Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Destruction, Construction, and the Interior Life

For a very long time, I prayed to God to help my husband find his way to the faith. I prayed to God to help me build a business. I prayed to God to help me with my money problems. I prayed to God to help me raise my son. I prayed, and I prayed, and I prayed, and all that ever seemed to happen was that the problems got worse, the business failures increased, the money problems grew, and my son struggled.

I thought God wasn't listening. I thought God had abandoned me. I thought nothing was happening.

I didn't understand what was going to have to happen in order to get my prayers answered. I didn't understand how God works. I certainly didn't understand how prayer works, either. I thought that if God answered my prayers, it would be instantaneous and obviously His work. I had a lot of learning to do.

What I didn't understand then, that I've learned since, is that if you want someone else's conversion, the first one that has to come is your own. If you want help building a business, you have to address the relationship issues that are causing you to struggle in selling your product or idea. If you want help with money problems, you have to first change how you view and treat money. If you want help raising a child, you have to begin by digging into the wounded child inside you and start healing that.

Before God can begin bringing into your life everything you've begged so hard to receive, he has to take out of your life everything that's been holding you back and standing in your way. But quite often we are attached to those things. We are used to relying on them and we are afraid to let them go. So we fight him when he tries to take them from us. We consider him mean and cruel for depriving us of the things we think we need, and we do our best to cling to what isn't working for us. We unintentionally get in his way, slowing him down, quite often undoing the work he's painstakingly done for us in our misunderstanding and fear.

The period of destruction that must come before the construction begins is painful, scary, and strips us to the bones of our illusions about who we are and what is real and what isn't in our lives. It's a time where we're left open, exposed, and vulnerable. We can begin to wonder whether God is there at all, and why this is all happening to us. Satan knows what's happening, but he'll work to convince us that all this means is that God's abandoned us and there will never be an end to what we're going through today. He wants to push us into despair so that we'll quit on life before we get to see the day when our prayers become our reality.

That destruction period sometimes lasts for years, depending on how big the pile of junk we've accrued in our lives happens to be, before the construction period begins. The construction period will be dirty, messy, noisy, and active. You'll catch frustrating glimpses of your vision coming to life, but you won't be able to live in it yet. You'll see it, though, and it will be a consolation to you as you continue to work toward the dream.

Finally, there will be the day when your dream is a reality and you move in to that space you've so long desired to occupy. Then you will begin working on your interior life, decorating it and living out what you've been given to do. When you finally reach this stage you will find yourself grateful for every stage that came before it because you will know that it was all part of getting you to this point, all of it giving you the necessary strength to do what needed to be done.

If you are in the destruction phase of your life, know that everything you are going through now will have an end. Though you will struggle, trust in God's mercy on this. Thank Him for the work He is doing in your life, and thank Him for answering your prayers even though they weren't answered the way you expected them to be.

Read the lives of the saints on a regular basis. Take courage and comfort from their stories. And don't quit. The best part of your life has just begun. You'll never get to see your dreams come true if you end this now.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Unanswered Prayers

For 20 days, I prayed. The same prayers day after day, the same way each time. I didn't get them. I was feeling downhearted and depressed. Why hadn't God answered me?

Does No Count?

Last night, during my darkest moment, I was praying the rosary. It was the sorrowful mysteries. We were going over the Agony in the Garden, where Christ said to God, "Not my will, but yours be done." Whose will was I seeking - God's, or mine? 

I realized that I was depressed because God hadn't answered me - the way I wanted Him to answer! God had answered me. The answer was no, or more accurately - not yet.

Surrendering My Will to God's

I knew I had found the answer to my depression, to finding the peace that I was seeking but that had eluded me until then. It was time to praise God that my prayers were not answered as I requested.

Gratitude for the Answer

Who knows what good the Lord has done for me by denying my request? Who knows what trouble He has preserved me from that I might unwittingly have stumbled into if the Lord had done as I requested? The Lord might very well have been standing guard over me to protect me from dangers unseen in denying my request. Perhaps I was not ready for those things I was asking to receive, and He was preparing me so that when I received the opportunities, I would not squander them. 

