When Is Choosing the Easy Path Okay?

The last few Saturdays have brought the faintest hint of fall in Florida, just enough to encourage my husband James and me to get back on our bikes and explore new off-road trails. Several months have passed since the last time I went mountain-biking, but I was feeling pretty confident I could handle easy “green” trails. (I use the term “mountain-biking” loosely, because there are no mountains in Florida.)

Croom Wildlife Management Area offers over sixty miles of trails and a few more advanced “blue” ones James wanted to try. We geared up, checked the air in our tires, and started out.

Only a few minutes in, I was starting to feel on edge. Compared to the trails we bike in the Tampa area, the elevation gain here was much more noticeable, and the trails seemed even more narrow. I struggled to get the speed I needed while still feeling in control of my bike.

James took the lead, and although he kept shouting tips at me, his skill level is light years more advanced than mine. What seemed like a gradual downhill to him felt like speeding off the side of a mountain to me.

However, I held things together until I rounded a tight downhill bend in a section of the blue, more difficult, trail.

“Peddle hard!” James shouted ahead of me. “Hill!”

I gave it my best, but my best wasn’t enough. I didn’t have enough momentum to get to the top and watched in terror as my bike started sliding backwards.

James jumped off his bike and grabbed my handlebars to slow my fall, but I landed in a heap of bushes with my bike on top of me, more scared than hurt.

After that shake-up, we came to a sign with two arrows. Next to one was the word “easy,” and next to the other was the word “hard.” I waited at the junction while James tackled the hard section and felt rather bummed that all I could clearly handle was “easy.”

That’s when I remembered there is a time for everything. A baby doesn’t go straight to walking. He crawls first. A girl doesn’t go from biking the smooth Suncoast Trail to off-road biking without a few falls.

Sometimes, we have to be content with easy tasks before we can dare to achieve harder things.

For an over-achiever and recovering perfectionist, that reality isn’t an easy pill to swallow. I like being challenged. I like cresting the hill toward success. I have to remind myself that some situations require me to choose the easy path, and that’s not a bad thing. It just prepares me for one day advancing where I want to be.

Be content with small beginnings

There’s a phrase in the book of Zechariah that offers encouragement on this topic. The context is the rebuilding of the Jewish temple, and the people are feeling discouraged. The rebuilding efforts appear as “nothing” compared to its “former glory” (Haggai 2:3 NKJV).

However, the prophet Zechariah poses a rhetorical question to the people: “For who has despised the day of small things?” (Zechariah 4:10a NKJV). In order to rebuild, they had to start somewhere. They had to start small.

I like what the Pulpit Commentary says: “Small as the present work was, it was a pledge of the full completion, and was therefore not to be despised. “

Whether we’re rebuilding or simply starting from scratch, we have to take baby steps. The first few steps might seem embarrassingly easy, yet we have to climb them first before we can get where we want to be.

Embrace the easy tasks and build from there

Despising “easy” tasks will only keep us from reaching our goals. We should never quit because we’re not ready for the advanced levels we want to achieve but welcome the practice needed to reach them.

The bottom line is that it’s okay–it’s necessary– to choose the easy trail until we’re ready for the harder one. The practice might seem unglamorous, but it’s the training we need to grow.

What “easy” tasks do you need to welcome today?

~ Kristen

Why Your Dreams Require Band-Aids

You have a dream, right? So do I. We probably have more than one, maybe even dozens. If your dream isn’t brand new and you’ve started taking steps to pursue it, you’ve likely discovered that the path to fulfillment is something like the field of poppies that Dorothy had to cross to reach the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz.

Those poppies sure look pretty, but [spoiler], the wicked witch has poisoned them to keep Dorothy from reaching her goal. Hopefully none of us are picking our way through a field of poison poppies today, but if you’re like me, you might be buying some Band-Aids.

Case in point

My husband and I both love the outdoors, but the primary difference between us is that he was born with natural ability and I have to work for every ounce of strength and skill I have. One sport he introduced me to is surfing, and last year, I shared my preliminary experience with you. Since then, I’ve improved … a little.

Understand that my goal with this sport is not lofty. I don’t want to metal in a sporting event or even qualify to participate in one. I simply want to get upright long enough to enjoy the wave and then get off without injuring myself.

The size of our goal doesn’t matter as much as how willing we are to stick with it. In that regard, surfing and dreams in general have a few common qualities.

To succeed, you will fall.

Falling off a surfboard provides a physical sensation that equates well to the pain of failure. You don’t just fall off a surfboard and land gently in the water. Your board might nose dive, catapulting you over it. You might get sucked under the water and feel like you’re drowning.

