Resting Joy

hammock

I often wonder about a lot of things and I find myself coming to the same conclusion each time. Now I’m not talking about the cure for cancer, or the national deficit, or the latest bargain price for broccoli.  This isn’t a post to tell you my vote for President.

The two words “I’m busy” make me wonder and create a contradiction in my soul. I also wonder how many busy signals God hears. I’m busy blogging, writing, editing a book or two, writing another book or two, recording some radio stuff, cleaning, eating sleeping, and exercising. I get it. Me too.

I run to God constantly but sometimes I am distracted with problem solving on my own. Then when this happens…it’s as if there’s a tap on my little shoulder.

“Please rest in Me.”

Here I am in a season of busy activity and it seems super unproductive to take a siesta or halt to a stop with all this activity around me. I’m used to doing for myself, producing, and meeting deadlines. I’m used to feeding and dressing myself, but one idea I’m not good at is resting. So why would I need to rest now?

I found myself saying, “I’m too busy to rest.”  And the conflict comes down in my soul.

Then….I came to my senses through the help of the Holy Spirit. Needless to say, I repented of my wrong thinking, refocused my mind and put my thoughts back on Him. And now I can see more clearly, I’ve learned that rest is more than a season. Rest is an attitude I am adopting into my life permanently.

I don’t know if you have thought about rest in this way, perhaps you have been too busy. I believe God planned rest from the beginning of time and created a whole day intentionally for rest. I know you’ve read this over and over in Genesis, but I realized it was the very component I needed. To help you be more productive, more focused, and more intentional with your time, you might need rest to be more than just a season.

So I ask you, what would it take for you to stop the whirling world you live in and give yourself a long soaking rest in God? I get it…I thought I was too busy also take a long time to rest. Then once I experienced true rest, it’s now a part of my life I can’t live without. Try it, even if you think you are too busy.

God is trying to reach you in your busyness. And this just in…He wants to be MORE than a crisis manager to you. He specializes in perfecting the very details which seemed to go unchecked when you are busy. I let him manage my task list, my clock, and my seasons from now on. It’s important to Him, and I can rest on Him knowing He knows more about my needs than I know myself.

“Who you spend time with is what you value the most.”  – John Gray

I get it. I know. I see. Rest isn’t just a suggestion from our Creator. Rest is a place to center your will back where it belongs, in His rest. He gets it, He sees you, and He knows you need it.

Take my word for it, it’s worth it.  I dare you to try God in this too.  It’s better FOR you than you know.

Six Words To Get You Through

A photo by Wilson Lau. unsplash.com/photos/MvjO-aMRwkE

It was 20 years ago when my husband was diagnosed with cancer. I’ve watched him struggle to a decent level of health with many medical complications as a result of his diagnosis. There have been some good days for sure, but as a wife and help-mate, there have been more days that I wish we could do over. Instead of harboring regret and resentment, I’ve learned that every marriage has “those” days when it’s cloudy and the skies are not singing a sunny attitude.

Change in attitude came by faith in his simple prayer one day, “God, help us to be optimistic about all things.” I realized what I had leaned on to get me through the hard years was more than the disappointments that life had to offer.

Six words that have gotten me through struggles like cancer and hard days since are:

“You’ll get through this, have faith.”

Life is full of many scenarios and simply said we didn’t “sign up” for trouble. Like it or not everyone has good and bad “stuff” to contend with. Problems aren’t specifically set up for the result in disappointment but rather problems present opportunities to see God get you through…by faith.

There’s a choice in how you respond to life and when holding to a positive attitude, it can get you through the toughest of days. Let’s break this encouragement down word by word. In those six words, I found these treasures:

1. “You’ll – You will: Remember, yes you, reading this right now…aren’t singled out. The world is not against you. No one is out to get you. You can’t control every circumstance that comes your way, but remember you CAN choose how you respond to it.

2. “Get” – You get: Don’t buy into the lie that a bad situation has come because God is upset with you or you’ve done something wrong. God is for the good and right in this world. Whatever the situation is God can reach down and help you. He is always on your side, in a good mood and you get to ask Him to intervene!

3. “Through” – Get you through: there is an end to suffering believe it or not. “This” too shall pass. Healing comes for the hurts and wounds. Tomorrow is a new day, there’s newness every morning. Even when it seems endless, storms don’t last forever. Pray continually and don’t stop once the clouds clear!

4. “This” – You and “this”: There are many events that come into our life that the Enemy uses to marginalize, isolate, and segregate us from hope and God’s love. Satan knows when we have loneliness, rejection, and oppression, we become weak and closed off. Our numbers tank spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally. When we want to run from our conflicts or storms that’s when we should be reaching out for comfort and support through together strength with friends, spouse, church, and family. There’s strength in numbers. No man is an island and as humans, we weren’t built to go through life alone. Even in paradise – the Garden of Eden – God said “It is not good for man to be alone.”

