On the day you were born

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So… I had a birthday yesterday, and it was a BIG one… I turned 5-0!  Fifty!  Half a century!

Haha!  That last one sounds really old!  But, you know what!  I’m so excited about it!  I wear those 50 years like a badge of honor.  Indeed the days are long and the years are short, but I wouldn’t trade a single one, and I wouldn’t go back.

The other day, I was driving and talking to God about my birthday.   I had already expressed my desire for a low-key birthday, just a cook-out with family, and I just randomly asked God what my birthday meant to Him.

And here is what I heard in my spirit:  He said, “Joy, on the day of your birth, ALL of Heaven celebrated.”  He gave me a visual image to accompany that thought, and it was an all-out party.  I wish I even had words to describe it.  Wow!  I’d never had that thought before.

But, you know what?  It’s true.  And even better news?  It’s true for you too!

On the day that you were born, Heaven celebrated your birth.  I just imagine hearing angelic beings far and wide shouting, “She’s here!” or “He’s here!”  and celebrating with all the joy that is in heaven.

How does that make you feel?  You may have come into this world in a less than desirable situation, but you were and are to this day a celebrated and much loved child. There has been nobody else in all of time born with the promise and purpose you are destined for.  And whatever state your life is in right now, God can always make it better.  The Word of God speaks of the promise of our future in many passages, one of the most well-known being Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Because this one was a big one, I heard a lot of the usual comments about being “over the hill” or “it’s all down hill from here.”  But I must politely disagree.  You know what I’ve found?  That although physically things may change, relationships just get sweeter and sweeter with time.  I look at my beautiful relationship with Todd (we’ll celebrate 31 years in August), and the incredible relationships with our kids and their spouses, and with our parents and siblings and extended family, and the precious relationships with friends, and I must say that the investment of time pays off in huge dividends!

And the sweetest relationship of all, with the lover of my soul, Jesus, gets richer and fuller every single day.  We have a history, and a present, and a future together!

So I want to encourage you wherever you are in your relationships with family, friends, and most importantly with Jesus, invest love and time into those relationships because they are something that definitely can get better with age!

Drawing a bigger circle

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We all have a circle, don’t we?  And when we stretch our arms wide and draw them close, those dear souls swept in are our inner circle.  Who is in your circle?  Your spouse, closest friends, confidants.  We need each other.  We all need a “good” circle.

And isn’t it awesome to be counted in someone else’s circle?  That sense of belonging and inclusion is satisfying and fulfilling, safe and secure.

Sometimes, we choose to be the only person in our circle.  A self-protective approach maybe as a result of past hurts.  Maybe it’s just self-centeredness because then we don’t have to share our time and resources with anyone else.  Maybe at times it’s some of both.

Have you ever felt like you were wandering on the outside of a circle wishing to find the opening to get in?  Yeah, me too.  Doesn’t always feel great, does it?

Why do you think we don’t expand our circles?  Trust would be an obvious factor, but are there others?

Do you think there is a fear of getting lost in the crowd, losing identity or position?  Do you think the responsibility is greater when we let someone else in our circle?

 

I know I’m asking a lot of questions, and honestly it’s because I have the same questions.

I had a lot of insecurities growing up, and truth be told I desperately wanted a well-defined circle because I used it to define me instead of allowing God to tell me who I was.

If you’re in the “cool” club, then you must be “cool,” right?

We’d like to think that mentality is left behind on the school playground, but I don’t think that is the case.  The names and situations change, but I still see similar struggles at every age.

This is not a condemnation in any way on having an inner circle.  It’s important to have, and frankly not everyone is going to be in that group.

But, what if we can expand our outer circle just a bit.  We don’t have to look far to see dear souls who long for a place to belong to a group, a tribe, or a team.  We can’t include everyone, obviously, but what if we can include one person or one family in our circle. We’re stronger together because that’s how we were created to be.

