Melancholic Joy

 

 

This week marks the four month anniversary of the death of my sister, Kimberly. It’s hard to believe that it’s already a third of a year. I seemed to experience more melancholy last week than this week. It’s probably because I was remembering the days that led up to her death. On the anniversary day of this week I woke up feeling great serenity, until I went to Yoga.

Tuesday during my Yoga class I discovered something new in my life: a melancholic joy. That’s kind of an odd place to discover this, and yet as I think about it, it’s not odd at all.

I tried Yoga a few years ago and wasn’t too crazy about it. Some of the poses were strange and I couldn’t achieve many of the positions to which our instructor guided us. I saw nothing relaxing in it at all, so decided it wasn’t for me. The time of the class didn’t work very well in my schedule either, so that too affected my decision not to go back. It’s funny though, how we change and how God uses all kinds of ways to take care of us in areas where we are unaware.

My renewed interest in Yoga came because a friend in another city began attending a Restorative Yoga class. I became intrigued and quite curious again about Yoga when she told me of the many benefits she is receiving. By the time each class ends she knows her body has let go of an incredible amount of tension which can build up so quickly in just a week’s time. When a new Yoga class opened up at our church’s family ministry center, at an optimal hour for me, I knew it was time to try this type of workout again. I was open to anything that could take me to deeper places of serenity.

The types of stretching, interesting poses, and focus upon deep breathing all are important components of the de-stressing processes of Yoga, but for me, the best thing about this class is the relaxing and spiritual environment that presents itself each week. Of course, I know this wouldn’t be possible without the incredible instructor God beautifully placed to lead this class. It’s evident that the Spirit of God is leading through her. When we’re in the pose with our hands together she often says, “Lift your hands in prayer to God.” This place becomes a worship workout with directions like that. The music she chooses to play during our class connects me to the heart of God. That’s where it dawned on me that there is a place of rest and serenity that is a melancholic joy.

It’s good the lights were low on Tuesday because my face got all scrunched up, my eyes became teary, and my nose sniffled with the closing music. The instrumental music that closed out our workout was Amazing Grace and Be Still My Soul. Later that afternoon while doing some things around the house, I tuned into my favorite Pandora station: Lullabye Radio. Two instrumental songs played: Amazing Grace and Be Still My Soul. I sobbed. I knew it wasn’t accidental that I was hearing those two songs again.

I thought, “God, why am I hearing both of those songs again?” It’s like He said, “It’s not the beauty of the melody that is bringing on the tears of melancholy, but there are some of the words of the songs I need to remind you of.” This phrase from Amazing Grace captured me, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun. We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.” From Be Still My Soul, I focused on, “Bear patiently the cross of grief and pain. Leave to thy God to order and provide. Through thorny way leads to a joyful end.”

I experienced a melancholic joy because even in the sorrowful place of missing my sister, Kimberly, I was overcome with joy because God’s goodness and graciousness was all around me. I had only to open the eyes of my heart, soul, and body to see it. It is in that place that I choose to continue living.

I will continue loving the One who loved me before I was ever born. I will continue being on the look out every day for things to write down in my thankfulness journal that come from Him. I will continue deepening those relationships most dear to me and cultivate the new ones that God brings into my life. This community of family and friends brings incredible meaning to my life.

I will be comforted everyday in the hope that I will spend not only 10,000 years in the perfectly prepared Home awaiting me, but will stay there forever. It’s in that place that I can gaze on Jesus who redeemed me, my sister, my mother and all others who put their faith and trust in Him alone. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully… I Corinthians 13:12 The suffering of Jesus made possible the joy in sorrow I am now discovering which will one day be made perfect.

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Hope or HOPE!