5. “Have faith” – You MUST have faith: Jesus said you will have trouble in the world but John 16:33 ecnourages our faith by taking part of His heart, to overcome whatever has come to plague yours. When having faith it strengthens you to the end! Help is surrounding you, to navigate you through. There is a difference in talking about what faith is and believing God is your help and strength by faith. God is who He says He is!

Through it all, we count it all joy.  But how can you be joyful?  The truth is numbers don’t lie, but they often don’t tell the truth. Consider the joy that Jesus had as His reward on the way to the cross. What I know about crucifixions, the process is the most cruel way to die, but yet Jesus went joyfully. The process of life is often full of handling cruelties and torments of this world. But remember, you too will get through, because there’s joy to be gained by going through it with Jesus.

Hope that helps you this week as you are going through some tough situations. I would like to pray for you so please let me know what your situation is and I will!

Learning Joy In Rejection

giraffesdancing

I’ve told the story before about a giraffe named Gerald who dreams of being a dancer with the other animals in the jungle.  Gerald has the desire but his ability to dance like the others isn’t quite up to par.  His knees are crooked and his legs are thin.  All the other animals mock him when he approaches the jungle dance floor.  His swagger  (as they say in jungle-eeze) isn’t zig-zaging like the others.

Gerald took lessons, studied the moves, more grooves, and eventually developed his own style. One day, on jr.audition day, Gerald showed up prepared to zig and zag in a confident direction.  After many hours on the dirt floor, he perfected a secret move all his own and still wasn’t chosen.

As he lumbered off in a dejected fashion, the lonely lanky spotted giraffe felt rejection from his “wanna-be’s”.  Downcast, he met up with his cricket friend who chirped “Gerald, you just need a different song.” Gerald’s heart lightened a little as he took the cricket’s advice.  He retreated to his own little jungle corner to let his heart dance free.

Soon, Gerald was prancing and sashaying once again.

Suddenly, a crowd gathered in amazement and recognized Gerald could dance after all.  All he needed was his own little space be brave and bold, freedom to unleash his rhythm by the light of the moon.

It might seem strange to you to tell you I think about Gerald often.  I know how this kind of rejection feels.  What the story doesn’t tell you is Gerald had a lot of doubt going into dancing.  So much doubt he wanted to give up.  He wanted to do anything else instead of dancing.  Gerald also had a big heart to teach others to dance but he couldn’t lead out because he felt unqualified.

The story didn’t mention how Gerald was faithful to his craft.  There were lots of practices he only watched from the outlying and surrounding undergrowth as the other animals gracefully swayed.  Gerald watched in wonder at their magical skill.  He longed to be included and seen by them.  But shamefully, self-doubt kept coming against him.  Opposition came in the jeers and taunts of his so-called friends.  Provocation came from his inner critic.  He was discouraged and just wanted to give up.

Why does this story move me so much?  It has a happy ending like most children books do and Gerald found the courage to recover a dream.  For me, it also speaks of how we should never give up uncovering who God created us to be.  If you are honest with yourself, wouldn’t you admit you want to belong somehow?

The search for purpose sometimes leads a person to unexpected places.  Michael Hyatt says to do “what makes you cry” in life.  What I’ve found so far is dreams are full of hard work and lots of practice.  There’s lots of pieces to making a dream work.  There’s even more work to get someone to notice your dance in a jungle full of excellent dancers.

So why should we try?  If Micheal Hyatt were here now I would ask him, “What’s the point?”  It doesn’t matter if you are a musician or not, please watch Victor Wooten’s talk. His lessons about life, success, creativity, learning, passion, permission and smiling are profound.

In using my creative confidence, I still have some lessons to learn.  Like Gerald, my dance doesn’t look like others, but mine is a worthy and weighty move .  I have also learned to not lean on feelings but to dance anyway.  Taking action on an idea requires applied practice and a dedication to stay the course.  Dancing takes courage, skill, and ability.  It takes guts to put your best foot forward.  It’s risky, hard and you may lose.  But… you will never know discovery unless you try.  It’s never to late to be what you might have been.

What lies behind us, and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.

Speaking metaphorically, life is a dance.  We all have a unique design made by a God without rival.  And when an incomparable God has placed His uniqueness within, it’s our best response to practice and sing in the octave He gave you.  There’s no two dancers the same, each are unique in every way.  And finally, God just loves it I show up for practice, even with my deficiencies.

