What does it mean to be filled with joy?
A young mother of three with a new baby on the way just lost her husband in a car accident this past week in the small California town that our family calls home. Where is the joy in that?
A friend is working through the process to adopt a child who has called her, "Mommy," for about a year now and the system is getting more convoluted, not less, as time goes by. Where is the joy in that?
A beloved relative is in the hospital with bleeding in his brain. Where is the joy in that?
I have a nephew who I have only seen in pictures who is celebrating his 2nd Christmas and a trip to visit and take in that moment with my own eyes isn't in the budget. Where is the joy in that?
This Sunday, our church will light the candle of JOY on the advent wreath. First was hope, then came peace, now JOY. I have been reflecting on the idea of JOY in preparation for this coming Sunday, and frankly, no revelations were happening in my heart, mind or soul. But I kept looking. This morning, I picked up the devotional book (Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young
) and there it was. Staring me in the face on the page designated to read on December 10th of each year. Even so, I didn't recognize it right away. It was couched in a lesson on security. "Make Me the focal point of your search for security
," it started. My mind started to wander. Clearly, this wasn't going to illuminate the Bible's teaching on JOY for me. Alas, I kept reading, albeit a little miffed and disappointed.
"Make Me the focal point of your search for security. In your private thoughts, you are still trying to order your world so that it is predictable and feels safe. Not only is this an impossible goal, but it is also counterproductive to spiritual growth. When your private world feels unsteady and you grip My hand for support, you are living in conscious dependence on Me. Instead of yearning for a problem-free life, REJOICE that trouble can highlight your awareness of My Presence. In the darkness of adversity, you are able to see more clearly the radiance of My Face. Accept the value of problems in this life, considering them pure JOY. Remember that you have an eternity of trouble-free living awaiting you in heaven
." - taken from the inspiration Isaiah 41:10; Psalm 139:10; James 1:2.
Could it be that JOY and security are tightly bound together? The newly widowed mother whose life suddenly looks nothing like she planned, the friend called "Mommy" by a child born to another waiting on the legal system to make it so, the uncle in the hospital whose physical health is fragile and uncertain, the aunt who has no assurance of when she will see her nephew. We all have something in common. We all lack the security of knowing the future. This devotional reminded me that we can all have something else in common too, if we will choose it: a heightened awareness of the presence of God that others on more seemingly steady ground cannot know. These areas of our lives where security is stretched thin and it feels like we are walking on spider webs where they should be pavement, these are the moments, the days, the seasons where we can experience what it is truly like to be carried in the arms of God.
I remember as a little girl, as I was getting a bit too big to be carried places on a parent's hip or shoulders. I would take utter delight in the moments when I could "trick" my Daddy into believing that I had fallen asleep on the couch in the evenings. Without fail, he would scoop me up and carry me to bed. Tucking me in and kissing me on the forehead, while I pretended not to notice, as I faked sleep. Once he was out of the room, I would open my eyes and smile, relishing the moment. There was something so special about being physically carried by someone who loved me so tenderly.
We don't have to fake neediness on earth. We are
needy. Sometimes our neediness is more obvious than others, and in those moments (as others feel sorry for us) we get to stop pretending that we have it all together. We get to stretch up our hands, with tears in our eyes and cry out, "Daddy, God, I NEED you!" And after He has carried us for a season, through things we couldn't handle on our own, we can open our eyes as we find ourselves resting in the evidence of His security and smile in a knowing way that others can't. We can remember the feel of His strong arms and the sound of His heartbeat and His kiss on our cheek, and His loving words, and we will know a deeper joy than we could ever feel without having been carried.
Consider it all joy, if your predictable, safe world is anything but predictable and safe this Christmas season. Your Daddy will carry you through it.
He sent His one and only son, Jesus, to be born of a virgin, to live a sinless life, yet die a sinner's death on your behalf and to be resurrected from death to eternal life just to make a way for you to run into the arms of His perfect Father and call Him your own at such a time as this. I pray that you will let Him.So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. - Isaiah 41:10
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you. - Psalm 139:7-12
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds - James 1:2
When was the last time you cried because of a single word? Were they happy tears or sad tears? This morning, on my commute to work, I was listening to music and looking out the bus window and I began to think about a phone conversation from the night before. I went over it in my mind and ended up misty-eyed. Not because of the conversation, but because of a single word uttered by the caller.
