Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sometimes It's Hard to Keep Smiling...


Why, my soul, are you downcast?
 Why so disturbed within me? 
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, 
my Saviour and my God. 
Psalm 42:11

Having a name like "Joy" is a lot to live up to sometimes. How I feel about my name has changed often and dramatically over the years. It has seemed to me both a blessing and a curse, both a self-fulfilling prophesy and a cruel joke at various times and seasons in my life. The thing is, I've always felt it creates expectations; preconceived notions of what I must be like before someone even meets me. There have been times that this has been a great burden to me - just another instance of not measuring up in a life that, from my perspective, has been characterized by that very thing, that never-good-enough syndrome. At other times, and much more frequently these past few years, I have loved my name! I'm learning what it really means to have - to be - the joy of the Lord. That the joy of the Lord really can be my strength. 

I've stumbled again into sadly familiar territory these past few days and weeks; weeks filled with doubts and fears and conflicts and questions and distractions and disappointments - expectations not met, goals not reached, plans stalled, trust faltering, hope failing, joy stolen. I've struggled with how to handle it; with what face to present to the world. It's the same old battle: I want to be real, but I want the real to be good. But the truth of the matter is, I'm disappointed in myself. I'm disappointed in God. 

Even as I type out those words, I know better. I do! I know that God's timing is perfect, I know His plan is always good, I know He's trustworthy and faithful and kind and merciful and gracious and just. But right now, I can't see it. I'm blinded by my circumstances. And I know I'm blinded by my circumstances! That's one of the reasons I'm so disappointed in myself - I should know better. I should have more faith. I should be able to trust. But right now, I can't. I'm frustrated. And afraid. And impatient. And doubtful. And rebellious. And sad. Everything that's the polar opposite of "joy", to be honest. In fact, "joy" epitomizes everything I'm not right now. 

Isn't that interesting? The enemy comes only to steal, kill and destroy, and he starts with our identity - with the essence of who we are. "Joy" is my birthright as a child of God. Nothing can change that - nothing. Neither my feelings nor my circumstances can change who I am in Christ. 

This is small comfort as I walk this particular road, but it's a start. I need to allow the truth of it to wash over me, to soak into my life and consciousness, to redirect my thoughts and interpret my emotions. The Scripture I started with is helpful for me today. It tells me I can be honest about how I feel, but it also encourages me not to stay parked there, "downcast" and "disturbed". And it gives me some practical advice on getting out of this pit: "I will yet praise him". A very good place to start.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
 Why so disturbed within me? 
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, 
my Saviour and my God. 
Psalm 42:11

Thank you, Lord, for the grace to praise you in the storm. Amen.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Attitude of Gratitude

Isn't February a dreary month? Or is it just me? For a short month, it seems to stretch out forever! Happy holidays long gone, Spring nowhere in sight - it can really wear on a person after awhile...

This year, I decided to be proactive. In the hopes of brightening up this dismal month a bit, I issued a gratitude challenge: #28DaysOfThanks, inviting others to join me in deliberately giving thanks for something every day in February. And so every evening for the past three weeks, I've sat at my computer and considered my day, my life. To my surprise, it didn't come all that easily. It was a bit of a challenge to pick out the few bright spots in my days for which I felt I could genuinely give thanks. There have been quite a few hard things that have come across my path this month, and it's been difficult at times to sift through them and find the silver linings. But they were always there, and after I'd completed my short list, there was always a little glow in my heart that wasn't there before.


That's all well and good - it's been an excellent discipline; but it just occurred to me that maybe something is slightly askew in my thinking about gratitude. I mean, should I really only be thankful for the good, the positive, the excellent, the pleasant, the lovely, the beautiful, the fun? A little verse tucked away in first Thessalonians provides a very clear answer: "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (5:18) I'd forgotten - again! It's amazing how little it takes to distract me from the truth. 