So where are you in this dancer’s world?

Joy at the Cross

pain face

I’ve been thinking a lot about mothers lately mostly because I am watching the health and mental capacity of my mom decline.  The once vibrant mom I knew is slowly fading with dementia day by day.  It’s like a slow death.  So I asked the Lord to bring me joy FOR her.

Joy is difficult to realize when you lose someone you love dearly.

However, there are some situations when it’s easily accepted.  For instance, at the end of person’s life with the natural progression of old age.  We often ask for early release unto death with the suffering by pain and with the terminally ill.  Over the years with technology and advances in modern medicine, we’ve even grown accustomed to watching pain close up too.

How can joy ease the pain of death?  I think about how Mary, the mother of Jesus handled it.  The Bible relates her standing at the cross where Jesus died.  She had support system that included, John the beloved, and two other Marys.  Onlookers to this event had a front row seat to watch the immense pain-filled suffering of Jesus, and watch her response as his mother.  I would have been wailing if it were me.

I’m grateful she handled it gracefuly.

The Bible doesn’t talk about her emotions a lot, but I assume she cried.  This tragic event would be in addition to all the other times a mother weeps for her children from her kitchen, on her knees, or while sharing with other mothers.  Mary was a normal human and full mothering emotions after all.  Did she use self-control?  Did she weep for days when Jesus died?  Was there any consolation for Mary even knowing Jesus was going back to the Father?

There had to be some comfort for her, afterall, Jesus predicted his death many times.

I’m also reminded as a mother that watching your child die, at any age, is never easy.  I know, however, Mary was highly favored and entrusted with the care of Jesus unto death.  I would agree joy is part of God’s design which can be activated in very tough and joy-less situations like death, grief and loss of a loved one.

So where is the joy in death?  Mary witnessed death with intensity.  No one expects to be crucified, a brutal and cruel death nor leave this world in such a way.  So where’s the joy in watching death slowly snuff out life?  Jesus explained how joy works in his last meeting with the disciples and I think he explained it specifically for mothers to grasp ahold of.  Here’s his final word on death:

“The Disciples’ Grief Will Turn to Joy”

John 16: 15-33  Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”  At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”

Jesus saw they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”

Wait a minute, did Jesus just say joy is completed in death?  As hard as death is to watch, it’s even harder to accept the reality we will never see our loved one again this side of heaven.  But encouragement comes with joy, because we know one day we will join them again in Heaven.  Jesus encourages us further for days filled with trouble…

“I have told you these things, so in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

I believe Jesus was saying there is joy found in death, and this joy completes our peace.  Joy, through death, comes in knowing where our final destination is.  There’s an eternal Home waiting for our arrival and for many of us, a lot of loved ones are waiting for us to arrive!

There’s joy in knowing there is an end to pain, suffering, and a place where automatic joy begins.  So when watching someone die a slow painful death, for me joy paves the way for my faith and gives me assurance that I too can have joy here right now.  Joy has become my sacrifice of praise and helps my heart to understand there is joy complete when peace comes.

Let this kind of joy be yours as you suffer through a death or difficult situation.  The opportunity to choose joy is only given this side of  heaven.  Heaven is already abounding and full of JOY.

Jesus gives us joy but He IS JOY too!

The compassionate heart of Jesus amplifies joy in our lives.  God knows how valuable and helpful it can be, as joy becomes our reward for going through all situations.  You can have the attitude of joy in your heart with great rejoicing on your lips even in death.

 

When Your Tears Turn to Joy

joy gratitude

I was raised by parents who didn’t show much emotion.  It was many years later when I realized it was the older generation who grew the non-criers.  They saw it as a sign of weakness.  As a result I learned to be closed off about my feelings.   It hit me early one morning, as I was driving to work.  I was thinking about my brother-in-law’s suicide and it was if the tears I left unshed in those tension filled, grieving days were collected in a heavenly vessel.  I was overcome with so many tears from so many years at the thought of re-applying mascara was impossible.  In a span of about 45 minutes, regret hit and filled my mind with unexpressed love.  And my emotions spilled over into my lap.

I was a DJ on a Christian Radio Station, and people tuned in to hear a happy tone. Somehow I had to gather my happy voice and speak encouragement to listeners.  How could I put aside my regret-filled feelings one more time?  I tumbled out of my car and plodded into the studio.  It was like any other day on the inside of the building.  I greeted my co-worker with a normal “hello” and he immediately sensed something was wrong.  “Tears are a sign of weakness!” I scolded myself.  I braced myself for the kidding ahead about being a girl and crying about everything.