The word was "unanimous." What?! Not bringing you to tears too? Perhaps I should explain. My husband went through the interview process for an interim-pastoral position at a church in our area the past few months and it went very well. All along the way we were encouraged and the pastor search team seemed to be encouraged as well. When you apply for a job at a church in our denomination, however, the committee doesn't typically get the final say. It is the committee's job to present their best candidate to the church as a whole. The church then takes a vote about whether or not to hire that candidate. Can I confess something to you? The process intimidates me. This is the second time Jason has made it through to the voting-part of the process with a church and both times made me uneasy. I inevitably flash back to high school where I ran for student body office positions every year and never got voted in. I was never turned down for something that I had any control over... If I wanted to be on the honor roll, I worked hard and made the honor roll. If I wanted to be on the cheerleading squad, I practiced until I made it. If I wanted a summer job, I showed up in a suit or dress, respectfully asked for an application and proved that I would be a good employee, and I got the job. But when everything came down to an anonymous vote... it never worked out for me.
The last time Jason went through to the church-vote-stage of a hiring process, the vote came back as 83% "for" and 17% "against" (if I remember correctly). I remember where we were when we got that call as well and how it gave us both a moment of pause and deep concern. Who were the 17%? Would they be angry if he accepted the job? Would they make ministry difficult? Did we really want to walk into a position knowing that, right off the bat, 17% didn't think it was a good fit?
Fast forward to this morning. As I sat on the bus and replayed the phone conversation with one of this new church's elders from the night before, as he said "The vote was unanimous, we would like Jason to be our interim pastor," my mind singled-in on that one word, "unanimous," and I started to cry silent, happy tears, surrounded by a bus full of strangers.
One can certainly minister for many years in a church that didn't vote him or her in unanimously, and conversely, just because a vote IS unanimous doesn't mean that there aren't those who aren't 100% on-board but just didn't want to rock the boat by voting against the majority. The point of this post isn't about church voting policies or the sometimes gut-wrenching process of finding a ministry position in the United States. The point is - there is tremendous, encouraging power in being accepted, 100% accepted. It is even more encouraging to be accepted when you have been 100% yourself.
I am reading a devotional book right now by Angie Smith entitled, "Mended." In it, she quotes the following from the book, Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim's Tale,
"'Do you know the story of Rabbi Zusya?' he asked. 'He was a Chasidic master who lived in the 1700s. One day he said, 'When I get to the heavenly court, God will not ask me, 'Why weren't you Moses?' Rather, he will ask me, 'Why were you not Zusya?' "
The quote goes on to say,
"Churches should be places where people come to hear the story of God and to tell their own. That's how we find out how the two relate. Tell your story with all of its shadows and fog, so people can understand their own. They want a leader who's authentic, someone trying to figure out how to follow the Lord Jesus in the joy and wreckage of life. They need you, not Moses."
What an encouragement to be 100% fully who God made you to be. Sometimes you will be accepted as such and other times you won't. Sometimes it will be unanimous and other times it will be more like 83%-17%. Regardless, God didn't call you to be anything other than who you are.
Today I am thankful that, this time, it was unanimous, and I am also asking God to remind me that it has always been that way with Him where I am concerned. He knows me fully and is unanimously for me. Totally undeserved and completely phenomenal!
Romans 8:28-31 "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He alos justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?"
1 You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Whenever someone gets married, we say they are "taking the plunge," or making a "leap of faith." Everyone recognizes that going into marriage, you can't possibly know everything about the person that you are committing to spend your life with, and yet, we do it anyway. We admit we don't know it all, but that what we do know is enough.
In the Bible, in the letter to the Hebrews, the 11th chapter and 1st verse, we read that "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen
," and in the sixth verse of the same chapter we learn that "Without faith, it is impossible to please God
." As a parent, this makes complete sense to me: without my son having faith in me, he will never please me. Never. His faith in me is the evidence that we have a good relationship, that he acknowledges my love for him and my good intentions toward him. If he continually questions me and never trustfully relaxes in my presence, how could I ever be pleased with that relationship? It is the same in our relationship with God, our Father, and rightfully so.