Repenting for Ingratitude

This led me to wonder just how often God, in His mercy, protects us from the errors that we, in our human limitations, might make and yet, instead of receiving thanks, receives grumbling and complaining. One day, I know I will see clearly just what He has saved me from and the damage it would have done if I had been allowed to go the direction I was trying to head, and on that day I will weep for the way that I treated the One who has worked the hardest and done the most to love me. 

God Desires Only Our Good

If God has answered "not now" or even a firm and resounding "no", it is solely for my good. God hates telling me no, because He knows it hurts me, but He loves me enough to be brave enough to risk my anger and my complaints and my grumbling in order to do what is best for me. If I have received a "no" or a "not now", it is only because I am not ready or the thing I am asking for would not be truly beneficial to me.

Thank God!

If you pray and you do not receive what you ask today, thank God! Either you aren't ready to receive what you've asked to receive, or what you are asking for would not be truly beneficial to you and He wants something better for you instead. Either way, thank God! And remember, our Father knows best.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Trump Won. Here's What You Should Do Next.

Trump won. There are a great many people celebrating this as an obvious victory for pro-life Christianity and little people everywhere. I remain unconvinced of that fact, but I've set aside my personal feelings on that matter and have decided to do what is best for everyone involved. Here is my advice on what we should be doing next.

1. Pray Daily

I don't care if you like Donald Trump or if you hate him. Pray for him. He has been put in a very powerful position, and he's going to need every ounce of courage he can muster to fight for what is right. Love is what will give him that courage. Every time you pray, you send a little bit of your love his way. If he's covered in an avalanche of love, he will become the kind of man he needs to be to lead people in the right direction. People who are loved open up, flourish, and become their best selves.

If, by contrast, he's starved of love he'll do the exact kinds of things you fear most because a heart deprived of love becomes fearful, anxious, worried about everything, and cowardly. A heart that's hungry for love will feed that void with every vice and bad habit imaginable, will become whomever they feel they need to become in order to get that love.

2. Serve Others Daily

I've said it from February forward, but it bears repeating. If you will simply seek to serve one person a day, each and every day, no matter what Trump does, the world will become a better place. It only takes changing one person's life for the better to change the entire course of human history, and if you've changed 365 people's lives, in a year from now each of those 365 people will be making positive changes in the world around you, too.

If we all commit to doing this, well, imagine 300,000,000 people making a positive difference in the lives of 300,000,000 other people each and every day for 365 days. That's 109 billion positive changes made to the world - and that WILL make America - and the world itself - great again with or without Donald.

3. Resist the Urge to Blame

Blame stops you from being part of the solution. It makes you a victim and takes away your power to make changes happen by blinding you to the part you play in the situation. It also stops you from being able to reach across the aisle and learn from someone who has achieved something you haven't or who knows something you don't. If you're blaming someone else, you're conceding your personal power to them and you're preventing yourself from learning the things they could potentially teach you.

Instead, when you find yourself tempted to blame anyone else ask yourself, "What can I do to take control of this situation and how can I personally make it better?" Expect yourself to be the solution. Expect yourself to be capable of making that positive change you want to see. Ask questions of people who are where you want to be. Listen to them and learn from them.

4. Be Prepared.

Trump is going to issue in change whether you like that fact or not. You have no control over what he does. You can only control what you do in response to it. Be prepared for your country to change quite radically. Be prepared for things to be uncomfortable for you for a long time. 

Why? Because destruction must take place before construction of anything new can begin. You are going to see a lot of destruction. The economy may be destroyed. Jobs may be lost. Our entire country's geography may change. Countries may align themselves against us and it may look dark for a long time.

This isn't cause for fear, it's cause for celebration. If the destruction is happening, it's only to prepare the way for something bigger, better, stronger, and much healthier to be built. Something that will last longer because it will be infused with love and love never dies.

5. Don't Give Up Hope

Never, ever lose your hope for the future. No matter how dark things get, no matter how bad things seem, remember that dawn always follows the darkness, and spring always follows on the heels of even the worst winter. The trees will eventually bloom again and life will go on.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Selling God: Creating the Comparison

In the last post on entering their world, I told you I would help give you guidelines for how to create the comparison that shows them what is possible for their lives if they adopt your solution.

You’ve aligned with your past and you have painted the picture of what was taking place in your life at that point. It’s time to create the “after” picture. This is a demonstration of the solution at work. It’s your proof that what you have to offer really works.