For the past three months it seems like the word hope has shown up over and over in my life.  It has come from different places in the Bible where I just happened to be reading. It has also appeared in secular books I’ve read. And then Sunday the worship leader read Romans 12:12 “Rejoice in hope.” I thought it rather strange that he read that scripture since it wasn’t the passage the preacher would be focusing on in his sermon. It was a word for me. I’ve think lately I have tried to run away from leaning into the word hope because of the grief in my life and possibly because it’s a word I overuse. We use this word for all types of wishes and desires. We want something to happen. Recently these are some things I said or thought:

  • I hope I get enough sleep.
  • I hope I can find that receipt.
  • I hope I can find my fit-bit.
  • I hope the new recipe I tried turns out.
  • I hope there’s time to get everything done that needs to get done.

When I look at this list I can’t help but ask myself the question, “Do I feel anxiety every time I use the word hope in these situations?” The truth is, probably so. Yes, I pray in many of these instances, but there’s a lack of peace when I don’t get a positive yes to what I’m hoping for. These types of hopes are wishful thinking. These are not earth-shattering things, but I do allow these things which are really minor to bring disruption to my soul. These aren’t bad desires. These things can seem small, but are still worthy of praying about. Then, there are majorly serious things in my life that I have hoped for. Many of these hopes have been fulfilled. I’ve been happy because of them. I give God thanks for them.

But, one of my hopes wasn’t fulfilled. The disease of cancer invaded my sister’s body 5 ½ years ago. Cancer took her life on the morning of May 26. My hope, her hope, hundreds of others’ hopes – prayers prayed in faith didn’t receive what we hoped for. It didn’t turn out like “we” wanted. God in His goodness has been blasting out this word HOPE for a reason. God in His goodness wants me to take a good look at what this Biblical HOPE really means.

“Rejoice and exult in hope…” (Romans 12:12) What kind of hope is it that I can rejoice in? Can this kind of hope help me to not get bent out of shape over the “little things” that might not go my way? Can this kind of hope carry me through grief when my heart is broken? Absolutely and emphatically, YES! Hope is tied to something that I hope will happen in the future. Most things I hope for have some uncertainty in them. Biblical HOPE is a hope of certainty. It is based upon the Word and Character of God. There are some things I KNOW are true for today and therefore are true for tomorrow. What are they?

  • I am never alone. Jesus is always with me. “And lo I am with you always.” Matthew 28: 20
  • I don’t have to stay in a place of discouragement. God says, “I will strengthen you, I will help you.” Isaiah 4:11
  • God will lift me out of the pit, Psalm 40:2
  • God will turn my mourning into dancing, Psalm 30:11
  • God will use my pain to bring Him glory and to develop maturity of character in me, Romans 5:2-5
  • I have the gift of eternal life in Heaven awaiting me. I will see Jesus face to face and experience living with Him forever! I will see my sister again! 1 John 5:13
  • I am perfectly loved by God and will always be perfectly loved by Him. Nothing will ever separate me from this perfect unconditional love. Romans 8:31

God is my HOPE and He never fails. I can rejoice even in my pain, even through my tears, even in my waiting because I have attached myself to the God of sure, secure hope. This rejoicing is not based on how I feel; it is based on knowing who God is and what He freely and lovingly gives me. These gifts are never given because of my performance, but because of my faith and trust in Christ and His love for me.

I had a text from Kimberly the day before I flew out to see her, three days before her death. She wrote these words, “It’s been another PERFECT DAY WITH JESUS, and Annalena (her grandbaby)! I’m doing fine! In recliner resting.” She understood what Biblical, Christian hope is and she was doing FINE! She knew she was secure in Jesus and she was satisfied.

Joy and satisfaction and peace can be found only through anchoring our whole self to Jesus, who is our Hope for today, tomorrow, and always. As a friend said to me just this morning, “How can we live without hope!” Because of Jesus and what His death, burial, and resurrection means, we don’t have to! He’s our hope of Glory!

Joy Out of Despair

A while back I had the joy of leading my Bible study group since our leader was out of town. The lesson was from 1 Samuel 1. Many of us who were brought up in church are quite familiar with the story of Hannah. She was barren, prayed for a son, and God answered. Many times in our study we spend most of the time focusing on the main character of the story. Usually this would be Hannah. In reality, however, the primary character is God. In my study, I focused on the character of God and how he responds to someone in great distress and need.

