Joy: Buried Treasure

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? you-make-known-to-me-the-path-of-life

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

Even the most optimistic deal with sadness

It’s been 4 years. Actually it was 4 years on October 20th, but you will understand my hesitation to post this when you recognize the topic. God has a purpose for youYou see, I’m the optimist, positive thinker, peacemaker, encourager, and smile starter. I hide from attention and shy away from sentimentality but this story is both of those and therein lies the reason I pulled the plug on this post – until today.

It was during a Tuesday night meeting of our Ladies’ Bible Study that I received the call from my daughter’s roommate. She was in hysterics making it nearly impossible to decipher her broken sentences, but I finally understood it. “Tammie died. Jane, I found her in bed when she didn’t answer her phone. Tammie died. Jane I don’t know what to do. She’s gone.” In that instant I felt like every bit of air had been sucked from my lungs. How could this be true? Tammie was coming home for a visit in 4 weeks. But this is where plans changed course. I knew where I expected to be at Thanksgiving. I had ideas for what we would all do to enjoy time with the family – another family photo because the current one was outdated. But in one moment, I felt my plans melt away with the reality that my first born daughter, at age 38, was never going to come home again.

If you ever receive devastating news, the place to be is with sisters studying the Word of God together. I don’t remember how I finally got the words out, “My daughter died” but it was like the whisper from someone standing behind me, not the voice of me. Instantly angels in the room surrounded me. It was more like descending on me and covering every empty emotion and soothing every hurt. These beautiful women were the first of many to comfort our family. God sends comforters to come alongside us when our hearts are shattered beyond healing. Isaiah 49:13 says in part “The Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on this afflicted one”.

In difficult situations, especially in death, even the best of friends search for the right thing to say, the proper sentiments to express. Words escape us and we wonder why our vocabulary has disappeared when we need it most. I learned through this experience that there is no right or wrong way to convey concern. When your heart is bursting with genuine compassion, your voice will speak peace to hearts of the hurting. Sometimes I wonder if Luke 10:5-6 was written for times like this when we want to say everything with the proper attitude and speak from the heart when our words fail. “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you.”

It took some days for Tammie’s death to be real to me. I remember thinking of the times when she called on the phone just to talk. Her first words would be Hi mom, I just wanted to hear your voice today. Tammie was politically knowledgeable and often called when she heard something on the radio that she thought I would want to know. To me, politics is like the plague. Tammie could rattle of sports teams and player statistics when I am barely able to match team logo to team jersey. Tammie and I have very different interests and our minds were certainly wired in opposite patterns. I’ve spent many hours asking God to please tell Tammie I’m sorry I didn’t listen better when she called me. I have begged God to tell her I didn’t mean it when I argued with her when we didn’t agree on things that now have no significance.

Sometimes she would call to tell me about something funny that happened, other times she wanted to pour out her heart because she was so sad at how her life wasn’t turning out like she hoped. She asked me so many times to pray for her to find a husband and be able to have a family. I didn’t know then why God didn’t give her the desires of her heart. I just know that in God’s plan He knew that at age 21 Tammie would have a spinal tumor, at age 25 she would develop MS, and at age 38 her body would shut down and it would be time for her to go to live in heaven. James 1:17 says Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

In the past four years I haven’t talked about what it meant to lose a daughter. Almost two years ago, I came close to losing my second daughter to a freak stroke. She also was 38 at the time. God spared her life. If you’re reading this and wondering why I chose to write about this now, it is only because I know that someone has lost a loved one or is in the process of coming to terms with loss. There is no instant healing from loss and there is no magic formula for dealing with the traumas we encounter in this life.

