When I was a teenager who knew everything, adults who seemed ancient to me at age 55 or 60 (I know. Crazy, huh?) kept talking about how marriage was. When I knew everything I wondered why these people stayed married then. After all – if it’s so hard, just make it easy and don’t stay married. Go get a life that’s easy. That’s what I thought when I knew everything.
After 46 years of marriage, and well over the age of 60, and now that I don’t know everything, there are a few things I know for sure.
Marriage is hard work. It’s the hardest relationship you will ever have and it’s the most valuable and most rewarding. I can tell you after 46 years there were many exit ramps that looked pretty enticing. They were all lit up and looked like a lot more fun than the ordinary highway I was on with Tim Anderson – the stable, sensible, solid adult. I can’t prove it, but on Tim’s route, he probably saw some amazing exit ramps himself that would have taken him in the opposite direction from me – the one who could never make up her mind, had a new job for every season, and was always, and I do mean always late. “But I use all my minutes,” I complained. “Where is the good in getting any place early?”
If you are married or thinking of getting married, expect hard work. Expect more compromise than you ever imagined. Expect to be more flexible than the most agile yoga instructor. Expect to disagree and expect that sometimes your disagreements will break the sound barrier. Stay – stay the course – because it’s worth it. When I was in my early 20s Ruth Graham, Billy Graham’s wife, was asked if she had ever considered divorce. “No, no I never did,” she said. “Murder a few times, but never divorce.” I know. I laughed too. But they were lovingly married into their 90s. Marriage is hard work.
There is nothing better now than spending an absolutely boring night at home or going out with friends we’ve had for nearly a lifetime. One of us brings up a thought that just moments before the other had in their mind. How does that happen? We share the same faith and love the same God. When our family comes to visit, we get to enjoy time together as one collective family. We wanted this for our family from the moment we said, I do. I know this luxury is one that many of my friends don’t have. Life is never perfect. We have been through deep sadness, near death illnesses, and financial hardship. We got through them, not because of who we are, but because God planted love in our hearts and we worked hard, still work hard, to cultivate forgiveness, acceptance, empathy, and understanding. The joy outweighs everything else and it’s cumulative.
I love you, Tim. Thank you for loving me and sharing this adventure called marriage with me for 46 years (and counting). The 46 gorgeous flowers are truly touching, but even if I had none of them and all of you, it would be worth it.
It was the night of bright lights and bling. New Years Eve – everywhere we looked there was glitter and sparkle and shine. Every particle of air held excitement and ice melted from sheer energy. There were smiles and hugs and the air was electric with celebration! No matter if 2016 was a good year to hang onto with tenacious enthusiasm or one that we couldn’t wait to vanish into history, the beginning of a new year sparks hope. Parties and celebrations ignite happiness and flame the atmosphere with joy.
I wonder though, what happens now when the lights have gone out, the fireworks are over, the confetti has fallen to the ground in dusty clumps and the glitter is washed down the drain. Is that the end of happiness? Is that it for joy? It is, if joy is dependent on our circumstances.
I’ve been thinking. Special events bring excitement into our lives; they’re blessings and we treasure those moments when our hearts feel happy. But the moments don’t last and as they fade, so does the feeling we confuse with joy. Joy is heaven-made. It’s part of our spiritual DNA. “The humble will be filled with fresh JOY from the Lord. Isaiah 29:19 [NLT] Doesn’t that sound like our joy comes from God and not from ourselves or any other source?
Happiness is homemade. It’s part of our human experience. Many years ago I read one of those sayings on the side of a coffee mug that said, “If everything is coming your way, you’re in the wrong lane.” That’s a pretty good description of life, isn’t it? We’re on our journey for a while taking the scenic tour, a few curves a few hills – we’re comfortable, we’re happy. But then life gets really tough and the pleasant journey becomes a dangerous expedition. Thrown off our path we’re driven into the deep end of the ocean or feel like we’re hanging by our fingernails on the side of a cliff. Not our happiest moments, are they? There is no bling, there is no glitter, the light is gone. The last thing we feel capable of is being happy.