I’m challenging myself with this…to get out of my comfort zone and look around to expand my circle a bit.  I feel like more often than not I receive far greater blessings by those that God places in my circle than the way I bless them.

This topic makes me think of the story of the starfish.  I’m sure you’ve heard it.  A girl is walking on a beach where thousands of starfish have been washed ashore by a storm, and the tide has receded.  She begins scooping up starfish and placing them back in the ocean.  A man observes and asks her what she is doing.  She tells him that she is saving the starfish.  To the man’s comment that there are thousands of starfish and miles of beach and that she couldn’t possibly make a difference, the girl responds as she picks up another starfish and throws it back in the sea, “I made a difference for that one.”

I love that story.  Sometimes we think if we can’t change the whole world, then what is the point, but we can change one person’s world.  So what do you think?  Do you have room for one more in your circle?

Worth it

Hey you, ya you… the bleary-eyed mom at the bus stop with the rumpled hair and yesterday’s shirt embellished with fingerprint smears of jelly…

YOU ARE WORTH IT*

And you, beautiful one… who finds no representation of your present reality among the pages of the latest fashion magazines…

YOU ARE WORTH IT*

And you, brave soul…with the scars of combat written on your heart and the ugliness of mankind forever etched across your memories…

YOU ARE WORTH IT*

And you, little one… with the big ideas that no one seems to pay attention to…yet…

YOU ARE WORTH IT*

And you, young woman…with the beautiful swollen belly carrying the promise of new life and no one with whom to celebrate…

YOU ARE WORTH IT*

And you, quiet one …sitting alone at the cafeteria table, wishing that you would be able to disappear into a crack in the floor rather than endure the utter loneliness one more second…

YOU ARE WORTH IT*

And you, weary parent…with a cart full of kids and groceries using your EBT card while internally deflecting the stares and judgment from those around you…

YOU ARE WORTH IT*

And you, gray-haired man…sitting alone in your easy chair wondering if anyone is thinking about you today…

YOU ARE WORTH IT*

And you…with the handicapped placard on your car, feeling often that people don’t look past your disability to see the real you…

YOU ARE WORTH IT*

And you, oh dear child…who has grown up in a broken system in lots of different houses, but no home to call your own…

YOU ARE WORTH IT*

And you, invisible one…so willing and hopeful but always seeming to get passed over…

YOU ARE WORTH IT*

And you…who has used up a lifetime’s supply of grace and mercy already only to need it once again…

YOU ARE WORTH IT*

And you… the one who serves quiet and faithfully in the shadows…

YOU ARE WORTH IT*

And you…the one growing up right in the middle of a jumble of kids often called by several other names before hearing yours…

YOU ARE WORTH IT*

And you…the one with nicknames like “nerd” and “braniac”…

YOU ARE WORTH IT*

And you…with the perfectly styled hair and immaculate clothes hiding the hurt behind the facade of a “perfect” life…

YOU ARE WORTH IT*

And you…the one with life’s experiences written like a road map on your face…

YOU ARE WORTH IT*

And you… the one who messed up so badly that your living quarters are reduced to a 6 x 8 cell…

YOU ARE WORTH IT*

And you…the one whose residence status hangs in the balance…

YOU ARE WORTH IT*

And you…the one living in a war zone where peace and security are all but a distant memory…

YOU ARE WORTH IT*

And you…the one who is always smiling on the outside but your heart is broken into a million little pieces…

YOU ARE WORTH IT*

And you…the one fighting the chains of addiction with everything you’ve got…

YOU ARE WORTH IT*

And you…oh young innocent one, treated as a commodity and trapped inside a world you never knew existed…

YOU ARE WORTH IT*

*So what is your life worth?  It depends who you ask, I suppose.  Everywhere we turn, there are sources of information, but they are heavy laden with opinion and misinformation, ulterior motives and just plain old lies.

The best place to get the most accurate answer to that question…the truth, in fact… is from the words of the One who created you, who breathed His breath of life into you.