This story takes place in a time when polygamy was the norm. This was not God’s perfect plan, but the culture embraced it. And, it always made life messy for everyone. Hannah’s husband had two wives. The other wife, Peninnah, had children, Hannah had none. It appears that Peninnah’s main goal in life was to make life miserable, even unbearable for Hannah. She wanted to crush her.

The Message, I Samuel 1:6, reveals the true environment for Hannah, “But her rival wife taunted her cruelly, rubbing it in and never letting her forget that God had not given her children. This went on year after year.” All of this finally took its toll on Hannah. She stopped eating. She was despondent. She wept. She was crushed. At least she felt crushed. But, she wasn’t.

She went to the sanctuary of the Lord and she cried out to God in prayer. “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.” (v 10, NIV) I read this verse in 13 translations and this is what I found about her emotional and physical condition:

  • She was in deep anguish
  • She was in bitterness of soul
  • She was deeply hurt
  • She was crushed in soul
  • She was in great distress
  • She was resentful
  • She was sad
  • She cried bitterly
  • She was brokenhearted
  • She was bold enough to ask for something big.

This was severe hurting and she did severe crying! She was in excruciating emotional pain. She came as she was. She was even vulnerable enough for Eli, the priest to see her in this condition. She was desperate. She was broken. What did God do? He heard, He comforted, He restored, He understood, He answered. He blessed. He restored her physically and emotionally. Verse 18, 19 says, “She went on her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast. Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord.”

Four weeks ago I found myself in the midst of all the emotions that Hannah experienced. My despair was different from hers, but every bit as intense. My sister died. She lost her battle with cancer. Kimberly was 6 years younger than me and what joy came to my life when she was born! We loved each other deeply. We valued this special relationship and honored each other in ways that allowed us to nurture one another in the good times of life and in the bad times of life. We mothered each other, we were best friends, we were blood sisters, but more than that, we were soul sisters. We understood each other. We could be real with each other. We accepted each other even though we were very different.

SO many gifts received through this amazing woman! My loss is deep. My hurt is deep. My grief is deep.

I am greatly blessed to have family and friends who understand this deep agony. None of them have the attitude of, “Get over it.” They let me talk. They let me feel. They let me cry. They check on me. They pray for me. Oh, how this helps! God is using so many to help me walk this journey.

Even though these precious ones are helping me walk this journey, I know that no one can comfort me in those deepest places where the deepest pain resides in my soul like Jesus. He knows every little thing about me. He knows what each pain is connected to. He has perfect understanding of all the inward workings of my heart and soul. He knows how to give me the comfort, restoration and healing that needs to ultimately come. He is present. I must be aware of that Holy Presence and spend lots of time resting in that place.

What are the results of going to God in our brokenness, pain, and desperation? What happens when we come to him with sobs of grief and hurt and pure honesty? It takes us to a deeper place of knowing God. It takes us to a deeper place of trusting God. It takes us to a place of humility. It takes us to a deeper place of surrender. It takes us to a deeper place of worship. It takes us to a place of hope and healing.

We are always welcomed into God’s presence just as we are. These words penned by David Crowder in the song “Come As You Are” express this place so well.

Come out of sadness from wherever you’ve been
Come broken-hearted, let rescue begin
Come find your mercy, oh sinner come kneel
Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal.

There’s joy for the morning
Oh sinner be still Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t heal.

My sister found Heaven’s perfect joy and healing when she took her final breath here on Earth and went safely Home to live forever with her Beloved Jesus. For us still here, we can be assured that mourning doesn’t last forever. It is for a season. There is an ebb and flow to this time of suffering. The time of tears will be further and further apart. I have faith and hope because of the Words of Life that I find in the promises of scripture and because of the One I’ve put my trust in.

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” David’s words in Psalm 30:11-12. These are words for me . . . and perhaps for you today!

