Slivers of Joy

For the past few months, I’ve been working through issues in my life and how they’ve related to my faith. I’ve blogged through a devotional and learned more about being brave. I’ve gained courage through doing things I wouldn’t have considered before. I’ve gone through the motions as I’ve worshipped, and I’ve been paralyzed as I’ve considered the question of what comes next. I’ve also considered joy and what that means to me as a Christian. But, all the parts of this didn’t coalesce until yesterday, and it makes better sense to me now.

First, I want to define joy. Wikipedia defines joy as “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness” with such synonyms as delight, jubilation, triumph, exultation, rejoicing, happiness, glee, exhilaration, elation, and more. Dictionary.com defines joy as “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation.” All of these words I’ve written down are what I grew up with as the expression of joy. Having joy meant I was happy with my life and how it was going.

When I became a Christian as a teenager, I applied this same meaning  to the Bible verses I read about joy. Verses such as John 15:11.  “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (emphasis mine)

Hebrews 12:1-2 is another example. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (emphasis mine)

Here is an example from the Old Testament. From Psalm 16:11: “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (emphasis mine)

Another one comes from Isaiah 55:12. “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” (emphasis mine)

And finally, from Galatians 5:22-23. “But, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

I might have overdone it on the emphases and the examples, :-), but it was hard just picking these five. Scripture is full of examples calling us to joy. Joy in our lives. Joy in our Lord and Savior. Joy in our praise and worship. Because I equated joy with happiness, I thought that having Jesus in my life meant I was supposed to be happy all the time.

But, as we all know, we’re not happy all of the time, and I realized that as I grew into adulthood. I was confused and still am confused, to be honest, with these verses that say we’re supposed to be joyful. How does joy work when I’m not happy? The church doesn’t do a good job in teaching about this either. We come together to worship, and we don’t think we’re allowed to be sad. We think we’re supposed to be happy and reflect it in our worship. So, that’s what we do. We put up our shields, and we act like we’re happy and joyful even when we’re not. We talk about the people who look sad, and we might even admonish them for being sad. I’m guessing the reason we do this is because we equate happiness with joy, and God tells us to be joyful in Scripture.

In my life though, I’ve learned that joy and happiness can’t be the same. They can’t. Too much has happened to me for that to be true anymore. Why? My diagnosis of clinical depression, for starters. For years, my thoughts and feelings from this diagnosis made me feel worthless and think I was a failure at following Jesus. Another reason has been the amount of time I’ve spent in hospitals. Except for when I had my children, I was not in the hospital for happy reasons, and it was hard to be joyful. I made it through, but I’m not sure joy was a part of those times. At least, my definition of joy wasn’t. Then, there’s the grief. So much grief and loss since I became an adult. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, in-laws and other relatives of my husband, good friends, and people I consider to be family. All of which have hurt me down to my core. I’ve grieved during my life. We all have.

So, how does all of this work with joy? I’ve started first by being honest about my dark times and my dark places. I’ve worked on getting my physical symptoms straightened out, and I’ve spoken or written out words that needed to get out of my head. I’ve also been persistent through illness this year. We’ve not had much of it so far, and though my husband has had to make some lifestyle changes due to his diabetes, we’ve not had any hospital stays in 2018, knock on wood. 🙂 The final thing this year which has helped me to separate the definitions of happiness and joy has been, believe it or not, the grief I spoke of last week. I’ve grieved the loss of my college dad like I expected I would. I know I will see him again. That’s a fact. But, I will still miss him here. I will miss his wisdom and his musical talent. I will be sad he is not present with his family.

But, and this is a big but, I’ve begun to find slivers of joy in my heart in the last few days. This was the key to separating joy and happiness. I’m not happy David is gone or anyone else in my life, for that matter. I’m not happy when I get sick. I’m not happy with living in such a broken world. I do have joy though, and it has nothing to do with being happy. I have joy David is no longer in pain and is with our Lord and Savior. I have joy Jesus is with me even during the dark times. And I have joy God gave us all of our emotions. I think that’s the point about joy. It needs to be rooted deep in our hearts along with the other fruits of the Spirit so we will have a reservoir to draw from when the bad times come. Not to act happy when we’re not, but to know Jesus is our constant companion no matter what happens in our lives!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

 

 

Struggles with Writing

When I was thinking of today’s topic, the word struggle came to mind. We all have struggles in our lives whether with writing or anything else. Then, I thought of all the struggles I have had or am having as I seek to chase my dream of becoming a published author. I know those of you who write have had struggles (And if you haven’t, message me. I want to know your secret. 🙂 ) so I thought I would explore my thoughts and feelings on the subject.