Did you know that before you were even born, He ordered your days?  He wrote your story, a love story of your life, with all the love that exists.  You are not a mistake.  Your life is not a mistake.  Not even in the slightest.  God actually created you in His image, and you were His crowning achievement topping off six days of creation!

You are His prized possession, His child, and His friend.  You exist not because the “universe” made it happen, but because He knit you together in your mother’s womb.

And only you are uniquely qualified to carry out His plans and purposes for your life.  No one else can do it!

Maybe you’ve had a detour or two along the way…by your choice or by the actions of others… It doesn’t matter… at all.  Guess what – God knew about that too!  He sacrificed His son Jesus specifically to cover all of our mess-ups.  So, the life, the calling, the purpose is still before you waiting for you and only you to take it and run with it.

I bless you to see yourself as God sees you starting right now.  To ignore the opinions and values of a flawed system and to hear with your heart what God is speaking over you every moment of every day.

What does His voice sound like?  It sounds like love, and hope, and promise.  If you hear words that leave you with despair and without hope, those are not from God. Disregard those.  Listen closely, and you’ll hear Him, and if you have trouble deciphering what you’re hearing, ask someone that you know is sound spiritually to help you and pray with you.  And, of course, I’d love to help!

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Rest

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30
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Photo credit:  Rachel McLaughlin

Who doesn’t love to sleep?  Lazy Saturday morning sleep-ins, Sunday afternoon naps, snooze buttons, and occasional early bedtimes…  We all love it, and we all need it.

We live and compete in a world fueled by espresso and Red Bull.  We are connected 24/7 with devices leaving permanent indentations in our hands, outlines in our jean pockets, and necks and wrists requiring medical expertise for realignment.

No wonder our bleary-eyed neighbors and friends commonly answer “busy” and “tired” in response to our query on their well-being.  It used to be that parents of infants were most frequently associated with being sleep-deprived, but now it seems that no age range is immune.

So, yes, sleep is important, and we all need it, but what about REST? 

Is there a difference between sleep and rest?

Most definitely!

You can sleep without experiencing rest, and you can rest without experiencing sleep.  How about that?

Sleep without rest is miserable. You know what I’m talking about, right?  Tossing and turning, unable to shut off your mind.  We tend to borrow tomorrow’s issues to mull over during the nighttime hours, when we all know good and well they will be there in the morning when we wake up.

Alternatively, rest with or without sleep is refreshing.

Sleep indicates a physical state, but the rest that I’m talking about involves the mind.

In the verses noted at the top, Jesus calls all who are weary and burdened to come to Him, and He will give us rest.  Then He says to put on His yoke and learn from Him.

Modern machinery has replaced work animals in a lot of settings, but we live in a community with a large Amish population, and it is not uncommon to see large work horses yoked together plowing a field or hauling a farm trailer.  Often to train a younger inexperienced animal, the animal is yoked together with an experienced animal which will carry more of the work load and train the younger one.

Jesus invites us into that relationship with Him.  Imagine being linked so closely to our Jesus that we can sense a change in pace or direction afforded by such close communion.

Lastly, He promises that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.

So those burdens that are weighing you down… Do they feel light?  Or do you feel like the weight of the world rests squarely on your shoulders?

There’s an app (yoke) for that!  You are invited to rest in the arms of the One who holds the answers to all of your struggles.  Let Him carry them for you.  He will renew your strength.  He will empower you.  He fights for you!

Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.

~Ovid

 

 

Trouble and a joyful heart

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Photo credit:  Jale Feeman

So…. this is how the week started out…. Vehicle #1 is down for the count.  No big deal, right?  We can share two vehicles between the three of us.

Fast forward to Tuesday, vehicle #2 also goes down for the count.

Ok, we still have one vehicle… we can make this work.

Fast forward to Wednesday noon… I can hear it in Daniel’s voice when he calls.  He just finished up his first class of the semester and is heading home for a few hours before his evening class.  Only, he’s not heading home because vehicle #3 has decided to go on strike just like the other two.  Seriously, when he explained the situation, all I could do was laugh.

