Have a Grateful Heart

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Philippians 4:6  (NIV)

 

We certainly have plenty of things we could be anxious about in 2021.  Our health…our economy…our livelihood. It’s so easy to reflect on, and sometimes dwell on the things that we don’t have, or issues that are concerning us..

Think of all we have to be grateful for though! Are we sleeping in a tent? No. Do we have others around us to love & care for…while they do the same for us? Clothes on our back…food in our stomachs? Netflix on the television? 

Thanksgiving is becoming the forgotten holiday. It’s the precursor to Black Friday. For me, it’s a call to bring out all those Christmas decorations again. I LOVE anything Christmas! Thanksgiving seems to just get lost in the shuffle though.

Thanksgiving is more than just the last Thursday in November. Perhaps it’s our call to be grateful in all things. Can we be thankful when things are not going our way? When we are not happy with what’s happening in our life? That’s what God asks of us.

give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1Thessalonians 5:19  (NIV)

It’s not always easy to have a grateful heart. It’s a mindset! Try NOT to smile when thinking about the loving (and silly) friends & relatives God has placed in our life. When they’re neglecting us or driving us nuts, be thankful that they are even in our life! They’ve made a difference, even if just giving us a different outlook on things. Life would be pretty dull if we all thought about & cared about the exact same issues!

Most importantly, we are always thankful we are sons & daughters of a mighty & glorious God who loves us and looks out for us even when life is tough. When I know God with me, I can react to life positively despite my current circumstances.

Maybe we don’t feel full of thanksgiving right at this moment. Then just fake it! Having a grateful heart can be very contagious. Next thing we know, we’ll be believing what we thought we were just pretending.

Feeling grateful also has a tendency to make us want to give back. We’ve been so blessed, we want to share it with others. Isn’t that the way God made us? We serve a very generous God…and we were made in His image. Maybe that’s why giving makes us feel so good!

Then giving can become just one more reason to have a grateful heart.

 

Dear Lord,

This is the time of year that we put being thankful on our calendar. Remind us to have a grateful heart the whole year long.

Sure. We could complain if we wanted to. Remind us also that being thankful keeps our focus on who and what is good & blessed in our life. That’s the way You designed us to live.

Most importantly, we are thankful You created us.  You put us on this earth to be both givers and gracious recipients of all You’ve made available to us.

Once you are on mvarga.com, you can subscribe to receive future blog posts, read through past blogs and find more about my books & fitness tips!

CANCELLED?

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,  having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.

Colossians 2: 13-14  (NIV)

We can’t turn on the news these days without hearing about our Cancel Culture. Are we seeing it in our daily lives? What exactly is Cancel Culture? I looked it up on the internet.

Cancel Culture is defined as “a modern form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles – whether it be online, on social media, or in person. Those subject to this ostracism are said to have been “cancelled”. The expression “cancel culture” has mostly negative connotations and is used in debates on free speech and censorship.

We’ve all experienced ‘cancelling’ in one form or another in our lives. Have we ever been let go from a job? Have a friend abandon us? Maybe we had to move to a different neighborhood or city. We don’t ‘click’ with the same people we used to. We don’t have the same influence. Life is different now.

Sometimes we brought it on ourselves. Sometimes it’s circumstances beyond our control. The bottom line is the same. We are left out…abandoned. We’re not privy to the same information we were before. Somehow, we’ve become the bad guy. We’ve been ‘cancelled’.

I know firsthand the cancelling that can come from being disabled. It’s understandable…but it still hurts sometimes. I’m different from others. I’m unbalanced. I’m slow. It requires extra effort to spend much time with me. I can wear others out with the way I move!

Friends & family understand that I do not like it that they always have to support and help me. They understand it…and love me despite of it…or perhaps BECAUSE of it. I know what I was capable of doing before my accident & brain injury. All my perseverance and hard work have not been able to beat my disabilities. Was I cancelling myself?

I had not considered that option until I started writing this blog. Cancelling ourselves is something we should never ever do! The way we value & approach life is just as relevant as anyone else! We need to think of someone who loves & values us. Ask them for all the reasons we should not be cancelled.

