There’s Good in Everyone

Feature by Ansley B

There’s good in everyone. Except for that stubborn sibling, right? Wrong. There’s good in them too– we both know it.

I have recently started watching [Sweet Magnolias] with one of the main character’s being the “other woman”. When we think of someone in this role, we tend to think of a home wrecker. Someone who knew what they were getting into, and yet chose to hurt others for their own pleasure.

But in this show, I think they paint this woman very differently. While I do not agree with all the choices she made, she’s not this villain the viewers should hate for a couple of bad decisions. I think there’s grace for her and the writers are trying to give her it by the way they write her story. You come to see that she is loving, intentional, and caring. I bet those aren’t synonyms you would use to describe the “other woman” in other people’s lives.

Who is the “other woman” in your life? That person you refuse to believe they are anything but evil. Maybe the one who has hurt you the most.

Now that you have that person in mind, think about this. God is good. In His goodness, He created each of us. This includes Satan. Therefore, even the most evil was derived of something good.

Think about that. There is no way (as much as you would love to believe it) that your person can outdo Satan in evil. And he came from good. Doesn’t that blow your mind?

How would the way you love people change if you shifted your view to look for the good in everyone? Who needs you to believe in the good that is within them? And if you’re like me, believe in the good within yourself. Because you have it, too.

And about the person you had in your mind earlier– how would your relationship with them be different if you saw their good?

Love them. Not just because the Bible commands it. But also because of those who choose everyday to see the good in you. As others give you that grace when you mess up, give someone else that grace and lift up their good.

Not everyone is good. But everyone has good within them. Remember that.

I love each of you! Feel free to follow me on Instagram, @ansley.renfroe

Xx, Ansley B

Ansley paired with me for discipleship her sophomore year of college and continues to amaze me with her devotion to God and love for others. You can read more of her posts at ansleyrenfroe.wixsite.com/ansleyb

How to be Happy

I had an entirely different blog prepared for today but, after a phone call with my mom this morning, I thought it would be fun to give you some quick tips for a happy life.

You may be thinking “This is ridiculous. How would she know this? Where did she get this information?” So let me put your mind at ease before we get too far in. This is a little bit ridiculous but it’s possible. That’s what makes it so fun. I know these work for me– I really enjoy my life. I want you to enjoy yours, too. And I got this information primarily from a college course I took on Midlife and Elder Years in which we discussed research on individuals who lived long, happy lives and regions with the highest populations of self-identified “happy” people. Let’s begin!

Get Outside: Sunshine and walking are both ingredients for a happy life. If it’s raining, get a good pair of rainboots and go play!

Release the Material: My grandpa says, “Having more stuff doesn’t make you happier, it just makes you have more stuff.” If your expectations are that online shopping will cure your blues– you’re probably using retail therapy as a coping mechanism. Me, too. It’s nice but it won’t get you in the rhythm of a happy life.

Live and Let Live: Giving people the freedom to embrace their own values without feeling threatened yourself is going to free you up to live your own life. Have values, be strong in your beliefs, communicate gently– just don’t micromanage the values of those around you.

Find Purpose: If your passion for your job, relationships, hobbies, etc. is drained, happiness is leaking out of your life. Be intentional to find meaning in all you do.

Embrace the Kitchen: Drink water then drink more water! Strategize ways to prevent overeating. Greens, beans, grains, and nuts will make you feel so much better. If you’re drinking age or older, an occasional glass of wine was found to improve people’s well-being over the life span.

Be at Home at Home: Get all the natural light you can in your house and keep that place clean. Making your bed is a great first step because you should be getting S E V E N hours of sleep on average each night.

Save up: saving is going to pay off more than consuming when it comes to happiness. You don’t need to live in the stress of financial insecurity. If this is your number one happiness block, ask for help!

Love a Pet: Don’t buy a horse today if you can’t afford it. But if you like animals, start saving and make a plan. Start thinking of pet names and what pet might fit your lifestyle best. If you don’t want the responsibility of a pet, go play with someone else’s!