My friend and co-worker said something profound which I’ll won’t forget.  “Your greatest strength is your greatest weakness.” Being a crier by nature, my tender heart sometimes gets the best of me.  Ever been there?  Do you apologize to others for showing emotions or for leaking your emotions down your face?  Sounds incredibly similar to a hormone imbalance doesn’t it?  I don’t know how many times I’ve apologized for crying in front of someone!

Crying is a human emotion which God has placed inside. It’s no different from anger, fear or even joy. We don’t apologize when we’re feeling happy. “Oh gee, I’m so sorry. I can’t seem to stop smiling. I’m SO embarrassed!”  You often see tears at the beginning of life with newborn babies, and at the end of life when saying good-bye to a loved one.  As a parent myself, I know there are buckets of tears shed in times of praying that are collected in a mother’s heart.  It was years later that I discovered the encouragement in this verse:

Psalm 126:5 “Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy.”

Having joy and tears on my mind a lot lately, I’ve been trying to understand the principle of reaping joyful heart from the tears that I have been sowing.  I realized when I had cried I usually associated my tears with sad emotions, extreme waves of shock, disappointment, grief, loss, etc.  That’s a natural expression of heartache and hurt.

Although grieving and letting go has a place in the death process, it’s difficult to find joy in that kind of hurt but I know that a supernatural joy exists in death.  After the reading the context behind the verse, I do know that this song was written after God’s people were delivered out of captivity.  I too, have cried some tears from a bound up place in my life and I’ve longed for freedom.  It was in that moment, I realized the tears I was expressing had come from a supernatural place where the Holy Spirit transformed my tears into joy, in freedom from a place of my heart’s gratitude.

My heart welled up again with a joyful expression.

Sowing takes a process and requires seeds, a small start.  Once planted or given over to the process of casting out, putting into the ground and fertilizing the seed, it takes time for the seed to develop and expand into the germination phase.  The outer shell of the seed is softened by the grounds moisture and the water given to the fertile soil.  In the softening of the seed, it sprouts with new growth.  It takes a seed time to burst out with the seedling, an expression of its own design.

That’s what tears are.  An expression of the heart, and some expressions just need to germinate and grow before expressing them.  I think that’s how joy in freedom comes, in the expression of our hearts when we are truly free.  When our hearts are truly express joy, it’s a sign of growth, from a sensitive and free place.  I don’t think it shows weakness at all.

Sometimes it takes the strongest person to be honest with their expressions.  What I have learned about joy and songs lately is that each time joy is sung over a battle it brings strength to the troops.  Tears can also express happiness, praise, and laughter.  I understand there’s a place for all our emotions.  I think joy is often misunderstood and represents the sensitive side of God, who wants us to have joy alongside all phases of life.  After all, it’s second to His love and a gift of the Spirit’s work in our lives.  Joy and tears are expression of Heaven too.  We have to remember God has blessed us with each emotion and we can always express our emotions of gratitude with freedom.  It’s the language of our hearts.

Finding Joy in the Pruning

cherries

I have two rose bushes growing outside my front door.  Often, I take a little time to cut back the dead blooms.  Last week I cut them so thoroughly that not one bloom remained.  I took a step back to see if the bushes were evenly shaped.  Accomplishing my task and without another thought about them, I turned to enjoy the sunset.

It’s the process of pruning that is needed in the caring of the rose bushes.  If I didn’t cut back the spent blooms, the bushes would only bloom occassionally.  The more you cut the bush, the more the blooms.  It’s hard to cut back a perfectly green stem however, but it’s needed to help the bush thrive.

I’m learning how to abide in this season of resting and learning to have joy in the pruning. The fruit of the Spirit grows us best through the pruning process.  God wants to cut away our inflated view of self and expand the view of Him and protect us from falling into a blown up view of our own importance.  We are so easilty distracted with self-focus instead of releasing what God has put inside our souls.

Even the Holy Spirit does not glory Himself – Only Christ.  It says in John 16:14 “However, when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak what He hears, and He will declare to you what is to come. He will glorify Me by taking from what is Mine and disclosing it to you.”

Pruning is part of the rest process and achieves what only God sees.  And this the part of the post where I tell you that it’s easy, and doesn’t hurt and you’re going to be okay, right?  What I can tell you is that you are going to be okay and there is joy found in pruning and letting go, to let the Holy Spirit bear His fruit in you.

From my experience with pruning is our Gardner knows best which branches need to go, which will bear the best fruit or blooms, and what He has designed for each of us.  And just like my cutting back the rose bushes, our Father prunes so that there will be even MORE fruit bearing.  When you are pruined you have an over-arching purpose which matches the vision God has for you.   John 15 digs into this truth down nicely.