FitBit for the Soul

 

 

 

A few years ago my sister asked me if I had a FitBit. I told her I had no idea what one was. She told me it was the rage: her daughters had one as well as most teachers she worked with. She tried to explain it. I thought all it did was track your steps for the day. I figured I didn’t need one since I already incorporate some type of exercise into most of my days. I went out and bought a $10.00 step tracker at Aldi. I never used it. I’ve made it pretty well without any kind of step tracker, up until two weeks ago. I don’t look a gift horse in the mouth when I’m offered something free. So I wasn’t about to turn down a FitBit when it was gifted to me.

A FitBit is quite fascinating. I had no idea it could know so much about me. It knows:

  • The number of steps I take in a day
  • The distance I traverse
  • The calories I burn
  • The type of steps I take: a stroll, vigorous walk, or a run
  • The time I go to bed
  • The hours I sleep
  • The type of sleep I get: restful or restless

This FitBit is designed to make me a healthier “me”. Maybe it could make you a healthier you. However, we have to realize we can look quite good on the outside and be quite ragged looking on the inside. And, that ragged look on the inside matters to God and it should matter to us.

That makes me ponder these questions: Am I living the way God designed me? Am I doing the inward work that moves me more into the place of inward healthy living that brings wholeness?

I know I want to say yes to all of the questions. But, part of living out the yes is understanding there are places in me, and in all of us, that still need working on. It’s so easy to run and hide from these things. These things lurk in the shadows and keep us from living out the full beauty that is in each of us. God’s desire is that we live in the light of His son Jesus. But, to do that we must make sure our hands are open to God as we pray as David did in Psalm 139. He asked God to search his heart, and his thoughts, to show him his grievous ways, and then to lead him in the right path. It takes courage to pray this and really mean it.

The FitBit is not totally accurate on its tracking. That’s a given. But, God is accurate on all things about each of us. He knows those places in each of us that stump us up and keep us from going deeper with Him, deeper within ourselves with helpful self-knowledge, and deeper with family and friends. It takes humility to do this hard work. It’s a peeling off of things that are artificial. It’s a taking off of masks we wear. It is in this place, however, that there is true freedom to become the person God uniquely designed us to be. It’s a place that can make us feel more alive, more settled in our soul. We then can love deeper, care deeper, think deeper, live deeper, experience deeper, search deeper, and long deeper.

 

Most of us struggle saying yes to entering this kind of God work/soul work. It can be brutal but oh the joys! I love what David Benner says: “My identity as a Christian has more to do with becoming than with simply being. And what I have wanted to become has been fully alive and deeply human.” It’s rather risky to start living in this way but it’s a way of living the journey of becoming whole, alive, and deeply human.

The Right Question

 

How did Jesus attract people? In my first class of training for becoming a professional Life Coach we discussed the ways Jesus encountered those he met and how he invited them into relationship with him. To develop relationships, many times Jesus asked questions. Asking questions was central to his life and teaching. A question he asked Peter grabbed me a few weeks ago as I was reading through the book of John.

I landed in the book of John during the month of March. In January I began reading through the Bible using the guide found in the book “A Woman’s Guide to Reading Through the Bible”. However, I found that I needed to park in John longer than the guide suggested.

One reason I wanted to park there was that my sister, Kimberly, was also studying the book of John in Bible Study Fellowship. I wanted to be experiencing some of what she must be experiencing as she is diving deeper into this glorious book of John. This is the first year she’s ever had the privilege of doing BSF. You see, she taught school 22 years, but last year she took disability retirement. It was time. The sixth year of living with cancer was taking its toll. Truly, it is not just happenstance that this is the year of studying John in BSF, and that Kimberly is getting on it.

I slowly and intently read these powerful, beautifully written words of the disciple John. And, I must admit there were times my reading moved me to tears. What a Savior who suffered, bled, died, and rose again for ME, for ALL. He is my inheritance now and forever. He is this for anyone who calls upon Him, trusts Him and begins to really live life in relationship with Him. I was reminded by a friend this week that life here is just the pre-show. Yes, there are ups AND downs, but it’s the pre-show. The real show begins when I see Him face to face. What a glorious day that will be!

