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.

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.

 

Back to School · Christianity · grace · Spiritual warfare · Uncategorized

Go Away!

I started back to school this week, my 17th year as a media specialist. I’m in a school I love with a great staff, a new principal who is excited and collegial, and students and families I have come to know and love. After 17 years I feel like I should know what I’m doing, yet each year I start out the same way, overcome with feelings of inadequacy. I hit a place just as school is starting when I feel so overwhelmed with everything to do and all the expectations I put on myself that I have a little breakdown. Thankfully, I had it at home, not at school!

I wonder sometimes if others feel this way. I know that most teachers are anxious and nervous the first day, no matter how long they have been teaching, but my feelings go beyond just apprehension and anxiety. I struggle with deep feelings of “not being good enough”. In many ways it is like Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”, something that I struggle against all the time. No matter how much positive feedback I get, I always hear that little voice at the back of my head whispering,  ”But what do others really think of you?”

I recently finished listening to the audiobook of The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey, a very thought provoking read. Chris Bailey is a young man who is obviously very smart and self assured and has done well with his first book, yet in the last chapter he admits that he too suffers from negative thoughts about his abilities. He writes that this is how we as humans are wired and that studies show that most people have a running inner dialogue that is self critical and often condemning. The trick iso learn to forge ahead despite what our inner critic may be saying.

The old image of the angel and devil on opposite sides telling us what to do is not so far off! I have learned to constantly remind myself that the negative voices in my head are not from God – in His sight I’m forgiven for all the dumb stuff I’ve done and said, and He doesn’t keep bringing it up like the “Devil” voice. I’ve even gone so far as to actually yell at that voice (when in the confines of my car!) saying, “In the name of Jesus, Go Away!!”  Try it, it works!

I have to constantly remind myself that God loves me just as I am. I don’t have to do anything to prove to Him that I’m worthy or “good enough”. Although this seems basic, I still need to fill my mind with these thoughts instead of the ones that pull me down and keep my from becoming all that God wants me to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christianity · grace · Uncategorized

Broken Pieces

The Grand Strand 

I recently had a nice trip to North Myrtle Beach with some good friends. I grew up coming here to the Grand Strand before it was covered with high rise condos, and I love the wide beach and swimming in the waves of the Atlantic.

This stretch of beach is not the best for shelling, however. By the time the shells have landed on the hard sand, they are broken in pieces and line the beach as the waves bring them in. Finding a whole shell is pretty rare.

As we walked along the beach, I thought about how the shells are like so many people I know who have been broken by the pounding of life. Divorce, addiction, depression, deaths of loved ones, job loss, mental and physical illness, and the day to day wear and tear of life crush us down. We become like the shells on the shore, with parts of us cracked and torn.

Sometimes other people’s brokenness can cause us pain, as when I step on a jagged shell.

But God in His infinite grace restores our broken edges. One of my favorite verses is Psalm 34:18:

The Lord is close to the broken-hearted

And saves those who are crushed in spirit.

If you are feeling broken today, remember that God is extra close, that He loves you and wants to see you whole again. Our hard times change us, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. We can be like the sea glass that sometimes washes up on shore, with its edges soft from the constant tumbling on the ocean floor. Instead of jagged edges that hurt both ourselves and others, we can become something beautiful that can be used by God.

Christianity · Spirituality · Uncategorized

Getting past regret

Hello, my name is regret

I’m pretty sure we have met

Every single day of your life

I’m the whisper inside

That won’t let you forget

These opening lines from a song by Matthew West capture how I have felt for a good part of my life. All of us have things we regret, especially by the time we have passed the half century mark. We often wonder what our lives would have been like if we had….. Fill in the blank – finished college, married someone else, moved to a different town, been a better parent or friend or daughter – The list can go on and on. And often we can feel worse if we think we have let someone down, like our parents or even God.

For the past 28 years I’ve been tormented by regret that I acted hastily in withdrawing from a job interview for a chaplaincy position, something I had worked toward for 6 years. Keith and I were newly married and had just moved to Calhoun. I had left a job in Birmingham as a hospice chaplain and felt that I needed a break from the intensity of working with terminal cancer patients, but as the years went by the opportunity did not come up again. I was busy raising Adam and eventually decided to become a school media specialist. Although I enjoy my job, I’ve agonized over feeling that I missed out on what God wanted me to do with my life and that He was disappointed in me. He and I have had many conversations on this topic, but in my heart I still felt the same.

All of this came back to me last week when I attended the annual meeting of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the group that bravely broke from the Southern Baptist Convention exactly 25 years ago. I also “broke” with the Baptists when I started attending the Methodist church, so I felt oddly out of place yet at home at the same time. I spent quality time with some women I had been in seminary with in the days when we were young and ready to conquer the world. They have persevered against the sexism and small-mindedness of the 80’s and have had successful careers as chaplains and as a university administrator.

On the second day, I attended a breakfast meeting with people who are committed to ending all sorts of injustices, such as helping innocent people on death row and fighting prejudice against the LGBT community. As I listened I felt overwhelmed at how little I was doing with my life and later I had a breakdown, crying while my friend Mera, the most empathetic person I know, listened patiently. The tears erupted out of me unexpectedly, as grief sometimes does. I sobbed out my guilt over not sticking with the chaplaincy and over leaving the Baptists, who had been my family all my life. Being with these old friends had given me a glimpse of what “could have been.”  The cry and Mera’s listening ear did me good. I felt some healing begin.

So I was happy to be back at my church a few days later, after having been gone for several Sundays. I was greeted with hugs and a sense that I had been missed. The children’s sermon was from John 21, when Jesus appeared to Peter and the other disciples by the lake after his resurrection. I have always related to Peter and I was thinking about how devastated he must have felt after denying Jesus on that horrible night in the courtyard, when he was confused and terrified and exhausted. He must have played it over and over in his mind. Then, as he and some of the other disciples are out fishing – returning to what they know – Jesus shows up and helps them catch more fish than they had ever seen. When Peter realizes it is the Lord on the shore, he jumps in the water with his clothes on, swimming to Him. Jesus has a fire going and cooks the disciples some fish. Then He has a conversation with Peter that has always perplexed me, but now I see it in a new light.

Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?”, and when Peter gives the impassioned “Lord you know I do,” Jesus tells him, “Feed my sheep.” He repeats this 3 times, so that it will go into Peter’s brain and heart. What Jesus was letting Peter know was that the only thing that was important – the only thing – was that Peter loved Him. The denial in the courtyard was unimportant as far as Jesus was concerned. It was old news, in the past. What was vital was that Peter get to work spreading the Gospel, sharing his experiences about Jesus, encouraging the disciples and following the Holy Spirit, which was about to descend upon them. “Feed my lambs.”

What if Peter had continued to wallow in his guilt and hurt over how he had turned his back on Jesus? Would he have been able to accomplish all that he did? No, instead he chose to listen to Christ and let all that go. We see him immediately take a leadership role with the remaining disciples and go on to be a champion for bringing Gentiles into the Christian movement. I believe that awful night in the courtyard was always with him, but he concentrated on what was ahead.

I have often let regrets over the past pull me down and take my focus off of the present. God doesn’t have one path for each of us to take to be able to work for Him, but multiple forks in the road that have opportunities. Spending time worrying about the past is wasted energy.

When I came back from my time with my friends at the CBF meeting, I felt God saying to me, “So, did you get all that ‘poor pitiful me’ stuff out of your system? Good, now let’s get to work.”

And suddenly I saw lots to do.

 

 

 

 

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