Where are you in your life after having applied the solution? How has the solution helped you to overcome the biggest challenge you were facing back then? How did it help you to resolve your worries, your concerns, and the frustrations arising from that situation? What did you discover that your real problem was and how did this solution help you to find and eliminate the true source of your problems?

How does it feel to live the lifestyle you do now? What is the best part about being where you are now compared to where you were then? How do you feel about yourself as a result of the changes you’ve made? How has it impacted your relationships with other people?

How do you see yourself differently than you did then? How do you see the people who are where you were back then? Do you still want to be like them? Why not? What has changed about how you see things? How do you see the people who are where you are now? What changed your perspective?

What things matter most to you in life now? What do you spend most of your free time doing? Why? What matters least to you? Why don’t you care about those things anymore? Why don’t you think they matter? How do you feel about the difference between your priorities now and your priorities then?

What are your greatest hopes and ambitions now? Why do you want those things? What do you think it will do to change your life if you get them? When you compare your hopes and dreams now with the hopes and dreams you had then, how does that make you feel about yourself and your future?
What do you know about the solution you offer that you didn’t know then? What experiences have you had since those days that have changed how you view the solution now?

Creating this comparison for them allows them to see a potential outcome that they may never have imagined was possible. It also gets them to question their assumptions about the source of the problems and what the potential solutions are to their problem.

If you’ve never spent the time to really think about what the solution has done for you or changed for your life, this can be a really eye-opening experience. It will certainly deepen your appreciation for it.
When you’re selling a product that you didn’t create, your personal testimonial is the absolute best proof you can offer because it’s third party verification of what the product can do for someone. As long as your testimony is authentic and genuine, it’s not being paid for by someone else, your intentions are sincere, and you’re transparent about it, this is a powerful way to reach past your prospect’s defenses.

If it is your product and you developed it, or you are being compensated to promote it, you’ll need additional testimonials from people who aren’t paid, who have direct experience with what your product can do for them, and who are willing to share that information with your prospect in order to provide that same level of confidence.

Next Post: Share the Lessons

You have shown them where you were and compared it to where you are now. It's time to open up and share the lessons you learned to get there so they can follow along with your journey.

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Holding on to Faith in the Face of Mesothelioma

Heather Von St. James is a 10 year Mesothelioma survivor. Mesothelioma is extremely aggressive and has a long latency period. It usually goes undetected until it is in an advanced stage, one of the reasons that most patients only make it a year or two past the diagnosis. This is Heather's story.

I was a busy salon owner and stylist in a salon/day spa. Married to the love of my life for six years, we finally decided it was time to start a family.

I was 35 when we decided to start a family, and we were fortunate, it only took a few months of trying before we were successful. I had been on birth control pills for part of the 6 years, but started to use the rhythm method.

I had just become a new mom when I was diagnosed with mesothelioma. I first suspected something was wrong because I only gained 5 pounds throughout the whole pregnancy.

Lily was a healthy 8 lbs 14 oz. Perfectly perfect.  My doctor was not concerned about my lack of weight gain because I was heavy to begin with. I weighed 230 lbs when I had her, so my doctor just chalked up the lack of weight gain to eating better and keeping active.

After I had Lily, I started losing weight. A lot of weight. 5 pounds a week. I started having issues with my breathing. I was short of breath all the time. It felt like a truck parked on my chest, and my energy level was extremely low. I could hardly get out of bed in the morning.

I chalked much of this up to postpartum issues, but when I started having a low grade fever every day, I knew there was something more going on. I was one of the lucky ones. My doctor knew something was amiss and would not give up until he had answers.

I got my official diagnosis just two weeks after the first initial appointment with him. I knew diagnosis took time, and I had no choice but to wait.

My family was with me and I kept busy with Lily.  My biggest fear was dying and leaving Lily.  Not raising her. Her not knowing who her mom was… that scared me the most.

After the diagnosis, I had to quit my job and sell my portion of the salon that I co-owned. My life went from being full of happy thoughts about the future and full of innocence to the foundation being torn out beneath me. Nothing was certain anymore.

I will always have to deal with the idea of the cancer coming back. Everything had to be rethought. Things that used to matter didn’t matter as much anymore. What I thought my future would be like crumbled.

