I’ve been thinking about joy for weeks. As a fruit of the Spirit, it’s elusive. By definition, it’s a feeling. Yet, we’re told to control this emotion. To rejoice always. To be joyful in the face of trials. To be joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer.
The Book of Hebrews honors those who lived their faith, demonstrating confidence in what is hoped for and assurance in what is unseen. We are called to imitate the faith of our leaders, anticipating the same righteousness. Paul quotes Habakkuk, “The righteous live by faith.”
James tell us that faith without action is dead.
I profess great faith, but I live in fear and comfort. Comfort holds me in a warm embrace, rewarding me with prompt responses to email, tasks crossed of a to-do list, hours spent in meetings, or doing chores, or …. time wasted in the familiar. Fear prevents the actions that will open doors of uncertainty and doubt.
I know what I want, what I pray for, but days slip by without progress. I’m strong and determined, yet weak and unsure. Every day, I think, “Tomorrow.” But, tomorrow never comes. Until, today.
This week, I’m making changes. I’m taking action. I’m opening the door and, God willing, I’m stepping through.
Like the man who found a treasure in a field, and joyfully s….
June 16, 2016
A friend and I have been going back and forth via email about, well…life, I guess. Our discussion came around to the topic of joy. How to find it, how to embrace it, how to cling to, despite the gale force winds that might blow it on down the road without us.
I started this post over 2 years ago, and once abandoned, it might as well have been far down that same road. I’m guessing this post was written around the time our grandchildren moved in with us. A lot has changed since then, but much remains the same.
Another friend posted this on facebook today:
“Good” is the fruit of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23a)
Peter writes about “Life by the Spirit” and offers a similar counterpoint as this Cherokee grandfather: walking by the Spirit excludes negative emotions.
Here are some no-no’s from Peter’s list: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissension, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies and the like.”
Sometimes we forget (or downplay) the highlighted items. Perhaps we don’t consider them equal to other forms of “evil”. But they are definitely joy killers.
Self-control is key.
With a little self-control, can we turn our thoughts away from the things that erode our mental, emotional and spiritual well-being? Can we be intentional in our pursuit of joy? Can we create joy (I find joy in creating, as I sew for my grandchildren). Can we retain joy in the face of someone else’s “evil” (see the highlighted no-no’s)? Can we refrain from “evil”? Or are we victims of our lack of self-control?
Each day, with each encounter, we must choose our path, deciding how to respond to the world around us. Let’s choose to be like the man who joyfully sold all he had in order to acquire the treasure he discovered. That treasure is the kingdom of heaven, where joy abounds. Live by faith, in this truth.
Dear LORD, guide my thoughts. Help me turn away from that which tears me down. Let my heart seek (and find) joy. Amen.
On Friday, my focus began to shift, as I learned more about Jim, the man we tried to resuscitate on Thursday. He was a year older than my own husband, Jim. He was a man of deep faith and conviction. He married his childhood sweetheart, and they have two 20-something daughters. He was a dedicated employee, and by all accounts, a good man.
A memorial in the hall outside of his lab offered a place to note thoughts and feelings, so I did. And, I went in the lab and visited with Jim’s coworkers.
I’ve stayed in communication with the three other members of the impromptu first responders. We’re advocating for CPR training, and better education and awareness of on-site equipment (I learned well after the fact that there are AED defibrillators available, and oxygen). I’ve volunteered to be on the Building Emergency Team.
I’m giving/getting lots of hugs. I’m rejoicing in this day. I’m trusting God’s greater plan, and celebrating life.
As we move through this Easter season, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
Today’s Gospel reading serves as a reminder of the directive given to us by Jesus himself, “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
What greater expression of love for humanity than to invest a few hours in training that you pray you never need, but will prove invaluable if you do.
LORD, Thank you for shaking me awake, for catching my attention, for directing me and others to the glory of your Kingdom. Let us celebrate life! Amen.
A friend of mine (Bernie) recently encouraged me to take a course on Psychological First Aid. An important lesson from that training is that we, as humans, need to tell our stories in order to effectively process tragedy.
Today, I experienced tragedy. I’ve told the story 10 or more times already today, but I’m not done. I’m still processing the events of this morning. So, I’m telling the story again, here, as a means of healing and creating a framework for hindsight.
This morning, I arrived at my office later than usual, due to traffic, due to rain, due to not-one-but-two accidents on the interstate. As I came around the corner into the ground floor hallway, I saw a small crowd of people, gathered around someone who’d collapsed.
“Does anyone know CPR?”
I dropped my jacket, backpack, purse, and gym bag and I started CPR. I don’t know CPR. I was certified when I was 16 years old, and I took a refresher in ~1995. That was a long time ago. But whatever I could do was better than doing nothing.