Trust Bravely: This one is difficult for many in the state of the world but trust is going to lead you toward happiness. You will inevitably get hurt when you trust people. I think it’s worth it to trust, hurt, and make things right than to never trust. Just like it’s better to hope, hurt, and hope again. Love, hurt, and love again. If you get hurt, say so. You can make the world a better place with accountability and grace.

Be Friendly: People with at least three close friends they can turn to tend to be happier than those who don’t. Daily laughter is so important– chase that! Research found that putting loved ones and religion first in life will help you live a long, happy life. Be intentional with your friends and the people you surround yourself with.

These habits can shape your life into something wonderful. Life won’t always be easy but you will always have something good. Some of my favorite ways to live happily are to open all the windows in my house during the day, collect pillow and blankets on birthdays and Christmas, clean my house for fifteen minutes every day, walk my dog, and invest in friendships.

Wherever you’re at today, my encouragement is to chase some sort of happiness. Stoke the flames of passion for life in your heart. Add some extra cash into a savings account. Clean out your closet. Whatever you chose, do it as a statement to yourself that you can be happy. You can enjoy life. My only ask is that you invite God into it. He is full of life, full of joy, full of passion, and makes everything better.

Midlife and Elder Years; Dr. Lewis. University of Georgia 2017.

Why You Should Treat Yourself Today

One of the most needed development strategies I’ve seen as an Emotional Intelligence coach is for you to treat yourself.

I’m not joking. Self regard, assertiveness, independence, impulse control, and optimism can all be improved by simply treating yourself.

What is treating yourself?

For an in-depth understanding (and engagement) of treating yourself, refer to Parks and Recreation Season 4 Episode 4 “Pawnee Rangers.” For a quick definition: it’s whatever makes you feel good. Acceptable ways to treat yourself include:

Buying a coffee, singing in your car, hanging out with friends, silent disco, pleasure reading, taking a bubble bath, going on vacation, a self-five.

The treat can be as inexpensive or grandiose as you want it to be (or can afford it to be). The goal is just to celebrate you.

When do you treat yourself?

These are the situations, for your own personal and professional growth, that you need to treat yourself:

When you achieve something
When you reach a benchmark of success
When you are rewarded for something
When you present an idea well
When you speak up even though you’re scared to
When you accomplish something on your own
When you haven’t been truly present in a while
When you have been taking life too seriously
When you get through something difficult

Celebrating yourself should become a normal part of your life because you’re worth celebrating. It makes life fun. It relieves pressure. No matter how many reasons are out there to think birthdays and holidays are pointless, Hallmark-money-makers, celebration makes us better people. Even the Grinch found the value of a little generosity and cheer.

Take a quick survey of your life and pick something to treat yourself for. If there’s nothing, go accomplish one thing and celebrate that. You have permission to like who you are and be proud of what you do. You were created with a purpose to create, produce, and connect. Those should bring life, not just exhaustion.

You’re doing a good job. Pause and look at all you’ve done, then acknowledge that it’s good.

A Seat at the Table

“Being a child of God means I have influence in my life and in the world around me.”For My Girls

Few things in life are as meaningful as being in one place with the people you love who love you in return. Those little peaceful moments- whether in laughter or tears, silence or endless conversations– you feel at home with someone.

Feeling that not always simple. Even if you can be close in proximity to kin, feeling like you belong can be difficult.

I say stupid things. I do dumb things. I’m quick to believe that I’m better off going back to bed when I make a fool of myself. Maybe you can relate (or maybe you can teach me how to be cool).

What I know is that I am a child of God. In considering who God is– generous, marvelous, wise, joyful– what does that mean about who I am? I was formed by the hand of the Father who wanted me before the foundations of the world were laid. So were you. I was given full redemption and a unimaginably great inheritance when the Spirit of God filled Jesus’ crucified body with breath. So were you. We were loved with an everlasting love by the God who knows our most inmost thoughts. We still are.