I believe the first struggle is finding the time to actually write words on the page. Most of us have other jobs, whether paying or not, that demand our time. Our world has hundreds if not thousands of distractions as well. The desire to write our stories, to write our words down needs to be strong enough to overcome this inertia or anything else the world might throw at us.

When we get to the table with our notebook or our computer, we reach the next struggle. What do we write about? What story idea churning in our brain will be the first to see the light of the computer screen or the notebook page? I also count writer’s block in the middle of a story as part of this category because it’s all the same thing. What words should we put on the page? This can be the place where we’re stopped forever from sharing our stories, or it can be the place where we push through and get our stories out of our brains.

Another struggle we can have is learning how to write well. I’m sure most of us have first attempts at writing stories or books that are stored away in our notebooks or on our computers never to see the light of day. We have these stories to share, but learning how to write them well is our way of making them accessible to the people we hope will read them. It is also our way of showing others we take our craft seriously.

Answering the question of why we write can be another struggle. Do we want the recognition that comes from publishing a book? Are accolades or a big paycheck (or any paycheck at all) part of our reason for going to our writing desks each day and working to make our stories the best they can be? Or is it a need or compulsion to put words on the page? As always, all I need to do to find people’s reasons for writing is to google “why I write” on the Internet. I found some interesting ones today.

From Anne Frank: “I can shake off everything as I write, my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”

This quote from Flannery O’Connor is one I’ve seen often. “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

I thought this quote from Joss Whedon was beautiful. Or I might be including it because I loved his TV show, Firefly. Not sure which. 🙂  “I write to give myself strength, be the characters that I am not, explore all the things I am afraid of.”

And finally, from Joanne Harris. “You write because you need to write, or because you hope someone will listen or because writing will mend something broken inside you or bring something back to life.”

All of these quotes resonated with me, and they give me strength as I come to the next struggle of writing. Rejection letters. Yes, I’ve finally had the courage to start submitting my stories to different publications to see if they might be interested. Nothing has happened so far so I’m getting…rejection letters. They’re a badge of honor for me though. They represent the overcoming of a fear–the fear that my writing isn’t worth seeing. Sure, some people might not like it, but I know there is someone out there who eventually will, and that is the most important reason of all to keep trying.

So, with all of these struggles in mind, I thought it would help me to develop my own writing manifesto. My own reasons for writing when the struggle gets to be too much. Maybe, someday, someone will quote me, or, if nothing else, my family will understand why I wrote.

I write because it helps me understand a situation when I am too scared to talk. I write because it helps people to understand me. I write to gain courage to live my life and share my insights with others.

Have a great day, everyone!

 

Grief and Going Back to my Roots

The two things in today’s title wouldn’t seem to be related, but they have been linked in my mind since I received the news last Wednesday night no one wants to receive. My heart aches as I write these words, but I need to get them out. I need to tell this story.

When I was growing up, I didn’t have much in the way of roots. Yes, we would go and visit my grandparents every year. I guess, in a way, those could be called roots. But my family didn’t live in one house very long. We were nomads. There was always a better job that came along or a better opportunity in the computer world, and we moved to where it was. I’ve even coined a term for it. I was a “computer brat” during my childhood. Looking back on it now, I appreciate the opportunity to have seen different places, but I still wish I had roots. It’s confusing, I know.

The closest I came to having roots as a child was the time I spent in South Carolina. Because of that time, I decided to go back there for my college years which turned into staying there for my young single and young married days. I don’t remember exactly when I started thinking this, but there was a point when I told myself that my roots were in South Carolina. Relationships that I treasured. People who I considered to be family. In fact, I tell people today I am from South Carolina though I wasn’t born there. That’s how deep the roots go.

Today, grief connects with my roots in a poignant way. Last week, I received word that my college dad had passed away. In shock, I sat on my bed with tears pouring down my face. I know death is a part of life, and I know we, who are believers, are supposed to look forward to our eternal home with Jesus. But, part of me thought my college parents would be there forever. I guess it’s just the way we think about the people who are closest to us.

As my husband and I waited over the next day to hear when the funeral would be, he told me I needed to go. Knowing that I had been there in person to honor and remember this special person would help my grief in the days and weeks to come. I agreed with him, and that’s when the pieces started falling into place. I had the offer of a place to stay, and my husband rented a car for me since he would need mine to move our son back to college. God had a point and a purpose for me going which I would soon realize.