I am happy to say that I’ve survived more than 10 years since that diagnosis. I made mesothelioma awareness and patient advocacy a priority in my life, and am so very blessed to lead the life I lead. I may not have my salon career anymore, but I’m making a difference in people’s lives.

The diagnosis completely changed my priorities. I don’t sweat the small things anymore. I will choose doing something fun with my kid over housework or anything else. I live in the moment because, frankly, I don’t know how long I will be around.

My approach to relationships has changed as well. I no longer have trouble cutting toxic people out of my life. It is a matter of health for me. I learned to say no to people who used me and learned to take care of myself.

My faith life has become more real. God is a partner in my life, not some big omnipotent being that holds the puppet strings. He is with me in this life to support and love me. That is what I’ve come to know.

My family is much closer, and we depend on one another for many things. I could not have made it through those first years without them. My immediate family of Cams, Lily, and me is great. I love it. We are working through this crazy life together, and we both approach raising Lily differently now. She is turning into an amazing kid.

Before the cancer, our relationship was good, but after it gave us a new urgency to spend time together.  We don’t take each other for granted anymore.

Intimacy between my husband and I started to suffer even before the diagnosis. During pregnancy, I could not stand to be touched. Then after surgery it got even worse. Going through extensive surgery, then chemo, followed by radiation, totally killed any semblance of a sex life. It was a rough year or two, but slowly but surely, things got better. 

I would say we still had intimacy, but not the sexual kind. it was deeper than that.  Through the cancer, we were able to connect on a totally deeper level. Everything had been stripped away and we had to rely on one another. It wasn’t easy, but we were able to communicate and talk through a lot. Things are still not 100%, but it’s something we always work at.

The hardest part about the fight against cancer was losing the people I thought were my friends. The very people I thought would be by my side through thick and thin were nowhere when I got my diagnosis. They deserted me, as if cancer were contagious and they would get it by being around me.

When I would call or reach out to them, I was treated with such coldness and scorn. It was devastating. Sadly, this has happened to almost every cancer patient I know.

I didn’t join a support group during my actual treatment phase. Mesothelioma is so rare that finding a group was hard. Patients are spread out all across the world.

A few years into my survivorship journey, I found out about The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation and their support groups. Throughout the last few years, with the introduction of Facebook and social media, there are now online support groups. But I act in more of the advocate role than the patient now. Heather can be reached at heathervsj@mesothelioma.com

To someone who has just been diagnosed, I would say:
1)    Don’t be afraid to ask for another opinion.
2)    Find a medical team you trust and can work with and a specialist for your type of cancer or disease. It can mean the difference between life and death.
3)    Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You need your family and support system more than ever.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Problem with Religion

Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful. — Edward Gibbon
Religion gets a bad reputation all the time. People blame it for divisions, wars, and every evil in humanity. And, to be honest, if you look at history, it's not hard to see why. Religious wars happened. People fight and die for religion, and they will kill for it, too.

The Problem Isn't Religion. It's What's Missing From Religion.

But that actually isn't a problem with religion. That's a problem with what religion becomes when the key ingredients to living it right are removed. Without love, guidance, education, and nurturing, religion becomes nothing more than a series of rigid expectations and legalistic indoctrination haunted by growing inconsistencies and overbearing nosiness.

That's because once you remove those four ingredients, you've removed God right out of the picture and you've turned your religion into something that's based on human wisdom and understanding, which is as infinitely subject to misunderstanding and failure as those who direct it.

Religion Is About Relationships

The focus of religion is about relationships, and how to have a healthy relationships with God and with your neighbor. That's why you see common elements among all religions: rules about how to speak to one another, teachings about the importance of forgiveness, and how to live in family with one another. It's also why almost all religions have their believers gather together frequently. That gathering together cements the relationships and keeps them going.

Why Love Matters

Love is the nature of God, so if Love is missing from the religion, so is God. To the degree that love is present in the religion, God is present. Once you remove love, the focus becomes controlling behavior. Someone who loves others doesn't need to be told not to hurt them. They don't want to hurt them. But for one who doesn't know how to live in love, they have to be told what not to do so they don't hurt other people.