 Better yet! Take it to God in prayer…our Father, who loves us unconditionally. He loves to give His grace to anyone who asks. I believe with all my heart that God wants to communicate with us…and wants to show favor to us.

Don’t you be afraid, for I am with you; don’t be dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you; yes, I will help you; yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness.

Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)

Remember that this too shall pass. We need to stay patient, strong and hopeful. If we’ve done something to cause our cancelling, correct it! We should all strive to lead peaceful lives of forgiveness. We may not see immediate resolution, but life will turn out better on the other side of cancelling.

Remember that the world cancelled Jesus Christ. He was God’s begotten son who spent His time on earth proclaiming God’s word, healing sickness & disease, and performing all kinds of miracles.

Then He was cancelled by ‘the powers that be’. He was beaten, ridiculed and died a shameful death of crucifixion. Out of fear, all of His disciples abandoned Him. Fear can lead us to do we didn’t think we would ever do.

But God’s grace, if we choose it, can forgive us. Then the opening scripture will ring true. He forgave us all our sins,  having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.

Jesus died & rose again to make this possible for all of us. That’s the type of righteous canceling we all want in our lives!

 

Dear Lord,

Ostracizing what You have created is wrong. Help us to live in peace with all people. Our media gives us another’s view of things. Help us remember that it’s just one more way of looking at issues. Remind us that facts can be presented from different and opposing angles.

Remind us also that You created and LOVE us just as You made us. ‘Cancelling’ may be a new term, but has always been around. Please help us to live lives of inclusion. Then we can live the kind of life You intended for Your children to have.

 

Once you are on mvarga.com, you can subscribe to receive future blog posts, read through past blogs and find more about my books & fitness tips!

You can also follow me on Facebook, www.facebook.com/mlvarga/

MOVING BALANCE

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!

1Corinthians 10:12  (NIV)

My last blog post was about the proper strength & posture necessary to keep our balance. The opening scripture warns that just thinking we are doing things correctly will not keep us from falling. Here’s a few approaches (moves) that can help keep us keep our balance while we’re in motion.

Let’s start simple.

A normal walking gait is heal/toe with a knee bend between steps. (Remember Andrew’s ‘noodle knees’ from my last blog. https://mvarga.com/posture-body-alignment/balance-101/

The above pictures on heals AND on toes is technically not about moving balance, but walking on either heals or toes will definitely challenge your balance. Make sure there is a counter nearby in case you need to grab it.

Just STANDING on our heals or toes will challenge our balance. When I do this routinely at the kitchen or bathroom counter, it carries over to how I stand when I’m walking. We need to be sure we’re standing in proper posture when standing on our heals or toes. No leaning forward! That’s how it will carry over to our walking posture!

Now let’s do some walking balance drills. Like any other exercise, it only begins to pay off with frequency & practice, practice, practice…

Let me introduce you to Alison Cardoza to show you a couple of moving balance tricks you can incorporate into your fitness routine. Alison is a certified personal trainer and guest author in my book, The Afflicted Healer…see the heading on my website for further info & to order. She writes a whole chapter about BALANCE.

Alison was also voted ‘the best of the best’ as a certified personal trainer in the 2021 Courier Journal , Best of the Best survey in Louisville, KY. Below are two videos of Alison demonstrating different moving balance exercises. They may be challenging at first, but practice makes perfect!    Consider asking a personal trainer to walk you through them the first time.

The first video is the tight rope. With arms out for balance, walk slowly with one foot directly in front of the other. Think of doing a sobriety test!

The second video is the grapevine. The grapevine is good for both our balance & coordination. If you’re unsteady at all, perform this exercise at a ballet bar or touching a wall. Watch Alison as she stands with hands on hips, moving SLOWLY to the side, moving the same foot forward, and then back.

Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security.

Jeremiah 33:6  (NIV)

 Like everything in life, the more you do something, the more it becomes a habit for you. In this case, a very good habit to maintain steady balance as we age.

 

Dear Lord,

You didn’t make our bodies to last forever. Until we’re home with you, help us to take good care of the bodies You’ve given us.