I headed out Friday morning on the 300+ mile drive. I was sad and still a little overwhelmed as I drove east, but then I started playing Christian music, and God and I started talking. There were no distractions and no people saying I should grieve a certain way. Just me and my Lord and Savior. I cried during that drive, and I laughed and sang at the top of my lungs as I remembered thirty-three years of friendship. I was going back to my roots as I was about to start the next phase of my life, and I knew I needed to think and pray during this alone time with God. I arrived safely that night and spent time catching up with my girlfriend who I hadn’t seen in seven years.

The next day was the service. Before my friend and I went to the church, we took a tour of places from my childhood and saw the church where I was married twenty-four years ago. It was good to see places that were part of my roots and get to take pictures of them. I felt like I had gone back in time.

Then, we went back to her place and got ready for the service. We went to the church early so I could see and talk with my college mom and other members of the family. It was so good to see everyone, share memories, and love on each other. It had been seven years since I had seen most of them. I also saw people who I hadn’t seen in twenty-seven years. It was cool to see them look at me, see the light of recognition dawn in their eyes, and remember who I was. I saw I was remembered, and that touched my heart so much.

It was a good service too. I laughed as much as I cried. His sons, nephews, and others sang; we sang; and they told stories. It represented him perfectly–his love for music, family and friends, and his Lord and Savior. So many memories–singing in Christmas and Easter productions when I was in college (He was the part-time music director of our church), Sunday lunches and dinners with the family, Sunday evening services at the lake in the summer, birthday parties, weddings. The life of a family, and I was part of it. His life was a life well-lived for our Lord and Savior.

I came back home yesterday because–life does go on. My heart was heavy with grief, but it was full of reassurance too. David shared my faith, and I know I will see him again. I know where he is now. He will be missed by all who knew and loved him, but he will also live on in all of us. We will grieve, but many people will not understand after the first couple of weeks. In those moments, I hope we will all remember Matthew 5:4. “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.”

I want to finish with this quote by C.S. Lewis. “Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts and we are never, ever the same.” This is how I feel about everyone in my second family. I am different for having known David and for knowing all of them.

Thank you for letting me share about a wonderful man as I took a journey back to my roots.

God bless you!

In Memory of David Anthony Mitchell, Sr.

The Nature of Friendship

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about friendship, and I wrote a post for my other blog about it, http://thrivingingrace.com/whats-comes-next-friendship/. I’ve been trying to work out how friendship is going to look in the next stage of my life. I’ve also been working my way through some loneliness for the past few months that I’ve hoped the answers to my friendship questions would resolve. In my own life, answers have been coming, but I think they would have come sooner if I had remembered the information I’m going to write about today. Friendship happens in stages which I think would be helpful for all of us to remember.

Nowadays, almost anything can be googled on the Internet with many results being available in seconds. The topic of friendship is not immune. I found that I had been skipping over some stages of friendship in order to achieve the close friendships I was looking for. I had also been trying to put people in my life into categories where they did not fit. And, I think this is the most important, I had been trying to imprint my Christian faith onto friendships that weren’t necessarily ready for that level of closeness

I am grateful to the writer of the article I found, Jermaine Tucker, and what he wrote on humans.media about the stages of friendship. It echoed what someone else in my life had told me about friendship. We need to give friendships time to develop like we give dating relationships. We also need to realize that some friendships might not ever pass by the casual friendship stage even though we might profess the same faith.

Here are the stages and a brief description of each quoted from Mr. Turner’s article which also referenced Waiting and Dating by Dr. Myles Munroe.

1) “Stranger–the lack of awareness of another’s existence.”

2) “Acquaintance or Associate–the occasional interacting that you experience with a person.”

3) “Casual Friend–where a person can actually say that they know a person.” Most interactions stay at this place because a person is not interested in emotionally investing in another person for whatever reason.

4) “Close Friend–people have invested in each other personally and emotionally. Both people have seen each other at their best and at their worst, and they have stayed around regardless.”

5) “Intimate Friend–an individual who you are familiar with. This stage is attained over time, through shared experiences, and most important, through vulnerability.”

I had been trying to put intimate friendship characteristics onto people who, by all rights, should stay in the casual friend stage. No wonder I was frustrated and lonely. People weren’t interested in what I had to say, and I wasn’t getting it. They didn’t want me to be vulnerable in front of them. In fact, I felt like I was the only one who wasn’t getting it so I was relieved to find that trying to jump friendship levels is fairly common. Many of us do it without even thinking about it. People can think they are BFF’s one minute, and the next minute be sworn enemies. I’ve gotten old enough now though that I’m no longer interested in those rapid shifts. I want to know that the close friendships I feel are reciprocated so I know what to expect, and I want to know that people are actually interested in sharing life with me before I am vulnerable in front of them.

