Something you do hoping for a good result; and an actual thing, someone or something that gives you a reason for hoping. Christ is our reason to hope. Christ creates hope in us and in the world.

God has always been clear about what He set out to accomplish on earth. In Isaiah 42 God promises that “He won’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt and he won’t disregard the small and insignificant, but he’ll steadily and firmly set things right. He won’t tire out and quit. He won’t be stopped until he’s finished his work—to set things right on earth.” In Matthew 12, a retelling of Isaiah 42, God says, “Before you know it, his justice will triumph; the mere sound of his name will signal hope, even among far-off unbelievers.”

So how do we create hope? We look at how God does it. We don’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt. We don’t disregard the small and insignificant. We get in there, wherever there may be. We roll up our sleeves and lend a hand. We carry each other’s burdens. We listen, cry and get messy. We remind those who have no hope that they have reason to hope. That with God, truly “ALL things are possible” (Matthew 19:26) and that in Christ all hope is never, ever lost. As we line up with what God is already accomplishing in the world, we get to be a part of how God creates hope in this crazy, beautiful, broken world. Isn’t that AMAZING?

I do not perfectly practice partnering with God in creating hope. I am—we all are—a work in progress. While I wholeheartedly believe in creating hope, creativity involves courage. What if all I have to offer isn’t good enough? I fear both public and private criticism and feel a deep sense of personal rejection if my work is met with less than adoration. I don’t always feel courageous. Yet I value courage more than fear. Therefore, my choice must be creativity, vulnerability and risk over self-protection and fear.

Sometimes I fail. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I make a valiant attempt but still fail miserably. Sometimes, before I even begin, I find myself in a ball on the couch slaughtered by the voices of self-doubt.

But God tells us to “take heart, because He has overcome the world” (John 16:33). So, as long as I have breath, I pray that I choose to participate in what God is doing in this world. “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:12-14).

KBermudez

Kelly Bermudez-Deutsch lives in Northern California with her sexy husband, three beautifully quirky kids, a dog named Lucy and a cat named Jack. She loves spending time with her family, good friends and good books. She hopes that one day her home will be organized and tidy, but until then finds joy in the messiness of life and love.

“Living and Lingering in Love”

My intention in starting this blog was to chronicle the places and times my eyes caught a glimpse of the Divine among the mundane. So where I have seen God this week?

In too many ways to count, actually!

Last Monday I led a devotional for a church ministry leadership team. We’ve been reading a book together and this phrase, “living and lingering with the Father who loves me,” grabbed hold of my heart. I could have treated the devo like one more thing on my To Do list and I could have led it as such, but instead I used it to provide an opportunity for us to linger in God’s love.

Instead of spending a lot of time discussing a chapter any of us could read I took us to Luke 8, the Parable of the Sower. The thing God impressed upon me from Luke 8 is that the primary difference between the fertile soil and the others is that the good soil not only receives God’s Word but clings to it. I hear a lot of God’s Word, but how do I cling to it? There’s the challenge. So this week I began writing about God’s Word, for myself, as a way of lingering with God in conversation about His Word. There are certainly other ways to cling to God’s Word, but this is working for me.

Tuesday I had the opportunity to host a lovely friend for lunch in my backyard. We talked about the challenges of a busy ministry schedule, and that while programs are well and good, Jesus fostered relationships. Relationships require time to ‘waste’ together. She told me some of the ways she has been intentional in relationships with her immediate neighbors and with those in her ‘neighborhood’ – coffee shop and friends of friends, mostly. I am encouraged to look for relational opportunities, to linger.

Wednesday the church staff had a great conversation about the need for water, and how new shoots grow from old plants in the right conditions, which led to a discussion about how we can tend to the new shoots who participated in our spring break Mexico house building trip. That afternoon I took Teen on a spontaneous coffee run and saw two teenage girls in the coffee shop, one meeting with an adult from our church and the other who told me she’d met with her team leader the day before. I hadn’t planned to be at that coffee shop at that time, but God allowed me a few extra minutes in order to show me that it doesn’t take a lot of program for relationships to develop – it just takes willing adults ready to foster relationships in His name.

Also Wednesday a friend told me about her amazing experience on a two-week trip to Ghana to work at a preschool. She’s well-rounded in mission experience but this trip grabbed her heart differently. How so? Her specific skill set is exactly what the Ghanaian school needs, and she saw just in two weeks the difference she’s already made and a vision for what else she can do. Joy overflowed in her stories. She can’t wait to go back, and those listening can’t wait to hear what happens next – isn’t that a great way to build a support team?