As we get older, our once natural strength & balance will decline. You’ve given us professionals and exercises to slow that decline. Help us to use that gift You’ve given us. If we struggle, remind us that nothing worthwhile comes without good ole hard work & discipline.

 

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BALANCE 101

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

1 Corinthians 15:58  (NIV)

It’s time for another fitness blog!  The Bible verse above tells us to stand firm. Another word for standing firm could be balancing. Balance is so important in the way we live & move. So important that I’ll be devoting the next 2 blog posts to the major types of balance…STATIC & DYNAMIC balance.

This blog post will cover STATIC balance. That is our ability to hold a certain position without moving our feet. Examples include squats, two-leg stance and one-leg stance.

My poor balance only allows me to stand on one leg for 2-3 seconds without touching something. Practice! Practice! Practice! With God…and practice, all things are possible!

We’ll need to look in a mirror to see if our bodies are lined up correctly. Is our head directly over our shoulders? (No forward leaning!) Are our shoulders directly over our hips? Of course we also want our hips over our feet too. Even 24 years post-injury, this can still be a challenge for me!

We need to engage our core and hip muscles to hold the proper alignment of our bodies and resist the urge to shift our body‘s position. FEEL the correct way to stand and move! That’s why the mirror will help until we learn how the right way feels.

This feels very natural when we’re younger. It becomes harder as our bodies get older. That is why it is so important that we include both strength & balance into our weekly routine. (Daily is best!)

A gym is not the only place we can do strength exercises. Squats strengthen our core & hips. Push-ups strengthen our chest, shoulders, & core muscles. See? No equipment, no gym! Pick up a pair of dumbbells or soup cans to add some extra strength training for your arms and shoulders.

Posture! Posture! Posture!

Fighting poor balance for so many years has taught me the absolute necessity of keeping our bodies in correct posture from head to toe! Below are just a handful of queues I pester my classes with to keep them using proper posture.

A good way to keep our heads in the right position is to try to make our neck longer. Better yet, imagine we’re wearing a neck brace. Always strive to keep the chin up and imagine we’re balancing a book on the top of our head.

Some of my other favorite posture cues are…”Elevate your ribcage.” “Squeeze a lemon between your shoulder blades.””Hold your ears over your shoulders.”And always “make a loooong neck”!

To keep our hips aligned with the top half of our body, imagine we have a long tail. Now TUCK the tail between your legs. For even better control of the hip musculature, SQUEEZE that same tail. (Think Kegel exercises)

I usually walk to the elevator in the morning thinking, “Long neck…tuck your tail! Long neck…squeeze your tail!” Maybe that’s the reason I’m always forgetting something as I walk out my door.

Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.

Proverbs 4:26  (NIV)

Here’s one last static balance tip. My son Andrew spends most of his summers sailing. When the winds are really blowing, he takes a ‘noodle knee’ stance to keep from losing his balance while adjusting the sails. A slight bend to our knees can protect our balance…so try to keep soft knees when walking or standing!

 

Dear Lord,

Thank you for the balance & equilibrium to safely maneuver our life here on earth. Some get around quicker than others, but thank you for making us all so different.

Please help us to indoctrinate balance exercises into our workout routine. They don’t burn many calories…but will sure keep us moving safely for many more years!

 

Once you are on mvarga.com, you can subscribe to receive future blog posts, read through past blogs and find more about my books & fitness tips!

You can also follow me on Facebook, www.facebook.com/mlvarga/

 

I Didn’t See That Coming!

For your name’s sake, Lord, preserve my life;
in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.

Psalm 143:11 (NIV)

Think how boring and mundane life would be if we always knew exactly what to expect. Bad things happen. Good things happen. Just like the name of my blog, Life Happens. It happens regardless of our economic stature, political affiliation or religion. Sometimes we get unexpected good fortune….but we could just as easily get hit with one of life’s hurdles, like losing a job, a spouse or a child.

All of us want a life of favor and abundance. We’re even willing to work for it! This life of utopia does not come without trouble though. There’s no such thing as a perfect life without problems.

