Hello all! This is my first blog I have ever written and was excited for the opportunity when Tonya asked me to write it. Tonya and I are cousins, and unfortunately, I only see her about one or two times a year since I live in Kentucky, and she lives in Oklahoma. This past year I have had the pleasure of being able to grow closer to my family, including Tonya, as I have been able to “come out of my shell”. For the first 17 years of my life talking to people scared me--even family. Thankfully, I am out of my shell and have the courage to write a blog post open for the judging of anyone who stumbles upon it.
Consideration. Tonya texted me one morning with a list of words to choose from when she asked me to write this week’s blog, but she preferred if I could do consideration. Personally, I thought helpfulness or friendliness would have been much easier to write about in the later weeks as the words came, but I decided to go through with this week’s word. I was hesitant at first, because the word is not one I commonly use, hear, or think about. My thinking was, “how can I write a post about something I am unfamiliar with?” So, before writing this post, I took several days to think about what the word consideration meant to me, and also consulted my friend Google. Google told me that it meant several things, but the two definitions that seemed to fit the word best were “thoughtful or sympathetic regard” and “continuous and careful thought,” I don’t know what I expected to see, but that was not it. In an attempt to define the word myself, I really struggled.
I found that the reason I struggled with coming up with a decent definition for the word was because although I do think about others needs and try to lend a helping hand when I can, I am a selfish person. I do not think I am rude, or mean, or a bad person overall, but I am, quite frankly, selfish. When I make decisions, I make them based on what would be best for me or how things would affect me. When I’m running late for work and the person in front of me is being very slow, I think “I am running late, how can they do this to me?” when I have no idea what their current situation is whatsoever. I think we all do this. We may buy two of something “just in case”, or we’ll cut in line because we think our reason for being in a hurry is far more important than anyone else’s. This sense of selfishness has been seen throughout this pandemic we are currently facing as well. Grocery store shelves were empty for days or weeks at a time because people kept thinking “what if we run out of this or that” when there are people out there who are struggling to even get one meal a day. All too often it is “Me, myself, and I” and we lack the consideration of others. That does not mean we are bad people. But I think we can be better people.
Now, I know this week’s word is “consideration” and not “selfishness,” but I feel that it is important to address the barriers that stop us from being able to have consideration. So, this week, make your motto “consideration.” Think “how will this affect others,” or “do I really need this, or could someone else get more use out of it?” Because in the grand scheme of things, there will always be more of whatever material thing you’re wanting, but there will not always be another opportunity to make someone smile or help someone out when they really need it. Try to think of others just as often as you think about yourself. Of course, our own needs are important. However, our needs and wants do not invalidate another’s.
When I think about what consideration means to me, I now think of more than just a few words for a definition. I do not think a few words can even define what consideration means. For me consideration is when you think of how your words and actions will affect other people. It means thinking of others when you really want to think about yourself. It means deeply thinking and pondering about something before making a rash decision. The word “consideration” doesn’t mean just one thing, but the bottom line is just what google told me--“thoughtful or sympathetic regard” and “continuous and careful thought.” What does consideration mean to you?
This week's blog writer is Makayla Reynolds. She is 18 and just graduated from Rowan County Senior High School in Morehead, KY, but spent the last two years of high school taking only college classes. In the fall she will be a college junior and is majoring in psychology and Spanish. Her dream in life is to be able to help people achieve happiness, fulfillment, and contentment with life and as a therapist she feels that she could do that. Family and friendship means everything to her and she is very thankful for all the support she has around her.
In this time of just pure uncertainty, anger, and all unknown, it hurts. It sucks. Through all the anger and the sadness and being truly upset through this unimaginable process that is so out of our hands, we have to take a step back and realize none of this is our fault. We have to forgive ourselves in this time. We can’t be angry at ourselves, at the world, or angry at “what could’ve been.” Wasting that much time and energy leaves us with this negative feeling that isn’t a healthy way to cope.
Instead, we can assess this situation and read the articles and research and do all we can to be the best citizen we can be to protect others, but in the end, it doesn’t matter. In the end, it matters how we’ve handled the situation. If you’re anything like me, you haven’t handled the situation at hand very well but guess what, that’s okay.