Hope this has been helpful for someone.

Have a great day, everyone!

What Comes Next – Faith

One more week. One more week until my older son is back at his college and my younger son starts classes at his college in our community. We’ve been enjoying the last days of summer, but I’ve also been setting up a schedule of sorts. There are things I want to accomplish in this next stage of life, but if I don’t know when I’m going to do them, they will have a tendency not to get done. One of those things is the way I practice my faith.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have been practicing my faith. I pray. I talk to God during the day. I read my Bible. I go to church and participate in the life of my faith community. But, there are things I can do differently with my faith now that I will have more time during the day. I’m actually looking forward to making some changes. I can’t see anything wrong with more time with God. Can you?

One of the things I’m planning to do is be more consistent with a focused prayer time where I’m sitting still with my Lord and Savior. I’m good at praying on the run. I’m consistent with praying at meal-time. I’ve even tried praying with someone in the moment when they ask for prayer. But, my focused prayer time has been hit or miss. Why, I ask myself? This is where it’s time for confession. Laziness, busyness, letting a task dominate the relationship, fatigue, and just plain sin. All of them interfere with staying focused on God and the things He wants to tell me. I want to be better with that going forward so I’m going to plan for it. Plan for my focused prayer times with God as I begin my days, I’m looking forward to hearing what He wants to tell me and growing in my faith in this next phase.

Another thing I’m looking forward to is having more time to serve others. I’m not talking about just at church either though having flexibility there will be nice. No, I’m talking about getting the chance to know my neighbors and showing them the love of Jesus. I’m talking about going out into my community and doing things outside of my comfort zone. I’m talking about demonstrating what it says in John 15:12-13. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Or how about in I Peter 4:8? “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” And, finally, from I John 4:7. “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” It’s all about love, isn’t it, as we serve, and that is why I’m looking forward to the chance to widen my circle.

Finally, I’m excited about the chance to learn more about my faith through the reading and studying I plan to do. I want to have different topics to write about for this blog and to share what I learn. This next season will be different for all the parts of my life including my faith, and I want to reflect that in what I say and do.

Praying for us all to have the chance to be still before our Lord and Savior today and to know His best for us! God bless you!

Life is Short

I was struggling with what to write this week. I had thought of beginning to include some short fiction pieces in this blog so I could continue my practicing in public, but nothing was coming to me. Then, I started looking through one of my writing prompt books, and I found a question. This question, along with events that have happened in the last few days, gave me my answer. Here’s the prompt. “What is something you have learned in the past few days?”

The answer, of course, is today’s title, but there is so much more than just those three words. I’m not going to go into detail about the events themselves to preserve my friends’ privacy. I just want to write about how they affected me personally. As you can imagine, both events had a “life is short” theme, and I thought about what I had been working through for the past few months. Thought about how I had felt awkward showing my true self because I wanted to fit in and feel less lonely. Thought about how I had felt my true self wasn’t worthy to be shown even though I am a daughter of God. Thought about how I had felt like I was standing on a precipice.

But, God showed me where my thinking had been wrong, and I said, “Enough!” He reminded me of Psalm 139:13-15. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.” He made me the way I am, and He wants me to acknowledge it as I live my life in His service. Just because another Christian brother or sister is doing something doesn’t mean God wants me to do it and just because others feel the need to put up shields doesn’t mean I have to. My true self is worth showing! I’m going to show it, and if someone doesn’t like it, that’s too bad. God has too much work for me to do to reach those on the edges for me to do otherwise. Life is too short for me to try to fit into a mold even if that mold is the church. God doesn’t call for us to fit into a mold either. He calls for us to have a heart like His, and I know He wants me to show my true self as I share His love.

So, as I think about my friends and the events they are having to deal with, I will think about what God has taught me and put it into practice in my life. Very thankful for my Lord and Savior who is the truest friend I have!

Hope everyone has a great day!

 

What Comes Next–Flexibility and Discipline

This summer I’ve been trying to develop some sense of a schedule I can take into the fall with me so the transition won’t be so abrupt on the first day I’m no longer homeschooling (two weeks from today). I haven’t been as successful at it as I thought I would be so I thought I would talk about how flexibility and discipline are going to be a big part of the next phase of my life.