Can we see positive outcomes even in the midst of our hardships? Do we believe that God is trying to lead us? If we consider God as our heavenly father, don’t we also know He wants the best for us?

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?

Hebrews 12:7  (NIV)

When we were children, we didn’t LOVE everything our parents did…but we trusted their love for us. We also instinctively knew that as adults (big people) they knew more than we did. Especially when circumstances are not as we expect them to be….having something (or someone) to lead us in the right direction is so very comforting! We need to see the bigger picture!

My favorite Bible story (from Genesis) tells the story of Joseph. Remember him? He was the brother who had the multi-colored coat his father (Jacob) had given him. He loved to flaunt it in front of his brothers. I grew up with 4 brothers. If my Dad had shown that kind of favoritism to one brother, the other 3 brothers would have let him have it!

That’s exactly what Joseph’s brothers did. They sold him to a group of slave-traders. Then they told their father he must’ve been eaten by a wild animal. They even showed him the torn up multi-colored jacket. I bet Joseph didn’t see that coming!

God showed Joseph favor though. He was eventually put in charge of all the other slaves by Potipher, the captain of the guard. When Potipher’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, (He was very handsome!) he ran away from her leaving his coat. When she accused him of rape, Potipher had no choice but to throw him in prison. I bet Joseph didn’t see that coming either!

Once again though, God showed favor to Joseph. The prison warden put Joseph in charge of many things. Joseph had a gift for interpreting dreams. He always made clear though that it was God who interpreted the dreams.

He interpreted the dream of Pharoah’s chief cup holder who was in prison with Joseph, asking him to remember him to Pharoah when he got out of prison. The cupbearer forgot until much later when Pharoah was troubled by a repeating dream.

Suddenly Joseph was transported to Pharoah’s castle to interpret his dream. Once again, Joseph gave God the credit for interpreting the dream. Joseph told Pharoah that his kingdom would have 7 years of plenty, followed by 7 years of famine. Imagine Joseph’s surprise when Pharoah gave him complete authority over his entire kingdom as the prime minister. Bet he didn’t see that coming!

Joseph’s father and brothers were also facing hardship because of the famine. His brothers did not recognize him when they came to make their request of the prime minister for supplies/food.

 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!  And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 

Genesis 45:4-5  (NIV)

Joseph’s brothers surely did not see that coming! So in the end, Joseph was able to spend time with his father and be there when he died. His family was reunited!

Sounds like a happy ending for Joseph’s family…especially Joseph! All the years and years of hardship…unwarranted hardship. Joseph was able to reunite with his father and brothers from a position of personal power…always giving God the glory for the good he was able to do for others.

God apparently thinks that family matters. Notice that He didn’t incinerate those brothers who betrayed Joseph. Instead He gave Joseph a change of heart. Do we need a change of heart where our families are concerned? We certainly want them to cut us some slack. Can we do the same for them?

Joseph endured years of unjust hardship. Yet he always remained faithful to God. That faithfulness included being kind and helpful to other people.

Let’s all be inspired by Joseph’s life. Perhaps God will show us favor that we did not see coming.

 

Dear Lord,

Help us to be kind and love others ceaselessly because that is what You call us to do. Whatever life is throwing at us, remind us to be gracious to others just as You are to us. As we continue to follow Your command to love others as ourselves, let us continuously hope for Your grace and favor that we did not see coming!

Once you are on mvarga.com, you can subscribe to receive future blog posts, read through past blogs and find more about my books & fitness tips!

You can also follow me on Facebook, www.facebook.com/mlvarga/

 

What Is Your Gift?

What Is Your Gift?

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

1 Corinthians 12:4  (NIV)

Don’t we all want to have gifts or talents that can be used to fortify our world…to help others? Christians refer to these as ‘gifts of the spirit’. That’s because the Spirit gives us all good gifts.

How do we know what our gifts are? What are we passionate about? What talents come naturally for us…We don’t have to force them. Are we a natural born leader, teacher, encourager? These are the gifts the Spirit has called us to use. God’s first call to us is to love one another as He has loved us.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3  (NIV)

Still not sure what your gift is? How do we show love for those around us? Ask a family member. They can probably tell you. Many times they see things in us that we do not see ourselves.