However, the more you fall, the wiser you become. As you practice, you will keep falling, but experience will teach you that even when you feel like you’re going to drown, you should wait a few moments before surfacing, or your board might land on your head. Yes, ouch.

Pursuing dreams is similar. You might get rejected, turned down, booed, told “that’s impossible,” or any number of scenarios. If you don’t quit the first time, the second time, or the hundredth time you fall, you will eventually meet success or at least approach your goal more intelligently.

To succeed, you will scrape your knee.

Be prepared. Pride and self-interests often take a back seat when pursuing goals.

The last time we walked to the beach with surf boards in tow, I had one wish: Please, please let me not get hurt today. You see, last year, I took a hefty chunk of skin off my left knee that required a bigger Band-Aid than even the lifeguard could provide.

For the first hour, I was getting the hang of things. I welcomed smaller waves and kept getting up on the board for some decent rides. The only problem was that since my waves weren’t deep, I was riding them into much more shallow waters. All it took was one wrong fall, and I scraped the skin off my other knee.

So now they match. Kind of. I jokingly tell James that thanks to this sport, I will have prematurely ugly knees.

The bigger the dream, the bigger the fight

Yes, our dreams sometimes leave us feeling scraped up.  As Pete Wilson shares in his book What Keeps You Up at Night, “The bigger the dream, the bigger the fight you’ll face. In fact, the people throughout history who have been the most directly in the center of God’s will for their lives are the same people who have gone through the toughest trials.”

Wilson gives the example of Joseph, one of my favorite Bible characters. Talk about someone whose dream presented obstacles! He went from daddy’s favorite to a slave and a prisoner before God elevated him to Pharaoh’s right hand man. His life experience left more than scraped knees. But through all the setbacks and disappointments in his life, Joseph sought to honor God through his circumstances, and God remained with him.

Several times in Scripture, we find this idea of God being present with Joseph through every low point in his life (emphasis added below).

  • The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian.” (Genesis 39:2 NKJV)
  • “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” (Genesis 39:21 NKJV)
  • “The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph’s authority, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper.” (Genesis 39:23 NKJV)
  • “And the patriarchs, becoming envious, sold Joseph into Egypt. But God was with him and delivered him out of all his troubles, and gave him favor and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.” (Acts 7:9-10 NKJV)

You know what these verses tell me? When we seek to honor God through our dreams, God is with us, too.

Surfing is but a picture.

Surfing is a personal dare I have yet to master, but it paints such a good picture for the obstacles we often face when going for the dreams God has placed on our hearts.

The bottom line is that we can’t give up on them, because God doesn’t give up on us. We have to keep buying the Band-Aids. One day, when we do succeed, all those falls will have been worthwhile as we feel God’s pleasure. Well done!

~ Kristen

I’m grateful this post first appeared on DailyPS.com.

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You Don’t Have to Be Great to Start

New Years is typically the time of year people set health and fitness resolutions, but according to Forbes, the follow-through is pretty slim (under 25%). We’re approaching the half-way mark of 2019, and if you’ve already failed at a goal, I want to challenge you to start fresh.

Maybe my personal story will help you feel less intimidated by the idea of joining a gym or tackling whatever goal you have yet to reach. Although I have been a runner for about a decade now, I’ve never joined a gym. Personally, I prefer running outdoors over using a treadmill and have always enjoyed home workouts. These sometimes include an over-the-door pull-up bar and YouTube yoga videos, such as the ones by EkhartYoga and Yoga with Adrienne.

However, my husband enjoys the gym, so when we got married, we both agreed to share in each other’s hobbies. He runs with me occasionally, and I’ve joined a gym with him.

Though I didn’t actually say this thought out loud, I was pretty sure I was going to hate the gym.  Turns out, just the opposite is true. I only had to change my mindset. If I can, so can you.

#1: Get over yourself.

Ouch. There’s no sugar-coating that sentence. In other words, most of us tend to be self-conscious and worried that people are watching us. The truth is, of course, that they aren’t. They’re watching themselves, worried that we’re watching them. It’s a vicious cycle.

Although we may cite embarrassment or self-consciousness as the the culprits keeping us out of the gym, the real reason is pride. We don’t want people to think “less” of us. We don’t want to set ourselves up to look silly at something we’re not good at. On that note, let’s clear the air with the reality that no one is naturally good at anything. Even though we all have inherent gifts and abilities from God, unless we work to develop them, we’ll never excel.

The Bible tell us that “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (I Peter 5:5b NKJV). Isn’t that a wonderful thought? He gives grace. We mostly think of that grace in terms of our spiritual shortcomings, but I believe God also extends His generosity into the ordinary, everyday parts of our lives.