Similar to marriage, if we have committed to spend our lives with Him, what we do know about Him should be enough. That doesn't mean we stop getting to know Him after that commitment is made - most married couples learn far more about each other after the wedding day than they do before
- but it does mean that we live out our days in both knowledge AND faith - growing in both, but not swerving from what we originally held to when we made that "leap of faith" to begin with.
This reflection on faith, led me to look up places in the Bible that shed more light on the word. Here is what I learned:
1. Faith is more precious than gold. (1 Peter 1:7)
2. Faith results in the salvation of our souls. (1 Peter 1:9, Ephesians 2:8)
3. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world. (1 John 5:4)
4. Faith is required for miraculous healing. (Mark 10:52, Luke 8:48, Matthew 9:2, 22, 29, Matthew 8:5-13, Acts 6:8)
5. It doesn't take much faith (relatively speaking) to be able to live out life to the fullest (the size of a mustard seed would suffice
). (Matthew 17:20)
6. Faith purifies and sanctifies hearts. (Acts 15:9, 26:18)
7. Local churches are established by faith. (Acts 16:5)
8. Faith brings comfort. (Romans 1:12)
9. Faith is counted as righteousness by God, which is good news because there is no one who actually IS righteous, not even one. (Romans 4:5-20)
10. Faith is the key that grants us access to God's grace. (Romans 5:2)
11. Things that don't come by faith, are often sinful. (Romans 14:23)
12. Faith exercised apart from love is worthless. (1 Corinthians 13:2)
13. There is only one true faith. (Ephesians 4:5)
14. Faith brings unity. (Ephesians 4:13)
15. Faith is a shield against the devil. (Ephesians 6:16)
16. God's promises are inherited through faith and patience. (Hebrews 6:12)
17. When faith is tested (and it WILL be tested), the believer acquires perseverance. (James 1:3)
18. Faith is a required prerequisite when asking God for wisdom. Faith that God is all-wise and that He willingly imparts wisdom to His children. (James 1:6)I also learned through studying the scriptures about faith that we have internal and external responsibilities once we have invested faith in God:Internally we are to:
Externally we are to:
- Pray and continually ask God to help us have more faith in Him. The Bible tells us that the apostles (those who walked most closely with Jesus) asked him to increase their faith, so should we (Luke 17:5).
- Hold on to the faith that we do have. Kind of like dating your spouse, we are to nourish our first love and not let it be torn down by emotions, circumstances or others' opinions. In 1 Timothy 1, Paul tells Timothy not to reject the promises made by God concerning his future. He says others have done so and their faith has been shipwrecked as a result. We are to remember our vows and God's vows to us and to lean on them.
- Examine our hearts and lives for authenticity. In 2 Corinthians 13, Paul instructs the Corinthian believers that they should examine themselves to be sure they are in the faith. Insinuating that some can walk a path, convincing themselves that they have faith, but when tested it is revealed that their faith was pretending.
- Obey Him by faith. If we have faith we not only agree inwardly, we must act outwardly, demonstrating that faith in how we live our lives. Scriptures are rampant with this (Romans 1:5 & 17, Galatians 2:20, 2 Corinthians 5:7, 1 Timothy 5:8, Acts 6:7, James 2:17-22).
- Speak up and talk about our faith. We should share about our experiences with God and His Word boldly and without showing partiality (James 2:1-5, Philemon 1:6, Jude 1:3).
- Build up the church with our faith. Use our gifts to build up others, and help those whose faith is waning, as well as correct those who are wandering (Romans 12:6, 14:1, 1 Thessalonians 3:10, Titus 1:13).
It is a beautiful cycle - attending to our faith internally leads to a stronger desire to demonstrate our faith externally, and those experiences of acting on our faith in God fan the flame of our internal faith-walk even more, until 10-25-50 years later we celebrate anniversaries of faith in Christ and marvel at how much more precious He is to us now than he was when we first believed, and tell the world how glad we are that we took that leap of faith!
This morning the students in the youth group at our church were involved in every aspect of the service. <It was great.>
During the "preaching time," our youth pastor interviewed three of the high school students and asked them some very important questions that had some very important answers. I thought they were worth passing on:1. "How do you want older adults to pray for your generation?"
2. "How can the older generations help your generation?"
- I want them to pray that we will make good decisions.
- I want them to pray that we will never become too contented in our spiritual lives, that we will always keep striving to know God more.
