Holiday depression · Spirituality

Finding Joy

Words of Joy are all around me as I plow forward into 2021. My fellow writer Kay Whately is planning on delving into all the verses in the Bible related to joy on her blog. I received a festive mug from my friend Lisa that proudly proclaims Joy across the front. And on one of my few shopping trips before Christmas, I picked up a cute decoration for my kitchen windowsill of three smiling snowmen, each holding up a letter for JOY. They have greeted me each morning as I stumble in for my morning coffee.

With all these reminders, why does JOY seem out of reach?

I felt joy when I directed Handel’s Messiah in my tiny kitchen as I baked pound cakes for Christmas. My heart swelled with the glory of the music and the anticipation of the approaching holiday season. But December 25th came and went and the lights and decorations were put back in their boxes and carried to the attic. The cold rain has begun and a gloomy Covid winter stretches before me. Our country continues to be divided and the hate and finger-pointing never cease. I’m struggling to catch hold of joy.

I picked up a book from my shelf by one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, and this quote jumped out at me:

My pastor, Veronica, says that peace is joy at rest and joy is peace on its feet. (Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith)

I let that roll around in my head for a while and I thought about how closely love, joy and peace are bound to each other. It’s hard to have one without the other, kind of like bacon, tomatoes and mayonnaise. They are listed as the first of the Fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23:

The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

If I concentrate on these other areas — being more patient, kind, gentle and self-controlled – will joy follow? If I focus on loving more, will I become more joyful? If I put feet to my peace by writing a note to someone or helping at the food giveaway, will I feel happier?

Joy seems to show up when I’m not looking for it, hiding behind the clouds or under a blanket of weariness. It nudges me when I dare to hope that tomorrow will be brighter and teases me when I let go of the circumstances I can’t control and trust God. When I start to recognize the Holy Spirit living inside me, it sneaks its hand out and gives me a high-five.

Today the sun is out and peace, love and joy have slid in. Just in case, I left the smiling snowmen out on my kitchen window. I need their reminder to keep looking for Joy to show up when I don’t expect it.

Christmas · Moravian Love Feast · Spirituality · Wake Forest University

Christmas Past and Present

Last Sunday morning, a week before Christmas Eve, I finally hung our Moravian star on the front porch. In the hustle and bustle of the season I hadn’t taken it out of its Home Depot box and gotten Keith to patiently put the plastic triangles together. I missed it shining out there at night and on cloudy days, reminding me of Christmases past, of my parents and grandparents and big dinners at our house, the warmth and security of my youth.
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Many houses in my hometown of Greensboro have the 3 dimensional star on their front porches and atop their Christmas trees. The Moravians who settled in nearby Winston-Salem in the 1800’s brought many wonderful Advent traditions which have become part of the fabric of the area, including a simple candlelight Christmas Love Feast. When I see the star’s warm glow I feel myself sitting with my parents at First Baptist in Greensboro for the Christmas Eve service and coming home in the cold dark to luminaries lining the streets of our neighborhood.

Wake Forest borrowed the tradition from down the road at Old Salem and as a college student worn out from exams, I remember enjoying a quiet evening at the Love Feast held on campus, complete with sweet buns and rich creamy coffee.

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The Moravian Love Feast at WFU this year.

My Christmas this year has been filled with time spent with friends, a walk through holiday lights at a 19th century ruin, a 5k with jingle bells on my shoes, cards from loved ones, and the annual Christmas Sweater Band performance at school. I’ve attended beautiful and moving church services and enjoyed the Yuletide playlists on Pandora. We had Adam here for several days and then Jess and our grand dog Molly and had a great time with them. Today Keith and I are enjoying a quiet morning and I’m listening to the joyful music of the Messiah in my kitchen. Life is good.

Each Christmas is a mish-mash of emotions and memories, Christmas past, present and future rolled together. Sometimes it’s exhausting. I’m constantly seeing my life go before me, from my childhood to my teen years to the fun years when Adam was little. It’s mixed in with the satisfying present with my family healthy and happy, and anticipation of more good times to come.

But always mixed in with my joy at Christmas is this little niggling anxiety – what will next year be like? Will I look back on this year and remember how good it was because next year will be sad?

When Jesus was born that first Christmas morning, past, present and future came together. He was the culmination of years and years of prophecy, born to parents who were struggling as strangers in a new city. And his birth promised hope for those of us to come after.

I pray that your Christmas 2017 will be full of sweet memories, happy times with family and friends and hope for the future.

I’m reminded of the lyrics of O Little Town of Bethlehem:

Because of that hope, I know that I will make it through whatever the future may hold.

Spirituality

Little Things

Do you have something in your house that has been broken for years, but you’ve just gotten used to it?