My challenge to myself and to you is to live like you belong because you do. We’re going to screw up. We’re not always going to be the funniest, smartest, prettiest, kindest, strongest, whatever-est people in the room. But we can always be the people wrapped in grace and confident in the love of the Father.

In whatever you’re doing and whoever you are with, you have access to the peace that comes from being loved by God and loving Him in return. You have a seat at the table because He reserved it and it’s His table. He wants you to show up and be you. You have thoughts to contribute, jokes to share, and strengths to lead with. You can share your dreams, express your feelings, and ask for what you want.

When I think of what a screw up I can be at times, I don’t feel shame. I feel a lot of graciousness and a little humorous (and, in more grave mistakes, sweet conviction). God sees my thoughts before a word is on my tongue. He knows I’m a goofball and He still invites me to eat with Him.* I can embrace my flaws, trusting that He is making me beautiful, and live confidently in the good He has already molded in me.

Show up today fully yourself and confident in the love of God. You don’t have to fight your way to the table. You’ve got a spot. You don’t need pride or reservations (holding yourself back or preserving a spot for yourself). You’ve got a place. Enjoy it.

“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:6-7

*Bri McKoy wrote an incredible book called Come and Eat on food in the Bible. Definitely worth the read. It’s astounding how much imagery there is in the Bible about God feeding us, dining with us, asking us to feed others.

One Hour to Transformation

“Becoming disciples of Jesus was God’s idea so we know it’s good. It’s not until we join in that we get to experience how great it is.” -For My Girls

The most growth I experienced on staff at the UGA Wesley Foundation was one hour at a time. The expectation is for the discipleship meetings we have to fill at least an hour. The overall goal was to help individuals become more like Jesus. The discipleship set-up taught us to move toward those goals by way of real conversations, accountability, practical development strategies, and a whole lot of prayer.

Those one hour meetings were catalysts for my week. They gave me a safe space to get things off my chest and to find clearer perspectives on my life. My discipler would remind me who I really am when I felt lost and ask questions to help me move forward when I felt stuck.

If you want to live in more freedom, walk in more confidence, and thrive with more purpose, discipleship is one of the best ways I’ve found to do those. Find a woman who is more mature than you are and see if she has time for a cup of tea. The goal is to become a disciple of Jesus, not a disciple of an admirable person, so I encourage you to look from someone with humility and a meaningful knowledge of the Bible. Have an honest conversation about both of your levels of commitment and willingness, your expectations for the relationship, and how you hope to grow as a result of the time you spend together.

Beyond that conversation, a world awaits. A great first step is to get to know each other. Even if you’ve known each other a long time, share your stories and where you’re headed in life.

Set overarching goals for your growth then make a plan of what you’ll do between conversations to work toward them. Questions like:

Who do you look up to and why? How would you like to exhibit those traits in your life?

What do you know/love about God? How can you be that for other people?

What kind of person do you want to be in five years? What will being that person do for the world around you?

When you’re at the end of your life, what do you want to be able to say about the way you lived?

What Scriptures are significant to you? How do they influence the way you live?

The rest of your conversations from there on out can be about your development toward your goals mixed in real talk about your life. Your relationships, career, finances, physical health, emotional well-being, and faith are all part of your life. If something is happening, talk about it. Ask your discipler to keep you accountable to how you want to grow and be teachable when she does.

Discipleship is not counseling. If you would benefit from those services, ask around for promising counselor recommendations. Your discipler doesn’t get paid and isn’t responsible for you. She is giving you the gift of her time and her care; don’t take that for granted. Don’t make her work for your vulnerability or expect too much of her time. She is there to encourage you as you follow Jesus. Remember that she has a life of her own she’s navigating through. You are sisters in Christ figuring out what it means to be children of God together. Honor the place that you’ve given her in your life and appreciate her for the person she is beyond the role she plays in your life.