- I want them to pray that we won't give up the faith, when we are asked to stand out and be different, and when we feel like we are missing out on things because of our decision to live the Christian life.
- We watch you. Please be good examples.
- Please pray for us.
- Treat us with respect. Show us that you value us and what we have to offer.
- Encourage us when you see us on the right path.
- Expect more than one word or one sentence answers from us, especially when it comes to spiritual things. We have more to say, encourage us to do so.
- Live a Christian life that makes us want what you have, that encourages us to keep the faith.
Will do! Thanks, Image Youth Group!
As I sit on the couch resting on LABOR Day, I started doing a little internet research on the concept of work (clearly I am more fun than a barrel of monkeys)
. Specifically, I was curious about what makes people WANT
to work hard. Too many times, I'd rather take an easier way out and yet the call to hard work and dedication is ever present... nagging, really. *so rude*
I guess since it will always be the voice in the back of my head, so I might as well find ways to increase my "want-to" where hard work is concerned. Here are some of the positive
things, other than the potential to make money
, that I found which consistently seem to help make people willing to work harder than your average Joe:1. A trustworthy leader. 2. Recognizing the importance of the fruits of your labor.3. The collaboration and camaraderie of a great team.4. A compelling vision of the future.
If there is an an area of your life where you, like me, want to increase your motivation to work harder, maybe you need to find someone trustworthy to follow who can point the way. Perhaps you need to remember all the good things that could be byproducts of your hard work. Maybe it is time to recruit some enjoyable teammates to join you in the pursuit, or perhaps it is time to imagine what the future could be like if you stuck to it and gave it your all.
If all of that fails, crank up some great music and just do the next right thing for 1 more hour... just one more hour. Maybe after that hour, we'll be too engrossed to quit, but even if we aren't we're closer to the goal than we were before! Colossians 3:23
"Whatever you do,work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men
." ESVProverbs 14:23
"In all toil there is profit, but mere talk only leads to poverty
." ESVPhilippians 4:13
"I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength
NOTE: The quote in the picture above is questionably attributed to Thomas Edison. Check out this link
for the history of the quote and to look into any other quotes you find online to verify who really said them first.
Do you ever feel tempted to play God? To take over? To make something happen the way you feel strongly it should happen? To get involved in the “how” of something that you feel confident in the “what” or “why” of? You have!? Want to be best friends? I am tempted to do this on a regular basis.
I once took a strengths assessment and discovered that one of my greatest strengths is my sense of responsibility. That sounds good, right? Don’t you want to have people in your life who have a strong sense of responsibility? Who won’t bail on you in the middle of something? Who will take ownership over a task? Who will not drop the ball? Who think ahead and count the cost before committing? That sense of responsibility has served me very well these past 39 years – it helped me get good grades in school, complete my college degree, be a faithful spouse, a devoted mom, a dedicated employee. It has helped me stay on top of finances and keep the housework from getting completely out of control. Not a bad strength to have!
So what is lurking on the flipside of the coin of responsibility? For me, it is a tendency to want to control things that are either beyond my ability to control or exceeding my right to control. As a responsible mother, I want to raise my son with attention to detail – I don’t want any character issue, health need, spiritual discipline, or mental aptitude to go unnoticed or unattended. Why? Yes , because I love him, but also because I feel responsible. The danger comes when I take my responsibility to far. I stop focusing only on my responsibility to do the right thing in a given situation and, in addition, take on the responsibility for the outcome of the situation as well.
To be responsible for myself: my actions, attitudes, and words; is a wonderful thing. To take on the responsibility for anything beyond that is where I start to get into trouble.
In a scientific research environment, experiments are conducted to arrive at conclusions that can lead to helpful solutions to difficult problems. Lots and lots of experiments are conducted before the solution is reached. In order to get the specific desired outcome that they are looking for, scientists isolate all the different variables that could have an effect on the outcome of the experiment. They do this in a sterile environment where they control every possible variable. That way when they complete an experiment, they know exactly how and why the result was achieved and they can replicate it.
My overreaching sense of responsibility would LOVE for life to take place in a controlled, sterile environment. I don’t know about you, but in the complex world I live in, I can do all the right things and still end up with a result that is riddled with the effects of all the variables I couldn’t control along the way… variables like other people’s actions, attitudes, and words, my own limited understanding and perception, and the effects of an unseen spiritual war that is going on all round me at all times.
