Questions to Consider

Today is the first day of a new series which I hope will carry us through the holidays. I will write about questions I’m sure we’ve all asked about our faith–from the mundane to the serious. I’m not going to pretend to have the definitive answers. Those would come from people who have studied and thought about the Christian faith much longer than I have. No, these questions come from the heart of an ordinary Christian woman trying her best to rest in God’s grace as His daughter and to have the heart of Jesus as she lives in this world between the now and not yet of Jesus’ coming back for us. Ordinary, just like you.

So, with that being said, let me describe what brought me to the first question. A few months ago, I was looking for another devotional since I had finished reading and writing through the devotional 100 Days to Brave by Annie F. Downs. I received an email one morning saying that the free giveaway at Lifeway Christian Store for the week was a copy of the devotional The Devotional for Women which was edited by Rhonda Harrington Kelley and Dorothy Kelley Patterson. Wow, it was something I needed, and it was free. You can’t beat that. I went to the story and picked it up. I’ve been using it since then, and it has been God honoring though more female focused as you would expect of a devotional with the title The Devotional for Women. I don’t have anything personal against this particular devotional or any other female Christian author I have read, for that matter. They’ve all blessed me tremendously.  I have gained insight about my faith and my life from all of them. But, I got to thinking this morning. Why do we have devotionals for men and for women? Why aren’t there devotionals that both sexes could use. So, that’s my first question for this series. Why do we have devotionals for men and for women?

Now, first, I want to say I do understand about marketing to different groups. If someone is trying to sell a book to children, it doesn’t make sense to aim the advertising dollars at men who like sports. The same thing could be said about baby equipment which, I would think, would be marketed towards people who can have babies and not to retired people. The same thing could be said of any product one is trying to market. Anyway, back to the devotionals. I took a look at the books on a shelf in the Christian section of the bookstore, and there were books and Bibles available for almost every group of people. Girls, boys, teen girls, teen boys, young adults, women, single women, married women, men, single men, married men, married couples, retired people…I could go on, but I think you get the point. The Christian book industry has this marketing thing down. They market the same way that the secular book industry does.

I thought though that we were supposed to come together when we studied God’s Word. Brothers and sisters learning about our Lord and Savior. I thought God wanted the church to be a body of one with all of our differences and diversities. It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently as I’ve considered the divisions in my country and in the world. Especially in the church. We fight about anything and everything most of which doesn’t matter. Sometimes, I think Jesus looks down on us and cries with all the division in this world. I know it isn’t what God wants.

Why do we segment people into groups then for study material? We have covers of men’s books with sports, hiking, mountains, hunting and military representation on them. We have covers of women’s books with flowers, butterflies, cups of coffee, and coloring opportunities on them. I also found that even if the words women or men weren’t on the cover, I could still tell who the book was marketed to through the pictures, colors, and genders of the authors.

So what, you ask? Aren’t men and women different? Aren’t they interested in different things? Yes, they are different. I don’t deny that. What I do think though is that we don’t need to be gender divided in the church. I tried an interesting experiment a little while ago. I looked at the first several topics in two men’s devotional books and two women’s devotional books. The topics looked very similar to me. I’ll post the lists so you can get an idea.

Kingdom Man Devotional by Tony Evans

  1. A Kingdom Man Seeks Priceless Treasure
  2. A Kingdom Man Aims for the Goal
  3. A Kingdom Man Follows His Rule Book
  4. A Kingdom Man is Prepared
  5. A Kingdom Man Makes the Right Choice
  6. A Kingdom Man Brings Freedom
  7. A Kingdom Man Builds a Legacy
  8. A Kingdom Man Rules Under God’s Authority
  9. A Kingdom Man Takes Responsibility
  10. A Kingdom Man Trust that God’s Got It
  11. A Kingdom Man Longs to be Great
  12. A Kingdom Man Finds Strength in Meekness
  13. A Kingdom Man is Free to Pursue Greatness

Daily Wisdom for Men – 2018 Devotional Collection compiled by Barbour Staff

  1. Start with God
  2. Teaching Obedience
  3. Loving Other Believers
  4. Morning Meetings with God
  5. Spiritual Prosperity
  6. God’s Revelation to Man
  7. A Valuable Employee
  8. Preserved for the Kingdom
  9. Who Will Trust You?
  10. Open Your Home
  11. Don’t Wait
  12. Speak No Evil
  13. Hide the Word
  14. Family Managers
  15. God Shows No Partiality