Don’t forget the Gardner has a plan in the pruning – to give Him glory and to grow you into His good work and perfect you in the process.  Something we know about pruning is it cuts away the dead branches, and we are good with getting rid of the dead parts but what about the branches that are still thriving?  Sometimes it’s in the best interest of the plant to cut branches that aren’t dead) for the overall good of the plant.

And so it goes, there’s nothing easy about being cut or pruned.  And it hurts to experience a loss of a growing branch.  As His children, we grow in holiness.  Holiness means living set apart for God.  It’s the perfection process of our faith that sets us apart for Him.  Consider it like a spiritual exercise where God stretches you to the potential He sees in you.  Remember the focus isn’t on what we are losing or letting go of but instead for the real reason of our growth in Christ.  What I know about life so far is that we grow the most in adversity and difficulties.

It’s in the adversity, the calamities, the cancer, and the chaos where we seek God the most.  When we have to let go of our own strength and cling to His, that’s sharing His glory.  When we prosper and become the masterpiece He designed, that’s bearing fruit in our lives.

Colossians 1:10 “so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.”

It’s in the process that we grow.  Sometimes the pruning hurts, and we suffer setbacks but it’s for the overall beauty of the plant and the sweetness of the fruit.

 

What the World Needs Now

flag in barn

When bad incidents happen we ask the question “why?”.  We don’t understand the shocking events which have happened of late and we try to impose order. Humans want life to make sense.  After the initial shock, it leaves us wondering “What will happen next and will I be the next victim?”

Our nation is grieving. Webster’s dictionary defines grief as a “deep sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death.” For many families, and the public as a whole, the idea of security is once again threatened at every turn.  Many communities have lost leaders, fathers, grandfathers and those lives will never be heard from again.

And it’s left us confused, angry, and feeling threatened.

Grief is compounded when the death is violent, untimely, and sudden. When there is a willful or intentional taking of a human life by another individual, the sense of shock and disbelief is suffocating. Our world as we know it is shaken to its core, and our sense of safety and security vanish. Oftentimes, overwhelmed by grief, confusion, and in a vacuum of comfort, leaves us to fear.

Grief is amplified when the death is a highly publicized incident. The media gives a doom and gloom perspective pressurizing the nation’s voice to protect ourselves or take matters into our own hands.  We are barraged with blame and shame leaving us to choose sides questioning who “matters” thus dividing lines with hate.  Nothing makes sense. The results are impacting our hope and ebbs away at our faith.  Turmoil and anxiety builds with each look over the shoulder or behind each closed door.

The brute force of many layered and competing emotions mount.  Feelings of anger, fear, confusion, exhaustion, sadness, and depression is intensified by grief.  As onlookers, we shut down and feel numb.  We throw up our hands and don’t know who to trust or what to do to repair these death-laden and devastatingly dangerous situations.  I understand death alright but what do we do with all of the death and progression of evil around us?

Like most wounds it scars our souls and we stop talking about it.  It becomes the white elephant in the room and we are afraid to stand up for our beliefs as to not offend or start another heated argument.  It paralyzes our voices and keeps us quiet.  But the pain of loss is still there and we stuff it down deep.  It festers, boils and wreaks havoc with our sound minds.  We openly pray for healing but there’s no joy in covering hurt of this kind.  The world’s empty words of comfort and feelings of false security become a new normal along with a strategically-placed policy.

Pointing the finger at the obvious won’t heal the pain this nation is in.

Healing takes time and it needs to fall on everyone.  In my opinion there is only one way to win over evil.  We want the pain to cease but as a nation, it’s easier to turn our heads and hope someone quickly sweeps it under the political rug to make it go away like a bad nightmare.  This tug on our souls has to stop or fear will always be after our hearts.

If you have been affected by the recent events please know I too am grieving with you. Words only travel so far and words alone don’t cause change.  No, you don’t forget the sound of your loved one’s voice, or a touch, and you certainly can’t forget the love you shared.  There’s no way to repair a broken heart from a human standpoint.

I wish there were shortcuts to healing.  But the facts remain, the fast-track to evil advances around us.  There is the power to heal our nation within the nation if we could all work together to be the answer for change we only complain about.  How often do we find ourselves asking “What are we do with all this violence?”

The answer is profound and comforting when we respond with an outpouring of love and count it all joy.  Jesus was a man of controversy, stood for justice and showed love to all.  You might say, “Sure, He could because He was perfect.”  You’ve tried being kind in the face of evil and it wasn’t reciprocated.  You’ve tried to love the unlovable and got taken advantage of.  You’re afraid to give this love thing a try at all.  Have we loved and have you only tried?