So go ahead. Buy yourself a comfy and trendy workout outfit as long as you’re actually going to use it and not just lounge in it for Netflix marathons.

#2: Learn from others.

I’m a notorious people watcher, so maybe there is a tiny bit of truth that I might be watching you, if you happen to join my gym. The reason is not so I can poke fun at or envy you. On that note, comparison can be a subtle little monster, and we must avoid it like the plague. The Bible makes clear that comparing ourselves with ourselves is not wise in any pursuit (2 Corinthians 10:12.)

Instead, we should want to learn from each other. I’ve seen several ladies doing different free-weight workouts that have given me new ideas for my own. Interacting with other people, regardless of our location or activity, can inspire new creativity and ideas we otherwise wouldn’t have imagined.

#3: Do life with people.

Feelings of isolation and loneliness can turn even the most friendly of us into hermits. Maybe we feel as though we won’t fit in or belong. Whatever subconscious lies the enemy is feeding us, we must choose not to listen to them, because we need community. We need friends to help us get out of our comfort zones and try something new.

Accountability is a huge part of committing to and sticking with our goals.  Each of us might have different personal motivations, but regardless, we need friends and family who can be our cheerleaders and also keep us in check.

If you’re wanting to set new fitness goals, find someone who can help you work to meet them. Maybe it’s a gym buddy or a friend who can walk or jog with you. Even if you can’t train together every week, you can at least send friendly reminders and follow-ups to see if you’re both sticking with the plan.

At the end of the day, we must remember that we’re the ones who are ultimately responsible for our choices. Do we make sacrifices to meet our goals? Are we willing to plan accordingly? Or are we only content to work toward our goals if they’re convenient or feel comfortable? (Reality check: Meeting goals is rarely convenient or comfortable.)

At my gym, there are motivational signs peppered throughout the building. One of them caught my attention recently, and all it said was, “You don’t have to be great to start.”

The key is simply to start. As William Wordsworth so eloquently said, “To begin, begin.”

No excuses.

Kristen

I’m grateful this post first appeared on DailyPS.com.

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Olympic Dreams Start with Small Habits

I always get excited about the Olympics, but this year, I’m especially eager in light of my recent ski trip. With my new perspective on snow sports, I know I’ll have a greater respect for winter Olympians and their skills.

The games starting this week highlight the athletes’ best performances, but they don’t reveal the countless hours and early mornings that have led up to the moment. These athletes had to be intentional every day to take the steps and make the sacrifices necessary to reach this opportunity.

You and I may never participate in the Olympic games, but we do have dreams God’s planted in our hearts. What habits do we need to cultivate in order to reach them?

#1: Desire God more

Wait a minute, Kristen. I thought you were going to talk about how we can achieve our goals?

That’s right. Who better to teach us and train us for the journey than the Dream-Giver Himself? As God’s children, we should ask Him to inspire our dreams.

The only way we know God’s best plan for our lives is to spend more time with Him in prayer and in His Word. Seeking His will on a daily basis is essential for walking the path He wants us to travel.

He invites us to do just that.

Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know. (Jeremiah 33:3 NKJV)

#2: Be willing to work hard

No one wakes up one day and accidentally becomes an Olympian. If we’re serious about achieving our goals, we need to roll up our sleeves and get busy.

Did you know God’s Word both commands and commends hard work? Yes, God calls us to give our best.

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might … (Ecclesiastes 9:10a NASB)

He also promises to reward our best.

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24 NKJV)

So why would we give anything less than our all?

#3: Do the next right thing

One of my mantras for life is to do the next right thing. The reason is simple: I’ve learned that sometimes my long-term plans just don’t go as planned. I can’t control tomorrow, but I can focus on the task at hand.

You know what? That’s okay. Proverbs 16:9 explains why:

A man’s heart plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps. (NKJV)

I’d rather have God redirect my steps as He sees best than always get my own way. Wouldn’t you?

Parting Challenge

Think about where you were four years ago and where you are now. Think about where you want to be in the next four years.

What have you done with the dreams God has given you? What baby steps can you take this week to work toward the goals He’s laid upon your heart?

~ Kristen

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3 Ways to Shred Fear on Life’s Slopes

Recently, this Florida girl left her state behind to experience snow and skis for the first time. And. I. Loved. It. All.

Yes, I’m not too proud to say the white stuff stole my breath and claimed a space in my heart. That said, I wasn’t an instant star on the slopes. I wiped out hard and often, but by the end of the trip, I truly enjoyed skiing, despite my ungraceful moments.

I learned so much on the slopes and realized that some of those same principles apply to our Christian lives. We can’t let fear keep us from growing; instead, we can intelligently channel that emotion to discover new potential.