That’s how we’ve been with the ceiling fans in several of the rooms in our house. Over the years they had quit working for one reason or another. The one in our bedroom still turned, but years ago the glass globe had fallen off and shattered on the blanket chest,  leaving  the bare bulb staring down at me each morning  during my devotional time on the bed. In the computer room, the fan rattled so much that it sounded like a helicopter taking off, so I seldom used it. And the one in our son’s room didn’t even come on and hadn’t in ten years or so.

I don’t tend to notice inconveniences like these. I have my mind on what I’m writing, when I’m going to work in a run, what we’re having for dinner, whether I have anything ironed to wear that day, or what’s going to happen next on Stranger Things. I had gotten used to the bare bulb in the bedroom and the lack of moving air in Adam’s room, which is my bedroom when Keith wakes me up snoring. And Keith could care less about any of this.

But we just had some work done (finally) on the outside of the house and Adam made a request. Would we please get the fan in his room fixed before he and Jess came home for Thanksgiving?  I work much better with a deadline, so Keith called the electrician and in about a week – voila – we now have working ceiling fans in all the rooms in our house!

I didn’t realize how much the bare bulb hanging down in our bedroom had bothered me until we got it replaced. Each time I looked up at that bulb, it would prick my subconscious. Need to get that fixed. Same when I went into Adam’s room and had to fumble for a lamp because the overhead switch didn’t work. Need to fix that.  I’ll get around to it, leave me alone, I would reply to my subconscious. But the anxiety  over those little things would be there, gnawing at me. 

I’ve thought this week about how the small things make a difference in my spiritual life also. That burst of  anger at some injustice to myself, real or perceived, that spills out in a catty remark. The impatience with the fumbling store clerk. The gossip and criticism I partake in of someone who is struggling. These seemingly small things gnaw at my conscience, pulling me away from where God wants me.

Wayne Oates, one of my spiritual heroes, wrote a sermon on “The Struggle for Maturity”, reprinted in A Pastoral Prophet, a book of his sermons edited by William Tuck. He concludes a wonderful explanation of 1st Corinthians 13 with this line:

Mature Christians are always searching their relationships to others and testing their knowledge of God with others….Their speaking, their prophecy, their understanding, and their faith and works are all set into a new contextual meaning of the love of God. (p. 74)

Notice Dr. Oates says we as mature Christians should always be examining our relationships. Just as my house needs constant work to stay clean and comfortable, my spiritual house needs vigilance. I need to strive each day for the ways in which I am not living in love. I need to be coming before the Lord and asking Him to show me where I’m slipping. Like the broken ceiling fans in my house, I get so used to acting in unloving ways that I don’t even notice it anymore. It gets hidden under the clutter of my life.

The Psalmist prays:

God, see what is in my heart.
   Know what is there.
Test me.
   Know what I’m thinking.
 See if there’s anything in my life you don’t like.
   Help me live in the way that is always right.
(Psalm 139:23-24, NRIV)

The beauty of saying this prayer every day is that God starts showing me people from His point of view. Instead of an inept store clerk, I see a young woman who has been on her feet for twelve hours. Instead of getting angry at the coworker who asks for something at the last minute, I see someone who is working hard and juggling too many responsibilities. Instead of gossiping and tearing others down behind their backs, I begin praying for them and doing what I can to build them up.

Just like the satisfaction of knowing that my ceiling fans are all functioning, I feel less anxious when I let go of the little irritations that build up. As I turn these over to God, I feel His love flowing through me toward those around me. And my conscience is a little quieter.

Psalms-139-23-24

Christianity · Daffodls · Spirituality · Uncategorized

Daffodil Strength

My daffodils are here and they give me hope.

Years ago when we first moved into our old house, we began transplanting daffodils around the yard. Patches of them grew in the woods around us, leftover from the days when tenant houses were there. I think of them as wild, although I don’t know if daffodils actually grow wild. I like thinking about awoman planting them outside her little house a hundred years ago, when it was just a swept dirt yard with chickens and children running around. Did their cheerful yellow faces give her hope as well?

 

These little daffodils are not big and showy, but they are tough and consistent. They push their heads up when the ground is still hard and frozen, as if determined  to come up no matter what the weather. Usually they make their appearance toward the end of February, but they showed up early this year since we have had such a balmy winter. Their bright sunshine color and distinctive aroma announce “Spring is coming!”,  even though we still face possible snow and ice.

In this age of noise and bluster, the little daffodils remind me of people I know that are strong in their quiet ways. I think of my friend Tiffany who struggles with Cerebral Palsy.  Just getting out of bed and putting on her clothes is a challenge each day as she deals with muscles that don’t cooperate and braces on her legs and a walker that she hates. Yet she doesn’t give up and comes to work each day with a smile and a laugh. I think of another friend who was recently widowed. She has that lost, fragile look of someone fighting through grief, yet she forces herself to get out of the house, put on some makeup and face the world. That is true strength.

