Tag Archives: Joy

27. the simple things

So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat, drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them… Ecclesiastes 8.15

I’m a quote collector.

I’ve got this leather-bound journal full of them and with me being a reader, well, let’s just say I might have to invest in another one to start logging those I find in the years to come. During one of my “browsing sessions,” I stumbled on one that still lingers on my mind today:

“Everything is a gift from the universe.”

That quote isn’t in my journal for the fact that I don’t believe it’s true.simple

I’m a Christian.

Everything is a gift, yes… But from the universe?

Humanity has always grasped at straws when it comes to acknowledging a higher power. We all know that there is something or someone greater that created all that we see. It didn’t come from nothing. As Christ-followers, we know God through a relationship with Jesus Christ. God is our ultimate gift-giver and those gifts look different when we know what they are and where they came from.

I’m also a collector of simple pleasures.

Life is short. Life is adventurous and I don’t have to explore the high seas or another country to find it (although that is on my ever-growing bucket list). Life is full of gifts, if only we would take the time to stop and look for them.

Simple pleasures are a gift from God and you don’t have to go far to find them:

  • Taking a long, relaxing shower
  • A good novel
  • My favorite coffee mug filled with something warm (coffee, hot cocoa, tea)
  • Watching animals play, especially puppies and squirrels, although usually not together
  • Soaking up the warm sunshine on a brisk autumn day
  • Going on a nature hike
  • Fresh baked cookies
  • Flannel sheets in the winter
  • Egyptian cotton sheets in the summer
  • Kettle corn and a movie
  • Putting on clothes straight from the dryer
  • Walking barefoot in the grass
  • Watching a sunrise or a sunset
  • Listening to good music in the car
  • Long drives
  • Meditation on Scripture
  • Yoga or Pilates
  • Dark chocolate covered espresso beans
  • Lazy Saturdays
  • French fries and ice cream
  • An unclutter room
  • Hugs
  • A familiar smell that brings back fond memories
  • Receiving a letter via snail mail
  • Drinking water
  • A pull-through parking spot
  • My favorite sweater
  • Floating in the water
  • Iced Chai tea
  • The feeling after a good workout
  • Checking off something on my to-do list
  • Playing a game of volleyball
  • Christmas snow
  • A good laugh
  • Taking the scenic route home
  • Writing on good-quality paper with my preferred ink pen
  • Collecting quotes
  • Sleeping in on a stormy, rainy morning
  • People watching
  • Making someone smile
  • Finishing something you started
  • The small celebration you experience in that moment when something finally makes sense or a truth finally clicks within your heart
  • The still, small voice of God

We commonly think of gifts when it comes to birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas and other special occasions. If we were to make a list, it might include diamond earrings (or a ring for us hopeless romantics), a car in the driveway with a huge red bow on it, toys for the kids, a new doll, a new pair of boots, a greeting card full of cash or a gift card to your favorite store… the list could go on. Who doesn’t enjoy some tangible displays of affection, especially if it was a little spendy?

There have been few in my life who have taught me to look beyond the materialism, and being the type who prefers a person’s company to a gift any day, well, I can easily relate. This was also one of the many blessings of having grown up on a farm.

There were good years and there were tough years, depending on the markets and how good the crop was. All four of us (my siblings and I) were provided for. We had a roof over our heads, food on the table and two parents who loved each other and us. Life wasn’t perfect, but it was full of blessings.

It’s the tough years that stand out most to me from my childhood. Those years, there weren’t Christmas gifts under the tree. Those were the years we all opted to pitch in a little cash and filled shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child and went without. Those were the years we played Yahtzee, Monopoly, Apples to Apples and Cranium – laughing until our sides hurt and enjoyed watching holiday movies while mom made goodies (with which I helped when I came of age) in the kitchen. It’s those years that taught me the joy of the simple things in life, those things listed above.

I’ve got a challenge for you:

simplethingsFor one day (tomorrow would be perfect, by the way), count your blessings. Carry around a little notepad if you need to and write them all down.

For example: I woke up without an alarm this morning and was able to enjoy five minutes in my warm, flannel-sheet-covered, queen-sized bed. That’s one. I enjoyed a nice, hot shower. That’s one. I enjoyed a cup of coffee with my neighbor. That’s one. Three blessings in the first 30 minutes of my morning and I hadn’t even left the house yet.

See where this is going? Note every moment of happiness and be thankful. By the end of the day, you’ll notice that you unwittingly unwrapped hundreds of gifts throughout your day and you will have cultivated gratitude in your heart.