For the next ~10 minutes, 3 of us took turns performing CPR while a 4th person remained-on-the-line with 911.
Finally, the EMTs arrived. We stood by and watched, with a few others, waiting, hoping, praying. Finally, some 40 minutes later, they wheeled him away, still compressing his chest and giving him oxygen. Still helping him fight for life.
An hour or so after that, I learned that he didn’t make it.
There’s a lot more to this story, coincidences of encounters with folks who were able to later provide information I might not have otherwise learned, but the overarching power came from the convergence of strangers. The 3 of us who took turns, the 4th on the phone, and, most importantly, the person we fought for…prayed for…encouraged and cajoled to fight. Strangers. Now, bonded in a way you can’t know unless you’ve done something similar.
It would be an understatement to say I was rattled, but I’m at a loss for words to articulate all that I felt. All that I’m feeling now.
Alan, Pete, Bernadette…thank you for being there with me this morning. We were a great team. Jim, I’m sorry for the ending of this story. If I could, I’d give it a happy spin. I never knew you, but you will be missed. Rest in peace, brother.
LORD, may we never forget that through you, we are empowered. Despite the outcome, it is by your will. May your kingdom come. Amen.
Ask me how I’m doing, and I’ll likely tell you the truth. I’m tired. I’ve been tired for two years, which coincides with the life-changing onset of Parenting Round 2.
But, in truth, we’re finally moving past the transition (2 years is a long time, but … it’s a big change). I can’t say that we’re good at this, but we’re getting better, and it’s the new normal. So, there.
Today’s Scripture readings were spot on, as we continue our focus on Easter’s theme of resurrection. The first reading, from Acts, tells of Saul’s conversion from antagonist to disciple. This time, it wasn’t Saul’s story that got to me, it was Ananias’…who said, “Here I am, Lord.” Then, “NOT THAT! That’s a dangerous assignment!” (paraphrased)
But the Lord said to him, “Go….” So Ananias went….
I know that feeling.
God calls, and (hopefully) the natural reaction is, “Here I am, Lord!”
But then, when you get the memo, we react with,”Oh, no! I don’t think so. Can we try something else?”
I appreciated the Psalm today, “You have restored my life, O Lord.”
- You have lifted me up (from day 1 of this adventure)
- You restored me to health (whew! I was sick for the 1st 6 months!)
- You brought me up / restored my life (finally!)
- Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning (yes!)
- You have turned my wailing into dancing (I’m not quite there yet)
- You have clothed me with joy (working on it!)
- My heart sings to you without ceasing (a lofty/worthy goal)
- I will give you thanks forever. (Yes, yes I will)
I have no doubt, and will tell anyone who asks, that the only reason I’m standing is by the grace and strength of God almighty. I’m over 50 years old, and my house has been overtaken by the 7-and-under chaos of 3 children who are learning to read and cope with society and their own feelings of strength and weakness. And, I’m right there with them (in many respects).
In the middle of the chaos of my garden-that-was-once-an-oasis rises the annual glory of Easter lilies. They’ve arisen, budding, from the midst of the chaos created by Bermuda grass invaders and dwarf bamboo infiltrators and various other competition for earth and light and nutrition and survival. I lack the strength/energy/fortitude to cultivate the children and the garden. I’m not sure how this battle will end, but I’ll retain focus on the children, and God, and the light of the Son he sacrificed for our salvation. In the end, I remind myself, that’s what matters.
LORD, by your peace I am refreshed. Help me keep my eyes on you and your eternal glory. You have restored my life, O Lord. Once, I felt strong as a mountain; then, in the face of your calling, I was filled with fear. But you had mercy, and you are my helper. Let me never forget. Amen.
On Sunday, we celebrated Easter, or rather, we kicked off the Season of Easter. By definition, this is a time to focus on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. James, the priest at Trinity by the Sea, challenged us to look for dead areas in our lives and consider our own opportunities for resurrection. At least, I think that’s what he said.
Truthfully, 8 of us arrived for the 11am service at 11:01am, and the ushers seemed surprised and flummoxed by the challenge we presented, in light of the full-house. So much so they actually sent us to the front of the church (perhaps assuming there was room for a family of 8), so I could turn back for the whole congregation to see my U-turn and my “no room” gesture back to the parade coming up behind me. (Maybe the ushers were thinking we’d elbow our way in, one-per-pew, which was certainly doable…but not how I wanted to spend the Easter service.)
The ushers gathered folding chairs from the parish hall, and situated us in the limited space in the back of the church, where we did our best to contain and entertain the four 7-and-unders. (At least were seated together!)
So…I *think* that’s what he said.
What’s important is, that’s the message I heard. “Think about the areas of your life that have died, and let them be resurrected.”
I suppose we all know that in some cases, the dead need to R.I.P. But, in other situations, the breath of life is exactly what is needed.
