Wednesday, April 28, 2010


"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” ~~Aristotle

I've seen this quote in the stairwell at school every day for months now. I really like it. What do you think?

Habits. We all have them. I use the word habit often (i.e. "Eating Nutella has become my favorite habit." Or, "You have a habit of interrupting me." Or, "Picking your nose is a bad habit."), but like many words used in our language, it's a word that has several meanings, and who knows if I'm actually using it correctly?! Lately, I've wanted to understand the words that I'm using more deeply. I'm learning to truly respect the complexity of the English language.

Enter in the handy, dandy dictionary. (Side note...I used to despise using the dictionary as an adolescent...I really just wanted someone to tell me what the word meant instead of taking my own sweet, precious time looking it up...hah! Lazy much?!)

Habit (noun)~

1. an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary: the habit of looking both ways before crossing the street.

2. customary practice or use: Daily bathing is an American habit.
It's confession time...the following is a list of, in no particular order, my habits...those "customary practice[s]" or "behavior pattern[s] [that are] regularly followed."

  • I never noticed my cruise control habit, or even considered it a habit, until the other day. I (apparently) don't use it like regular people (you know...on long stretches of highway), but instead, use it it everywhere. Really. I get going down a street, reach the desired speed, and "click." Cruise controlling has commenced. Sometimes I don't even realize I'm doing it. Weird.
  • I habitually check my eye makeup. I don't know why, other than the fact that I like my eyes, I spent a lot of money on my vision, and I think they are my nicest feature. Upon editing this post, I realized that I check my teeth for very similar reasons. Well, that, and I HATE when food gets stuck in them. It brings me back to braces, middle school days, and oreos...*shudders*
  • Every two weeks, on my trip to the grocery store, I gas up my car. Every two weeks. The same store. No other store. It's in my comfort zone, it's familiar, and it's quick/easy since I'm already there getting groceries. I freak out if that location has to be changed for some random reason (say I was gone most of the day on my "normal" grocery day and, therefore, had to go the next day to a totally different location)...just ask the wasn't pretty...
  • I have curly hair, but I very much love my Chi iron. I believe it's one of the greatest, THE GREATEST, inventions man has ever made. I'm serious. Anyway, I have a system of when my hair is curly and when it's straight, and this makes my life ever so much easier. So, Sunday through Wednesday, my hair is straight, and Thursday through Saturday, my hair is curly. Most of my friends know the system. It's pretty set, but, unlike when I gas up my car, I don't normally lose it if my hair has to be curly an extra day. I'm not that crazy...
  • I eat basically the same things every day. For years, I literally drank the same smoothie nearly every day for breakfast (until my Magic Bullet Blender bit the dust *sigh*). I don't think that that's a terrible thing. It's merely a habit. Some may complain that the lack of variation in my diet is not normal, but I don't analyze the items others choose to eat. Plus I ♥ dairy. Enough said :).
  • I read. Daily. Blogs, novels, emails, facebook posts, children's books, articles, anything written. I look forward to new novels, especially in the summer when I have more free time. And, my favorite subjects to teach are phonics and reading. Ahhh, language.
  • I'm not even going to discuss my "customary practice" of using italics to emphasize a point.
I'm sure there are many, many more that I don't even realize I do each day, but those are the ones I'm most aware of (or that I've been made aware of by those kind, caring people in my life haha!).
After analyzing some of my habits, I thought I'd see what the Word had to say about habits in general.
Many of the verses I found use the word in a negative light. Such as
"I have a lot more to say about this, but it is hard to get it across to you since you've picked up this bad habit of not listening. By this time you ought to be teachers yourselves, yet here I find you need someone to sit down with you and go over the basics on God again, starting from square one..." Hebrews 5:11
"Since Jesus went through everything you're going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way." 1 Peter 4:1
and even
"All of you, slave and free both, were once held hostage in a sinful society. Then a huge sum was paid out for your ransom. So please don't, out of old habit, slip back into being or doing what everyone else tells you." 1 Corinthians 7:23
But there were several more that use it as a means of growing closer to God like:
"There was a man named Cornelius who lived in Caesarea, captain of the Italian Guard stationed there. He was a thoroughly good man. He had led everyone in his house to live worshipfully before God, was always helping people in need, and had the habit of prayer." Acts 10:1
or this
"And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, "Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we're off to such and such a city for the year. We're going to start a business and make a lot of money." You don't know the first thing about tomorrow. You're nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, "If the Master wills it and we're still alive, we'll do this or that." James 4:13
or that
"Everyone sees it. God's work is the talk of the town. Be glad, good people! Fly to God! Good-hearted people, make praise your habit." Psalm 64:9
or even
"If you, God, kept records on wrongdoings, who would stand a chance? As it turns out, forgiveness is your habit, and that's why you're worshiped." Psalm 130:3
What I took from His Word, is that we should be a people that make a habit of praying, of seeking God's will (and not our own), of praising and worshiping Him (loved that phrase "Fly to God!"), and of realizing that God's habit is one of forgiveness. I'm so glad that God makes it a habit to forgive us! I think that one should be one we make a habit of as well. Forgiving. Even when the other person doesn't deserve it. Especially then. Because, then, we are one step closer to being more like Christ. That's my kind of habit.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Loyally in love