Repeat after me: “I am only in control of myself! I cannot control any other person on this planet without eventually hurting them. I cannot control every variable. I cannot control other people’s priorities or their desires. I cannot control the outcome of any situation, only my role in it.”
Responsibility is a wonderful attribute, but taking responsibility for things that are clearly God’s responsibility is, at best, setting me up for frustration and, at worst, paving a road that leads to deception and destruction. I think I need to create a pin board somewhere in my mind for my “Junior God” badge. Any time I find myself overstepping my bounds, I’ll remind myself to head to that pin board and hang that badge back up where it belongs. There is no such thing as a Junior God, but there is such a thing as a “dearly love child of God,” and that is the badge I want to wear instead.
How about you?
When our son was a toddler, we learned a nifty parenting trick. After suffering through meltdown after meltdown whenever it was time to transition from one activity to the next, we discovered that if we gave our son a 5 or 10 minute warning before the transition was about to happen, the meltdowns were a thing of the past. "Tim, it will be time to help clean up toys and say goodbye in ten minutes
." "Tim, dinner will be in five minutes, so get ready to stop your video."
As long as he knew what was coming and when, he could cope. When he had time to wrap things up or finish on his own terms, he was golden. If the meltdown wasn't completely averted, it was at least lessened in severity.
Don't you wish we had the luxury of those kinds of warnings in life as adults. "Carla, in six months you will not be living here any more and you'll have to start over
." "Carla, within the year, that person that you are so attached to will pass away
." "Carla, in the next week someone in your family will become ill
." Just a little warning, wouldn't that be nice? Just a little heads up so we can wrap our minds around what is coming and finish or adjust on our own terms.
The thing is, these little advance warnings weren't the most valuable things we could offer our son. Yes, they made life a little more bearable in the moment, especially as he was making his way through those toddler years, but it was never meant to be a way of life. After all, we wouldn't always have a warning ourselves. Sometimes we would need to make a transition with little to no warning and we would need him to trust us and spring into action before his emotions could catch up.
What we really wanted him to learn were things like - Your Mom and Dad love you and we are in charge. We know what is best and we are working with an agenda that includes more than your immediate happiness, things you just aren't prepared to understand yet. The more you trust us, the more you will see that we have your best interest at heart. We may ask you to do some things that you do not want to do, but it is never out of cruelty. At the end of the day, what we really wanted him to learn to do was to rest in our trustworthiness, and to respond based on our relationship not on an attachment to an established, predictable routine.
The same is true with our walk through life. The routine will inevitably vary, so putting our trust in things always being the way they have been in the past is foolish
. Many times God will
orchestrate situations in such a way as to soften the blows of painful change. Other times, however, we will be called upon to simply respond in faith-filled obedience, when there is no resemblance of the normal routine anywhere in sight, no promise of how things will be resolved or how long the transition to a new normal will take.
In the end, through the pages of scripture, I have been given three things that are of greater value than a glimpse into the immediate future:
- I have been given a glimpse into eternity. "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." John 14:3
- I have been given a guarantee never to walk alone. "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6
- I have been given a promise of God's unending love. "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." John 3:16
At the end of the day, this is what has been offered to me and it is what I have to offer the world. It isn't a safe, predictable routine, it is a relationship with the One who created all of us and has a vested interest in our future. It isn't an advance warning system of difficult changes that lie ahead and it isn't a promise that life will be easy or pain-free. It is the message of the gospel and it is enough.
A couple of days ago, if you'd peeked in my window you would have found me sitting on the couch in my living room weeping after reading a story, shared by Shauna Niequist in her book, Bread and Wine. Shauna had been struggling with infertility and it seemed that everyone around her was pregnant. She wanted to be happy for her pregnant friends , and most of the time she was, but somewhere inside her the desperation increased and the sorrow deepened with each new pregnancy announcement. Finally she felt like she couldn’t take it any more and she posted about her feelings on her blog in a moment of complete transparency. Soon after that she received a call from a friend, a newly pregnant friend, saying she was going to be in town and wanted to get together. Shauna cringed, hoping that her friend hadn’t read her blog post.