Jesus is our example to heal this nation.  He didn’t judge – only touched with His grace.  He didn’t beat politics with the rules – but spoke life over the wayward.  He didn’t run away in fear but knew His Father’s voice.  He met the needs of the unloved, the forgotten, and went out of His way to reach the least.  And He counted it ALL joy in who He loved.  Joy was His reward on the way to the cross.  He suffered and knew death.

“Instead of what doing what Jesus did, let’s all do what Jesus is doing!”  Mike Maeshiro

Let time teach you to love and have joy again if you are suffering a loss.  Let the love of God overcome the evil around you.  Let the love of God change you.  Be Christ’s love to others around you.  Show love over evil.  Start counting everything in your life with a reward of joy, and set it before you.  Afraid to show love because you’ve been hurt?  Who isn’t???

God’s love heals in ways we don’t know and kindness progresses healing further than we could ever know.  Jesus led His disciples by the love of God and knew how to do in a ways which advance God’s goodness.  Jesus in it to win it and He has already won!  We can feel secure in our homes and lives of if we would all work together to be the together-strength of love spoken in truth and in love to our communities, cities, and nation.  The progression of LOVE always invites God’s goodness.  His Joy is our joy reward for the suffering even unto and through to death.

Count It All Joy Through Gratitude

joy swing

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  John 15:11 (NIV)

My last post was about joy, counting it ALL joy, and the gap in between our dreams and reality.  At least finding joy a habit was my intention.  I realize this week gratitude is directly connected to the golden thread of relationships, happiness, and abundance in life. If you’re like me, you can read a post about joy and think it’s all pink and rosy every day.  I hear you saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ll be more grateful.  It might work for her but she doesn’t live out in my life.  It won’t work for me.”

Oh friends, it’s time to stop kicking the tires on this life and embrace it for all it’s worth.  Let’s all go bravely forward and count it all joy.

I like to go beyond a nice idea or a concept.  It’s one idea to live with joy but it’s a whole new way to live with God’s joy.  I’m all about application and gathering the tools of creativity, words of gratitude, love, applied discipline, to understand and get a hold of the way the concept works in your everyday life. Until you practice and witness your own shifts and awakenings, none of this makes much impact.  Have confidence by faith!  Joy is attainable and is a good idea.  Do you follow me so far?

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:11 (ESV)

The Bible is a great start to instructing us how to live and how to count everything for joy, but it’s not the whole letter of the law.  You also have to apply joy to your life.

What does living in joy look like?  It’s daily looking and adopting God’s ways into your life. I encourage everyone to keep a gratitude journal. Be grateful when God teaches you how to live.  It’s a way to bring His character into our weaknesses.  For me, when I feel left out or last in line, I go to my gratitude journal and make a list of all the ways I am blessed.  Believe me when I say this, if you think you aren’t blessed to live in the land of the free and home of the brave, travel internationally to suffering and oppressed nations.  You will notice the difference immediately.  Gratitude journals can turn whining and complaining into thankfulness and appreciation.

So, what is a gratitude journal?

A gratitude journal is a blank notebook where you write lists for which you are grateful. Every night, before you go to bed, you take about three minutes to write down a list of five things (or any do-able number).

Some days, you might be feeling particularly abundant, and those five things just fly onto the page.

Some days, it might feel like you can’t think of even two things. Then you remember how you have a roof over your head or food to eat. Next, you remember your cat (again) and you have hot water to get clean and drink.  No matter what you’re feeling, find time to write down at least five things every single night.  And they don’t have to be new and different.

My experience is when I write out what I’m grateful for, those items add joy to my day.  I become more in tune throughout the next day. It’s like turning on an inner-switch, and sets your awareness to look for joys to journal each night. So you might be driving out of your neighborhood in the morning, and catch the flash of a cardinal in the sunlight, and instead of blowing it off, you stop and notice it for a moment. You take it in. And you make a mental note to include the bird in your gratitude journal. Then, when you’re having lunch with a co-worker, she grabs the check and pays it. And not only do you thank her, but you make a mental note again (I carry a small notebook and pen in my purse). Your day becomes a basket where you collect things. The joy habit soon comes to life!  In essence, you become a joy and gratitude magnet. And oddly enough, cool things start to find you. But you have to learn to be grateful now for all what you already have.

When you really try this, you will see how your joy increases.  You see, Jesus is joy and anytime you notice the things He put in your path to bring joy or a smile to your face, His intentions change your intentions.  Now not everything in this world is joyful.  Believe me when I say, you can choose how you see the things of this world and how to respond to the world around you.  When you feel the smile of Heaven, it makes a difference in your soul.

I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!  John 15:11 (NLT)

(Notice I posted a joy verse in different ways to help you see how grateful I am for reward of seeking joy in all things.  Gratitude shapes your perspective!)