How often do we say it? “But Lord, I’m not happy. I’m tired of trying so hard to get through this. And Lord, in case you haven’t noticed, this ‘thing’ is getting me down. Somedays I feel so sad I don’t want to move.” Do you remember Psalm 23:1? The Lord is my shepherd … This isn’t a verse tucked into the Bible so we could envision a calm, serene flowing brook surrounded by wild flowers. Shepherds worked hard, trudged through brambles and mud to keep track of their sheep. And they protected every single sheep from any harm that threatened them. “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.” Do you trust your shepherd?
Jesus reminds us that nothing can take our joy away from us because he is the source of our joy. Nehemiah 8:10 says “Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!” Our circumstances may make us sad, they may exhaust us, we might feel like we’ve been plunged into darkness but it’s in our darkest days that the tiniest light appears brightest. The light of the world is Jesus (John 8:12); it’s he who is the source of our joy. Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; as I walk with You the pleasures are never-ending and I know true JOY and contentment.”
We have to look for joy, like excavating for buried treasure because that’s what it is. Joy is a gift we choose to open over and over. Joy is our light even when the bling of the world is gone. Look for the joy because it won’t come find us.
To choose joy means we choose God, we choose to fill our minds and fill our hearts with his words. Matthew 12:34 describes it so clearly. “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Joy might not be a natural response to a broken spirit when days seem dark, but if you are God’s child, you already have unlimited, renewable joy. Nahum 1:7-8 tell us that God comforts his troubled children who put their trust in him. “The Lord is good. He protects those who trust him in times of trouble. But like a roaring flood the Lord chases his enemies into dark places and destroys them.” That’s God. He protects, and destroys the enemy that tries to steal your joy.
Lord, your word says you’ve given me an unlimited supply of renewable joy, but I’m having a hard time finding it. Please be a light on my pathway to peace and joy. Flood my heart with so much joy here is no room for darkness. God, I ask you to change my circumstances, Lord. But if you choose to grow my character through them, then please change me. Change my attitude, change my heart, change my life. Make me a faithful steward of your gift of joy. Amen
Good morning. Good afternoon. Good evening. Whenever you read this, it’s good. You’re covered.
I’ve been thinking. In a few hours we will be writing 2017 instead of 2016 for our dates. What else will we be doing instead?
I stopped making new year resolutions when I figured out how self-defeating they were and how self-deprecating I became. Instead of resolutions I started making a list of ideas, of things I could try to do or learn. No due date. No expiration date. Writing out my ideas helps me remember my intentions to do good. If that sounds strange, let me ask you. When was the last time you wrote your intentions to do bad? Yeh, that’s what I thought.
Today, take a few minutes to think back over the last year. Reflect, don’t return. Forgive yourself for every mistake that comes to your mind. Forgive every offense whether yours or another person’s – even if they haven’t asked and even if you don’t want to. Verbally, right out loud. “Grrrr. I am still angry, I’m hurt, but I forgive and am moving on.” Now move on. Forgetting those things which are behind….press on.
Write yourself a note to inspire you to begin this new year with good intentions. Who will you contact? What books will you read? What might you want to learn? How do you envision each day? I would rather live inspired by what gets me up in the morning than dread what keeps me up at night. You too?
Today, on this threshold of a new year, remember that yesterday is past tense and it’s over. It’s a reflection in your rear view mirror. It’s impossible to move forward if you can’t step away from what is now history. Don’t let setbacks become staybacks. New Year, 2017. No resolutions. Only intentions to look for the slivers of joy in life. Encourage others and you will be encouraged. Decide now to live life in forward motion, not stuck back there.
Anyway, that’s what I was thinking.
Forget what is behind. Press on toward the prize. Welcome New Year!