King Solomon understood these simple pleasures all too well:

 

Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do…Enjoy life…all the days of this [life] God has given you under the sun…Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might… Ecclesiastes 9.7-10, paraphrase

The echoes from the Garden affect us more than we know. We tend to focus on the negative. One bad minute in the morning has a way of ruining your whole day, if you let it. But, what would it look like if you made it a point to collect those small, simple blessings and see how they outweigh the bad?

Everything is a gift from God and knowing that he loves me that much leads me to feel nothing less than gratitude and a deeper devotion to him.

It’s not always the expected things that affect us. It’s not always the big things that leave an impact. It’s usually the little, simple things that leave a mark so deep that the fabric of a life can be forever changed.

That’s why I’m thankful for the simple things.

12. trials and change

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trails of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  James 1.2-4

characterI am thankful for the fact that I am a W.I.P.

A “work in progress.”

And I am thankful that I don’t have to go through this transformation all in one shot:

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Philippians 1.6

This has been a trying year for me…one full of financial strain, relational issues, situations I had gotten myself into that left me wondering how on earth I’d ever get out, forgiveness, redemption, renewal and joy.

Yes, joy.

I have to include that as I am happier now than I’ve been in a long time. Now, don’t get me wrong. My days aren’t perfect nor are they magically full of rainbows and sunshine.

Joy is a choice I make upon pulling the covers back each morning and, at times, with each passing moment. And it’s hard.

Is it ever!

Truth is, I’m faced with trials that allow me to grow with each passing day. From trying callers at work to a friend who cancels last minute, I’m faced with the choice of joyfully extending grace or being what I like to call a “negative ninny.” I do not like what the latter does to my heart (or my day). I despise it, actually.

It’s easy to fall back into old patterns and habits rather than allowing Jesus to change the way I react in certain situations.

How many times am I faced with a tough (and sometimes not so tough) situation and immediately pray for God to fix it? How many times do I ask Him to make it go away without seeking out His Word or asking Him to help me walk through it?

How about when He answers in a way I don’t like?

“Not yet.”

“Not that way.”

“’Wait.”

“Keep doing what you’re doing, Anita, and wait.”

Or, my personal favorite: “Why don’t you spend time with me instead?” How convicting is that?

Most of the time, I know what God wants me to do…I just don’t want to do it; at least not in that moment.

How about you?  I know I’m not alone in this. We all deal with it. We all struggle with trials and most of us fight change to no end.

We must learn to seek His face first, in any and all situations. We also have to be willing to listen to His answer and to obey. We must consider it pure joy when we face any trial, especially when it changes us. “The new creation has come…The old has gone, the new is here!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

We cannot escape the trials and temptations we go through in life. Though they are hard to endure, they develop endurance and patience within us. We need to let these be developed in our lives so that we may become what God intended us to be, lacking nothing. In knowing this, we can consider it joyful because of what is developed in us as a result. That mindset is hard to grasp, but when you look beyond the trial and understand the purpose of it, what it accomplishes in us should be considered joyful.

I am not the girl I was a year ago. Granted, she’s still there as she’s a part of who I am becoming, but God has since touched my heart and has left me forever changed, moment by ever-chaning moment. And I know that change will continue…that’s  one guarantee I can hold on to.

And for that, my friends and family, I am grateful.

trials

Shared Post: The Three Blessings of Sorrow

We tend to sell joy like it’s no one’s business but our own. Thing is, sorrow can be good for you too. Just read the following:

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Written by Bo Stern

The Three Blessings of Sorrow

What John 16:33 means to me

I’ve never had to convince anyone that joy is good, but sorrow is a tougher sell. Sometimes we Christians describe a life following Jesus as something straight out of the pages of a pretty magazine. The house is beautiful, the kids have clean faces and matching socks, the refrigerator is full. We confuse the favor of God with the benefits of living in a blessed country during an era of relative prosperity. However, the words of Jesus himself in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble,” defy the idea of a picture-perfect existence in our preeternal world.

The Bible doesn’t run from sorrow, but rather encourages us to see it as one of the blessings born on the battlefield. I have experienced at least three distinctly beautiful benefits from sorrow.

1) Sorrow connects us to the comfort of God’s presence.

The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’s most extensive monologue, and is the best foundation we have on which to build a theology about the blessing and favor of God. In it, he mentions eight specific “blessings,” including poverty, hunger, and persecution. One has grown near and dear to my heart: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

I realize that comfort seems like a cheap consolation prize for mourning. It’s like, “Blessed are those who break their arm, for they shall get a shiny new cast!” This promise, however, is so much bigger and better than that.