My hope is you will one day, like me, look back on hours of discipleships woven together to see a beautiful tapestry of your life with God. I’ve seen galleries of testimonies of people who became more hopeful and more loving through giving themselves to discipleship. I’ve watched stories written by my wonderful girls who entrusted part of their lives to me. I believe miracles are waiting for you in discipleship where God has already gone before you.

Walls

One of my favorite quotes of all time is by the brilliant C. S. Lewis:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

In light of that wisdom, I want to give practical steps for vulnerability. We often put up “walls” when we are insecure due to present, past, or anticipated danger. This can look like shutting down (not responding, not contributing to conversation, isolating) or getting defensive (smart remarks, aggressive comments, explosive rants). These behaviors are understandable to create space within relationships in rare cases* but we don’t want to live in patterns like that. Through the redemptive love of Jesus, we can have better interactions than those.

The first step to letting down your walls is to acknowledge that you are safe. I’ll pull another quote straight from my childhood:

“No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” -Princess Diaries

When you’re around someone and your walls go up, focus on enjoying every breath and relaxing any tense muscles. Sit like you deserve a seat at the table because you do. You have value, you have security, you have belonging that cannot be taken from you.

The next step I want you to take is learning a new language, but you won’t need Duolingo or Rosetta Stone for this one. I’m talking about the language of the person across from you. There’s an entire culture existing in that person’s mind that you’re going to step into with the sole motivation of respectful exploration and wonder. Without learning the language of that culture, you’re going to keep running into miscommunication and confusion. Start simple.

How’s work going?

What have you been up to lately?

What are you looking forward to?

If there’s one dependable trait of humans it’s that they love talking about themselves. That’s what keeps my coaching and discipleship sessions afloat. The pressure is no longer on you to contribute things you aren’t comfortable sharing or to defend things you have shared. You’re in a neutral conversation that’s creating connection between the two of you.

The next step will carry you through the rest of your relationship from that point forward. Observe. As the other person opens up, you’ll likely see there is good in them as much as there is pain. You can develop more compassion toward them and even fondness for the unique life they lead. You’ll begin to see a person in front of you instead of a threat.

For any of this to work, you have to decide for yourself that love is worth the risk: the risk of being rejected, the risk of being hurt, the risk of being vulnerable. Give yourself grace because it can take a lot of convincing to believe you are safe. Remember that God is with you, defending you, telling you not to be afraid. And give yourself grace because relationships take time to rebuild. You’re not in a hurry and there’s no divine expectation of you other than to love.

The last quote I’ll leave you with is from my book that will be released this summer:

“When our souls are vessels for the eternal love of God, the resource is not rare anymore— just priceless.

You are never ask risk for running out of love. God supplies it. He is it. A fountain is pouring out in you. What do you want to do with it today?

*Rare cases are abusive or inappropriate relationships, not people who get on your nerves. For more information on the nature of abusive relationships and getting help, go to https://www.thehotline.org/help/

Identity: Nature

“We don’t really know what we are capable of until we begin pushing ourselves.”

In part I of this blog series we glanced over the nurture side of the ongoing nature v. nurture debate. Do we inherit or acquire traits that make us who we are? Rather than picking sides, we are exploring the insights both have to offer. Let’s take a walk down the nature trail today to see what we can learn.

The influence of nature is undeniable from the color of our eyes to the biological clocks ticking inside of us. We were formed of our parents’ DNA and crafted like clay by the Potter’s hands.

The first aspect of your identity in regard to nature that I want to talk about is your body. Your height, color, size, shape, chemicals, and hormones are all part of what make you uniquely you.

Strongholds in our minds are formed by repeated and enforced thought patterns. Self-hatred is a stronghold that is built with every negative remark flashing back at you in your reflection and every criticism you take to heart from people around you. The great news is you have the power in you to tear those down. Choose to think kind thoughts about yourself and show yourself the compassion you would show to any of your friends if someone spoke rudely about them. Treat your body well. You can Queer Eye your own life by taking care of your body with good hygiene and dressing in a way that appropriately expresses the person you are inside. How do you want to present your spirit through your body? How do you want to project your identity as a child of God to the world around you? Not in a shallow, image-conscious way, but in the confidence of an extravagantly-loved person.