Comfort, comfort my people … a few weeks ago one of my sisters-in-law suffered a debilitating stroke, our music minister from church passed away after a very long, excruciating battle with cancer, two of my friends from church lost their husbands to cancer. During the past year, five of my friends lost husbands, suddenly, without warning. I came to wonder how many times that sick feeling of loss would be multiplied and what could I do to comfort people I care about when the only thing that seemed possible was to pray.
Loss is real. Fear is constant for so many. This Christmas season magnifies the emptiness that has become the new normal for people who are going on without their soulmate. From my recent prayer journal pages – Please pray: My mom has dementia and I don’t know how much longer I can care for her. My son’s wife wants a divorce. My husband said Merry Christmas, he’s leaving me and our kids. I suffer from Lyme disease and am unbearably fatigued much of the time. My daughter needs an operation and has no health insurance. My spouse has just been admitted to hospice care. I have debilitating migraines and can’t get out of bed. My work schedule is ruining my chance for family vacation again. My son is making extremely poor choices and there is no dealing with him.
Isaiah 40:1 “Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God.” Do you open an email, read a text, or see a post on Facebook and your heart is broken because your friend is riding out a storm and you can do nothing but pray? I often wonder if David was called a man after God’s own heart because he prayed often and recorded his prayers in the Psalms. Psalm 102:1 is just one where David’s endurance has dissolved “Hear my prayer, Lord; let my cry for help come to you.”
Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever reach the end of your strength and say, “Lord, do you even see me here? Do you care that I’m exhausted from just too much? This is just too much.” God used David’s poems, songs, and reflections to comfort, comfort His people. Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
Sometimes I do things backward. God should be my first choice, not my last resort. When I woke up this morning I heard the song in my mind “All is well. All is well.” That is such a comforting, heartwarming thought. Psalm 143:8 “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.”
In chapter six of Matthew, there are descriptions of how to pray and even some guidelines for the attitude that’s pleasing to God. In Matthew 6:6 we read one option “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Does this mean before we can pray we have to find an empty room? Thankfully not! We are invited to pray anytime, anyplace, for any reason. We pray for shattered hearts to be healed Psalm 147:3 “He heals those who have a broken heart. He heals their sorrows.”
We pray for direction when lives have been turned upside down by turmoil; we ask for acceptance when we have to bear the consequences of decisions made outside our control. Our faith takes a beating, doesn’t it? In these times, acknowledge what God tells us in Isaiah 48:17 “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.”
When every ounce of energy we have left wants to shout, “Really God? Is this really the plan you have for me? How am I supposed to get through this one?” Let’s scan a few statements here in Jeremiah 10 … “No one is like you, Lord; you are great, and your name is mighty in power… God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding.” This verse is key for today just as is was back then. Jeremiah 10:23 “Lord, I know that people’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps.”
We have to go forward, move past the calamity, rise above the chaos, and clear out a lot of torn feelings all cluttering the path to joy. Remember happiness is circumstantial and sometimes our circumstances have no characteristics close to happiness. Joy comes from believing that God’s plan is for our ultimate good. Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Before that next cup of coffee, before returning to the TV, before making that phone call, remember Psalm 6:9 “The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.”
Comfort, comfort my People says your God. All is well. All is well.
Christmas isn’t Christmas till it happens in your heart. I read an article today that started out something like this. “There’s an old saying that it’s more blessed to give than to receive. I disagree with that … and then the author goes on to explain her point.” The truth is, that old saying is a direct quote from Jesus as written in the book of Acts 20:35. It is more blessed to give than to receive, and deep in our hearts we know giving is first an attitude of the heart. For some, a giving spirit seems to be part of their DNA, where others have to be reminded because it doesn’t come naturally to them.
We all know how to give from our possessions and give back of ourselves. We feel good when we have helped someone else feel good. Think about the last week. Without dwelling too intently on the subject, you can probably think of a number of things you have given away. At the grocery store you may have contributed to a food pantry. You said yes when the cashier at the dollar store asked if you would like to donate a toy to a military family. At the gas station maybe you dropped your change into a container where money is being collected for a community member who needs medical care. You baked and shared. You put in extra money when the offering plate was passed at church. You threw a few dollars into the Salvation Army Red Kettle, maybe more than once. Your list could be exhaustive – it could reflect your exhaustion with giving. So that’s why I don’t want to dwell on giving material things.