It’s okay to feel all the feelings and really raw, tough emotions that you may be experiencing for the first time. It’s okay to not love where you’re at and feel those feelings too. We have to acknowledge that and move forward and how we can be better from here. It’s a challenge every day to stay positive and happy when all the things we have looked forward to having been canceled, postponed, or just won’t ever come around again. But don’t be angry at yourself. Forgive yourself for the state you're in, recognize it, and move forward from there in whatever capacity that looks like.
Not all of us have to experience something traumatic to feel sad and angry, and no one should tell you how to act or be because you are working on yourself and grieving and coping as you should. Forgive them for trying to fix you and your attitude when it’s okay that it won’t be fixed today. Most importantly, forgive yourself before your head hits the pillow tonight and try again tomorrow.
We should try to forgive the fact that 2020 was not anything close to the expectations we had for it to be so great and exciting, full of hope and adventure, and instead kept us locked away. We should try to forgive that the goals we had set for ourselves were crushed and no longer applicable or manageable. I know for me a lot of the goals I had set for myself this year are no longer applicable because life, as we know it, has come to a complete halt.
I have to forgive myself and all of my extra poundage I have gained from stress alone and also find ways to release that stress so when life becomes “normal” again, I can get back to the goal I set for myself. I have to forgive the people around me too. They are not used to having me home for so long after being away at college for three years now. I also have to forgive myself for the occasional sass that comes out of my mouth and be grateful I even have a place to stay in the midst of this craziness. I also have to forgive myself when I am not extremely happy to have to spend copious amounts with my family, see it, feel it, and move on. In forgiving myself for those feelings I also recognize that this quarantine has thankfully made up for so much time we’ve lost over the years.
We may also remember that while I am forgiving my situation, feelings, and behaviors, it does not mean that I am apologizing for it. I do not apologize for feeling angry at the fact I can’t see my friends every day. I do not apologize for the hurt this pandemic has laid upon my heart at the things canceled, missed, postponed and special moments put on hold. I do not apologize for having to readjust my way of living every day to fit back into the home after being away.
Forgiveness is not an apology. Do not feel like you have to feel sorry for every negative emotion that has coursed through your veins during this process and every other hardship that comes after this is over. Do not feel or be sorry that you haven’t been able to carpe diem every single day. Do not feel or be sorry for how you manage your stress. It may feel really hard to want to cherish each moment of this pandemic experience like everyone is constantly telling you to do - but it’s okay if you don’t cherish every day.
Forgive yourself for having days you’d rather forget and don’t let the people and self-proclaimed motivational speakers on Facebook and Instagram tell you that you have to love those days too if you truly don’t want to. Forgive yourself as God has forgiven you for each and every little thing you’ve ever done. He loves so unconditionally, and we should do the same with ourselves. For every flaw you feel you have, forgive yourself.
For those who may not know me, my name is Erin Presley. Born and raised in Shawnee, Oklahoma I am Sooner born, Sooner bred, and will be starting my senior year at OU in the fall. I am an enneagram 9, and if you know anything about the enneagram and know me, it makes total sense. I love people, my dogs, tea, and serving others. I hope you find peace and relate to some of the words I've written for this week. Thank you for reading!
Call me super late to the party, but the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced me to and given me a newfound respect for the beautiful RuPaul. I jumped down a rabbit hole and binged his series, RuPaul's Drag Race. Just ask my family -- I couldn't be pulled away from it. These Queens are stunning and so talented; of that I was not surprised. What I was surprised by, however, was the transformation that occurred to the ladies that were lucky enough to survive Lip syncing for their Life. Through each season, RuPaul guided these drag queens to become aware of what they have to offer to the world. And to themselves. In turn, they began helping each other. And not one, not ONE, I tell you, Queen had anything bad to say when they were eliminated. Because they were shown kindness.
Kindness. What a simple, yet profound word. Second only to love, kindness is something most of us were lucky enough to learn from our parents as children. By being taught to treat others as I wanted to be treated, I think I realized I liked to be treated nicely. It felt good! So, especially as a child, I focused on happiness and kindness.