First, flexibility. Dictionary.com defines it as “susceptible of modification or adaptation; adaptable.” Once my sons both start college classes, my schedule will be flexible, and I will have the ability to accomplish more during the day. In other words, I’ll be able to write. I’m so grateful to have this opportunity and to not be locked into a schedule that’s not my own.

But, at the same time, there’s a price that comes with flexibility, and I need to make sure I’m not paying too much as I try to accomplish the goals I want to accomplish. What’s the price? A flexible schedule can be used to accomplish other things. Household tasks, exercise, time with friends, time with family, church activities, helping someone out, being the hands and feet of Jesus–all the things that make up my life. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad all these things are in my life, and I’m glad my schedule will be more flexible.

It will just be necessary to bring another element in and use one of my spiritual gifts as I start the next phase of my life. The element is discipline, and the gift I’ll be using is administration. A funny story happened recently with that particular gift. I’ve been told many times that I have the ability to remember little details and put them into a bigger whole. I’ve never thought a lot about it. It’s just the way my brain works. Anyway, last week, I was sitting on the back row at my church crocheting while my son was working. There were a few other people working too, and one of them had to take a phone call. I was listening with one ear while crocheting because I get writing material when I observe and listen. I heard him repeat a phone number and finish the phone call. In the next instant, I heard him say he had lost it. I repeated it automatically, and he stared at me. I think they had forgotten I was back there. He asked me to repeat it again, and I did. Remembering small details like the number has always been something I could do. Not a big deal. Just a part of who I am. He thanked me, and they proceeded to finish their work.

Funny story aside though, discipline will also be important as I start the next phase of my life. Merriam-Webster.com has this as the definition I want to use. Discipline is an “orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior.” I need to plan my writing times. I need to plan my reading times so I get better with my writing. I need to be disciplined within my flexibility so I can accomplish what God wants me to do. I think this is the hardest kind of discipline because it is not imposed by someone else. I’m not going to a job that requires a certain amount of tasks and a certain period of time. No, I’m accomplishing my “job” for God by writing down my words and sharing them with y’all while sitting at my writing desk. A big job and a big responsibility while using the gift of creativity God gave me.

So, that’s where I am with flexibility and discipline. Stay tuned for the next episode of What Comes Next!

May God bless you all today!

Writing Quotes

I thought I would take the opportunity today to share some quotes about writing I have come across recently and share what they mean to me. There is wisdom in the people who have come before me, and I want to make sure I take advantage of it.

First is a quote by Maya Angelou. I came upon this yesterday in a Facebook post by Jeff Goins, and all I could think of was how true it was because it gave me the idea for today’s post. Here’s the quote. “When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.'” I was working on my latest piece, and nothing was happening. I couldn’t think of anything to write so I just started writing words. Words I knew would come out in editing. And then something in my brain clicked. It was something that would take my story in a direction I’d never thought of. It was good too. I started writing, and before I knew it, I had written several hundred words. Not bad for an afternoon’s work. So, that’s what the muse coming feels like, I thought. I’ll have to remember this the next time I get stuck.

The second quote was just as illuminating as the first. From George Washington Carver, “When you do common things of life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.” This quote helped me to know that I need to become comfortable writing in my own voice. Yes, lessons are helpful. Yes, I can gain wisdom from those who have come before me. But, I will be the most successful at this writing craft when I let my voice infuse my words which will turn into stories only I can write.

I especially liked the third quote from nineteenth-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. I had never thought of dancing as anything but what you do with your feet, but I liked how he related it to writing. Here’s the quote. “Dancing in all its forms cannot be excluded from the curriculum of all noble education; dancing with the feet, with ideas, with words, and, need I add that one must also be able to dance with the pen?” That’s how our words come alive, I would think. Come alive in the reader’s mind; come alive in those who would like to see the change reflected in our words; come alive for humanity. Dancing with my words so that they reflect who I am–this is something I aspire to as a writer.

Finally, there is this quote from Gustave Flaubert. “The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.” I have found this to be true for me. Writing is the third component to sealing a belief in my heart. I can see something in writing. I can hear someone read something. But, before it goes into my personal belief system, I have to write it down. I have to write my own beliefs in words I can understand before I can say I believe them. It is as important to me as someone else’s creativity is to them. Writing is how I express my heart and soul to the world.

So, there it is. Four writing quotes and how they apply to my life. May we all be willing to glean wisdom from others as we discover our own writing voice!

Hope everyone has a great day!