The Greek word for comfort is the word parakaleo. It’s formed from two words: para, which means “close or near,” and kaleo, which means “to call, invite, invoke, or beseech.” Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be invited to come near. God’s beautiful, intimate presence is the blessing in our sorrow. When we are suffering, he comes near. He calls us near. He draws us out of our hurting and into his healing. It’s not just because we need to be with him, it’s also because he loves to be with us. Here’s another verse just to prove it:

So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the Lord is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for his help (Isaiah 30:18).

Every time I read that verse, I picture the Lord earnestly waiting. I can see him searching for a chance to meet with me, hoping that I will turn to him, run to him, and sit in his arms without squirming away. I find myself longing for the gift of his matchless, unbroken companionship and wondering how I can find that in my life. Well, the next verse tells the whole story, and the story matches the words of Jesus’s sermon perfectly:

O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. He will be gracious if you ask for help. He will surely respond to the sound of your cries. Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes (Isaiah 30:19-20).

God is gracious to us at the sound of our weeping. He uses adversity and affliction to draw us to himself and to reveal himself to us in ways we have not seen before. God’s comforting presence is an extravagant reward, one that we can undervalue … until we are in the heat of a battle.

That was certainly true for me. I had never asked for suffering so that I could experience his comfort. I hate to cry. Hate it. Yet in the past months I have spent more time immersed in the murky waters of weeping than I have in all my previous days combined. In the beginning, when sadness pushed tears to the surface, I beat them down. I excelled at distracting myself by changing my thoughts as frantically as possible or by trying to Bible-verse my way out of the pain. It works for a bit, and then—eventually—the waves cannot be held at bay and the crying just comes. I have abandoned my old method.

Now when the battle gets hot and sorrow overwhelms me, I hear in my heart the word parakaleo. God is near to the brokenhearted, and my tears are bringing me near to his healing. Weeping has become a supernatural tether that draws me back to the arms of the only one who can give the comfort I need. I can try to gut it out on my own, or I can let sorrow usher me right into the presence of Jesus.

2) Sorrow connects us to the heart of Jesus for His world.

When I was little, my Sunday school teacher challenged the class to memorize a verse in the Bible, so I chose the shortest one: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Though I committed these two words to memory, I had no clue as to the depth of their meaning until I was much older. The story is this: Jesus’s friends Mary and Martha had lost their brother, Lazarus, to a sudden illness. They had sent Jesus a message before Lazarus died, but Jesus had chosen to stay where He was rather than go to them. When he did arrive, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days and the sisters were mourning their loss. Though Jesus knew that Lazarus’s condition was temporary, he was not numb to the grief of those around him. John painted a beautifully emotive picture of the scene: “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept” (11:33-35).

Jesus wept because his friends wept. He felt what they felt. He felt the sting of sorrow because he loved them. Let this one stunning truth wrap around your heart like a soft blanket on a cool evening: Jesus weeps with you. The one who created the concept of emotion does not live in a state of anesthetized indifference. He hurts for the hurting.

Here’s another astonishing encounter from the pen of Mark: “And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened'” (7:32-34).

This passage doesn’t tell us Jesus wept; it tells us he sighed. Sighing doesn’t sound dramatic, but the Greek word in this verse is stenazo, and it means “to grieve and groan.” Even though Jesus was going to heal the deaf man, that didn’t stop Him from sharing in the man’s suffering.

In Mark 3 Jesus healed a man with a withered hand. He grieved over the hardness of the onlookers’ hearts. I’m telling you, Jesus feels deeply for us. He feels sadness with us and for us. Sorrow led him to lay his life down for us. When we experience sorrow, it helps us understand his heart for the world that lies trapped beneath the sway of the heartache of sin.

When we taste sorrow’s tears, we become more like Jesus by learning to share in his suffering. If we’ll let it, sorrow can keep our hearts connected to his heart of compassion for our world. This is a great gift from the battlefield because it makes us effective, capable colaborers in the kingdom, and it brings purpose to our pain.

3) Sorrow connects us to the hearts of those who suffer.

My friend Sue is sought after as a mentor by the women in our church and in our city. People turn to her and trust her with their story, not because she’s a well-known author or speaker, but because they know she’s been there. Talking to her, they feel the depth of her empathy; she understands suffering. She doesn’t minimize sorrow; neither does she allow for it to be the end of the road. Sue encourages women in a fierce fight to find the beauty, become more like Jesus, and then turn to help someone else. That women trust and turn to her is one of the greatest joys of her life, and it is a direct result of the battles she has faced and fought with faith. The sorrow she has experienced has qualified her in a unique way for the joy of walking in her calling.