My gift seems to be inspiring others. I googled the definition of “Inspire”. It says  “to influence, move, or guide by divine or supernatural influence or action.” That makes me feel I’m in very holy company. The Holy Spirit is often called the inspirer.

I am NOT the good and holy God that the Holy Spirit is! I inspire others by moving about clumsily in an effort to regain my mobility. God chose to use that as a way to inspire others to take care of their holy temple, the body. So it’s true! Gifts can come from brokenness. So that means that as I stumble about with my physical therapy routines, I can actually motivate others. Who knew?

We can’t discount ourselves because we can’t see the influence we have with others. God sees it and put it there for that purpose.

I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

1 Corinthians 7:7  (NIV)

What is your gift? Search for it! How do you see your impact with others? Use that skill or aptitude in a way that bolsters others. Who knows! You may inspire them to reach out to support others!

 

Dear Lord,

You have given all of us gifts and talents . We know that You want us to use those skills and abilities to help others.

Show us where and with whom we can provide encouragement or assistance. Then we can be reminded of how good it feels to help others.

 

Once you are on mvarga.com, you can subscribe to receive future blog posts, read through past blogs and find more about my books & fitness tips!

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Of Grace and Grit

but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,
 they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:31  (NIV)

Do we rely on God’s grace to maneuver our life journey? Some rely completely on their own abilities and connections. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle of those two alternatives. I was certainly one of them for the first thirty-seven years of my life.

My traumatic brain injury changed the way I look at everything in life. I had to rely on God’s grace more than ever. Tragedy or disaster will do that for us! Do we rely on our talents and connections to carry us forward? The combination of those two qualities can lead to a victory of our goals. When life happens, as it will, we realize that our circumstances were not the ONLY source of our good fortune.

What some refer to as luck or good fortune, I believe to be God showering us with His favor. We don’t need a tragedy to experience God’s grace though.

God’s grace is His unmerited favor for us as his children. We don’t do anything to deserve it! We are just part of God’s family. That’s what family does! I felt God’s grace dramatically after my accident.

God’s grace is most manifest when it’s combined with grit. That mean’s God’s favor combined with hard work! As a marathon runner, I always thought that I was the epitome of grit. I knew how to endure in difficulty and persevere to the end. And I certainly knew about passion!

What exactly IS grit? Yes, it’s our passion for something with the determined effort to achieve it. It’s also a diligence that never lets us give up on the dream. I thought that’s all that grit entailed. It’s not that simple though.

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

1 Peter 4:10  (NIV)

Grit means reevaluating our goals after setbacks occur. I could write a whole book on setbacks! Grit also requires a positive outlook on life. We call this hope. Finally, grit always looks out for the common good of all. That means it can’t be all about us!

 In an effort to become all that God wanted me to be AND increase my grit score, my new mission became finding all the ways I could help and include others in my goals. That was actually pretty easy with the business I established. I had become a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor. My motive was to be out in the world again and prove to myself I could do it! I wanted to pass on to others the strategies I had learned from my years as a physical therapy patient. I never dreamed I would be inspiring my clients or students, but that’s exactly what happened!

After years tucked away in my own head, it’s wonderful to be interacting with others every day. Surprisingly, this took grit for me. It’s much easier to go my solitary way and not concern myself with the needs or desires of others.

By grace, my life was saved and my outlook always remained hopeful. By grit, I used my determination to forge an active, yet challenged life where not only me, but all those around me could be positive and hopeful.

God’s grace is a free gift He gives to all of us. Let’s find ways we can combine that grace with our natural talents to make the world a better place for others!

 

Dear Lord,

Help us use our grit and determination to communicate the message You want us to give to others…a message of hope!

You know what we struggle with. We want to do it ourselves. We don’t want to bother You. Remind us always that Your grace for us can carry us through any situation we encounter in this life. We CANNOT do everything without You!

 

Once you are on mvarga.com, please read through past blogs and find more about my books & fitness tips!