How to Count It All Joy

girl joyful

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:2-5

As Christians we can easily slip into the lie of “life gets easier as we mature” in Christ. After all, it’s the good work of Christ who is completes His work in those who walk by faith.  And on top of the work of completion we are encouraged to be brave through all the changes.  And one more step…count it all joy.

No deeper truth can be said and bears repeating …life is full-on hard! We already know about hardship, troubles, afflictions, and understand those aren’t easy. Life is full of pain, heartaches, and loss of life. Living as a believer, it is often harder to have faith and hope in the midst of doing life, especially when hard problems hit.  So how can you love this life while embracing conflict, hardship, and adversity?  How about when you are in the heat of the battle of shame, pain, and messy habitual sins?  Do those situations have to count too?

By faith, we are encouraged to ask God for everything we need. Yes, we ask for strength to make it through crisis after crisis, strength and endurance to make it out alive.  We ask God for pain to subside, for healing, and even ask for miracles. How many times though do you consider trials with joy?  How is joy really possible when bravely embracing hardships, adversity and problems?

I’m still counting how this works, but I do know life becomes easier with joy.

Friends, it’s taken me years to figure out a simple truth.  When we attack each day with joy, hard things are easy, painful things fade, and our strength is renewed without asking. To count your joy, consider everything in your day a gift of joy and watch your joy unfold.  Joy is second to God’s love in how the Spirit helps us.

Love generates joy.  Did you catch it?  Joy helps in making life’s adversity embraceable.  Joy helps us live brave.  Joy helps us make hard days count.

I remember the funeral of my brother-in-law.  It was a sad occasion due to suicide.  Like most families we didn’t understand why.  We were all heart-broken with grief.   My husband and I were leaving the service, and when it came time to say good-bye to his wife, I was at a loss for words.  All of a sudden, my father-in-law stood up to do the same and his pants dropped to his ankles.  We all stood, the whole family, stood with jaws dropped when this happened. We weren’t sure what to do, given the occasion.

Enter my mother-in-law’s next simple statement, “Well, Lloyd, where is your belt?”  We all burst with laughter at his forgetfulness.  It was a perfect tension-breaker  and now a joy-bringing memory to a very sad moment in our family’s timeline.

Joy is powerful. It helps us navigate through adversity, trials, and hardship.  In using God-given joy, it gives purpose to our pain, helps in our letting go, and heals our hurts.  The joy God bears in our lives enables us to live bravely through each tough occasion.  His love generates this kind of strengthing joy which reaches all the way to Heaven and back.  That’s joy you CAN count on!

No matter what hard thing you are looking at, try to hold to joy which only God can give.  Receive it – no it won’t make sense, but it will surprise you in how easy it is.  This kind of joy will lift your burdens and warm God’s heart.  He can see you smiling right now too!

When You Walk Through The Valley of Death

 

death

“The only thing we know for sure about life is that we won’t get out of it alive.”  Louis L’Amour

We don’t know when or how death will come and most of us don’t consider death until we have to.  In a lighthearted way, my husband and I discuss the worst ways to die.  When it comes to being eaten by a bear, it’s better to be frozen human Popsicle for a polar bear frenzy over a living steak for the Colorado Mountain Black bear.  We take such a light hearted approach to death because we both have the assurance of salvation, a serious matter we secured long ago.

For me death doesn’t hold fear but promise of an eternity with Jesus.  It involves me dreaming of my room with a view in the palatial mansion in a higher place.  An expansive estate my Heavenly Father has prepared for me and my family.  It gives me peace at night to know I have an open reservation for my immediate check in time, and it’s the fulfillment of wholeness which awaits all of us who believe.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 “Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time.  He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”   This one verse connects me to God’s original intention for His children from our very beginning.  When God created the world, He pronounced it very good (Genesis 1:31).  Since the Creator cannot improve on the created order, then the best thing for us to acknowledge is all of creation was made and established in perfect order.  We live to enjoy the life we have, and accept when we die, the same order established in the beginning will usher us all home by His loving care and peace.

Having peace in times of death removes all the scary parts about dying.   Charles Stanley puts it like this:  “Absent with the body, present with the Lord.” Peace comes in knowing where you are going if you are a believer in Jesus Christ.

We spend most of our lives running from death when in actuality we all have an appointed time to die.  Think about all the ways we try to regain our youth from diet pills to spa treatments and tons of quick fixes for our ailments.  All to stop the natural process established by God’s order since the beginning of time.