I have several go-to verses in God's word, but I think the book I turn to the most is James. The author speaks a great deal about trials and sufferings, and while those things aren't necessarily the makings of must-read literature, they certainly call out to me when it feels like things are up in the air.

Some interesting things have happened lately, so I decided to jump back into James. As I was diving into the first chapter this morning (The Message version), a phrase struck me (not literally, good grief). See if it pops out at you. (How'd you like all those action verbs?! That's my shout-out to grammar!! Muah!) Ok, seriously, scroll on down and read the passage I was reading today.

"Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way... Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life." James 1:2-4, 12

Ohh! I really like that! Loyally in love.

I wasn't really sure what that meant, but, oh that phrase!, it just *grabbed* me and held on. So, the teacher in me decided to head over to the dictionary and do a little research.

loyal - (there were four main definitions...I chose the first two)
1. faithful to one's sovereign, government, or state: a loyal subject.
2. faithful to one's oath, commitments, or obligations:
to be loyal to a vow.

in love - (there were twenty-eight definitions...seriously...28...I chose the one with the word in before it)
25. infused with or feeling deep affection or passion: a youth always in love.

I read over those definitions carefully and found that my new favorite phrase means that if I am to be "loyally in love" with God, then I must be faithfully infused with deep affection or passion for my Sovereign, my Lord, my Christ. Wow. Can I do that? Can I feel that strongly for my Creator, the One who formed the world from nothingness, the One I can't see or touch? I mean, is it even possible to have that strong of an affection for an actual person who I can hold in my arms, let alone the God of the universe who's, you know, sort of untouchable??

I think it is possible, but I don't think it's easy. I think that, like with any relationship, loving someone takes time and effort. It's not just this feeling that comes and goes. It's not based on outward appearance or how that person makes you feel. It's a choice; it's an action. To love someone is to put his/her well-being above your own. It's talking and listening. Yep, I said listening. It's really easy to talk and pray and sing and praise, but do we really listen to God?

Do we ever just
and sit still
long enough
to feel Him near us
and discern what the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us?

I think the same goes for any relationship. Do we really listen to what the other person is saying, or do we nod our heads and wait patiently (hah! or not so patiently) for that person to conclude his/her thoughts before we boldly start sharing our own? The boyfriend and I have recently begun reading The Hear Process, a book about communication which is based on scripture. I'm enjoying it so far (I think he is, too!), and it gives lots of helpful information to those seeking to have fabulous communication in any relationship.

Anyway, (my brain got ahead of me... and then took a side trip... and then went down a rabbit hole...) back to loyally loving God. I absolutely think it's possible to love God loyally. I believe it's wholly feasible (thanks for that adjective, Karen!) to be passionate about God, about His Son who died for us, about the Holy Spirit who understands the groans that escape from our lips when we are planted face down at the feet of our Father. How can we not be passionate about a God so holy, so just, so righteous, yet so kind, so loving, so patient? He is love! The very definition.