You can also follow me on Facebook, www.facebook.com/mlvarga/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet I was surrounded by God’s grace from the moment my accident happened. I still continue to see His grace in my circumstances every day. After my accident, friends and family kept constant vigil.

Once I became independent enough to live on my own, others didn’t feel the need to check on me all the time. I became so obsessed with recapturing my physical “normalness” that I was okay to spend hours every day exercising and doing physical therapy.  I had become self-absorbed with tunnel vision for my own self-improvement. So I did not reach out to others who had been there for me through thick and thin.

 

God’s grace is most manifest when it’s combined with GRIT. As a marathon runner, I always thought that I was the epitome of grit. I knew how to endure in difficulty and persevere to the end. And I certainly knew about passion!

What exactly IS grit? Yes, it is passion for something with the determined effort to achieve it. It’s also a diligence that never lets you give up on the dream. I thought that’s all that grit entailed. It’s not that simple though.

 Grit means reevaluating goals after setbacks occur. I could write a whole book on setbacks! Grit also requires a positive outlook on life. I call this hope. Finally, grit always looks out for the common good of all. That means it can’t be all about me!

In an effort to become all that God wanted me to be AND increase my grit score, my new mission became finding all the ways I could help and include others in my goals. That was actually pretty easy with the business I had established. I had become a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor. My motive was to be out in the world again and prove to myself I could do it! I wanted to pass on the strategies I had learned from my years as a physical therapy patient. I never dreamed I would be inspiring my clients or students, but that’s exactly what happened!

I teach a class in balance and stability. The ladies and men feel confident that my class is a safe place to try challenging moves. They couldn’t possibly look as silly as I do! My new normal has become poking fun at myself as I move about awkwardly to keep my balance. That usually includes holding onto a chair.

No, I am NOT the ideal example of an active, tenured fitness professional. I do, however, try to look the part with the best yoga pants and athletic shoes, as well as fitness tops in every color of the rainbow. Then I try to use my knowledge of aerobic fitness, strength, flexibility and balance to demonstrate the best ways to accomplish their exercise goals.  Exercise takes discipline, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun!

Are We Hopeful?

Romans 12:12 (NIV)

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

 

I’m not feeling any spiritual creativity this week, so I’m going to share instead an excerpt from one of the very gifted Guest Authors in my book, The Afflicted Healer. This guest author is my very own pastor at St. Raphael the Archangel Catholic church.

 

Fr. Shayne Duvall entitled the chapter he wrote as, Rejoice in Hope, Endure in Affliction, Persevere in Prayer. He writes…

I think we must ask the question: are we optimistic about life, or are we pessimistic? Do we first see the good in others or are we constantly searching for the bad? Do we trust one another so that we can share our joys, our trials, and our experiences with them? Do we find opportunities every day to simply rejoice – to laugh, to smile, to love, and to forgive? Hope is powerful, especially when we stop to give thanks for reasons to hope. A person of hope can take the good with the bad. They can see that this trial or this struggle will soon pass and something good or better is right around the corner. A person who lacks hope will tend to be a miserable person. What is there to be excited about? What is there to look forward to? Why do I need to engage with others? Why do I need to care? Because that is why we were created. God created us in His image and likeness, and God does not make mistakes. Just look at the beauty of creation. The sunrises, the sunsets, the changing of the colors of the leaves, the warm sun, the cool winter breeze. Each day is an opportunity for us to be a person of hope, a person who rejoices in the cards that we are dealt, whether they are good or bad, they are ours and they show us that rejoicing in hope will pave the way for an attitude of joy, love, happiness, and excitement. My friends rejoice and be glad and then share that good news with others.

 

What does Fr. Shayne say about Enduring in Affliction? I made sure I paided close attention to this counsel!