Do you have a heart to help the hurting? Don’t be surprised by sorrow. Sorrow in our own battles enables us to experience a new compassion for others in battle, and this makes us more like Jesus. It molds us into more effective ministers of the gospel, and I believe that the inevitable result will be a whole new level of joy.

Are you seeing the delicate dance that takes place between sorrow and joy? It’s beautiful, and it produces deep, divine things in us that just can’t happen another way. Again I’ll reiterate that God does not cause sorrow, but he is brilliant at using it to create a perfect work in us because he loves us just that much.

Adapted from Beautiful Battlefields. Copyright © 2013 by Bo Stern. Used by permission of NavPress.

the choice to be grateful

happy

That seems to happen quite often, doesn’t it? Wishing for more happiness than we already have and we tend to find ourselves instantly dissatisfied with all that we’ve been given. I know I’m not alone in this. I’ve been there; done that. But, I’ve learned that in and through Jesus, life doesn’t have to be that way.

John 10.10 states that Jesus came so that “[we] may have life, and have it to the full.”

Beautiful, isn’t it?

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been working my way through Sharon Jaynes’ A Sudden Glory (found here) again and the eighth chapter really hit home for me again this week. Jaynes broaches the subject of seeing God through the lenses of gratitude and grace. I’d like to dig a little deeper based on my own study of those same scriptures this week.

Our world is littered with traces of “I want(s)” and”I need(s).” Everywhere we look, our culture pulls on the strings of our hearts with advertising and ideas claiming that “if only we had [blank], we’d be happy/fulfilled/content…” (you name it). Broken people lead dissatisfied lives…no thankfulness…no grace. It’s empty. Dark. Alone.

That’s no way to live.

I’ve often considered how all of this got started and well, we can point back to the garden. Everything points back to the garden. Have you ever wondered what whet Adam and Eve’s appetite for wanting something more than constant communion and union with God? Have you ever considered what stirred the desire for more and made them vulnerable to the serpent’s enticing suggestion?

It may have had something to do with ingratitude.

Adam and Eve simply were not satisfied with that life. Like me (time and time again…still learning here folks), Eve felt that God was holding out on her…on some level. She had issues with simply trusting in His goodness and that He had her best interests in mind. He does that with all of us and yet, we don’t trust Him. It’s too good to be true.

So…what do we do about the lack of gratitude in our world? How can we rise above the ashes of this world and see that true beauty that God provides in the midst of our struggles/wants/needs/desires/etc.?

With gratitude.

I firmly believe that in cultivating a heart of gratitude in the midst of this life, one cannot be dissatisfied/overwhelmed or be dejected over their circumstances at the same time. It isn’t possible. Sure…a person can fake being thankful, but only for so long…but that’s not what I’m talking about here.

Jaynes writes that “gratitude is the most effect way to deepen your consciousness to the fact that you are the object of God’s affection and love. Giving thanks awakens your sense to see God, to hear God, to taste and see that He is good” (emphasis mine).

Ingratitude laced with grumbling, complaining, and murmuring is an easy and ugly trap to fall into. It’s also very contagious. There is nobody more miserable than an ungrateful person. Have you ever found yourself near the types of people I like to call “joy drains”? Where all they see is the negative; all they do is complain? It’s easy to fall into the habit of cynicism and pessimism; to fall into that thought cycle…even for an optimist like me. It is so easy. Too easy.

Gratitude, on the other hand, turns what we have into enough. It can change your perspective on the simplest of mundane tasks and/or circumstances and transform them into moments of intimacy with our Creator.

Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “Give thanks in all circumstances.” In reality…most of us are thankful for very little. Have you thanked God for the fact that you opened your eyes this morning? That you have a warm bed to sleep in and roof over your head? Have you thanked Him for the people He has placed in your life; for the friends you have; for your children/family; for any relationship you’ve been given? I could go on, but you get the picture.

James also writes that we should “consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (James 1.2) That can be anything.

The Bible doesn’t command us to feel thankful in all circumstances. Instead it commands us to “give thanks in all circumstances.”

Jaynes put it well when she penned:

“Gratitude changes the lens through which we see the circumstances in [the little slice of time we’ve been given.] Thanksgiving changes our perspective despite broken dreams, broken relationships, tumultuous circumstances, and unfulfilled longings. As you praise God for who He is and thank Him for what He’s done, your perspective of Him grows larger and your problems grow smaller. As a result, you will experience a deeper sense of intimacy with God as the emotional gap between what you know to be true and how you feel at the moment closes.” (pg. 158)

Truth.

The moment you start to think about all that you have to be thankful for, your perspective changes, the color scheme of life brightens, and you just may catch a glimpse of that silver lining.

Just ask yourself: What am I thankful for?