Fast forward to adulthood, or even as early as age 14, when parents everywhere will agree that everything seems to be unjust, I've found kindness maybe isn't my number one directive. As a matter of fact, my awareness, I'm sure like many of yours, transitioned to what is JUST. What is fair? And somewhere in the mix, being kind didn't always happen. You all know it's true. And has, especially in the past several years, become more apparent. Our nation has become angry and mean, y'all. Kindness has been dismissed; however, as life as we know it came to a skidding stop, it almost seems that kindness is peaking its pretty little head out of the trenches and starting to make a comeback.
I've seen it in my neighborhood, with sweet Anna putting her croquet set out, after spraying it down with Lysol, so my girls could have some good, old fashioned fun in the sun. I read about it in Worcester, UK in March, 2020 after 5,800 people stood outside, in the rain to see if one could possibly be matched as a stem cell donor to a 5-year-old Oscar. You've seen it as nurses from all over the country flock to NYC and care for patients in our Nation's epicenter of COVID-19. You've seen parades of teachers, family, and friends pour out to form birthday, baby shower, or just plain "we miss you" parades. And after viewing these, and countless other exercises in kindness, you've no doubt found a smile on your face, a tear in your eye, or a little more warmth in your heart.
You see, it's not terribly hard, this thing called kindness. As Amit Sood reminds us in his book, Immerse: A 52 week Course in Resilient Living, "...kindness needs practice. Just as a tree doesn't straighten his roots the night of the storm, you can't develop kindness overnight; you'll have to practice it in the littlest experiences - to the moth visiting your home, to the telemarketer who trespasses into your peace, and the airline agent who botches your flight booking. With practice, you'll become instinctively kind; kindness will become effortlessness and will require no active thought." So, remember to wave to your neighbor, smile at a stranger, put up the shopping cart at the grocery store (while wearing your mask to protect your fellow shoppers), really listen to the friend who needs a willing ear, and see how it makes a difference in your own life. You need to be kind to yourself as well, because as my new friend RuPaul reminds us every week, "if you can't love yourself (or be kind to yourself), how in the heck are you gonna love somebody else?" Yes, Queen. Can I get an amen?
This week's blog writer Nicki Hopkins Sherman is a lifelong resident of Shawnee. Upon completing short stents in Ft. Worth and Norman, Nicki returned to Shawnee to raise her children. A Shawnee High School graduate, Nicki attended TCU, OBU, and OU to obtain her Bachelors of Music and Master's of Music degrees in Piano Performance. Once she realized her daddy was once again right and decided she couldn't make a living playing in piano bars, Nicki decided to become a nurse. After obtaining her BSN and working primarily as a Labor/Delivery and Hospice RN, Nicki returned to higher education, receiving her MSN from Vanderbilt University. She is raising her four daughters, Emma, Harper, Abby, and Maggie with her husband, Chris. Nicki has worked at SSM Health as a Primary Care Nurse Practitioner for the past 10 years. While not working, Nicki enjoys traveling with her family, skiing, reading, playing epic Nerts games, and volunteering on and off stage at Shawnee Little Theatre.
Is it time to bend? We did with a blog on Thursday instead of Wednesday! Sometimes things happen and we need a little flexibility.
I agreed to write the blog for the word “flexibility.” In doing this, I didn’t realize that for me, it was probably one of the least intriguing words we had picked for Living52. Not that I don’t like the word, I just didn’t really know what else to add since on the surface it seemed pretty self-explanatory. The word, flexibility, seemed to have one pretty basic meaning but after digging deeper the word became a little more interesting to me. The definition we posted on Sunday for flexibility was “the quality of bending without breaking.” Researching more, I found other phrases to describe flexibility which included: the ability to adapt; willingness to change; the extent a person can cope with change of circumstance, and an activity including stretching, yoga, or tai chi focusing on range of motion.
Hmmm… all true but I wanted a more personal thought on the word, so I asked some close friends, “What do you think of when you hear the word flexibility?” Some responses were: the opposite of control; something I’m not because I can barely touch my toes; the ability to forgive; no boundaries; and ability to be open-minded.
Hmmm… many of these rang true and gave me much more to think about. I love the discussion that these words bring about every week and I love hearing what other people think.
For me, when I hear the word flexibility I imagine a tree with its branches flowing in the wind. While the branches flow, the tree still stands firmly in the ground. Like the tree, if we are firmly grounded and rooted, we can still be flexible in certain situations as they arise such as our current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic. We can control our responses - not always our circumstances. Maybe the important lesson in being flexible is that being strong and steady doesn’t mean being hard and unwavering (causing you to crack and break), but bending slightly to help those in need (which may include you too).
My dreams for you this week are to stay grounded like the tree, but also “go with the flow” when needed. The Serenity Prayer comes to mind:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can; and
Wisdom to know the difference.
May you know when flexibility is the right movement for you.
This week's blog writer is Julie Brittain, co-founder of LIVING52. Read more of Julie's story at www.living52words.com/stories.
What is joy? I know I am carried by the stream of joy when my soul goes on automatic pilot and I surrender to that stream and let it carry me. The best word for me to describe this is “flow.” I just “let go and let flow.”
An example? I am a dancer. My body naturally attunes to rhythms and the feel of music. It seems I’ve always felt this. Whether I am lost in drumming or moving across a dance floor, the joy of flow often carries me body and soul.
One special evening (years ago) comes to mind. I was at a church general assembly and I met up with a woman friend from California for an evening dance event. The music being played by the disc jockey was swing dance music: the big band era (a favorite genre of mine). Barbara and I had never danced together. But we let the music move us and we improvised as the rhythms gathered us in a long, free-style dance improvisation.
There were lots of people on the floor, but the room was so big we could move freely. The music came to life in our bodies, we “got our groove,” and let dancing just happen.
Quickly, we realized we were confident in entering the rhythms, both as a couple and independently. We let our hands release and we drifted apart dancing with abandon: each drifting across the floor alone and then returning to join hands and swing joyfully as a couple. We drifted away and then joined several times with that lively swing jazz music.
That evening of dancing stands out as a memorable time, moving with full abandon, being carried body and soul by the joy of dance.
Joy might well be described as an “eros for life.” Moments of joy awaken our bodies and souls with the spirit of life and love flowing through us, lifting us, and carrying us forward, ebullient and free.
Please do not imagine that I romanticize the feeling of joy. We can feel joy even in the midst of anxiety, pain and suffering. These emotions can—they often do—dwell together within us, alongside joy. Even now, during these troubling times when all people the world over are wrestling with the deadly Covid-19 Virus. We can pause and experience moments of joy. The poet and novelist, Barbara Kingsolver, offers this:
“In my own worst seasons I've come back from the colorless world of despair by forcing myself to look hard, for a long time, at a single glorious thing: a flame of red geranium outside my bedroom window. And then another: my daughter in a yellow dress. And another: the perfect outline of a full, dark sphere behind the crescent moon. Until I learned to be in love with my life again. Like a stroke victim retraining new parts of the brain to grasp lost skills, I have taught myself joy, over and over again" (from “High Tide in Tucson”).
Joy need not be denial. It does not oppose tragedy. There are tragedies and there is joy. They co-exist in your heart. Joy can become a healing feeling, an awareness our souls offer to us, if we pause and notice its presence. Joy is here within you, nudging, prodding, tugging to get your attention and carry you with its eros for life. Joy pulls from our hearts through the deep loves that grace and feed our lives… if we pause to notice and feel its presence.
When have you sensed moments of being fully lifted by the feel of flow? Recall them as times of inner nourishment. Hold them in your heart. Love yourself into the reverie of joy. And feel your soul drifting into the grace of flow.
Roy Reynolds is a retired Unitarian Universalist minister living with his wife and life partner in the Kentucky hills. Roy’s retirement ministries are devoted to developing personal and small group practices for centering into and living from Wisdom’s Sacred Presence. Roy is Tonya Reynolds Ricks’ father.
I often feel like the juggler in the 3-ring circus of life...Chris follower, wife, sister, daughter, mother of five, CEO, friend volunteer...and the list goes on an on. It is easy to get overwhelmed by daily tasks, media and self-expectations. so how does one maintain balance?
I have found "balance" rest in the following 3 disciplines:
1. Morning Habits.
I begin each day with a time of meditation, mindfulness, prayer and Bible study. By dedicating the first half hour to God, I find myself centered on who He has created me to be. It also allows me to connect with my leadership team to dedicate our day to fulfilling our individual potential and collective organizational goals. I then focus on one task that I least want to do. I spend one hour getting the most important but least desirable task off my to-do list.
2. Expectations & Priorities. First, I am my own worst critic so establishing a more graceful approach with myself is often necessary. Learning to say “no” to good things, but not the things God has called only me to do is key to prioritize my daily tasks. Next, I create a block calendar each week to ensure to spend time not only on the urgent tasks, but also the most important tasks. I only allow myself to check email and social media at prescribed times (one in the AM, one at noon, one in the PM) in order to minimize distractions. I build in time to think strategically weekly and also retreat for one day each quarter to get a thirty-thousand foot view. I also preserve one day each week for complete rest and worship---no work allowed! Additionally, annually I commit to at least a three-day retreat with my husband and a weekend retreat with my BOD/work family to conduct strategic planning. Finally, I take two weeks in July and two weeks in December to recharge and reflect/plan.
3. Self-care & Staying Present. Fifteen years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. I was 32 years old with four children under five years old who worked full-time and volunteered on weekends. It took the “gift” of cancer to help me realize how desperately I needed to slow down and take care of myself. Since that point, I am better at maintaining at least seven hours of sleep each night. The areas where I continue to struggle is eating healthy and daily exercise. I am intentional in my efforts to always be present—regardless if I am at home, at work, at church or elsewhere. I no longer worry about what I cannot control and I fully recognize God is God and I am not. I am responsible for my efforts each day but He is responsible for the outcome or results. This removes much of the pressure and helps me maintain proper perspective.
Maintaining balance at all times is impossible because we are imperfect humans. As the Holy Spirit continues to mold me and make me in His image, however, I find I am able to maintain a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions--true balance!
Tonya Winders is the President and CEO of Allergy & Asthma Network the nation's leading patient education and advocacy organization. She has five young adult children who are the inspiration for her tireless efforts to fight for patients first and foremost each day.
Our lives have changed. Changed by pandemic, changed by death, changed by necessity. As a part of the human condition we are naturally resistant and reluctant to change. In this matter, however, we’ve been given no choice. No one asked our advice or opinions before the world drastically shifted from what we’ve known it to be. How do we maintain morale? Where do we find the courage for resilience?
Amidst sheltering in place and social distancing we find hope for survival by intentionally looking for means in which we can live in unity.
Tate: Our children will never know the world we grew up in prior to September 11th, 2001. How does our current situation relate? Can you imagine things returning to some sense of normal on the other side of this?
Tiffany: We will not be the same after the COVID-19 pandemic. We simply cannot be. We will have lived through a global trauma and we will have done it communally. We will have stretched ourselves beyond our routines, our training, and our degrees. We will have reinvented ways of living, worshipping, leading, teaching, parenting, and shopping. We will innovate and create. We will engineer and pioneer. We will develop solutions and ideate new possibilities. We will push through to a new frontier.
Tate: I’m beginning to recognize how much we’ve taken for granted without realizing it. If I’d only known there would be this long hiatus before we could see portions of our families again, our friends and members of our church. And yet, I’ve also found that we’re calling to check on each other more often, putting cards and letters in the mail, and using social media to post messages of hope and encouragement.
Tiffany: We are in a shared time of transformation. This is a time that will reformat the way that we think and work, care for each other and behave. We have the opportunity to rise above and beyond what has separated and divided us, to stand in solidarity with the very fiber that connects us, our humanity. This period of pandemic has given to us a rebirth of the human enterprise known as community. We have once again been reminded of our need for the other. Our survival depends on more than our own ability, but on the collaborative efforts of humanity as a whole. This pandemic, this disease, does not discriminate as humans do. This is a battle we share, and we must overcome together. Survival depends on it.
Tate: One of the things that moved me greatly was the support that has been given to medical professionals and first responders. We sat in a packed hospital parking lot with much of our community, flashers on and prayers lifted. Seeing hospital employees standing in the windows and outside the doors while we expressed our appreciation filled me with hope and faith.
Tiffany: Workers who have gone unnoticed and under-appreciated for decades, are finally being seen as the heroes they are. We are not questioning the worthiness of those on the frontlines before we ravage our craft closets and fabric collections to sew medical masks to save their lives. Doctors and medical teams are not asking about the sins of those on respirators while carrying out debates over who deserves to live and who does not, rather we are all seeking to ensure that as many individuals live through this pandemic as possible. We are standing together to fight against what threatens to take our lives. Standing in solidarity is about recognizing what connects us and giving it a greater weight than what separates us. Solidarity isn’t about uniformity, but rather unity of spirit. We have always been called to unite with the neighbor and the stranger. We have always been called to put down our swords. We have always been called to seek the greater good of the other, to lay down our lives for our friends, to serve others more than we serve ourselves.
Tate: In the beginning it may have been easy for people to dismiss the severity of this virus and not take seriously the advice given on limiting unessential activities and interactions. Now, there are days when I even have to turn off the news and social media because it has been a challenge to watch the rising number of deaths it has caused.
Tiffany: In the critically acclaimed and award-winning novel Tuesdays with Morrie, author Mitch Albom presents the notion like this: “Amazing, I thought. I worked in the news business. I covered stories where people died. I interviewed grieving family members. I even attended the funerals. I never cried. Morrie, for the suffering of people half a world away, was weeping. Is this what comes at the end, I wondered? Maybe death is the great equalizer, the one big thing that can finally make strangers shed a tear for one another.” Could it be that this very moment in time, as tragic and terrifying as it can be in its most raw form, be a wakeup call for our generations to recognize its very nature cannot be separated from the other? Could it be, that to really live, we must understand that we are truly equal in design and must then therefore take our feet off the necks of those we have oppressed? Albom later tells the reader, “the truth is, once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”
Tate: There can be a sense of entitlement or even apathy that causes people to think, “These instructions don’t apply to me,” but it only takes a few who aren’t willing to cooperate to endanger everyone around them, no matter how many systems are put into place. In essential errands, such as a trip to the grocery store, I’ve had a chance to see how important it is to have unity in thought and in effort when it comes to the precautions we must take in order to not only protect our own health but also those who are most vulnerable.
Tiffany: Unity amongst humanity means a compassion that extends beyond earthly barriers, economics, and possessions. Unity among humanity means putting down our signs, our politics, our hatred, our verbal and physical violence. It means stepping aside for the other. It means standing in the gap, in front of the train of injustice. It means never valuing our life, our opinions, our traditions, our comforts, over the life of our neighbor. Whether we stand united with medical professionals, lab technicians, scientists, community and religious leaders, or we stand in solidarity with the very people we are commonly found to quarrel with, we have picked up the mantel of life when we have chosen to stand for one another. We choose the “vulnerability that loving entails,” as Albom writes it, when we choose the intentional act of unity with others, for the sake of others.
Tate: There is a lot of educated guessing going on. With so much information coming in each day it seems the only thing we know for sure is that we’re not sure. At this point there are many more questions than answers. It makes it difficult to know what to do and how long we must do it. Where can we find any sense of peace in the not knowing?
Tiffany: There are no manuals or guidebooks to tell any of us how to handle the global pandemic we are facing. We will turn to history, to science, to ancient religious texts, and to the words of our ancestors. We will turn to prayer, to service, to hope. We are not the experts here. We are, in unity with those around the world, the vulnerable human race that stands to lose it all if we do not stand with all. Morrie, a sociology professor, gave us these words to savor then and now. “Be compassionate,” he said. “And take responsibility for each other. If we only learned those lessons, this world would be so much better a place.” Albom noted that Morrie took a breath and then added his mantra: “Love each other or die.” The same God that created you, created me. The same God that put air into Eve’s lungs, breathed into us. The same God that walks with the “thems” of this world, walks with the “us’s.” The same God that knows the sting of death, steals the sting of death. To love now is to practice unity. To live now is to live unified with those like us, and those unlike us. From the beginning, we were all created from the same beautiful dirt. In the end, we are all God’s children.
Rev. Dr. Tiffany A. Nagel Monroe is the Senior Pastor at Shawnee St. Paul’s Methodist Church
Tate Monroe serves as the Director of Discipleship and Development at Shawnee St. Paul’s Methodist Church
Devotion. When I hear the word I imagine the love of a mother, or the commitment of a husband caring for a sick wife, perhaps a businesswoman working tirelessly for a company she believes in, or a minister or teacher serving selflessly. Devoted is a good word we use to describe good people. But devotion has to be more than simply the destination for our committed affections. Shouldn’t whatever or whoever our devotion is connected to be a worthy cause? Many people have done horrible things with radical devotion.
Recently I was reading through the Beatitudes of Jesus recorded in Matthew 5. One of them calls out the pure in heart. As I was learning about this description of these who can see God, I learned that when Jesus used the phrase pure in heart, he was describing more than just one’s emotions. He was defining more than the feeling of devotion. He was describing a different understanding of what devotion should be. Heart in the first century would’ve included “thoughts, reasonings, understanding, will, judgment, designs, affections, love, hatred, fear, joy, sorrow, and anger.”* In other words, everything you really are. In our contemporary way of thinking we tend to separate emotions and thought. And often that is a good thing! But oh, how this little reminder helped me to understand the most important things in life a little better. Devotion is more about who I am than who or what I love. To be a woman of devotion I need to be aware of the many things that pull me in different directions so I can become more single-minded in my commitments. My days on this earth are limited and I don’t want them to be wasted, I want them to be devoted to what matters most!
*Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study New Testament.
Jamy Fisher is a wife and mom of three who has served alongside her pastor husband, Todd Fisher, for 26 years. They currently serve at Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee where she teaches a weekly Bible Study and is active in Women’s Ministry.
How do you have so much self discipline? I've been asked that question a time or two. As a personal trainer, I was just beginning to think some were born with the "self discipline" gene and some were not. This theory stirred something deep in my soul. Only when I turned to my bible, did I finally get the answers that had kept me up at night.
It's not whether one has self-discipline or not, but rather, understanding that we each possess it and that it is God given. The bible promises us, "pronounce something to be" (Job 22:28) that which you chose to do you must "decide and decree" and when you declare a thing "it will be established for you." (Job 22:28)
You are as unique and one-of-a-kind as a snowflake or fingerprint. Desires and goals have been seeded deep into your heart. You have the power to bring these talents, gifts and desires to fruition. "You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you." (Phil 4:13). When there is something that has spoken to your heart that requires self-discipline, it is important to remember that things are the way they are, because you are the way you are. Change one thing and everything changes.
Make a plan and use it every day to implement it. When your thoughts do not align with your vision quickly replace them with what you want, who you desire to be and what you want to accomplish. Closely monitor your thoughts, emotions and actions until thinking, speaking and acting in a way that aligns with your goals becomes a lifestyle.
Rid yourself of all time wasters, energy depletors, unhealthy thoughts and self doubt and start taking control of what flows through you. Positive thoughts, words and actions will get you exactly where God want you to be. Stay forward focused and don't sabotage yourself by falling into old habits or thought patterns. When you have a day that your don't feel like staying the course, (and we all do) lean into him. Ask him for strength and guidance. As your heavenly father he wants to see you succeed and he wants you to call on him and he wants you to give him the glory. Every day is a new opportunity to converse with God and map out your plans together. If you ask and if you listen, he will give you the playbook to make your goal reaching EPIC!
To be disciplined is to put into practice the only kind of control God ever puts into your hands: self control. It's important to remember, "We don't have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to." ~ Brene Brown.
Paula Lyon is a personal trainer and nourishment coach. She loves running, being outdoors and spending time with her husband of 30 years and her three kids and four grandchildren.
What is grace? Depending upon your worldview, you may understand grace to be elegance, a nice gesture, or a prayer before dinner. As a Christian, grace is something much more to me than all of those things. Grace is a gift from the creator of the Universe. It is a gift that we don’t deserve. I will begin by explaining my understanding of grace from a biblical perspective and then I will conclude with the application and importance of God’s grace in my life.
As humans, I believe we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. This sin has separated us from God. It is for this reason we all struggle with various things in our lives such as sickness, death, defeat, failure, imperfection, confidence, emptiness, or whatever it may be. Of course, we can try to work our way out of this, but there is still something missing.
We can tally up our good works, but all of our “righteous works” are nothing more than “filthy rags” or “polluted garments” to God. There is “no one righteous” before God. Even worse, the wages of sin is death. Therefore, if we want salvation and freedom, then a self-made purchase isn’t the way to go about it.
Thanks be to God, the “good news” is that a purchase was made, but I wasn’t the one who did the purchasing – and neither were you. As a Christian, I have been purchased by, and through, the blood of Jesus Christ. This is why the Bible says that the “free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). It is a gift that God the Father purchased for us, through Jesus. It isn’t a gift we purchased ourselves.
In fact, Christians have been given the Holy Spirit as a down payment and we have the promise of eternal life until we acquire full possession of it after the resurrection.
God’s love and holiness find their perfect harmonization at the cross. The justice of God demanded death. The mercy of God demanded compassion. He gave us something we didn’t deserve – Himself as a sacrifice! He became our substitute for us on the cross and died for our sins in our place. The grace of God provided a gift for us – eternal life. This gift is received (not earned) through our trust in Jesus Christ for our salvation. So, why is this so important to me and what are the implications and applications?
First, this means that I don’t have to carry the weight of my guilt and shame around any longer. How nice does that sound? God remembers my sins no more and has casts them as far as the East is from the West. I have found someone who accepts me, despite my shortcomings (Of which I have many!).
Second, it means that I can have a perspective about my life that isn’t confined to just the temporary. As a Christian, I can find joy in trials. I don’t fear bad news or worry about the future. The reason? Because I believe that all things are ultimately working out for the best. In other words, I don’t worry about the future because I can’t control it and when bad things do happen, I can still find joy.
Finally, I don’t fear death. I believe that I have eternal life in heaven with my Savior and with all other believers who have trusted in Jesus. This means that, whether I live or die, I find myself in a “win-win” situation.
So, what is grace? Well, it depends upon your belief and perspective. But grace, as I understand it, has completely transformed my life, my actions, my belief, and my perspective. I hope one day you can experience this joy and peace that passes all understanding if you have yet to find it. “Come, experience that the Lord is good.”
 Rom. 3:23
 Isa. 59:1-2
 Isa. 64:6
 Rom. 3:10
 Rom. 6:23
 1 Pet. 1:18-19; Col. 1:14; Rom. 5:6-11; 8:31-39; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; 2 Cor. 5:12-21
 Eph. 1:13-14; 1 Jn. 2:25; 1 Cor. 15:50-56
 Rom. 6:23; Isa. 53:10; Heb. 2:17; Mt. 27:46
 Lk. 23:15; Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 2:24; 2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:6-11
 Eph. 2:8-10
 Heb. 8:12; Psa. 103:12
 2 Cor. 4:18
 Ja. 1:2-4
 Psa. 112:7; Mt. 6:32
 Rom. 8:28
 Heb. 2:15
 1 Jn. 4:18; Rom. 8:1; 1 Cor. 15
 Phil. 1:21
 Titus 2:11-13
 Phil. 4:7
 Psa. 34:8
Kevin Pendergras, 34, lives in Shawnee, OK. He worked in full-time ministry for over 13 years and graduated from the Southeast Institute of Biblical Studies in 2008. He and his wife, Bethany, now own a promotional product company, Pendergrass Promos, Inc.