Friday Guy and I took a much-needed day to spend together. We went to Napa, just over an hour’s drive from our home, for a wine and chocolate tasting, a Christmas gift experience Guy arranged for me. We talked and laughed, we sipped and enjoyed. We made conversation with the winery employee who served us, and we joined the wine club to continue the experience – and potentially, the relationship with our new friend. We ate lunch outside at one of our favorite spots and we walked around the gourmet marketplace next door. After a stressful few months of too much work and a resulting strained relationship, the day was exactly what we needed.

Friday night we hosted friends new and old for a barbecue. Kids and adults, people who’ve known each other for years and others only for a few hours, mixed and mingled and felt welcome. It’s exactly what I want for our home: for people to know they are welcome, to relax and enjoy and be together.

Saturday was all about time with Tween and a baseball game where encouragement flew faster than the ball, and today I’ve set aside for Teen and his final rugby match of the season. We’ll have hours together in the car and then I’ll do the thing I do best as Mom, cheering him on from the sidelines.

Living and lingering in love – that’s what Jesus modeled, and that’s what I want to be about. Less busy-ness, more love. Yes!

Gather

Some years ago I worked as a church receptionist. Lydia held a volunteer position that brought her to the office frequently. Unfortunately, Lydia was a true Grumpy Pants. Nothing pleased her and she was quick to let everyone know.

I cringed inwardly when I saw her coming. She took all my patience and then some.

Lydia also sat near me in worship. If you attend church regularly, you know that people tend to sit in the same seats week after week. I sat on the aisle, and she sat on the opposite side of the same aisle a few rows back. In a small-ish church, that made it impossible to avoid her.

I can’t remember why now (except that I will happily credit the Spirit’s motivation), but I made a conscious decision to offer Lydia a hug every time I saw her in worship (impractical in the office as I interacted with people through a sliding glass window).

I’m sure she was surprised the first time I extended my arms to embrace her, but she didn’t resist me. Better yet, she didn’t slug me. Over time, she started to smile. More time, and she not only smiled but spoke kind words.

The hugs changed us both. I overcame the resistance of my heart to hug her and saw God smiling on my decision in Lydia’s own smile. She must’ve really needed a few good hugs! Oh, sure, she still grumped now and then but she also chit-chatted. One might have even called us friends. When Lydia eventually moved away to be closer to her grown children, instead of being glad to see her go as I once might have, I felt her loss.

God made a decision to deal with our much worse than Grumpy Pants condition when He offered the outstretched arms of His Son on the cross, embracing us in love and grace. We didn’t deserve it. We didn’t even know we needed it, but oh how we needed it. How we need Him.

Jesus Christ is our peace. On the cross He made peace between us and God and between us and others. Relationships that seemed hopeless have become possible, better yet, peaceful. Because of Jesus, our Peace, life can be peace-filled.

[Just for kicks, watch this video of a seemingly impossible but completely sweet relationship.]

The potential for conflict lurks any time people gather. Some shy away and prefer to do what they can to grow in faith on their own. While I’m all for solitude, it’s truly in relationship with one another that we learn to more fully love God and receive His love.

Tsh Oxenreider writes, “Being in community is about doing fun stuff together, sure, but in my opinion, the real roll-up-your-sleeves-and-share life happens with each other in the mundane. In the everydayness of life. When it’s hard, and you’ve got to collectively power through the rough stuff. Or even when it’s plain old boring.”

For those who follow Christ, the possibility of peace gives us hope. It causes us to extend our arms toward others in reflection of Christ’s arms extended toward us. It’s not easy – like Christ, we may at times pay a high price – but it is good.

Connect
Reflect on a relationship in which you have experienced hostility. What can you learn from that experience?

Study
Read Ephesians 2:11-22.
Describe the “former” relationship between Jews and Gentiles. Are there any parallels to this dynamic today?
Describe what Jesus did to change that relationship.
How is God’s “new humanity” (the Church) intended to be different from the world (v. 15)?
Culturally, Western Christians have tended to emphasize personal salvation. Where in this passage do you see individual and/or corporate identity in Christ?

Live
How does individualism in our culture create barriers to unity among God’s people?
How would someone who is not a Christian be able to tell that Christ is the cornerstone of your life?
Which of your relationships is most in need of Christ’s peace at this time? What will you do differently this week to invite Christ to bring peace into that relationship?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that the peace of Christ will rule in your hearts, in your worshiping community, and in the world.