What does it mean to endure something? People will often tell me that they are not really sure how much more they can handle. One more hurtful or painful experience will soon push them over the edge. I try my best to assure them, because I have been there myself, to sit with the pain, to sit with the suffering, and place yourself at the foot of the cross. Now, look up! What do you see? You hopefully see Christ looking down at you. As drops of blood and sweat fall from his face, you see a man who was beaten and torn up, a man who was put to death to set each and every one of us free. You see a man who loves us so much that he died for us. In order to have the Resurrection you first had to have the Crucifixion. When we are experiencing pain, sadness, depression, and despair, we have to trust that the pain will either pass or subside and that a new opportunity is on the horizon. Suffering happens to people who are rich and who are poor. Suffering happens to people who are public figures and hidden ones too. Suffering has no bias towards sex, age, or race. We cannot avoid it. It is what we do with suffering which makes all the difference in the world, especially if we strive to be people of hope. Enduring affliction is very painful, and we cannot do it alone. God did not create us to be alone, He created us to be in communion with one another. Don’t try and fight these battles, these sufferings alone. Talk to someone who has been there before. Be open, be honest, be vulnerable and let others help you. I have always struggled with that. I think that I can solve all my problems by myself. I don’t want to burden anyone else with my problems, and then I quickly realized that people want to be helpful, people actually do care, and they want to make sure they can help in any way possible. Let them help you. Let them help carry whatever crosses you bear, either daily, or just for a moment. Remember, sometimes we have to experience pain, loss, suffering, and afflictions, in order to be changed for the better. Hope allows us to see that something greater is happening and that we will be ok, as long as we take it one day at a time. One of the greatest ways we can get through these difficult times is to take it all to prayer-to speak to God about our joys and our sufferings, and to let Him help us get through it all.

Then we can all persevere in our praying….knowing we can trust God’s timing…which can be different indeed from the timetable we have set!

You can purchase my book, The Afflicted Healer, to read more of Fr. Shayne’s counsel on Hope and Enduring Affliction. It’s available through mvarga.com or Amazon.com.

Dear Lord,

Fill our lives with people like Fr. Shayne, who lead us to see how God is working in our personal circumstances. Help us to also be witnesses for You by how we manage our own affairs…& especially, how we encourage others as they try to look after their own.

 

Once you are on mvarga.com, please read through past blogs and find more about my books & fitness tips!

You can also follow me on Facebook, www.facebook.com/mlvarga/

Be Still

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:6 (NIV)

 

How often do we wonder whether we’re praying in a way that reaches the ears of God? I talked about this subject in my post, https://mvarga.com/spiritual-insights/are-we-praying-the-right-way/. Over the last decade, I’ve become a real student of prayer. I have a dozen half-read books to prove it. I think maybe I need to spend as much time on my focus & attention, as I do on prayer.

I think I’ve found a way to do both at the same time. It’s called Centering prayer. I don’t know if I can get my ever-wandering mind to stick with this, but I’m going to give it the ole college try!

In Centering prayer, our only job is to surrender & be still before God. For 20 minutes, twice a day. Are you serious? Does God really expect us to have no thoughts for twenty minutes? We have a ‘SACRED’ word that we say to ourselves whenever we find ourselves thinking of anything other than God’s presence within us. My sacred word for this week is “divine”. I’ve tried several different sacred words trying to keep myself centered with God. Like I said, I’m still a work in progress.

Those who have practiced meditation will recall the mantra we keep repeating to keep our mind free of thoughts. Do not be confused though! The sacred word is NOT a mantra. It is consent to letting God enter our mind & heart.

No praise. No thanksgiving. No intercession. No petitions. That’s how we all learned to pray. God still loves and expects those prayers…but not during Centering prayer. It’s a type of Contemplative prayer. We don’t do the talking. We listen and bask in God’s presence.

We shouldn’t get mad at ourselves if we get involved with an interesting thought. Just go back to your sacred word. God is bigger than any thought that comes across our mind. Just let thoughts come & go without giving them any attention.

Fr. Thomas Keating, in his book on Centering prayer, ”Open Mind, Open Heart”, tells us that SILENCE is God’s greatest love language. We don’t communicate during Centering prayer. We just allow God to be inside us. We may feel an intense peace. We’ll feel a great love for and FROM God. We may feel frustration that we can’t quiet our mind.

I had a hard time considering this as prayer time since I wasn’t communicating. Words are not necessary with God. He knows our thoughts better than we do. This is our time to just rest in His presence…drink in His glory. Think of being in a room with someone you love. Remember that words are not necessary.