All I could think about is the death of the life I’d imagined for myself. And, the death of the life I’d imagined for my daughter. She didn’t turn out as we’d planned/imagined, and we mourn our loss. And, in that loss, we gained three children. But, she isn’t dead…just, well…the version of her we’d imagined is gone.
My life, and my husband’s life…our lives as empty nesters? Certainly dormant, if not dead.
For the past 2 years, since our 2nd generation children moved in, our backyard oasis has suffered from neglect. During the winter, the flowerbeds are dormant. But in Spring, the bulbs rebound with life, amidst the chaos of Bermuda grass and dwarf bamboo, and other unidentified forms of green life. I’m overwhelmed by this complicated web. I’ve tried (and failed) to separate the wheat from the chafe (as it were), but the unwanted are inextricably tangled with that which I desire.
And, such is life.
I desire things that are not easily achieved. I would have my lovely garden neatly resurrected, but no genie appears to create this magical transformation. I would have my daughter put her children and her own welfare as a priority, but again…no magic. I’m sad for that which is not, but I am hopeful for that which God ordains. I shall put my focus there. God doesn’t resurrect everything. Some things must R.I.P. But, God will bring forth new life according to his plan. In that, I put my trust.
LORD, I thank you for the life you breathe into each of us. I thank you for the Holy Spirit, which renews us. I thank you for the opportunity of resurrection. I pray for your peace and understanding. Help me focus where you are, and put your life, breath and living water there, for the sake of resurrection. Amen.
You probably know this, but some sermons have more staying power than others. Sunday I heard one of those that struck a chord, resonating well into this week. I mean, it’s Tuesday, and I’m still thinking about it.
Palm Sunday’s reading was the Passion, as told by Luke (recited by our priest and 2 members of the congregation). It was simply told, and powerful.
And then, the sermon, highlighting Jesus’ first words, after he was crucified, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
With this, also comes the reminder that we’re to love one another, as Christ loves us. (John 13:34-35)
Easy enough in principle; very difficult in practice. Especially if we’re talking about loving/forgiving someone whose persistent bad choices continue to cause suffering for others.
During our time of reflection following the sermon, I kept thinking, “I don’t know how!”
I love, but I don’t know how to demonstrate that love when a sound spanking seems in order. I forgive, but tomorrow I’ll have to forgive again. I don’t know how to show forgiveness in the face of apparent willful ignorance.
…she doesn’t know what she’s doing. Really??? Is it possible? Surely she’s smarter than that.
Jesus held people accountable (so many examples, but the rich young man who “went away sad, because he had great wealth” comes to mind), not to mention those darn tax collectors and pharisees. But, when people changed, he was ready and willing to embrace them.
But, the directives to love and forgive don’t really come with caveats regarding the worth of the people we love/forgive. It’s like the Nike slogan, “Just do it.”
I can’t do anything to stop the bad choices that are made outside of my influence, that cause me heartache and create a burden for many. But, I can commit to my own path. I can make the right choice. I can choose to love and forgive.
LORD, bless my soul. Fill me with your Spirit. Help me love unconditionally. Help your love flow through me with unquenchable strength. Help me forgive. I don’t know how, so I turn to you. Teach me your ways. Amen.
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24)
For the past few weeks I’ve felt like a prisoner of my weekly to-do lists. Every Saturday morning, I assess what needs to be done in my world, and I update my 4″x7″ spiral binder. Some items, such as “Laundry,” appear (and get crossed off) every week. Some items lurk. I’ve been lazy for the last two weekends, simply writing “See last week’s list.” This weekend, I finally crossed off items from the 1/29 list.
In business, it’s a good practice to plan your activities around the assessment of importance vs. urgency. Similarly, I’m applying the same discipline to my overwhelming list of things to do. Evaluating importance and urgency is an exercise in shades of gray. For example, a month ago, the preparation for filing 2015 taxes was as important, but not as urgent as it will become with the looming deadline. However, continuing on my mission to purge (aka “liberate my possessions”) and donate unneeded possessions remains important, but without increasing urgency. So, it takes determination and willpower to whittle away at closets, dressers and bookcases.
When I consider my to-do list, I have the right to do anything, but not everything is equally beneficial, constructive, or altruistic. Like a candle burning in the darkness, casting shadows that flicker and dance; light and dark (right and wrong…priorities) are just shades of gray. Making time to sort through clothes, books and other treasures should be less about me and more about the people whose needs can be served by their availability. Tucked away in the darkness, these things serve no one.
There’s a donation pick-up coming Tuesday. Let’s see what I can gather up and pass along.
LORD, help me not forget the most important dimension, Your will. Bless and guide my efforts, to the glory of your kingdom. Amen.
Now, I’ll cross “write blog post” off of my to-do list.