Financial hardship, relationship issues, real estate worries, parenting dilemmas, job hassles, health concerns, even weather woes - in all these things and more, I am instructed to give thanks. Maybe it's being a little nit-picky, but the word "in" is really significant to me here. I don't think God's necessarily asking me to give thanks for these things, but to rejoice always because He's in it with me - ALWAYS! I can intentionally train myself to focus on God and His presence and power in the midst of my trials and anxieties and sufferings and sorrows. God promises me that this will make a difference:


Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, 
present your requests to God. 
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:6,7)

These verses have been among my favourites for a long time, but it's only been very recently that I found the real power that resides in this passage. It's a beautiful trade-off any way you look at it: I give God my worries, He gives me His peace. But a little question always niggled in the back of my mind - why do I have to go first? I present my requests, then He gives the peace? That's not how God generally operates, from what I've seen. He takes the initiative, He makes the first move, He provides the faith and the motivation and the strength and the courage, and I respond...So, although I have always drawn comfort from these verses, they confused me a little, too. 

Along comes a simple devotional a few months ago that points out the tiniest of details, and opens my eyes to the real game-changer.  I had never paid too much attention to the four little words that directly precede the aforementioned passage: "The Lord is near." The Lord is near! See how it changes the whole tone of the passage: 

The Lord is near.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, 
present your requests to God. 
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:5b-7)

That's what makes all the difference! That's how I can "not be anxious about anything" - God is right here with me, just waiting to hear my prayer and bear my burden and replace my worry and fear and doubt with His peace. Like I said above, He's right there, in the trials with me, protecting and comforting and guiding and empowering me to give thanks, to rejoice, to worship, to leave it all in His completely capable hands and appropriate His incomprehensible peace and rest.

So, thank you, Father - thank you for all of it, and for being right here with me in it, always. Amen. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Hard Things

#ICanDoHardThings  This hashtag first appeared on my radar sometime last year - a friend of mine had determined to run every day for a month, and this was the handle she attached to her efforts. I've seen it in other places, too - referring to everything from Bible memorization to healthy eating to weight lifting to de-cluttering and more.

It intrigued me. It stirred up something in my soul. Curious, I thought at the time, since I had spent most of my life avoiding hard things. And not just passively, hoping nothing hard would come my way. No, I actively steered clear of anything that smacked of hard work or challenge; anything that might require the least bit of perseverance or self-discipline or will power or effort or discomfort...In the spirit of the lazy perfectionist I was, I only spent my time on that which came easily, naturally. Any momentary lapse of sanity that involved trying something new and difficult was almost immediately followed by a plethora of excuses and justifications, inevitably leading to the abandonment of said hard thing. Since this was so often accompanied by guilt and shame and self-condemnation, the lapses became fewer and fewer and farther and farther between. 

Then, a few years ago now, I began this real joy journey and started facing up to these fears and failings. I started trying things that came a little less easily. And I fell - a lot. 

But falling down was never in question, was it? We all fall - often, regularly, frequently, even. I used to be just terrible at getting back on my horse. I'd wallow around in the mud of self-contempt for days, weeks, months even; shaming myself for falling, telling myself all sorts of awful lies and half-truths - and more often than not continuing in the very habits and behaviours and thought patterns that got me there in the first place! And when I was finally able to escape that trap and set my feet back on solid ground, I often found myself right back at square one, or worse...

But then, especially lately, but probably always, there's this:


"Hard things just keep calling you because 
you're meant to answer to higher and better things." 
~ Ann Voskamp  

I'm finding myself in completely uncharted territory here, people - I actually want to do the hard things! I really do! And I'm doing them! And surprise, surprise - the hard things are turning out to be the "higher and better things"! What joy and satisfaction I'm finding in taking small, hard steps towards my goals and dreams. 

The only drawback is, besides the difficulty and complexity of the hard things themselves, is that when I fall, I'm falling from a greater height than before (not something I'm used to, believe me), therefore falling harder, with a much louder BAM! However, in spite of this, I'm finding it increasingly easier to get back up again, to get back on track and heading in the right direction. These verses from Philippians are helping with my focus: 
"But one thing I do: 
Forgetting what is behind 
and straining toward what is ahead,  
I press on toward the goal to win the prize 
for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

And this one, paraphrased slightly:

"I can do hard things through Christ who gives me strength."

What hard things are you up to these days? Let's journey together, "forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead"!  We CAN do hard things through Christ who gives us strength!