An immediate benefit of Centering prayer is that it makes our other prayer time more fruitful. Once time is spent in silence with God, we get used to feeling His presence. That will carry over to our regular prayers. We’ll feel as though we have a closer communion with Him…and we do!

Before Centering prayer, my prayers seemed more fruitful when they were ‘prayers in motion’. Long runs used to be the best time for me to pray. Since I can no longer run, the treadmill or the elliptical have become my favorite time to pray.

I was talking to my sister-in-law about my new endeavor with Centering prayer & the difficulty I was having with sitting still during that time. She responded, “Mary, prayer is prayer.” God listens to them all. Occasionally I think He rolls His eyes or chuckles at some of my prayers…but He IS listening!

Centering prayer does not replace our regular communication with God. It WILL make any time spent with God more fruitful. 20 minutes, twice a day? Can we really do that? Do we even want to try? Baby steps! Right?

Spending time with God with no agenda at all but to be with Him…can leave us feeling very fulfilled. Sometimes we will feel nothing. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t notice. Remember also that He rewards those who diligently seek Him. 

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Hebrews 11:6  (NIV)

 

Let’s try to add Centering prayer occasionally to our regular prayer repertoire. Our efforts to look for an even closer relationship will please Him. We can expect it to have a profound effect on how we view our life with our creator.

Dear Lord,

Is it really true that You love us most in silence? Help us to quiet our racing minds to listen & feel the love You have for us.

We know that You hear all of our prayers. Let us try Centering prayer as a way to bring ourselves even closer to You!

 

Once you are on mvarga.com, please read through past blogs and find more about my books & fitness tips!

You can also follow me on Facebook, www.facebook.com/mlvarga/

Be Set Apart

You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.

Leviticus 20:26

 

We are commanded by God to be separated unto Him. How are we supposed to do that? Surely He’s asking for more than just our church and prayer time. How do we live a life separate for Him?

The Holy Spirit will nudge us. The Spirit knows the will of God. He will prompt us with His gifts for us and show us what to do.

It is not as difficult as we think to know what gifts the Holy Spirit has given us. We can envision what we do well…what comes naturally. What really gets our juices flowing? That’s usually a sure-fire indicator of our Holy Spirit gifts.

if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Romans 12:7-9 (NIV)

I believe my spiritual gift is teaching. Two of the Spirit’s gifts are miracles and healings. If anyone possesses these gifts…please email me! Our gifts are meant to be shared with others!

In my book, The Light Through My Tunnel, I write about growing up with 5 brothers and sisters, and how it made me yearn to be different and special. Then I warn to be careful what you pray for. After my traumatic brain injury, I teased with God that having special needs is not the special I was asking for!

God always has my back though. Through my special needs, I discovered my spiritual gift for teaching. I may still have special needs, but through the Spirit, I am able to use them to show others how to move their bodies efficiently with or without special needs!

 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

1 Peter 4:10  (NIV)

Look around! What can we do in our day-to-day life to honor God’s will? We can make someone else’s journey easier. Do for them something that’s challenging for them…but easy for us. Do we have contacts or influence that they don’t? Jesus gave us our gifts to be used for others. How can we use our influence to help others?

Using our gifts is how we can separate ourselves for the Lord.  We need to ask Him how He wants us to use those gifts, making sure we’re using them for Him…not just to satisfy some personal desire.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.

Romans 8:5  (NIV)

So we discover what we do best to assist others to live a life that is pleasing to God. By doing so, we please Him ourselves! God desires for all of us to live in unity as we help each other to live as He intends for us. Keeping His will in first place should be our main objective in life. That is how we live a life separate unto Him.

 

Dear Lord,

Living our life separate for You is not as hard as we imagine it. Help us to discover our gifts that help others. That is how we stay connected with each other, and even more important…live our life in honor & obedience to You.

 

Once you are on mvarga.com, please read through past blogs and find more about my books & fitness tips!

You can also follow me on Facebook, www.facebook.com/mlvarga/

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