Daily Wisdom for Women – 2018 Devotional Collection compiled by Barbour Staff

  1. Delight in His Word
  2. A Daily Walk with God
  3. The Delight of My Life
  4. Peace
  5. Just Following God
  6. Unity with the Father
  7. Consistent with Prayer
  8. Lovingly Connected
  9. Faithful Friend
  10. A Sure Foundation
  11. Christlike Compassion
  12. This Very Moment
  13. His Promises are True
  14. His Hands and Feet
  15. Living the Truth

Be Still and Know: 365 Devotions for Abundant Living by Julie Rayburn

  1. Facing Life’s Challenges
  2. Priority of Prayer
  3. Total Commitment
  4. Sin
  5. Getting Your Life Back on Course
  6. Success
  7. The Idol of Success
  8. Attitude
  9. The Lord’s Prayer
  10. Wicked vs. Righteous
  11. Stages of Our Christian Life
  12. Sufficient Grace
  13. Barometer for Spiritual Growth
  14. Church Fellowship
  15. Heaven

Pretty similar, right? In fact, they are almost identical in some cases. All topics that we all need to study. So, why are there different devotional books for men and women? Why can’t we all have a Bible study from the same book? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I think they are good ones to ask. I’ll challenge us a little further. Why can’t we all have a Bible study or devotional book written by a female author? I think it would be a great way to promote unity in the church and a great way to bring different perspectives into our study of the Scriptures.

God bless you all today!

Things are Changing

Change has been a constant theme on this blog for the last couple of months. I’ve talked about having an empty nest and what comes next in my life. I’ve talked about courage and bravery. I’ve even talked about fear. But, what I haven’t talked about yet and what I’ve been feeling recently in the recesses of my heart is loneliness.

Let me explain. I’ve been having conversations with my husband about life and about how we are different from other people our age. We’re both very comfortable around technology to the point that we’ve coined a name for it. We’re techno-geeks. Comfortable with superheroes, science, gaming, anime,  and genre fiction. Not so comfortable with frilly dresses, flashy sports cars, home decorating shows, or fancy jewelry. We’re direct with people, and we want to talk about important things–not about the latest antics of a Hollywood movie star or the latest political mess going on in Washington. We want to talk about faith and how God is leading us. We want to focus our lives on what we can change–our thoughts, behavior, and actions.

Other people though aren’t so comfortable with being direct. They would rather talk about the trivial and talk about things that don’t matter. So, I’ve withdrawn to a certain extent which probably hasn’t been the best thing for me, but it is what it is.

The loneliness is deep though, and it’s something I’m having to work through. My husband says I should embrace my small subset of a small minority, and I think I have somewhat. But, I still do stupid things a lot, and I have people stare at me wondering what in the world I’m talking about. I think those things contribute to my feelings of loneliness and not feeling like I fit in.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do have friends though many of them skew 10-15 years younger than me. Remember, I’m a techno-geek. It’s just that life gets in the way sometimes, and I wish I could be more comfortable letting my walls down with people and saying how I really am through all the changes I’ve experienced in the last few months.

I almost hesitate to bring this next part up because it’s probably going to make someone mad. But, the way I understand things in life is to write them down like this quote from C. S. Lewis says. “We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.” So, here is my disclaimer as I start to write about what brought this on today. . These are all my thoughts and feelings, and I am in no way trying to ascribe wrongdoing or hurt onto anyone else.  With that being said, here goes. I’m part of a community that has a small groups emphasis twice a year. Another one has started, and we’ve heard nothing from the people whose group we’ve been a part of in the past. We’ve assumed that they’ve decided not to do it and that we’re on our own. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. Why don’t they just ask? Well, that’s where my problem comes in. I’m afraid. I’m afraid of being rejected. Rejected for the stupid things I do. Rejected and not wanted. (Guess I’m not over that fear thing as much as I thought. 🙂 ) Then, my mind spins like one of those twirly-whirls from my childhood, and I’m exhausted with the thought of trying to fit in again. Trying to find another small group. It makes me think serving at the media board with my husband would be better, and I should just stay back there so I don’t have to try to get close to anyone again.

But, that’s not what God wants with me, from me, or from any of us, for that matter. When my thoughts are all topsy-turvy, I can remember these Scripture verses from the Word, and they will ground my feelings and steep me in the truth God wants me to keep in my heart. First, from Psalm 46:10, “He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.'” God is God despite all of the changes in my life. He is the only One I can depend on not to change.