Tiffany and me at Christmas

What botanical urge causes the daffodil bulb to decide it is time to bloom when it is sleeping underground, even as the temperatures dip and the snow comes? A scientist could explain it to me, but to me it is a mystery.  In the same inexplicable way, people push through hard times and survive against the odds, pulling their strength from deep within.

In Ephesians 3, Paul tells the readers of his letter that he is praying for them to experience the power that only comes from Christ in their “inner being”.  I like the New Living Translation:

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.

Notice that God’s resources are unlimited and that through the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to do whatever is before us. Too often I don’t take advantage of this power in my life. Unlike that little daffodil flower that is being pulled up by a desire for the sun, I don’t let myself be pulled and led by the Holy Spirit. But notice verse 17 – that “your roots will grow down in God’s love and keep you strong.” The daffodil spends all year building up its resources underground in order to bloom for a few weeks. Our strength must come from putting down the roots we need, securely anchoring ourselves in God’s love.

I’m thankful for the daffodils that promise Spring and for the people in my life who inspire me each day with their courage. And I’m thankful also for the Holy Spirit in my life, promising strength to face life’s struggles.

 

Christianity · Christmas · Holiday depression · Uncategorized

Not a Hallmark Movie

I have a confession to make –  I do not love Hallmark Christmas movies. I know this will come as a shock to my many friends who love nothing more than curling up on the couch on a cold winter night and being transported to a world where everyone lives in beautifully decorated homes filled to the brim with lights and wreaths. The women in these movies wake up with their makeup perfectly done so that they can jump into their designer clothes and pull gingerbread cookies out of the oven. The handsome men wear suits and have styled hair, Christmas Day always has snow and turkeys are placed on the table perfectly browned.  Ugh.

These movies depress me because my reality is closer to Christmas Vacation, Chevy Chases’s classic comedy about the earnest bumbler trying too hard to have the perfect holiday. In spite of everyone’s hard work, the family is getting on each other’s last nerve, the turkey is so overcooked it falls away to nothing, and a squirrel runs out of the Christmas tree. The mother, Ellen, sums it up when she says, “I don’t know what to say, except it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery.”

Part of my problem is that my Christmases growing up were pretty ideal. My mother, like most of the moms I knew, was a homemaker and worked hard at having a perfect Christmas for us. While I was at school she decorated the house, bought and wrapped the gifts, and baked cakes and pies. On Christmas morning I awoke to see that Santa had come and put a plethora of dolls and toys and clothes across the chairs in the living room for my sister and me. Mama and my grandparents looked on sleepily while Daddy filmed away on his home movie camera.

With our new baby strollers, 1962

The night before, Mama had set the dining room table with the soft white tablecloth and the good china, had placed card tables in the living room with colorful red tablecloths and put the huge coffee percolator on the kitchen counter. Now all she had to do was get herself dressed, clean up the breakfast dishes, fix the macaroni and cheese and put the fatback in the green beans. The extended family would arrive with lots of hugs and kisses and loud talking and we would eat and then watch while our grandparents opened their presents. The day would end for me stretched in front of the TV.

Now as the holiday season begins I feel the Christmas depression waiting in the background, ready to creep in. It’s not that I don’t enjoy many things about this time of year. I love the music, lights, special programs at church, and time with friends and family. But mixed in with the joy of the season are often tears just on the surface for reasons I can’t explain. They come from a mixture of nostalgia for those perfect Christmases of my childhood, sadness over the loved ones who are no longer here and feelings of inadequacy for falling short of the Hallmark movie ideal.

I suspect others feel this way too. During these weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, everything in life is magnified, as if we were all living inside a giant snow globe. If we are having financial difficulties, the constant barrage of ads and expectations for gifts makes it worse. If we are struggling with our weight or with drinking too much, the gifts of goodies and special dinners put more temptation in our way. If we have lost a loved one the memories of past years make the grief that much more to bear. If we are far from our families, or have very few family members at all, then the loneliness comes barreling out at us in a way that is hard to ignore. If our family is in any way short of the perfection shown on the commercials and Hallmark movies, then we feel even more like failures.

I’m working on not expecting so much of myself this year. I still love putting up the tree with all of its ornaments that remind me of people I love and memories of family times together, but other than slapping a few wreaths on the front windows, that is the extent of my decorating. I’m making sure to get to bed on time and to keep up my running and to not overindulge at every tray of Christmas cookies. Even when my schedule gets busier than usual, I’m keeping my appointment with God each morning and I’m concentrating on doing what I can for others.

I know that I will have times that I feel down and I’m okay with that. God will be there for me and together we will wobble through. After all, I have lots in my life to be thankful for and I don’t want to let past memories overshadow that.

The following verses are on my phone wallpaper for this holiday season and they remind me that God will carry me through until I can breathe a sigh and get back to normal in January: