Take a selfie…

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It seems like people are spending a great deal of time and energy weighing in on what others should or shouldn’t be doing or saying. Often, in so doing, their words and actions demonstrate a lack of self-control.

How often do we stop to consider whether our thoughts, words, actions, and reactions are constructive, healthy, and appropriate? Sometimes we can become so focused on what others are saying and doing that we lose sight of what we’re saying and doing.

There’s infinite merit in evaluating ourselves far more than we evaluate others.

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Frequently, people justify their lack of self-control by casting the blame on someone else, highlighting the truth that it’s easier to point the finger at someone else than it is to point it back at ourselves.

The world would be a much better place if we all started taking responsibility for our own actions and reactions.

I’m not saying we can control our feelings. I’m saying we can learn to control when and how we express them.

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I don’t know about you but I want to be someone who’s self-controlled… and to be the first to say I’m wrong whenever I’m not.

The key to self-control?

Self…

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Faithfully…

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One example of faithfulness in the Bible is about someone who isn’t often mentioned – King Hezekiah.

20 This is what Hezekiah did throughout Judah, doing what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God. 21 In everything that he undertook in the service of God’s temple and in obedience to the law and the commands, he sought his God and worked wholeheartedly. (2 Chronicles 31:20-21 NIV)

There is great honor in being described as someone who has the reputation of doing what is good and right, of being faithful,  and of working wholeheartedly.

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Faithfulness.

Showing true and constant support or loyalty, being deserving of trust, keeping your promises, and doing what you’re supposed to do.

As with most things, some aspects are easier than others. Some people faithfully frequent a restaurant or follow a sports team or make it a point to always attend a certain event. But, what about things like being faithful to your spouse, always doing the right thing (even and especially when it’s not popular or convenient) or keeping your promises no matter what?

Faithfulness is characterized by steady devotion to a person, thing, or concept… with emphasis on ‘steady devotion’.

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Many people have intentions of faithfulness… it’s the consistent practice of faithfulness that’s harder to maintain. Our best chance of success is to establish in advance what we’re going to be faithful to or faithful about – and why – and then set our hearts and minds in that direction.

If it’s to always do the right thing even when no one is looking, set your mind to do it. If it’s to follow God with all your heart, soul, mind, and body, set your mind to do it. If it’s to honor your marriage vows by being faithful to your spouse, set your mind to do it.

You get my point.

Anything worth pursuing is never easy. But always worth it.

So, keep the faith…

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Kindly consider…

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Kindness is something that’s not easy to define, yet somehow everyone knows when someone is being kind… or unkind.

As Christians, we’re called to do two things… love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbour as ourselves. According to the Bible, “There are no commands more important than these” (Mark 12:30-31 NCV).

Kindness is at the very heart of love, perhaps emphasized by the fact that there’s an actual word that ties the two together… loving-kindness.

The extent to which we are kind conveys the extent to which we love.

Being kind comes at a price. It requires going out of our way for someone else, and that will always cost our time, energy, or resources… sometimes all three.

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This past week, my husband and I went out of our way to do something we really didn’t want to do but something that we felt was important to do for someone close to us. Quite honestly, it didn’t feel the greatest… or even very comfortable. We don’t know if it made a difference, and we may never know. But regardless, it was the right thing to do. The kind thing to do.

The thing about kindness is that it’s what you do whether anyone notices or not. Whether it’s appreciated or not. Whether you’re given recognition for it or not. Because true kindness is never self-serving or self-important.

An act of kindness can be something as small as sending someone an encouraging note. Or helping someone carry their groceries. Or holding a door open for a senior. The options are limitless. We just need eyes to see opportunities because they’re literally all around us.

What’s the payoff?

Kind people are happier. People who focus on others are always much happier than people who focus on themselves.

The bottom line is that kindness is a necessary stop on the road to joy.

Seriously?

Yeah, kinda…

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Power in patience

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I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s power in patience.

Consider anyone you know who seems especially patient, and you’ll see a person who is in control. I don’t mean in control of their circumstances or in control of their life but in control of themselves.

Patient people tend to be relatively measured and calm. They have perspective. They don’t miss the forest for the trees. They’re fully present in the moment, and they don’t let frustrations derail them. They have self-control.

In fact, they can sometimes make patience seem easy… even effortless. But, make no mistake, it’s just as hard for them as it for the next person. The difference is in the practicing.

Practice makes permanent. Practice makes patience.

Patience recognizes that, while we often can’t control an outcome or timing or circumstances or people, we can always choose to control our response.

In fact, patience is like a diet. Most diets operate under the premise that you need to eat a certain way for a certain amount of time so you can achieve the results you want, and then life can continue as it did before. Only, all too often people end up gaining back all the weight – and then some – because the diet wasn’t sustainable.

The truly sustainable diet isn’t a diet at all… it’s making a change in eating habits that’s practical for the long haul. It’s only once we accept that there’s no magic formula… just a new way of life and a new way of eating – one bite at a time – that real change happens.

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The same is true with patience. We will become more patient once we come to the realization that patience isn’t a quick fix, but a change of mind. It’s changing how we react to disappointments, waiting, anger, frustration, things not happening that we wanted, or things happening that we didn’t want. Or things happening in a different way or a different timing than we’d hoped for. Step by step, patience is developing a determination to change the things we can change – ourselves… our actions and our reactions – and turning the things we can’t change over to God.

But, what if you’re like me, doing reasonably well with patience in many ways but feeling like you’re fighting a losing battle in certain situations?

Well, the Bible has the answer for that.

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When I come to the end of myself (which is often…), Jesus is always there to fill up my weakness with his strength. And, what He’ll do for me, He can do for you.

Can’t do it on your own?

Power up…

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Anti-peace

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True confessions…

I’m stressed out. Tired and stressed out, to be precise.

Earlier today, I looked up the definition of stress, and this is what I found:

“A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.”

So, I looked up the definition of peace (seeing as it’s the topic for May), and it gave two definitions, both of which started with the words:

“Freedom from…”

Freedom from…

Those two words stopped me in my tracks and highlighted the fact that I’ve been feeling the opposite of peace.

The truth is I haven’t been feeling freedom from anything.

But, I’ve started taking steps to figure out how I can keep stress from dominating my life. Especially since the “adverse and demanding circumstances” that contributed to me becoming so stressed are probably not going to go away anytime soon.

What’s a girl to do?

Well, my hubby and I are going on vacation just 4 short days from now, and I’m pretty sure that 8 days in Puerto Vallarta will go a long way to helping my stress. But, that will only be a brief respite, after which life will resume and, no doubt, my stressful circumstances.

It was recently suggested that I need to regularly spend time with a trusted friend or two who I can confide in, and who appreciates me for the person I am. I do have those people in my life but they mostly live somewhere else, which is the downside of having moved around a lot. But, there are a couple of friends where I live who have the potential to become close relationships. So, one of my goals is to become more intentional about deepening those friendships.

The closer your support system, the better.

It was also suggested that I be kinder to myself, and regularly indulge in some of the things I most enjoy. Things like going for a massage, taking a brisk walk, baking, reading, blogging, having date nights with my hubby, getting together with a friend for coffee, watching a movie, etc. These ideas seem somewhat simplistic on the surface but I do enjoy them, and they’ve been falling through the cracks in direct proportion to how stressed I’ve been feeling. Basically, I need to work smarter, not harder.

The goal is to manage my stress rather than have my stress manage me.

I’ve done a few of the things I enjoy this week but, to be honest, I still don’t feel much better. I do think our vacation will help jumpstart the process, and I’m very thankful for the timing. From the moment we leave the driveway until we return 8 days later, nothing but rest and relaxation will be on the agenda. I plan on taking full advantage of being out of the country… spending lots of quality time with my hubby, sunbathing, swimming, snorkelling, eating, reading, sightseeing, and sleeping.

I just need to remember that I didn’t get this stressed overnight so I won’t get unstressed overnight either. But, simply having a plan makes me think that peace is at least possible.

I especially need to remember that God is bigger than anyone or anything that’s been causing me stress. It’s easier said that done but committing my circumstances to Him, and trusting that He will intervene in the right way and at the right time will go a long way to being able to feel peace in the midst of the storm. I’ve been praying a lot but maybe I need to be still and listen more too.

It’s hard to hear that still small voice when I’m doing all the talking.

I decided to combine the definitions of peace and stress to come up with a new definition for peace that goes like this…

Freedom from a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.”

I like it.

I’m actively in pursuit of peace… my own version of “freedom from”, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it increases my joy.

But, it’s a journey, not a destination. So it’s to be continued…

Peace out.

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For the love of…

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The past couple of weeks have been really good in some respects but really tough in others. Tough enough that my last post for April is only happening on the first day of May.

The details are unimportant but, for more than a year, I’ve had an ongoing challenge with certain people who don’t love me. I’m pretty sure they don’t even like me. My recent discouragement has come from thinking that the tide had finally turned only to discover than I’m somehow farther from shore than ever before.

If I could avoid them, I would but, in this case, it’s neither practical nor possible. So, I have to deal with being actively disliked pretty much every day, and to say it’s not easy is an understatement. I pray a lot that the situation will change but only God knows if it will.

So far, He isn’t saying.

There’s a cost to love… even when it’s reciprocated. It costs us time, energy, commitment, and sacrifice. It costs the same things when it isn’t reciprocated.

It just feels worse.

But, if I consider the alternative, history shows that hate comes at the highest cost of all… our souls. Hate breeds nothing but more hate. If you don’t believe me, just check the news everyday. You’ll find far more reports about hate than about love because love is hard and it doesn’t come naturally. It’s no coincidence that when people choose to love instead of hate, they often end up on Oprah because that reaction is not our human nature.

My own situation alternately upsets, frustrates, discourages, and angers me. It depends on the day, and sometimes the moment. But, I continually remind myself that I can’t live there. I need to choose to rise above my emotions, and be loving.

No matter what.

Period.

That means extending kindness, showing an interest in them, praying for them, and treating them like I treat everyone else. Treating them the same as I would if they were being lovable.

But, let me be clear about one thing… loving others doesn’t mean being a pushover or a doormat. It doesn’t mean putting ourselves in harm’s way or living with abuse. It’s important to set boundaries for another’s behaviour towards us. When those boundaries aren’t respected, sometimes we have to put distance between us and them… both physically and emotionally. Sometimes for awhile and sometimes for forever.

I wish I had this ‘love’ thing down pat but the past couple of weeks have shown me that I have a lot of room to grow. Truth be told, I will always have a lot of room to grow but I sincerely hope the learning curve won’t always be quite so steep.

I know I’ve only been on The Joy Journey since the beginning of April but focusing on love these past few weeks – both the successes and the challenges – has helped me feel more joyful in general.

So, gotta love that…

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The Joy Journey

I recently took an 18 month hiatus from writing to consider the direction I wanted to take with my blog, after finding myself with a serious case of writer’s block. I was at a perpetual loss to think of a subject that inspired me, which inevitably led to the conclusion that perhaps my blogging days were behind me.

The answer presented itself out of the blue (as answers are prone to do). For a full year, the book “The Happiness Project” had languished in my nightstand. While it had captured my interest from the very first page, I had never made it past the first two chapters. Reading took a backseat to life… which included getting married, becoming a stepmother to two teens, becoming ‘Mom’ to a purebred English bulldog puppy, becoming out of work, going into business for myself, having two dental surgeries, and being diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma (a fancy term for skin cancer).

It was my recent diagnosis of skin cancer that prompted me to dust off “The Happiness Project”. I wanted to make a commitment to happiness, and thought it would be beneficial to consider someone else’s experience with the same commitment.

(I highly recommend this book, by the way. Gretchen Rubin approaches her experiment with candor, aplomb, and humor, and it’s a compelling and captivating read.)

Inspired by Gretchen, I decided to undertake my own experiment but to personalize it to fit me. I confess that having the name “Joy” influenced my decision to choose “joy” as a goal over “happiness”. But, the tipping point was when I considered the fundamental differences between the two.  Happiness tends to be fleeting, and depends upon temporal factors like circumstances or other people, while joy is true contentment that comes from internal factors like faith in God. In fact, the Bible uses “happy” or “happiness” approximately 30 times while “joy” or “rejoice” are referred to more than 300 times!

Hence… “The Joy Journey”.

How then to map out my journey? I narrowed it down to thirteen internal qualities that I want to focus on… one each month for the next twelve months. Using the Bible as my reference, I chose the fruit of the Spirit (from Galatians 5:22-23a) – love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, and added to those… wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and discernment. I’ll dedicate the thirteen month to examining “joy” (the remaining fruit of the Spirit), both as a distinct virtue but also from the standpoint that the preceding twelve virtues lead directly to its door.

All these qualities are ones I’ve wanted to more consistently reflect for a long time but this will be the first time I’ll have made them a concerted focus. My theory is that by making them an intentional and ongoing practice, they’ll become a solid foundation for a life that radiates joy. After all, practice makes permanent.

Beginning in April, my blog will chronicle my journey, complete with successes, challenges, and failures. I hope you’ll join me on “The Joy Journey”!

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Happy now?

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Everyone wants to be happy. It’s a universal desire. People wish for happiness, think about it, strive for it, read about it, talk about it, and even try to buy it but rarely, if ever, experience it on any sort of regular basis.

How can so many people be on the quest for the same thing but still miss out on it… or experience it only in fleeting moments? Sometimes it’s because of a misguided wish for things that don’t actually bring happiness while other times it’s an unrealistic expectation of what happiness is.

What if I told you that happiness is within your reach? That there are a few things you can do today to start increasing your happiness?

Well, in no particular order, here are some happiness boosters for you to consider:

1. Change your attitude.

It might surprise you to hear that happiness is a choice. If you tend to see the glass as being half empty, make the decision today to start choosing to see it as being half full. Your happiness largely depends on your attitude (even more than it does on your circumstances).

2. Work less.

No one ever gets to the end of their life and wish they had worked more. The better your work-life balance, the happier you’ll be. And, while we’re on the subject of work… as much as it’s within your ability to do so, do something you love or enjoy. So, if your job is making you miserable, it might be worthwhile to either look for another job or to go back to school to train for a different career.

3. Focus on experiences, not things.

Things will never bring you more than fleeting happiness. When people reminisce about happy times, they’re almost always referring to intangible things. Spending time with others, cultivating relationships, giving their time and talents to make a difference in other people’s lives. All things that money can’t buy. It’s also worth remembering that the quest for tangible things tends to make people work more, not less, and often brings the added stress of debt. Two big happiness busters that everyone can do without.

4. Be social (and I’m not talking about social media…).

Loneliness leads to higher rates of depression, health problems and stress. Having just one close friend tends to boost happiness. But, you don’t have to rely on friends and family in order to be social. Smile at people. Say hello. Make small talk with strangers. Take a genuine interest in others. Life is meant to be shared.

5. Volunteer.

Denmark is one of the happiest nations in the world largely due to their high volunteer rates (43% of the population volunteer). Giving of your time, possessions, or money can boost your happiness like few things can. Volunteering makes a difference, improves your community, and helps you keep a healthy and balanced perspective.

6. Laugh!

Science has proven that laughing decreases your stress hormones and increases your endorphins (the same brain chemicals associated with the “runner’s high” you get from exercise). Laughing is also good for your heart. A study found that only 8% of heart patients who laughed daily had a second heart attack within a year, compared with 42% of the people who rarely laughed. What if you don’t feel like laughing? Consider faking it ’til you make it. Just like your attitude, laughing is a choice.

7. Have faith.

Faith in God boosts happiness because it brings purpose to life. Resting in the certainty that God is in control, and that your eternity is sure,  bring happiness like nothing else can.

8. Count your blessings.

Focusing on what’s going wrong, what we think we’re missing, or what we wish were different are all happiness busters. Making a conscious choice every day to count our blessings is a big happiness booster. Even the days that are largely a write-off – just think about the fact that each day only has 24 hours, and that tomorrow is a new day. That thought should bring you happiness. It does to me!

Ok… enough talk about happiness. Time to start doing. Go and live a happy life… NOW!!!

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The Art of BIY

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Lots of people have gotten into DIY… doing it yourself… in recent years. But, what about BIY… believing in yourself? You don’t hear about that nearly as often… if at all.

Believing in yourself is a lifelong process. A delicate balancing act that can change from day to day. Sometimes even moment by moment. But, it’s possible. And important.

After all, if you don’t believe in yourself, even if everyone else believed in you, it would never be enough. It’s something no one else can do for you. You have to do it for yourself.

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Believing in yourself doesn’t mean being unrealistic about what about what you can and can’t do. It doesn’t mean you won’t have doubts or fear. Or that you’ll never fail. Or make mistakes.

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What believing in yourself does mean is focusing on your successes while learning from your drawbacks and shortcomings. Being realistic but hopeful. Surrounding yourself with people you trust to give you honest but loving feedback and encouragement. Having a spirit of optimism.

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It’s so easy to get down on yourself. It can happen to the best of us. But it’s one thing to get down on yourself from time to time, and quite another to stay there.

Believing in yourself is like walking. You may stumble and even fall but the main thing is that you get back up, dust yourself off, and keep walking.

blog 4It’s important to believe in yourself for you but it’s almost as important to believe in yourself for the people who look up to you. Your children, spouse, friends, relatives, siblings, co-workers… the list is endless. More people look up to you than you realize.

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Personally, I want to live as though I have the potential to positively affect everyone I come in contact with because, quite honestly, every single one of us has that potential.