Okay, so we can accept we all have an appointed time to die.  We, as believers, know our eternal landing spot, Heaven, so what is so scary about death we don’t like to think about it?  It’s how we are going out.  I always thought I would come crashing through the gates of Heaven.  Not from my careless living but as a result of someone else’s carelessness.

All this fuss is over the recent death of my father last week.  I was looking for joy and couldn’t find it.  After all, at 94, he had a full life and handed down a rich legacy of work to his children.  He worked hard all of his life until his health forced him into an “early retirement” at 93.  His life left an imprint of caring for a neighborhood church doing what he loved to do, gardening and mowing.  (Yes, he really did like to mow the grass).  His life statement was “I would rather wear out than rust out.”  Oh sure, he made mistakes like the rest of us but as far as his tenacity and responsibility for family, I find myself grateful and blessed to be one of his children who will carry on his rich heritage of caretaking.

Since his parting, there’s been a sense of urgency in my heart to share the personal perspective on death to lend a more compassionate view of death itself.  There are many who don’t know Christ sitting in the church pews.  Sure, they may know of God, and call on His name frequently but how many really KNOW Him to trust Him unto death?

At some point in life, we have to come to grips we are not invincible and will die.  Even further, our children have questions too, and as a mom I can honestly say I didn’t have the answers when my children were young.  Although as a family, we had to grip the fact of death for real in my husband’s bout with cancer, the subject never came up where we wrestled with the reality of death in his life.  Thankfully, he was healed of cancer and has walked cancer-free for 21 years now.  I shudder thinking about having to raise my two young children alone.  I wasn’t prepared to be a single-mom at any age.

Death should force us all to come to grips with the afterlife and the reality of our eternal home.  Death forces the issue of life in death.  From my personal perspective it helps to understand death is only a new beginning to our eternal rest.  My adult children believe I think about the morbid things too much.  I believe you can’t prepare too much for arriving on Heaven’s door.

I was surprised however when my daughter called and told me a conversation between my 5-year-old grandson, Avery, and his daddy.  “Daddy, are you going to die?” he asked.  I gasped, when I heard her relate such a big question coming from her little guy.  It was obvious he had been churning death around in his mind.  After all, the question came following the death of two of great-grandpas.  Let’s also mention he made a decision to secure his eternal home by accepting Christ in the same year.

My daughter continued sharing her husband’s fatherly response, “No, son I’m not dying, why do you ask?”  Avery replied, “Well, I saw the back of your head today, and your hair looked like great-grandpa’s hair.  And he died so I thought you were dying too.”

I smiled through my tears.   I was able to have joy in the death of his fear and it helped me have a light hearted approach to the death of my father.  Dealing with life and death matters through the eyes of a child are always less complicated.  But each and every time it does hit us by surprise.  Here are some simple steps to help us ALL accept death as a part of life:

  1. Be their “ear” through the pain and grief of loss. Ecclesiastes 3: 1-2 “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.  A time to be born and a time to die.”  When it seems like everything is falling apart, remember there’s an order to death ordained by God.
  2. Be comforted through uncertainty and fears. Ecclesiastes 3:4 “A time to cry and a time to laugh.  A time to grieve and a time to dance.”   Peace is our anchor in every storm which chases life.  An anchor holds through hard winds and uncertainties, insecurities and fears.  It holds us calm in every storm.  My dad went peacefully in his sleep, it was the best point of entry he could have.
  3. Be God’s love past the hand of death to pass it around.  Ecclesiastes 3:8 “A time to love and a time to hate.  A time for war and a time for peace.”  Confusion is often an adversary in death.  When you understand death is a part of God’s love timeline for all of us, we can accept it as less of a harsh blow and more of a blessing.  In all actuality, death doesn’t steal life, but accelerates our eternal life with Jesus.    As believers, there is no better end than to live eternally with our Creator.
  4. Be time generous – spread joy and peace in the face of sorrow. Ps. 23:4 “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid for you are close beside me.  Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.”  Yes, death hurts and we mourn our losses.  We are not alone in death but always (even in the dark days of death – He is with us!) have the presence of God in our lives.  If our loved ones, who go Home before us, could really share with us what they see now and how they are seen and fully known, we couldn’t ask them to come back.  Yes, we miss them but we celebrate they made it home before us.  What a reunion time it will be to see them plus ourselves whole and as we are fully known to God.

Points to ponder:  The reason you are still alive and reading this is your purpose on earth is not fulfilled yet.  There’s more people to love, spread joy to and bring with you through the Heavenly gates.  Don’t be sad when a loved one passes away, find joy in the fact they are whole and fully known now.  Imagine the finest drink from the fountain of youth!  And the view…Oh my…if you could see it….you would be telling your friends about it too.

In what ways have you helped a person through the pain of death?