When they met at the restaurant, Shauna’s friend handed her a gift and told her that she had, indeed, read the blog post. *cringe* She said that she understood that this was the point in a friendship where many friends would have to walk away from each other for awhile, because the pain and the awkwardness would be too great. She explained, however, that she felt that the two of them could do better than that. Shauna opened the gift and found two pairs of safety goggles. In her blog post she had admitted telling her husband that if she didn’t get pregnant that very month, she was going to break something glass just to feel it shatter in her hands. That day in the restaurant, her friend told her, “If you feel like shattering something, I’ll be right there with you. We’ll put on our safety goggles. I’ll help you break something and then I’ll help you clean it up. You’ve been celebrating with me and I’ll be there to grieve with you. We can do this together.”
Even now, tears sting my eyes as I imagine that moment and as I picture the friends that God has brought into my life in the past who would do the same for me, who feel the same way about me.
Here’s the rub. With Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Pinterest, it is more common for people to compete with friends, to feel disconnected from another’s pain or joy, or to assume we know what is going on with someone without ever talking with them or looking in their eyes. Upper-division, safety-goggle-moment friendship is uncommon. It involves phone calls, coffee dates, walks, snail mail, impromptu texts, it involves sacrifice and awareness. It requires emotional commitment, not just an emotional attachment. I long to be that kind of friend, and I long for these kinds of friends in my life. I long for depth over breadth… to know and be known.
My go-to thought whenever I realize something is lacking in my life is to re-prioritize and then adjust my schedule. I’ve been known to put the most ridiculous things on the calendar just to make sure they happen. Is that the answer for making room in our lives for deep friendship? Can friendship be scheduled? Calendared? Itemized? Is it something that I commit to a certain number of hours per week, then check off the friendship box on my to-do list? That may be a springboard, but it certainly is not a way of life… at least not my way of life. Friendship, like a meal at the table needs freedom to take whatever shape is needed in each season to not only be the most nourishing, but to make room for celebration, for fasting when needed. That sounds a whole lot more like an art to me and not at all like an exact science, which, I must confess, makes me uncomfortable. Science leans toward the proven and exact. Art is subjective, open for interpretation. In other words, friendship involves risk. Risk of being rejected, risk of giving more than you receive and feeling vulnerable or foolish, risk of entering too far into the pain of another – making them dependent on you rather than encouraged by you, risk after risk after risk.
The question then becomes, “Is it worth it?”
John 15:13 "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." - Jesus
Proverbs 17:17 "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity."
Proverbs 27:17 "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another."
It is absolutely worth it! But we'll have to come to grips with the transient, free-flowing nature of relationships without insisting that they conform to our idealistic definitions. Sometimes friendship may be the main course in our lives, sometimes a side dish or dessert, sometimes we may go through seasons of fasting altogether, but none of these is meant to be the ONLY way to approach friendship for the long haul. The longer I live, the more I believe in embracing the ebb and flow without constantly feeling the need to label it: success or failure, good or bad. We were created by a God who gave us a world of infinite variety and who expects us to delight in that variety and give Him glory in it, not get overwhelmed by a complex and multi-faceted world and, by reaction, sequester ourselves in a tiny corner of it, building protective walls of definitions and patterns of behavior that make us feel like we’ve got a handle on things. Safety-goggle-friendship happens outside those walls, and it is worth it.
For the past two days, I've been dealing with a sudden onset of lower back pain. A couple trips to the chiropractor and some x-rays to rule out anything serious, and I am now feeling 65% better. Any time an ache or pain slows me down, I HATE IT. I hate being sick. I hate injuries. I don't manage health related setbacks well. I'm not a fun patient. I just want it to "be over
Meanwhile, I have a friend in California, a mom of three elementary school-aged kids, who is being treated for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. RSD (as I understand it) is an unexplainable disease of the nervous system that is triggered by an injury. The nervous system and body "overreact" to the injury and go a little haywire, making the pain related to the injury disproportionately severe. Not only that, but the intense pain spreads to other body parts not affected by the injury, basically making life completely miserable, if not unbearable even after the injury heals.
Suddenly, perspective settles in. Why was I complaining again?
My friend is currently undergoing a Ketamine treatment that requires her to be at the hospital from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day. The side effects include nausea, vomiting, extreme fatigue, and hallucinations. She has had all of these.
From now on when my back twinges or pain wakes me up at night when I try to roll over in bed, I'm going to stop and pray for my friend instead of focusing on my own pain.