Those of you who know me will recognize my motto:  Treat yourself to joy every day!  It isn’t easy, but it’s what God desires of us. If  JOY were an acronym it would stand for Jesus Others You  Psalm 5:11 says “Let all who run to you for protection always sing joyful songs. Provide shelter for those who truly love you and let them rejoice.” Life is a contact sport. Put on the protection of the God who wrote those words for us.  I leave you with this:

Cherish your moments. Pay attention when you are the audience. Forgive – whatever it was, it’s not worth it – just forgive.  Hug often – even when you have no words. Call – just to tell them you want to hear their voice. Always say ‘I love you”.

What we own

Have you ever had a blue day… maybe not dark blue, but not the sunny sky blue that lights up the sky and feels like summer. It’s more like the gray blue that’s tinged with sadness and mutes all joy.  It’s not unusual for blue days to slither through places we visit multiple times in a week:  the gas station, grocery, other stores, church, workplace, restaurants and other places where people meet and greet.  It’s common to hear complaints, see people in subtle conflict, or witness unforgiving anger.  After while, all those circulating emotions suffocated the happy out of me. You know that last straw; that last nerve; that hair-thin filament …well it broke.  I stopped letting all those situations rent temporary space in my head and I started to own those feelings projected by others until my own attitude was affected.  Stop!  Just stop it! I don’t own those issues; I sure don’t need them. Proverbs 17:9 says “Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” All those episodes had nothing to do with my close friends, but some of the conflict was between friends, most of them working together.  What if instead of griping about a situation, and gossiping about someone who isn’t there to defend themselves, that displaced energy was used to actually solve a problem? Love covers over an offense.  I’d rather own an attitude of love.  Proverbs 10:12 makes that same statement, but with a little more audacity. “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.”

I was lamenting to Tim (my husband for those who don’t know me) that I was buried in such negativity everywhere I went. It seems that there is unrest everywhere and petty grievances turn into little earthquakes that erupt in dissension. My positive attitude was getting a little tarnished and crinkled around the edges. Sad.  I was reminded of a Psalm chapter 37, verse 4  “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  Are the desires of my heart to be dragged to the pit by attitudes and actions of people?  Or could I focus on the uplifting acts of friends like Marcia Thompson who put together little packets of ideas for performing random acts of kindness; or the ministries expressing love, respect and value of each other.  I was treading dangerously close to losing perspective and forgetting about all the good things because I was surrounded by too much negativity.  I read a letter from someone who I reported to years ago, but have stayed in touch with who recently visited India. On his list of 12 lessons learned,  he observed “Evil is everywhere looking for an opening into our heart.”  No matter where we travel, the enemy of our souls is waiting for an opportunity to slither into our lives and infect us with poison. If this happens, and it will, Stop!  Just stop it! and remember the instruction of Ephesians 4:26-27 “In your anger do not sin, do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”  I am thankful for people who turn thoughts into actions and bad situations into victories.

Reading the story from Tom’s trip to India taught me something about ownership. There are many things in life that we don’t have to own: complaints of others, their criticisms, their ridicule, and their attitudes.  What we do own is our own attitude and what we harbor in our hearts.  Remember the cycle. What we put into our minds becomes a thought, a thought seeps into our hearts, our hearts produce the actions. I don’t know about you, but I want to own the thoughts that produce good actions.  Remember what we own as Proverbs 23:7 tells us, as we think in our heart, that’s how we really are.  Our Pastor Frank Snyder has repeated to us over and over you can’t do right if you don’t think right.  We need to own right thinking.  Let’s skip through a few verses in Philippians 4 “Be full of joy always because you belong to the Lord. Let all people see how gentle you are. Do not worry. Learn to pray about everything. Give thanks to God. The peace of God is much greater than the human mind can understand. Be at peace. Keep your minds thinking about whatever is true, whatever is respected, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever can be loved, and whatever is well thought of. Be thankful for everything.  Keep on doing good deeds. The Lord gives me a reason to be full of joy. “

Let’s own this day and make it full of joy and as Philippians 4:9 says “God Who gives peace will be with you.”