The last chapter of John did wipe me out the day I read it. I’ve read it many times, but there was something different that stood out to me on that particular day. It was the question Jesus asked Peter. Peter had seen the resurrected Jesus two times before this particular meaningful encounter. I can only imagine how much Peter was missing waking up and experiencing immediate fellowship with his dearest of friends. They’d walked and talked with each other for over three years. His life was definitely going to be different now.

On this particular day, Peter and some of the other disciples went fishing. Peter was a fisherman. It was something he’d done most of his life. It was comfortable. It was familiar. It was a part of his identity. Going fishing could have been a way to deal with some of the sadness of knowing his dearest friend, in bodily form, wasn’t going to be around anymore in the way he’d known him. He and his friends had fished all night and caught nothing.

Then, morning came and someone on shore calls out, “Friends, haven’t you caught anything?” The answer is no. This person tells them where they need to cast their net. They do as he says and the catch is big: 153 fish. Suddenly, they know this is their friend, companion, and now Savior, Jesus. They gather together on shore and Jesus says, “Let’s have breakfast.” Mealtime is the perfect time for fellowship. A powerful conversation ensued that included some powerful questions for Peter.

Jesus asked Peter. “Do you love me more than these?” I’m sure most Bible scholars are quite certain Jesus was asking Peter if he loved Him more than the other disciples. But, as I read this I couldn’t help but wonder if  Jesus could also have been asking Peter if he loved Him more than he loved fishing (the thing that was bringing him comfort on that day). Jesus asked him this same question three times. Peter says yes each time.  Jesus then gives Peter instructions on how to live for the rest of his life. Peter was ready for God to use him in turning the world upside down with the message of the Gospel.

Jesus often asks me, “Kristi, do you love me more than _______________?” That question has ended in many different ways. Lately, I’ve realized it could include an old way of thinking.  It includes anything that needs pruning or  totally weeding out. My thoughts and beliefs can be very self- centered! They can be dark. I am amazed at how blinded I can get to that very thing. This place of soul work can be painful, but oh the joys. It’s taking me to a deeper place of knowing God and knowing myself. And, it is good! It is freeing! It is cleansing! It is challenging! It is transforming!

What would Jesus put in the blank of that question for you today? Do you love me more than______? Jesus rose again so we could really live, not for ourselves, but for Him. If we know Him, what an inheritance we have! We haven’t received our full inheritance, heaven, now. But, each of us, if we have a personal relationship with him, can have a taste of it now, in the pre-show. Let’s not get stuck, through our own selfish agendas, wrong worldview, and selfish motivations that we miss out on what we have offered now: Peace, contentment and joy that come when we live a life for His glory and honor alone.

Taming the Inner Critic

 

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I love to be with people, but in small groups. It’s just how I’m wired. I love leading and facilitating Bible studies and other types of small groups, but I have a “favorite” number for group size – five to seven. That’s where I’m most comfortable. Oh, and it’s really comfortable when I actually already know one or two in the group pretty well. It gives me comfort and security. Needless to say, I’m an introvert. It’s how God designed me.

But, in my life God has asked me to get out of that place of comfort and share my life with bigger groups. It’s quite scary. I’ve said “yes” many times and I didn’t faint, get sick, or die. I know I’ve felt sick, but it didn’t happen. I have God and His strength to thank for that. However, I don’t come away from those uncomfortable situations to a place of joy and peace, thinking to myself “oh how God used me. It was wonderful!” I come from those places with my own inner critic screaming at me saying things like, “What you said was confusing. That didn’t go so smoothly. You should have done better. On and on and on my own inner voice goes.”

How grateful I am to be in a better place of understanding this about myself: I have a strong inner critic that God wants to tame. And, he’s in the taming business! So what are some things I’m learning?