Would you do the same? You don't have to know her name or anything about her really... just pray for my friend... a fellow planet-wanderer who has been thrown a difficult curve ball. So how do you pray?
Maybe if in our own pain (whether it is emotional, spiritual, or physical), we can be reminded of the ache of another and lift her up in prayer, none of our pain will be in vain. And God will bring a kind of healing we never could have imagined. "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9).
- Pray for the hallucinations to cease.
- Pray for the vomiting to stop.
- Pray for her as she is away from her kids and misses them.
- Pray for her mental stability as this treatment will be long and she'll need more emotional and physical energy reserves than Wonder Woman.
- Pray for her spiritually, that God will be very sweet and tender with her and that she would see evidences of His work on her behalf and find ways to continue giving thanks (as she already has).
- Pray for her husband. No man is equipped to see his wife in pain without being able to alleviate it. Pray for his endurance and his sensitivity. Pray for his emotional and physical health.
- Pray for her kids. This is one strong mama, and it won't be easy for her kids to see her in a weakened state.
- Pray for her parents. No matter how old you are, your mom and dad will always see you as their baby. Pray for their peace of mind.
- Pray for a miracle of healing. God is capable of it.
Jason and I recently celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary with a day in Washington D.C. together. While we were waiting on our bus, we took turns listing off some of our favorite memories from the past 15 years, one at a time. He would describe a memory; I would smile and nod. I would recall something; he would smile and nod. After this had gone on quite awhile and we both had unfading smiles on our faces and fond memories filling our minds, it dawned on me that none of the memories we listed as our favorites occurred on holidays. Huh. Interesting. We didn’t say, “Remember that Christmas when…,” or “I’ll never forget that Thanksgiving when…” It seemed that our best memories happened when we weren’t planning for them to happen!
This was a major revelation to me. It is something that I am still pondering now, a few days later. You see, I’m “the planner.” I’m the one who sees a holiday coming on the calendar and is prone to feel more PRESSURE than pleasure. The pressure of who to spend it with, where to spend it at, how much money to spend, how to make it the most memorable, how to make it meaningful (particularly if it is a faith-centered holiday), how to incorporate tradition and still try new things. It’s no wonder that my favorite memories don’t seem to happen on holidays! They happen on days when I’m not feeling pressured to MAKE memories. When I’m just living life and remembering to appreciate the people I’m with, the places I’m at, and the God who generously provided both. They happen, not when my mind is focused on the details of executing a plan, but when the overriding agenda is being 100% present in the given moment.
A great example of this is a vacation we took to Disney World when our son was 9. I planned my hiney off, folks. As we prepared to leave, I knew I was on the precipice of dangerous territory. I had spent so much time doing so much research that I was poised to spend our trip being so interested in doing things in “the right order” and in “the most efficient way” that I would frustrate my guys and suck the joy right out of the only family vacation we’d had in years. Thank God for self awareness! Somehow, I caught a glimpse of where my pressure-filled, over-planning tendency was heading and I was able to shut it off… that mental compulsion to execute the plan at all costs. Instead, I told myself I had prepared well and now it was time to hold all of that information in reserve and pull it out when it was needed, but not be enslaved to it or force others to conform to it. The result – we had a BLAST! Best. Family. Vacation. Ever. Most of the fun we had and the most lasting memories we made were completely unexpected, like the people we met while sitting in line for a ride in the Animal Kingdom waiting out a thunder storm and the instant bond we formed with them, spending the rest of the evening together going on the same two rides together as a big group over-and-over-and-over again until the park closed and they actually closed the ride down while we were on it; or the daily afternoon family nap we ended up taking at our hotel during the hottest part of the day (if I had planned that ahead of time, both the guys would have balked and it would have seemed like a drag… but it happened naturally and we all laugh about how hard we crashed each afternoon to this day).
So now we look forward to the next 15 years, and hopefully learn from the best memories of the first 15. Here’s to holding our plans loosely, and to waking up each day with the realization that we don’t have to MAKE memories happen. Our God is a good God and He gives good gifts to His children. We don’t have to cleverly conjure up gifts for ourselves – we just have to unwrap His gifts when He gives them! He has built joy into the equation of our lives and He is the one who knows how to bring it out at just the right time to create moments that leave a permanent smile in our souls. No amount of human planning can equal that!