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If anyone learned to believe in themselves because they watched me believe in myself, that would be amazing. If anyone learned the importance of believing in themselves in spite of their failures or mistakes because they saw me believe in myself in spite of my own, that would be equally amazing.

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What better way to inspire others than to lead by example?

blog 7If you can’t imagine being someone who believes in themself, consider this…

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So, just do it… start believing in you! You’re worth it!!blog 6

Less for 2014…

blogTomorrow is New Year’s Eve.  Just 2 days until 2014.

It’s emotional for me to look back at where I was this time last year and where I am today.

At the end of 2012, I was unemployed and had no fixed address or social life to speak of.  In fact, from just before Christmas until the first of March 2013, I wasn’t even living in Calgary but staying with a friend 90 minutes away.  I was also single.

But, now, at the end of 2013, I have a great new job, and rent a basement suite in a good location in the heart of Calgary.  I go to a great church, and have a social life and friends.  And, one week from today, I’ll have been dating a terrific guy for a year.

What a difference a year makes.

Christmas 2013

I looked back at my blog post this time last year to see what I’d written about resolutions for 2013.  My focus at the time was on things I wanted to do more of.  When I re-read the post, I was struck by how important it is to carry those resolutions through to each and every year.

https://thejoyjourney61.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/life-resolutions-for-2013/

For 2014, I’m decided I’m going to focus on the things I want to do less.

Things like:

1. Drink Diet Coke less.  I don’t drink coffee or tea so my caffeine of choice every morning has been Diet Coke.  I’ve justified it by saying it’s only one a day since, at one time in my life, I drank it almost compulsively.  But, I think it’s time for me to stop drinking it every morning and to not even keep it in the house.  A Diet Coke now and then would not be the end of the world but I don’t want it to control my life any more than it has already.  Less control… more freedom…

blog2. Worry less.  I’ve been working on this one a lot this year.  I’ve struggled with worrying about the financial shortfalls that came from jobs that either paid too little and/or from gaps in pay from leaving one job and starting another.  Now that I have a great new job, in another month or so, I should be able to finally start working to get back on track but, with losing three weeks pay in December/January, I’m continuing to cope with expenses that are greater than my income.  But, I am determined that worry will not control my life now or in 2014.  I want this to be a life change.  I’m aiming to be a prayer warrior, not a prayer worrier.  Less fear, more faith…

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3. Be less “self” focused. I did some volunteer work throughout 2013 but not nearly as much as I hope to in 2014.  There is great merit in giving time, energy, and resources to come alongside others and to let them know that someone cares.  I want to be a blessing in other people’s lives, to give them a hand up, to stand alongside them, to listen, to encourage, and to care.  Most importantly, when I’m focused on others, I tend to forget about myself, and heaven only knows that I think about myself far too much already.  Less of me, more of others…

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4.  Say less.  No one ever learned from anything they said themselves.  We learn more from listening than we do from speaking, not to mention that, the more we say, the more apt we are to say something that we’ll regret.  Or become “that person” who always talks too much.  When I do speak, I want what I say to be intentional.  I’ve made some strides in this area but there’s always room for improvement.  My goal is to ascribe to TLSThink more. Listen more. Say less.  ‘Nough said…

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5. Judge less. There are endless reasons to judge people and, boy, do we ever.  I’ve been judged a lot in my life, and it never gets easier.  It’s easy for people to pass judgement.  Point your finger.  Gossip.  Cast aspersions.  Be sanctimonious.

We may think we’re not judgmental but just because we don’t speak judgement doesn’t mean we don’t think judgement.

As much as I know the pain of being judged, judgmental thoughts pop into my head from time to time. I don’t want to be that person, even a little bit.  Whenever I’m tempted to judge, I remind myself that I don’t know the whole story but, the rare times that I do, it’s still not my place.  That doesn’t mean I agree with everything – far from it.  But, ultimately, I am only responsible for how I live my own life, and answerable to God about that.  Our lives, choices, decisions, mistakes, and regrets are ours and ours alone.

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It’s been a privilege to ring in 52 new years so far in my life.  I am so thankful and grateful for all the blessings in my life in 2013.  And I appreciate the blessings all the more for all the struggles I’ve had to overcome.

But, above all else, my hope and prayer is that somehow, someway, the world will be a better place in 2014 because of me.  Even the smallest of stones can make beautiful ripples in the water.  Less judging… more loving…

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I hope 2014 will be your best year yet.  Dare to hope and don’t forget to enjoy the journey!

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