Then, there’s Exodus 14:14. “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” God can help me fight these feelings and channel them into helping others not to feel so alone. We think we have it all figured out, and we can handle our faith and our lives by ourselves. But, we can’t. We need a community who is willing to listen without judging.

And finally, there’s Galatians 1: 10. “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” I think God meant for me to see this verse as I also saw a tweet from a Christian author while I was pulling these verses together which said the same thing. From author Annie F. Downs, “I can’t be full of the Holy Spirit and full of myself at the same time.”

So, there you have it. I am laying my loneliness at the foot of the cross and seeing what God is going to do with it. He is always with us even during the changes. He is on our side when we feel lonely, and He is on our side when we’re surrounded by people. He wants us, or me, I should say, because I’m the one who really needs it, to wade into the crowd full of His Holy Spirit so we can minister in His Name to those who are alone. I pray He gives all of us guidance as we seek to have a heart like His while living in this messed-up world.

God bless you all today!

Standing in the Gap

There is a book in the Old Testament that I want to focus on today. The concept, shown us most clearly in this book, shows us how Jesus redeemed us and also shows us how we, as brothers and sisters, can be there for each other. What book of the Bible does all this? The book of Ruth. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the story. Naomi is with her family living in Moab because Israel is experiencing a famine. Her husband and eventually her sons both die leaving her with two daughters-in-law. One daughter-in-law goes back to her own family while the other, Ruth, goes back to Israel with Naomi.

When they return to Israel, they are two women, alone and without a male protector. This is where the concept of guardian redeemer or kinsman redeemer comes into play. Gotquestions.org defines kinsman redeemer as this. “The kinsman redeemer is a male relative who, according to various laws of the Pentateuch, had the privilege or responsibility to act on behalf of a relative who was in trouble, danger, or need.” The story becomes poignant here as Boaz who is a wealthy relative of Naomi’s meets Ruth and accepts their appeal as kinsman redeemer, marrying Ruth and having a son with her who becomes the forefather of King David.

Christ is also regarded as an example of a kinsman redeemer because He is the only one who can satisfy our need for a Savior. He bought us with His blood on the cross and His resurrection. He made the church His bride and is the true kinsman redeemer for all who profess faith in Him.

Jesus is our kinsman redeemer first or should be our kinsman redeemer first before our marriages or our families. He is the One who stands in the gap for us as we seek to live for Him in this fallen world. I want to take standing in the gap one step further as we consider this concept. Many of us today live alone longer than anyone did in the Old or New Testaments. We wait longer to get married, and we experience divorce and widowhood at a higher percentage. Not everyone in the church is married, and I think we , in the church, need to remember that. We need to stand in the gap for our brothers and sisters as we pray for each other, and we need to be willing to help each other too even if we are not all the same.

My heart aches for the people who walk into church alone. Even though I am married, I remember well all the times I have been in church alone, and it’s not a pleasant feeling. Everything in the church generally falls to the default setting which is married with children. I believe that’s wrong. Everyone, whether they are married or single, should have a chance to fulfill God’s calling on their lives in the church. I am comforted by the fact though that what God calls us to do doesn’t necessarily have to be done in the church.

But, I digress. We need to stand in the gap for those who have a different life status than us. We need to offer babysitting to the single mom who would like to go on the women’s retreat. We need to take our divorced friend out for coffee when there’s a speaker on marriage at church. We need to mow the lawn for a widow or take a widower’s daughter out bra shopping. We need to befriend people of the opposite sex and not be afraid of what people at church might say. Didn’t Jesus spend time with people who were different from Him?

As I end this post, I am reminded of what Christ did for us as kinsman redeemer which was first shown in Old Testament times. I am also reminded of how God wants us to stand in the gap for each other as we face the trials and tribulations of this world. May we all remember to pray for each other today!

Forgiveness

For the last few weeks, the sermons at my church have been focused on each line of the Lord’s Prayer. We have been going through 40 Days of Prayer, and several members have been offered opportunities to write devotions, me included. I wrote my devotion on the line “Give us this day our daily bread,” which was our emphasis last week. I’m starting to think though after yesterday’s sermon, it would probably have been better if I had been able to write mine about forgiveness. Then, I remembered. I have a platform of my own so I decided to write about forgiveness today.

First, for clarity, I want to start off with the definition of forgiveness. Dictionary.com defines it as “act of forgiving; state of being forgiven.” This isn’t too clear about what forgiveness actually is so I decided to define the word “forgive”. Also, from Dictionary.com. Forgive means “to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve; to give up all claim or account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.); or to grant pardon to (a person).”