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

God is every. single. one. of those things.
I choose to do more listening to, to be more faithful to, and to be more passionate about the God who is love.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Keeper of rules--a.k.a. the post where I abundantly used italics

*Disclaimer* I wrote this throughout the day, and it feels sort of jumbled, as if my thoughts were all over the place. I may go back later and edit it again. Hah! Anyway, I hope it makes some sense :).

I'm a natural rule-follower. No, natural isn't the right word. I'm a self-driven rule-follower. I long to obey.
God's law and man's.

I want God to see and to know that I'm doing the right things. Sadly, embarrassingly, (it's stabbingly painful to my pride to admit this) I want others to see, too. I want them to know that I follow the rules, that I don't step outside the lines, that I stay safely inside this box I've placed around me. Deep down, I desire for others to understand that I'm trying desperately to lead a Godly life because...well...honestly, I'm afraid that if they don't see me doing those things, saying those things, then maybe, painfully-maybe, they will think terribly of me. Maybe just maybe, they will think I'm simply another girl who leads a life that's pleasing to her and not to God. And it causes me mental anguish, torment, when it seems as if others are displeased with me or think the worst of me. My heart races, my breathing becomes labored, and I desperately want to be as far away from that person as possible. I mean, is this just me?

Insert group-help scene here...Me: "Hi, I'm Joy, and I care, oh-so-much, about what others think of me."

Choral response: "Hi, Joy."

Don't misunderstand. I know who I am in Christ. I know I am forgiven and loved and made white as snow. I know this. I believe this. I trust this. It's just that tiny portion of my brain that basically freaks out when I think that any judgment is being passed on me.

But you remember that box that I've placed around me? I put it there. Not God. Look at what the Word says. Really look at it. Ponder it. Mull it over. It's freeing.

"What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn't work. So I quit being a 'law man' so that I could be God's man. Christ's life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not 'mine,' but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.
Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God's grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily." Galations 2:19-21 (The Message)

Did you see that? Did you? Being a Christian is not about keeping rules, nor is it about worrying whether or not we appear righteous before man. It's about a personal, one-on-one relationship with the One who paid for our sins once and for all. We should not be tied down by what others think of us. Ah! So freeing.

Now, that doesn't mean I'm going to automatically not fear what others (especially those in authority over me) think of me. But I will, consciously, remind myself that, although their opinions of me may be valid in their eyes, they are certainly not valid in my Creator's eyes. I was bought and paid for, washed clean, made new, and I am precious in His sight.

Will I still be a keeper of rules? Probably, but not in a "look-at-how-I'm-following-these-rules" kind of way. I will simply do my best to follow the standard God has set before us because He says it's good to do so. It's for my benefit; His standard is meant to keep me safe, and it allows for things to go well for me.

Simple example: Let's say I covet a new dress. It's not just any
dress. It's black and strapless, and it's pretty darn exquisite. Now, let's say I do not have the funds to purchase said fabulous dress. If I were ignoring God's standard (you know...the one about not stealing), I might neatly place stuff the dress under my shirt and, as nonchalantly as possible, walk out the nearest exit. Lights flash and alarms blare. Things are about to not "go well for me" because I boldly ignored God's standard.

God's standard is simply a protective circle that we can either choose to stay in or step out of at any time. That's the freedom of choice. Things will either go well for us (while we're in the circle), or things will go poorly (when we step out of it). The decision is ours.

His standard, that protection, is to benefit us, but those commandments do not offer salvation. They do not get us to Heaven. They are a gift, a bonus, from God to help us live lives of fulfillment and purpose and to get along w/ our neighbor. He knew life would be so much better if we put Him first in our lives, didn't bow down to things or people, honored His name, took a day of rest, honored our parents, didn't cause harm to others, stayed loyal to our spouse, didn't take what belonged to someone else, spoke truth and not lies, and remained thankful for what we have and not truly desire, covet, what someone else has.

We won't choose to remain in "the circle" all of the time, but I'm sure thankful He's put those rules out there for us. What a loving, patient, protective God we serve.