If I could see …. by Amy Grant http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGRPLeBBhyY

The Moodiness of God

I’m not sure why, but I decided to repost my first ever written post on this blog. This will be post #340 here on talkkindnesstome.com.  Before you read let me say I hope what you read here today is not at all like what you experienced yesterday or will experience today. Instead I hope your day is bathed in the light of life and that you have unspeakable joy.  I pray that for everyone who reads.

There is opportunity every day to experience the moodiness of others; sometimes even the moodiness of myself.  There are days when I’m mystified by the raw, biting attitudes of people who seem to be numb to the effect their attitudes have on co-workers, friends, and even their family – sometimes especially their family. Recently I was listening to one side of a conversation and as the dialog continued, I could feel the tension and heat in the air as the power play continued. While it was impossible to detect the winner, both parties were certainly defeated.  It’s painful for someone like me who just wants everyone’s world to be perfect to witness the obvious peril of individuals who can’t agree, put aside grievances, and just get along.  Right!  Perfect is just a word, it’s not a state of being.  In this world there will be disagreements …. LOUD and hurtful disagreements.

This is what hurts even more.  A friend who finds fault, and criticizes instead of supports and encourages.  A friend who is generally kind, but lets every little irritation become a battle, and everyone inside the circle become targets and victims of the schrapnel.  We are all so human.  In this world there will be pain and sadness. I don’t often read the some of the forgotten books of the Old Testament, but Ecclesiastes 8:9 from the Message  spoke to me. ” All this I observed as I tried my best to understand all that’s going on in this world. As long as men and women have the power to hurt each other, this is the way it is.”

If this happens, run – don’t walk to the book of Psalms where you will find spiritual comfort food and cool water for your totally dehydrated spirit. Psalm 59:16 says “I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.”  Then believe that God is bigger than any problem you have. Jeremiah 32:17 was written for those of us who need to be reminded of that. “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.”

I am so glad God is always the same.  If He disagrees with something I’ve done, He responds the same as He does when I do something right.  And just because I do something right doesn’t mean I will live a life free of pain.  My life is a process lived out through faith in a God who never changes.  He doesn’t get indignant and change his words to get back at me. He doesn’t turn his back on me when I make a mistake.  He doesn’t expect me to do stupid things then reject me as damaged goods when I do. In fact look at the proof in Lamentations 3:22-26 “I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is God’s faithfulness. I will wait for him. The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.”

God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  His mood and acts toward me are not dependent on my waivering mood or flawed acts toward Him.

God doesn’t have mood swings.

Amen

OK! Everybody Up! Rise and Shine!

Oh boy! Oh JOY! Oh no! Yes, you read that right. I woke up so early yesterday – not jolted awake because of a storm – not due to a nagging restless feeling – no signs of insomnia – just awake and ready for daylight, that didn’t peek out from under its covers for a couple hours. Good morning, good day, get up and get started … and the result?  It went something like this:

OK!  Everybody Up!    Rise and Shine!  Good Morning  to You  Good Morning to You  

I couldn’t help it. I had to share the creation of a new day and give you something to put on that blank slate. Did it work? Oh I sure hope so – because while reading last night in the Message translation, you will never believe my shock when this verse jumped off the page. Proverbs 27:14 “If you wake your friend early in the morning by shouting “Rise and shine!” it will sound more to him like a curse than like a blessing.” What?!?!  Are you kidding me? Can that be right? So reverse it … reread it … uh-huh! That’s what it says alright.

Hmmmm……what to do with that. So I thought of a few friendly, gentle, possibly slightly biased suggestions.

  1. Look away, skip over, don’t read at all.
  2. Bypass to read much, much later.
  3. Read it anyway, now, before the shades of gray start to impinge the activities of your day.