It’s an easy question to answer when you think about it. For instance:

  • I’m thankful for the life I’ve been given
  • that last breath of fresh air I took during my walk on my lunch break today
  • that Jesus chose to give His life so I could living in communion with Him now while I wait for His return
  • grace…amazing, sweet grace
  • my health
  • seventy degree days with lots of sunshine (or days with sunshine, period)
  • my family
  • good friends
  • my job
  • the fact that I get to enjoy my evening catching with some girlfriends from my home church in South Dakota
  • this new and significantly important relationship God recently brought into my life

…the list goes on.

What are you thankful for?

Try it. You sense the shift. It’s impossible not to.

We see this shift throughout all of scripture. Remember the Israelites wandering through the desert? They were an ungrateful group of people…I honestly don’t think I’ve read of any single group of people or a person who were as dissatisfied (granted, I’m sure not all of them felt that way…but, as I mentioned earlier, it’s contagious…). Or how about King David? The man shifted from depression to rejoicing in a matter of seconds…just read through the Psalms. He didn’t wait until God changed his current struggle/situation. He chose to be thankful in that moment.

Let me share one more verse with you:

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
Habakkuk 3.17-18

Personally, I think it’s pretty cool how God works through that. In choosing to focus on the trust we can have in Him and on His blessings rather than focusing on our current circumstances, we realize just how big and good God is and, in turn, can be grateful for all He’s done. Everything else seems moot when you put it in that perspective.

B-E-A-U-tiful! (Thank you, Jim Carey…)

And when we choose to the do the same, our perspective will change as well.  “A thankful heart opens the windows of heaven that allow us to peek at the glory [God has chosen to reveal to us here on earth].” (pg. 160)

Part of the beauty of mankind is that God gave us free will. We have a choice. We always have a choice; a daily choice.  Will you choose to praise Him for His grace and trust in His goodness today? Or will you choose the way of the world, allowing ingratitude to seep in? I’ve chosen the former and I’ve come to realize just how truly blessed I am today…and every day.

Day 23: Better to Give Than to Receive

Erma Bombeck, an American author and humorist, once said, “There’s nothing sadder than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.” I’m sure that when she said that, she was thinking of the joy and wonder of a child opening presents on Christmas morning. I experienced such a Christmas in 1991.

It was the year I wanted a dollhouse for my Barbies to live in. My sister and I usually got similar gifts (a new doll each year) and we would play to our hearts’ content for hours afterwards, but out dolls didn’t have a place to live.

We made do by tipping chairs over and putting blankets over them, fort/tent style, and used our imaginations. Maybe they were on a safari!

That year, I asked my parents for dollhouse. I could barely hold my excitement for Christmas.

Christmas Eve, when my father finally came in from working outside, we got to open our gifts. I will never forget the giant gift with my sister’s and my name on it. The package was twice my size!

When our turn came, we both ripped the wrapping off, creating more of a mess than anything. Underneath was a two story dollhouse. The main level consisted of the living room and the dine-in kitchen. There were counter tops, cupboards that actually opened, a mock sink, door frames, miniature light fixtures, carpet and tile. One wall in the living room had a fireplace on it…granted it was one of those mural stickers that you could get at Hobby Lobby, but it gave the room a warm glow.

There was a set of stairs in the living room leading up to the second level where there were two bedrooms, both contained two different types of carpet. The roof actually had shingles and there was even a chimney. All it needed was our doll furniture and a little life!

I couldn’t wait to play with it and neither could my sister.

I’m sure Erma Bombeck was thinking of such precious moments when she made her comment. The wonder and joy doesn’t have to stop when we grow up. I still get that when I give. I don’t expect anything in return. I’d rather see the smile on a kid’s face or hear a thank you from the young woman struggling to make ends meet.

The wonder and joy I experienced when I found that dollhouse under the tree was a self-centered joy of having my dream fulfilled. There is nothing wrong with that. However, part of maturing is growing out of our self-centeredness. As we mature, we learn to rejoice with those around us and share their joy.

There is even greater joy and wonder to be the one that brings joy to others. I can imagine that my parents were overflowing as they watched me with that dollhouse. It really “is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). If we want more joy at Christmas, it’s amazingly simple. All we have to do is give more joy to others.

The late American newscaster Eric Sevareid seemed to understand our need to give to others. He said, “There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we’re here for something else besides ourselves.”

Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Luke 6:38). The truth applies all year long, but maybe Sevareid is right. Maybe it is a good thing we have one day a year that encourages us to practice it. Maybe seeing it prove true in December will encourage us to put it into practice all year long.

May your Christmas and New Year be filled with joy!