  • There are times I won’t be at my best, and it’s okay. When God calls me to a new place where there’s some stretching going on in me, there is never any need for beating myself up because it didn’t go perfectly. Give myself grace. It will go better next time, if there’s a next time.
  • Accept that no matter what, I am Christ’s beloved. That’s the only thing that really matters.
  • Give thanks to God when He shows me something I need to correct in my life. It’s out of love He shows it to me. He’s not pointing it out to beat me up or condemn me. He’s revealing it to me so I can grow up more.
  • I am me and His design in me is good. So, there is no need to ever compare and compete with anyone else.
  • I ask God to show me how to replace those critical remarks I make to myself with life giving thoughts. He will do it.

Thank you, God, that even as I ponder and write these words, I realize more and more how easy it is to fall back into living in a “me centered” place instead of in a new creation place. Although I’m never perfect, help me to always make forward movement that brings greater freedom in Christ .

To what new place is God taking you? How are your getting there? What are you learning on the journey?

Don’t Worry about the Didn’t

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Last year at the beginning of the New Year I was proud of myself for sitting down and working on some goals. One of those goals was better time management. I didn’t do as well as intended but one thing I’m learning through this is – there is no reason to beat myself up over it. Life happened. That life event that I had no control over knocked the wind out of my sails. Some could shake their heads at me and think, “You’ve got to be kidding! That’s nothing. Pick yourself back up and get going.”

Well, I did keep going but my journey for awhile was hard. It affected every part of me: It affected my sleep, my inner peace, my joy, my outlook on life. Part of my “time management” plan was that by such and such hour of my morning I would have accomplished some intentional and specific tasks and then get on with my day.

It looked good on paper. I know getting things down on paper is extremely helpful. Many times it’s the thing that moves us toward success. But, when life circumstances affect the deep parts of our soul, we have to ride it out.

We have no idea what it’s going to look like. We have no idea how long it will take. We have no idea how long the unpleasantness will last. But, as believers in Christ, we know one morning we will wake up and restful sleep will have returned. Sweet rest, deep rest will again be a reality. The day will be lived in a place of order and peace. The day will close and there will have been joy.

As the first month of 2017 comes to a close, I don’t have to worry about that specific “didn’t”. I can be content with the “did” because God did a work in me. There’s joy after the struggle because of the new work that took place within me. It took me to new places of dependence on God, new places of transformation, new places of knowing more about myself. Places that needed to be tended to and listened to.

Difficult times will come again that will hinder “my plans” that will hinder “your plans.” What do we do? We ride out the storm knowing Jesus the living water, loving water, and lasting water is with us. He doesn’t let us go – because He can’t. It’s not His character. In Isaiah 61 we are told that He gives good news to the poor, freedom to the captives, comfort to the hurting, bouquets of roses instead of ashes, messages of joy instead of news of doom, a praising heart instead of a languid spirit. (The Message)

How will you ride out the storm this year? How much deeper do you want to go with Him in 2017?

The Two Most Important Colors of Christmas

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Two years ago we bought a new Christmas tree. Our new house needed a slim-line tree since our living area is smaller. We found the perfect one for the space we have. Since it was a new tree, I decided to get new ornaments. The colors I went with were white and red. For my decorating taste, there is something elegant about the white and red balls among the white lights. I am an early riser which means I get to sit in my comfy chair, turn on the gas logs, and enjoy the beauty of this lighted Christmas tree.

I decorated with white and red because it is what I like. It comes from a preference. I didn’t choose those colors because of anything spiritual. However, God can use all kinds of things to get our gaze closer upon Him. If there’s anytime our gaze needs to be more on Him, and less on ourselves, it’s Christmas. The colors white and red can’t help but draw me more into an emotional, joy-filled place of praise because of what these colors represent spiritually. These two colors symbolize what Christmas is all about. They remind me of who Jesus is and what He did for me and all peoples of the world.

The color white expresses the purity, perfection, and holiness of God. Jesus is the exact representation of His Father. The prophet John tells us in John 1 that Jesus is full of grace, truth, and light. This grace, truth, and light was born so we could experience life as we’ve never known it before.