The second aspect of your identity I want to discuss is genetic predispositions. The blood of alcoholics runs through my veins. Though they chose to give it up completely, they had succumbed to the cunning addiction for years. As fun as making a fancy drink is, alcohol will always be a cautionary indulgence for me. I’m not afraid of it. Rather I live freely in the boundaries I’ve set for myself with it. The same could be said for other addictions or medical histories. If you know you are at risk for something, be wise in the way you live. Everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial. If you feel stuck in the chains of your ancestors, you can be free now. You are a new creation in Christ and the Spirit inside you produces self-control. It may not be easy, but it is possible. And isn’t the possibility worth not giving up on trying?

The third and final aspect of your identity I’ll cover here is our collective biological traits. We have amygdalas in our brains that cause us to respond in primal ways. We’ve got hormones that produce mood swings and aggressive drives. We have chemical compositions that determine much of our enjoyment of life. These are parts of human nature. They a not bad. They just are. What you choose to do with who you are is what matters. How can you grow in self-control? How can you tend to your mind? How can you graciously push your body toward healthy goals?

You’ve been given the gift of yourself. That’s worth celebrating and worth loving. Jesus thought so. Oftentimes we don’t need to change ourselves, we need to embrace our intentionally created-selves. We are wonderfully made.

Nap DT

Once a semester during my internship experience at the UGA Wesley Foundation, a beautiful, magical, wildly-unprofessional hour and a half would occur that I relished and will forever cherish: nap dt.*

Taking in the sweet smell of our home away from home, our discipleship group would claim every deep couch, cozy chair, and cloud-like bed on the main floor of our discipler’s house. We spent the time relaxing, not worrying about work, and inevitably falling asleep swaddled in oversized neutral-toned blankets. Little did I know, our discipler was teaching us about resting intentionally. This was one of the best lessons I learned and one of the best ways I’ve learned a lesson.

“Naps can be miraculous life-giving activities.” For My Girls

Not every day, but some days, you need a short-term Sabbath– a literal dream session with God. Elijah did this in 1 Kings 19. As soon as he needed to wake up, an angel woke him up. Jacob did this in Genesis 28 and woke up exclaiming “Surely the Lord is in this place!” My favorite is in Jonah 4 when God provided a leafy plant to grow over him and ease his discomfort. Your Bible says it made Jonah very happy. We even see Jesus, the exact representation of the Father, napping on the boat in Mark 4.

If you need permission to take a step back and relax, you have it. We have no quota to fill with God, He just wants us to live. Part of living is sleeping. We aren’t letting go of responsibilities, we aren’t running away from our problems, we aren’t wasting time. We’re intentionally taking a quick nap, being very happy, and going on our way.

Don’t slow your roll if you’re in the zone. But if you’re exhausted and becoming robotic, take a breather. Your work will still be there when you awaken snuggled-up and bright-eyed to the life around you and within you.

*dt stands for discipleship time– the hour+ I would meet with my discipler individually or with our discipleship group

Knowing God More

I don’t know what I don’t know. It’s one of the things that bothers me most about being human. Wouldn’t it be easier if we could be omniscient?

In place of omniscience, I have insatiable curiosity. There’s a not-so-hidden side of me that gets lost in reddit threads for science fiction stories and a collection of books dispersed through my bookshelves on quantum physics and neuroscience. I love to learn and I love to know.

One of the ways I realize I don’t know what I don’t know about God is reading the Bible. The Word is quick to humble my perception of how much I know and bring up questions in me. I think the internet can be a tricky place to find credible resources on Scripture (by the way, thanks for reading my blog). One of the best resources we have available is the people we know.