#1: Abandon the Bunnies

There’s a difference between caution and fear. Caution kept my unskilled self off the icy black slopes, but fear would have kept me on the bunnies.

It didn’t. Instead, I abandoned the training slope on day one and went for the green. In the process, I mastered my trademark 360 wipe-out move and discovered I have speed/control problems. However, I wouldn’t have improved my slowing techniques with the pizza move and side-to-side method if I hadn’t had a place to experience speed.

The same is true in life. Sometimes, we’d rather stay in our comfort zones, but we can’t grow if we don’t encounter steep places and challenges. As James says, it’s the “testing” of our faith, not the sheltering of it, that develops patience (James 1:3). Only in the middle of the slopes do we identify our weaknesses and practice mastering them.

#2: Don’t Ride Lifts Alone

If you’re a pro skier, you’re more than welcome to go solo. But a newbie should always have someone go with her the first time.

I’m thankful I did. I was so eager to get off successfully that I actually jumped off the lift. (You’re not supposed to do that.) Thankfully, my friend was right there, grabbed my arm, and helped me up from my awkward split in the snow.

Sometimes, we think we can handle life solo (pride), but the fact is that we need people alongside us to pray with us (James 5:16), sharpen us (Prov. 27:17), and fellowship with us (Hebrews 10:25).

#3: Wipe-Out and Recover

As I tell my students, we can’t be afraid to fall. Though sometimes painful and embarrassing, failure is often the best teacher.

If a new skier is scared to wipe out, she will never learn to ski. Truth is, eating the snow taught me more than caution would have.

  • I learned how to get back up. The bottom line is that if you can’t get yourself back upright, you can’t get off the bunnies.
  • Wiping out gave me motivation to improve my slowing techniques, because I very much wanted to get down the green without falling. (That only happened two or three times, but the sense of achievement was sweet.)
  • I learned to laugh at myself. Everyone wipes out at some point (some people harder than others). The key is to shake it off and keep smiling.

Those are good reminders for life. Uncomfortable or embarrassing places allow God the opportunity to work His good through our mistakes and mess (Romans 8:28). How we respond to those situations gives us a chance to model His grace at work in our lives.

Happy Shredding

I can’t wait to go back to the slopes one day and hone my skills, but until then, I want to remember what I learned.

Don’t let fear keep you from discovering new places and hidden potential. Remember 2 Timothy 1:7? We are not to approach any part of this life with fear but with God’s power, love, and fortitude.

~ Kristen

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Theme for 2018: Wait and See

Like many of you, each year I write goals with the understanding that God can shape and change them however He sees best. For the last few years, I’ve also chosen a word that I hope will capture my prayers and dreams for the New Year.

Lately, God’s been showing me that I need to lay aside my expectations and embrace the reality that His plans may be different than I imagined. And that’s okay. In fact, His ways are far better.

However, I still struggle sometimes. “Lord, but I thought …” or “But isn’t this a good expectation?” Yet I imagine I’m somewhat like Job who thought he had the right to ask God a question when he didn’t have the faintest idea what was really going on.

That’s why I’ve chosen a theme, not just a word, for 2018: Wait and see. I want to let go of my expectations and let God have His own way in my life. Sure, I still have goals I’m working toward, but I’m trying to hold loosely onto them. For you visual friends, the mental image that goes along with this theme is an open hand. I want God to give or take away whatever He sees fit.

In other words, I need to desire, not any specific outcome, but simply the Lord Himself. My expectation needs to be from Him, because at the end of the day, only He can satisfy.

And now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You. (Psalm 39:7 NKJV)

I love the start of a new year because it holds so many possibilities. In 2018, let’s not get wrapped up in our own agendas. Let’s be willing for God to surprise us with His best.

Wait and see.

~ Kristen

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Embrace the Possible: Lessons from a Half Marathon

“Nothing is impossible; the word itself says, ‘I’m possible’!” This quote by Audrey Hepburn is one of my favorites, because so often, the difference between success and failure is our perspective. A decade ago, I equated running a mile as an impossibility, thanks to a curvy spine and the enablement of doctor’s notes excusing me from my physical education classes in college.

Then, after graduation, my brother dared me to run anyway and get in the best shape of my life. I accepted the challenge, pushing through shin splints and back spasms. Eventually, I plateaued at 3-4 miles. In other words, I became too comfortable with my routine, until a friend invited me to run a half marathon with her this year.

Last week, I ran those 13.1 miles in a time better than I could have thought possible. This physical dare has taught me to embrace the potential of seemingly impossible goals. I hope what I’ve learned might encourage you today.

Click here to read the full post on DailyPS.com. As always, I welcome your comments.

~ Kristen

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