But, red had to happen in order for us to have life as God intends. Red in the Bible symbolizes blood. Before Jesus’ birth, a perfect lamb without blemish had to be sacrificed in order to approach God. Now, that is no longer necessary because Jesus – the perfect Lamb of God – was born. He shed blood that led to death. It’s why He was born. Jesus was born to die. The good News is – that wasn’t the end of the story – Jesus rose from the dead. He conquered death so that man can really live here on earth and eternally in heaven.

Trusting Jesus as a Christ-follower doesn’t mean we don’t have problems, but it means He is with us guiding us, directing us, strengthening us, loving us, embracing us, providing for us, transforming us, preparing us to one day see Him face to face.

Let us not miss seeing Jesus during this special time of the year when we celebrate the most amazing and spectacular birth that ever took place. He shows up in all kinds of fascinating ways. May we take time today to ponder what He’s doing in our lives that draw our gaze more directly upon Him, the perfect lover of our souls.

How do you celebrate the birth of the Lamb of God? What will you give Him this Christmas?

 

What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

(From In the Bleak Midwinter by Christina Rossetti)

Developing a Heart that Sings When Thanksgiving is Hard

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Reflecting on the time spent celebrating the holiday we call Thanksgiving fills my heart to overflowing. There’s nothing sweeter than hearing the laughter and playful spirit of four children, ages 21 months to eight years old. There’s nothing dearer to a mother’s heart than having her children and their families gathered around the table for a meal where love and unity is evident. What totally amazes me is that even though I get to see three of these grandchildren at least once a week, I still couldn’t wait for their grand entrance to Mimi’s house on Thanksgiving Day, 2016. These children bring contagious joy.

That day thanks came easy. However, there are many days that giving thanks is not easy. Many who celebrated Thanksgiving were not able to utter words of gratefulness because their hearts were breaking due to painful, difficult circumstances. I don’t have to look far to see those who are in desperate places in their own health or the health of family members, in marriages, in struggles with children, in the lack of basic necessities of life. There are emotional needs that can cause intense pain: depression, fear, anxiety, uncertainty. I know at any time one or many of those things can knock unexpectedly at my door. I know because I’ve been there before. I know because we live in a broken and fallen world where we never know what tomorrow brings.

Can we ever prepare for the unexpected knocks of hardship and difficulty – even the tragic ones? I doubt totally. I believe, however, there are things we can all store up that will help us be more prepared when life takes a hard turn.

We begin with what we know about God: His goodness, His love, His redemption through Jesus Christ, His faithfulness, His provision (little or plenty). The best and perfect tool we have to know Him is the written word. It tells of His works. It tells of His character which is what we must hold onto when we are knocked down.

As I think of the power of the Word I can’t help but think of the movie we watched a few weeks ago: “The Insanity of God.” It tells the stories of many who live in places in the world where people are persecuted for their faith. Many do not have access to a Bible. Those who do know their lives may be in danger simply because of this. One man in Russia, before the fall of communism, owned a Bible, read it for himself, then read it to his children, then others gathered to hear these precious words until the house church reached 150.

News of the house church reached local officials. He was imprisoned 17 years with 1500 hardened criminals for His faith. He was 1000 miles from his family. Dimitri, however, had established habits early on in his life that would carry him through days of horrendous suffering. The Word became embedded in Him because He spent time reading it over and over. He read it out loud to others. He preached it to others. The reading of it put a song in his heart. It made him strong. It gave him a supernatural courage. It built spiritual muscle. The two habits he had learned from a believing father and a believing grandfather, carried him and sustained him. The habits were a steadfast reading and breathing in of the Word of God and singing to Him.

Those two habits didn’t stop during those 17 years of horrible imprisonment. Whenever Dimitri found any type of writing material – a scrap of paper, something with which to write – he would write down scriptures he remembered. Then, he would stick that paper high up on one of the four tall concrete pillars in his cell, which were always moist. Guards would see them, read them, tear them to pieces, and then beat him. The other habit he’d learned from his disciplers (father, grandfather) was singing to Jesus every morning. Upon wakening, he’d look to the east, raise his hands in worship and sing out to God. He did this singing every morning like clock work. The prisoners laughed and did everything in their power to drown out his singing.