God reveals Himself to His children through the lenses of our own experiences and perceptions. How I understand the kindness of God is going to be different than how you have understood the kindness. Those small journeys to knowing God are testimonies. We build each others’ faith as we share them with each other because we are able to witness trustworthy examples of God being kind.

Conversations with others about verses and biblical themes add to our perception of God. This is one of the many ways God has revealed Himself through creation. Our individual experiences with God contribute to the strengthening of the Church just as others’ experiences with God can lead us into more hope for our own lives.

So now what?

Try to become more aware of what you don’t know. Read a part of the Bible you don’t understand. Sift through commentaries or revisit a Christian classic. Consider the characteristics of God that feel unfamiliar to you. How do you know Him as patient? How have you seen Him be just? When have you experienced His goodness?

Then find someone to talk about those things with. Ask for stories of their own experiences. Show up with no agenda other than to know more of God together. You don’t have to agree with them and I definitely wouldn’t recommend debates over disagreements. Listen to learn how God has drawn them closer to Himself.

As you begin to open the door of the knowledge of God, you’ll see there’s much more to explore than you knew before. There is always more. Be a gift of some of the knowledge of God to someone in your life today and let someone be that for you. You’ll never know what you can happen until you try.

Identity: Nurture

“We become giants in the faith as we grow in our identities rather than in our accomplishments.” -For My Girls

The question of identity, who we are, is one we all face sooner or later and often more than once. Developing our identities leads us into more confidence, and more confidence into more influence. With our influence, we can show the world the Light it hasn’t known before.

So how do we develop our identities?

Most are familiar with the debate of nature vs nurture. In all my courses for Human Development and Family Sciences, we were content to agree somewhere in the middle of the extremes. Today, we’re going to take a walk down nurture lane for a pathway of developing identity.

Urie Bronfenbrenner was a psychologist who created the Ecological Systems Theory—one of the most popular theories in my field of study and my personal collection of favorites. It delineates the environments that influence individuals.

Through this theory, we discover what aspects of our environments have sculpted us. From there, we determine what we would like to give less power in our lives. Awareness is the first step to moving forward.

I break apart each part of Bronfenbrenner’s model to create a worksheet for myself. Starting at the top of a blank notebook paper, I write my name. First system is done. I label the first part of the page microsystem and list out the names of my family members, friends, and coworkers that I interact with on a nearly daily basis. Below that, I write out mesosystem and leave it blank. We’ll come back to it because the mesosystem is tricky. For exosystem, I catalog broader influences on my life that I may not directly interact with such as my parents’ workplaces, family friends, and neighbors.

Now the mesosystem is the overlap between the micro- and exo- systems. I recite going to church with my sister though we both live in our own homes now and seeing my closest friends at work.

Moving on to the macrosystem, I acknowledge cultural and societal values and beliefs. This includes my socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, and strong political convictions. The chronosystem creates space for the effect of time. I was alive during 9/11 and am currently a young adult navigating Covid-19. These events will affect the way I view myself and the world so they need to be accounted for.

For everything I’ve recorded on the page, I write out the effects each may have on me. My parents instilled integrity and a love of education in me. My workplace valued fun and community, so I’m motivated by enjoyable connection with people. I have privileges as a white American that I can use to help marginalized groups which I learned through my education at UGA which values diversity. My faith sustained me through the first fears I can recall of terrorism and carries me through the anxiety of Covid-19 today. This part can go as in depth as you would like to. The deeper you go, the more you’ll learn about yourself.

This is also a time to evaluate which relationships are influencing you more negatively than positively, what societal beliefs contribute to dissatisfaction in your life, and what events have unpleasantly altered your worldview.

As you review your work, you can see the unique aspects of your life. No one will have a paper exactly like yours. Your specific environments contribute to who you are as a person. Now that you’re aware, you can begin to make small decisions as to who or what has a say in your story. And keep in mind, you’re on somebody else’s paper, too. You’re influencing their environments and contributing to their development. What kind of impact do you want to have on the lives of those around you? My guess is that you have some capacity inside of you to do a whole lot of good.

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