For now, set all that aside and think about giving that comes from the heart. Wait! Isn’t that what we were just discussing? Giving is an attitude of the heart. Yes, yes it is. But in all the giving of things we can touch and feel, God has something even more important for us to give. In Matthew 23:23 Jesus sternly spoke to people about being good about giving money away but they were failing miserably at giving justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Jesus leveled their attitudes and called them out for their motives. Early in the chapter, Jesus warns people about following leaders who had knowledge but were bad examples. Their motives were all messed up. There hearts were calloused and pride made them impenetrable to acts of justice or mercy or faithfulness. Jesus told the people, “Don’t forget what is most important. Justice, Mercy, and Faith.”
People have needs. People need each other. We are all people. Keep giving. Keep helping. Keep loving. In our giving and helping and loving from our abundance, let’s remember to share abundantly from our hearts with justice, mercy, and faith. Let’s think before we post or speak. Listen at heart level, accept people for who they are, and be kind. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Smile. If you see someone without a smile, share yours. Be a friend. Tell someone they matter.
Christmas isn’t Christmas till it happens in your heart. This is a song I learned when my kids were very young. It touched my heart deeply then and I believe it today. Christmas is a date on the calendar, it’s a holiday many people claims as their favorite, it’s a season, it’s a story, it’s family, it’s friends – but Christmas is more than that. It’s the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, the savior. And Christmas isn’t Christmas till it happens in your heart. Listen here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXH2lvt5YMA
Can I just say it? Welcome Sunday! It seems like a month has passed since I’ve walked into a place of peace. I am so ready to be greeted by friends who genuinely care for me, listen to music that both soothes and energizes, and hear a message from God’s word, spoken through the hearts of our pastor and teachers. There is no better way to express it. Welcome, Sunday!
I confess, I don’t always feel this way. Sometimes I get up, get ready, and get to church. Period! Even then, I enjoy the music, love to be taught applicable life lessons from way back before electricity. Then there are days like today when my heart is running on empty and I need to go to the filling station and get a refill. Before this crevice becomes a cavern, there is hope for my heart. Reading Psalms satisfies for a while. I know God is always there. Psalm 137:7-8 “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.” I’m thankful that I can call to God anytime and He is there. Many times a day I talk to Him, sometimes out loud, like really LOUD. I assure you He never answers me out loud, but God sends his spirit to calm me down. Last night we were on a pretty slippery, snowy road and I had visions of the car pile up on an expressway last week. Talk about the weather outside being frightful! Snow kept us company all along the way, in those moments I had a touch of fear that we could hit someone or something. Then on WCSG, I think God told them to play This song by Casting Crowns and on my radio, they sang the words ‘Peace on Earth in my heart I’m singing ….’ “Thank you God. Thank you for protecting all the drivers on the road. Not one slip, slide, or mishap. Thank you God for being there all the time.” Thankful! Blessed! Amazed!
Then I remembered a verse that I learned around the age of six: Psalm 56:3 “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” I learned something from that moment. God is there in the moments that flash in front of us and are gone. He’s there when our heart hurts and crushing emotions drag on for days or months. Hope seems lost when we need strength to go on: Psalm 29:11 “The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.” We all crave peace in a peace shattered world. Leaning on God is not a crutch. We were born seeking God. We were created in His image for a purpose and it is not to live in fear, regret, and lost hope. This is one of my favorite go-to passages when I need to be reminded that God created every person, he knows everything about us, he loves us and just like we take care of things we treasure, God takes care of us even more. I hope you enjoy these verses from the Message translation.
Jeremiah 29: 11-14 “I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. ”—God’s Decree— Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed. I’ll turn things around for you. I’ll bring you back from all the countries into which I drove you”—God’s Decree—“bring you home to the place from which I sent you off into exile. You can count on it.”