I quoted all of the definitions so it would be clear what Jesus wants us to do in the Lord’s Prayer. Here are the verses from Matthew 6 that specifically talk about this. Verses 12-15 say, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

So, there it is in black and white. God expects us to forgive others like He forgives us. It should be easy then, right? God said it, and we do it. No questions asked. No, that isn’t quite the case. At least, it’s not for me, and I’m guessing some of you find it hard too. I find it hard to forgive others because the things they do to hurt me are usually silly things. Things that would be considered childish in the adult world. So, I stuff them deep down inside. I’ve been told all my life that any hurts I have are not worth acknowledging or forgiving. In other words, making myself vulnerable was something to be avoided at all costs.

I find it’s the same way on the other end of the scale. Because I find it hard to be vulnerable in front of others, it’s hard for me to ask for forgiveness from others. Now, I’m not talking about everyday things like bumping into someone. I can ask forgiveness for those things easily. No, it’s the relationship damaging conflicts where I’m unable to stand up for what I believe in. There have been some people in my life who have given me heck for what I believe in, and we’ve said hurtful things to one another. (One of the reasons I never took debate in school.) Because I have such a hard time managing conflict, I have let the relationship dissolve. It hurts, but I haven’t been able to figure out a way where I can agree to disagree with someone and maintain the relationship. (Remember, I have been told all my life that my words didn’t and don’t matter.)

The nearest I’ve been able to come to asking for or receiving forgiveness is by writing it down, handing it to the person involved, and walking away. I know it’s the coward’s way out, but, in a small way, it’s a victory for me because I’ve been able to do what God asks for in this prayer. Does it change the relationship? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Everything I’ve heard about forgiveness say that it’s supposed to change you more than the other person. And it has changed me for good sometimes and for bad at others because I tend to withdraw. I tell myself that no one could possibly want to spend time with me because I’m such a terrible person. Like I said last week, “I know I’m hard to get along with. I know I’m prickly, and I find it hard to talk to people.” I’ve dropped out of groups because I haven’t wanted to face people. I’ve guess I’ve internalized every non-lesson I was ever taught about conflict.

Hopefully, in my words, you have found something to help you with your own forgiveness journey. Forgiveness is hard, and it’s even harder to ask for in person. When you’ve been told all your life that your feelings don’t matter and that vulnerability is a no-no, you’re not inclined to even try. I know I matter to Jesus, and you do too. He is the one who gives us the power to forgive. I just wish I knew I mattered to other people so asking in person for forgiveness wouldn’t be so hard. God’s blessings on you all today!

 

 

Getting Along with People

I tend to leaf through the pages of my writing prompt book after I’ve read a particular day’s entry. I use my wandering to get ideas  for the day’s writing, blog topics, or even things God might be leading me to as I live in the now and not yet of God’s Kingdom. I found one today that pierced my heart, and knew I had to write about it. Here’s the prompt. “I just can’t seem to get along with anyone…”

I’ve felt like this a lot recently, and the words written with the prompt say this is a common thing for writers. I was somewhat reassured by that, but even though it’s a common thing, I still have the longing for deep relationships. It’s a longing God gives all of us. It seems though that some of us are better at it than others with me being at the not so good end. I decided to write about this and what we can all do to help today because there have to be more people who experience this problem than just me.

First, have we listened, truly listened, to a person who is trying to talk to us? I have had many conversations in my life with people who are looking at everyone else, but me during the conversation. It’s made me wonder if I’m really that bad to talk with.  I’ve also had people who can’t wait to get their own words out when we’re talking. It’s made me wonder if my own words even matter. It’s also made me more likely to write my words down than to say them because the written word helps me remember how I felt about something and helps me to be honest. I found a meme yesterday with this quote that I wanted to share. “Listen and Silent are spelled with the same letters.” It makes one think, doesn’t it? 🙂

Then, there’s walking up to a conversation that stops while I’m there and almost immediately starts back up when I leave. It’s made me wonder if I’m the one being talked or gossiped about. This is especially true if I know the people involved are part of a clique who I’m not well-acquainted with.

Funny story with the statement in the last paragraph. The other day I saw a cartoon with someone in the bed about to mentally go over every conversation they had that day and wonder about all the things they should have said. Because, I do that. Every single night. I give myself mental pats on the back if something went well, and I castigate myself if it didn’t. I shared the cartoon on my Facebook page, and others told me they did the same thing. It was a small comfort.