The guards came up with a plan to break him. They paraded a woman prisoner, dressed like his wife past his cell. Of course, he believed it was his wife. They told him she was his wife. He heard her cries for three long days. Finally, he said, “This is too much. I can’t stand it. You win. I’ll sign whatever document you bring.” But, the next morning when the document was brought before him to sign, where he would be renouncing his faith and give in, he boldly said he would not do it. God let him know during the night that his wife and children were safe at home. Two weeks later, after writing and posting another scripture, the guards beat him, and promised he would be facing death in just moments. When being drug out, all prisoners lifted their hands toward the east and began singing the songs to God that they’d heard him sing all those years. Dimitri was released.

Even when times are hard and life is dark and gray, we can stand strong, we can kneel strong, we can be on our face strong, we can sing strong, we can give a strong word of thanks because of the love that God sings over us everyday in spite of our circumstances. Let us do whatever it takes to be steadfast in the daily taking in of the Word of God. There is a reward: It develops a heart that sings.

 

 

 

 

Wonder – Taking the Step from Ordinary to Extraordinary

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A couple of weeks ago we had workers in our backyard putting in a patio. It just so happened that I kept our four year old granddaughter the day the construction began. The workers were where Lyla could watch from our bay window. I had no idea she would be so captivated by the work in progress. First she came running and told me she’d waved at one of the workers and that he waved back. She was delighted. Her eyes were glued to their every move. Finally, she asked if she could go outside and watch from the deck. She said they were now “mowing the dirt”. That’s how she described the leveling process. She said it was the second step. I’m not sure how she understood all of that, but it was evident she was taking it all in and she was enchanted with the work they were doing. Living in wonder seems to be natural for children.

Watching her, I realized she was in total amazement and wonder of what these skilled workers were accomplishing. This was a picture of what natural child like wonder really looks like. She looked from different angles; she found a comfortable place and position to do her gazing. She smiled at them first. Then she moved closer as she went outside. She even struck up a conversation with them. She was in a place of total awareness.

I can’t help but think how often I miss out on experiencing the joy of today because I am not living in a place of wonder, which is really a place of joyful expectancy. As adults we are bombarded with bad news. We are bombarded with too much to worry over. We are bombarded with things that can feed our selfish indulgences. It’s like we open up our mouths and let things that breed negativity flow into every part of our soul. It takes over until there is no room left for joyful wonder.

As I watched Lyla that morning I realized living in wonder really can become a part of our daily living. The wonders of God are all around us! David tells us this in Psalm 40 verse 5: “Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders you have done….were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare!” It’s really not all that hard to start practicing living in that place. I even became aware I’m already doing many things that foster having many daily “wonder moments”. What are those things?

  • Writing down at least three things I’m grateful for each day. I actually do this in the morning which means I write down things from the previous day. I started this habit in 2001 after I read “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp. All I know is I’m on number 5,232. I don’t know what number I’d be on if I did it everyday since I started. There are days I miss. I’m too lazy to do the math right now.
  • Taking every opportunity possible to enjoy the beauty of a sunrise or a sunset. We have the widest and biggest screen that’s available to mankind at our fingertips and it’s free! Take the opportunity to let “Heaven and nature sing!”
  • Getting outside and enjoying the freshness of a morning through taking deep and slow breaths.
  • Connecting with others and listening to their special God stories. Those always fill me with wonder.
  • Being still for at least 5 minutes a day doing nothing but thinking about the love of God and His other qualities and actions that I admire the most about Him. His love is personable and intimate. The words of an old hymn by Frederick Lehman describe this Love so well: It’s rich, it’s pure, it’s measureless, it’s strong, it endures forever. Thinking about this love always puts me in a place of reverent wonder!

 

There are many other ways to embrace the joy of wonder. These are some simple ways I’ve found that help me find extraordinary beauty in an ordinary day. I’d love to hear from you! What are ways you practice living in wonder?