Why Education Matters

We are all limited human beings, and we see things from a limited point of view. The more educated a person is, the broader their perspective is on life and the better able they are to see things from someone else's point of view. The more educated we become, the more point of views we encounter and the better able we are to discern what is the truth from what is not. The truth is a core ingredient in love because without the truth, there can be no trust and without trust there can be no relationship.

Why Guidance Matters

Having other people to guide you when you encounter relationship troubles or struggles in life is essential. You need to know that you're not the only one going through this, and you need to hear from them what they did. That's why we are given parents and aren't dropped off on planet earth with no connections or support. We're placed in families so we can get the guidance in relationships that we need to get started, but eventually our families run out of experience to offer us. We need more than what they can give and that is what religion provides.

Why Nurturing Matters

If you don't feel comfortable turning to someone else to ask for help, you won't admit when you need help. Nurturing provides that environment that makes it safe for people to speak up and admit when they are struggling. It lets them know that it's okay to come forth with their needs and to see the guidance that they need in any area of life. Religion that doesn't provide that nurturing support turns into judgmental nosiness that tells people how they should be living without giving them the help they need to overcome the hurdles that are stopping them from living that way.

Do You Need Religion?

I don't think that's the right question. I think the right question is: do you need help with relationships? I think, if you're honest with yourself, you're going to find that question is always "Yes." The truth is that we're surrounded by people and we physically need to live in relationship with them. That's a need that's built into our very DNA. 

But we can't read their minds and we don't always know how to behave in ways that gets them to open up to us and let us in. We get hurt and we don't know how to get past it. Without guidance, education, nurturing, and love, our interactions are destined for failure. And that is where religion comes in to help us. It passes on the collective wisdom and knowledge of centuries of human beings, combined with the instructions from the One who created us all.

Choosing the Right Religion

Since there are a great many religions out there to follow, it can be a tough call to figure out which religion is the right one. I won't tell you what to do. I will simply quote the words my husband spoke to me months before he converted to the Catholic faith from being an avid atheist:

"Every other religion out there is Catholic minus something they didn't agree with. I don't want to be minus something. I want to go with the religion that gives me everything."

Selling God: Enter Their World

For you to be able to speak to your audience in a way that makes sense to them, you need to enter their world. You need to put yourself in their shoes and remind yourself of what it was like to be there. And this, again, goes back to your story.

Think about where you were when you first encountered the situation that eventually led you to the solution. What was the biggest challenge you faced at that point in your life? What were your worries, your concerns, and your frustrations with the situation? What did you think you needed in order to resolve the problems? What did you see as the source of your problems?

This takes effort. It’s not easy to go back and remember all of the things you were thinking and feeling in that past moment. Honestly, most of us get past the moment, push it to the back of our minds, and lock it away so we don’t HAVE to feel it again. But if you want to reach out to your prospect and connect with them, you have to go right back to where it all began for you and remember what that was like.

And, moreover, you need to do it from the perspective of where you are now. You need to look at the situation objectively, and re-examine every detail based on what you know today. Take a look at the people in your life and how you behaved toward them, the way you reacted and responded to things that happened to you, and how you made decisions.

Your prospect isn’t going to be exactly like you, but they are going to be enough like you that when you start sharing your story with them, it’s going to feel authentic and they will easily be able to see themselves in that story. The feelings you had back then are a good starting point to understanding the feelings they are having right now. Experience will help you fine tune your message.

Take a look in the mirror at that stage of your journey. How did you see yourself? How did you see people who are where you are now? Did you want to be where they were? If you did, what did you think it took to get there? If you didn’t, what was it about them that made you not want to be part of them?

What were the things that mattered most to you in life at that stage? What did you spend most of your free time doing? Why? What mattered least to you? Why did you not care about those things? Why didn’t you think they mattered?

What were your greatest hopes and ambitions? Why did you want those things? What did you think it would change about your life if you achieved them?

What beliefs did you have about the solution you offer back then? Did it exist and did you know it existed? Had you tried it before and found it lacking? Did you know anyone using that solution? 

What was your experience with those people and how did that impact your views on the solution?

All of this is relevant. All of this paints a before picture very clearly in the mind of your prospect and sets them up for the next stage: creating the comparison.

Tomorrow's Post: Create the Comparison

Now that you have given them validation and shown them that you understand where they are, it's time to show them where they can go. Come back tomorrow for the next lesson in selling God: creating the comparison.

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