I hope you chose b or c, but I won’t know if you choose a.  The words of Ephesians 4:2 pretty well describe the purpose of that OK! Everybody Up! Rise and Shine! message. From a devotional book by Max Lucado where he expounds eloquently on topical scriptures, he writes this:  Always be humble, gentle, and patient, accepting each other in love. You are joined together with peace through the Spirit, so make every effort to continue together in this way. Even if you choose a, it’s an acceptable option.

Once upon a time, at least a dozen years ago, a man on a project team with me told a group of co-workers that he didn’t like me because ‘I was too perky – too happy. I came in and said good morning to people I didn’t even know – too positive.’ Considering the assessment there were a few options. The one I chose was this conversation. “Brad, I’m sorry you don’t like me. But I do like me this way. I doubt that I’m going to change who I am because you can’t tolerate kindness. I hope we can still work together and be productive.” I’m not sure if that conversation had anything to do with his sudden acceptance of a job offer in Florida or not. I hope he found what he was looking for in an environment more to his mindset, although I mostly hope he discovered joy in tolerable doses.

If I were to identify for you, the purpose behind OK! Everybody Up!   Rise and Shine! It wouldn’t be to brashly ignore the Proverbs 27:14 warning. It would be aligned more with these words in Proverbs 25:13 “Reliable friends who do what they say are like cool drinks in sweltering heat refreshing!” I don’t promise to post something every day – but I can promise to offer encouragement to someone every day. Words of encouragement are medicine for despair; a prescription for spiritual poverty. I will never attain the wisdom or zeal of the Apostle Paul, but reading his stories teach me to be content, seek good, guard my mind, protect my heart, practice thanks-living, and be an opportunist to share joy.

How about it? Ready for today – ready for any day – early, at daybreak, after noon, evening – what can each of us do be a spark of encouragement in some way to someone. Here we go!  Let’s get out there!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66sQmu6fnxc

Downhearted? No!

Are we downhearted, no, no, no –  Are we downhearted, no, no, no – Troubles may come and troubles may go, but we’ll trust in Jesus … I remember standing up in children’s church at the age of 8 surrounded by other kid’s singing with our outside voices, boisterous and in no particular key. Singing and shouting – Are we downhearted?  No! No! No!   But sometimes we are downhearted.  It’s easy to sing the words, belt them out for all the world to hear, but rumbling deep inside is a source of discontent that doesn’t stop when we hear the music.  What we know at age 8 about being downhearted, is little comparison to how that translates into realities of adulthood.  Right?

That’s only partially right.  This is why.  Doesn’t life experience teach us that life is a series of good and bad, mountain top joy and pummeled defeat, troubles come and troubles go? How often do we prayerfully claim what Jeremiah says in chapter 32: 27 ““I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” I have countless times gone to the Lord and pointed out to him that I can’t change this circumstance, but “God, you can. Nothing is too hard for you.” Does that sound familiar?
At that point, my fretting should be over. When I pray, “God, please take this.” I should be at peace and let go of the tenacious grasp on whatever it is that’s robbing my energy and blinding me from noticing everything else that’s good in my life.  Time to trek back to the ultimate living document – the ‘thankful list’.  If you don’t have a thankful list, there are many benefits to having one.  When I forget about the blessings in my life, I am reminded of them when I read my thankful list.  I’m not sure how I came up with that idea back in the winter of 2003, but I remember I was leading a Bible study at the time and when we were in Isaiah, I was prompted to start writing down everything I was thankful for because when I was deeply discouraged, I needed the reminder that even though everything seemed to be working against me for that time, I had many more things to be thankful for.  The ‘thankful list’ replaces negative thoughts and renews my mind so I can think of good things.

Here are a few encouraging words for today. If you are in the dungeon of defeat, or scaling the top of the mountain remember that no matter what, no matter where, life is best when God is there.  I’m going to skip thought Isaiah 58 – hang on while we learn that God is with us. “your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you,  and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard…. you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame….. then you will find your joy in the Lord.” And Isaiah 60: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples,  but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.

He is with you ,,,, God is with you,