Finally, there’s walking into a room full of people and wondering how I’m going to fit in. It is something that terrifies me enough that I’ve almost quit doing it. I’ll get somewhere early so I can be the first one there. I’ll decide not to go somewhere at all to avoid it. Or I’ll just stand on the outside looking in. It’s not a place where I want to be. It’s just the place where I am right now.

I write all this because not only has it been done to me; I’ve done it to others. We all have. Listen, I know I’m hard to get along with. I know I’m prickly, and I find it hard to talk to people. It’s why today’s prompt spoke to me. We have all found multiple ways to sin–towards God and each other. I get tired of hearing all the ways this world has turned on itself and ask Jesus if He could go ahead and come now. I don’t want to deal with all the rotten stuff and feeling like I’m alone, unwanted, unneeded, and unloved because I do. (By other people. I know my Lord and Savior loves me.) I’ve spoken before of how my husband has more of an impact with his life than I do. He is wanted and needed at our church whereas I’m not. But, I digress. We can’t get along with others under our own power. We just can’t. Jesus needs to be in our hearts, and we need to give each other grace. It’s as simple as that.

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

 

Invisible

I said last week I was going to be honest when I was in a dark time or a dark place again. Yesterday, I was in one of those places. With a dark heart and dark emotions. I was blocked from something I felt called to…again, and it’s made me wonder why I’m even here. My husband is valued for what he does. My children are valued for what they do. But, me, I’m the back-fill. I’m invisible unless no one else is available. And, if someone else is, too bad for me. I don’t know if that’s ever happened to you, but every time it’s happened to me, it has hurt down to my core.

I don’t even feel like I have anyone I can call when I struggle with faith questions or with service questions. I’ve yet to find anyone who truly understands or is even willing to listen to my hurting heart because it’s hard to understand my hurt.

I know I am valuable to God, and I know He is always there. I know that for a fact. If I didn’t, I could refer to John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God gave His Son for me. Jesus died on the cross for me. I believe that and accept it.

I believe in God’s grace too. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.”

My Lord and Savior. I let regular people drive me away from Him once. I won’t ever do it again. But, then that begs the question. What about regular people? My son has a thing he likes to do when he drives somewhere. He parks at the furthest place he can park because he says he “hates people”. Now, what he hates is the way they drive, but it got me thinking. What if we all hated each other? Would anything ever get done for God? Would be willing to share about Jesus’ love? My guess is we wouldn’t be. Why would we want to if we hated each other?

God had something to say about that very topic too. I Peter 4:8 says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” Then, there’s I John 4:8. “Whoever does not love God does not know God, because God is love.” Jesus says this in John 15:12. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” And, finally, there’s Romans 12:10. “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”

So, we’re supposed to love each other as well as love God? Yes, we are. But, can we do it on our own? I think I’ve demonstrated we can’t. We can’t unless we have Jesus in our hearts. He is the only one who can make it possible to love the people we might naturally hate.

But, what about the people who wound us, especially those who are in the church. I’ve been thinking about that recently. About people who have wounded me and my family in the past and people who have wounded me recently. The hurt can be overwhelming. It seems that once I’ve forgiven someone, another person steps in to take their place. And we’re supposed to forgive them over and over like it says in Matthew 18:21-22. “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'” That’s biblical language for forgiving over and over. 🙂

Being wounded can hurt though. It can hurt a lot. And it can help us know how Jesus must have felt on His way to the cross. He was carrying the sins of everyone in the world. I felt a knife slicing into me yesterday as I thought of how much it must have hurt Him. All of those hurts piled on top of mine. And those were just the ones I could imagine. Jesus had so much more.

So, I’ve been thinking and praying and talking to God about all of this. About how I feel wounded and invisible. About how I’m tired and wishing Jesus would come back. About how I wish I could do this church thing by myself and not have to deal with people. I’ve had the chance to crawl into my Father’s lap, and it has helped so much. It has helped me release my burdens and forgive the people involved. This is a good thing.

But, in case you might think I’ve opened myself up to being invisible again, my talking with God has also done something else. It has helped me realize that I need to be in prayer about everything I do in my life whether it be for the church or anywhere else. I want to be in God’s will and have His leading in my life. Just because someone thinks I should do something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s what God wants me to do, and that is something I need to remember whether the other person likes it or not.

Isn’t that what it boils down to? We need to care more about what God thinks of us than other people. So, when I feel invisible again, all I need to listen for is God’s voice. “I see you, daughter. I see you and appreciate your willingness to seek my heart in what I have called you to do.”

God’s blessings on you all today!

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!

 

 

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.

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!

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!