I’d like to say that vehicle issues are the only issues that have come up this week, but that wouldn’t be true.  For fun, let’s throw in the stomach flu, a migraine headache, a random viral illness with fever and chills, and pesky technological issues in our household just to round it out.

I’m sure many of you can relate, right?

Some weeks are just like that.  Some seasons of life are like that too.

But you know what I say?  So what!!

So what if it feels like life is falling apart all around us.  Feelings can be misleading, and dwelling on our frustrating circumstances will actually make us feel even worse.

Just like I mentioned in my last post, it’s about focus.

What do I know to be true?

In John 16:33, Jesus was talking to his disciples, and he said, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world, you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

When Jesus refers to “these things,” He is referencing suffering yet to come.

But Jesus doesn’t leave the disciples on a grim note.  He tells them to “take heart,” which means be encouraged, be optimistic, keep your eye on the prize, because He has “overcome the world.”  If you’ve read the end of the Book, then you already know that. He wins, and if we are with Him, then we win too!

So can you be joyful in troubled times?  Do you want to know my opinion?

I say:  It’s a choice.  It’s your choice.  So why not choose joy?

We will always face frustrations, challenges, and failures, and not just minor ones like the ones I’ve experienced this week.  **I just want to clarify that when I mentioned suffering above, I’m not placing myself in that category.  Many people around our world are truly suffering, and many of us (including myself) have little idea of what true suffering is.

Yes, we will all have rough patches and rocky roads, but we can choose to be joyful.

James 1:2-4 actually says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

On the other side of trials and trouble is the promise of growth, and through every circumstance we have the promise of God’s presence and guidance.  He said he would never leave us.  Never means never.

So, I choose to walk in joy, and I hope you do too, in spite of your present circumstances.  Make the people around you wonder why you can be joyful in troubled times.  You may get the opportunity to share the Reason for your hope!

 

And because I know you’re eagerly waiting for an update on our vehicle saga, vehicle #3 just needed a new battery and is up and running.  Vehicle #2 is functional and its issues will be addressed this weekend by my amazing personal mechanic.  And vehicle #1 has more extensive issues which will also be addressed by said mechanic at a later date.

Focus

Let your eyes look right on [with fixed purpose], and let your gaze be straight before you.             Prov. 4:25 (amp)

So last weekend, Todd and I were looking for something to watch on Netflix that didn’t require any brain power.  I chose the genre of “Reality TV.”  People are weird.  People are quirky.  People are interesting to watch.

We were scrolling through our options and came to a show called “Canada’s Worst Driver.”  We’d never heard of it before, but for some reason, it piqued my interest.  Overall, I wouldn’t give the show a very high rating.  It moved along rather slowly in my opinion, although based on the fact that we caught an episode from season 8, Canada must not agree with me.

Anyway, there were eight drivers, and they were put through a series of driving tests, and the one who needed the least amount of help graduated and was sent home at the end of the episode.  They were all bad, but some were less bad than others.

There was a guy named Robert who stood out to me in particular.  He was a young guy, but he was afraid to go fast. In fact, he even got ticketed once for going too slow.  The announcer stated that what should take him 30 minutes to get to work took him over an hour.  It made no sense at all why this guy was so afraid to even go the speed limit.

One of the challenges involved accelerating to 70 km/h (which is 43 mph) while speeding straight for a large “truck” made out of cardboard boxes.  While driving at full speed, the contestants had to look over both shoulders, and whichever shoulder they saw the green marker over, they had to swerve that direction to avoid hitting the “truck.”  Each contestant had one lesson with a professional driver before their actual attempt.  Robert’s instructor simply reminded him to look way down the road when he was accelerating.  Robert actually went up to 120 km/h and was comfortable doing it.  When he stopped the car, it was like a lightbulb had gone on inside his head.  He had light in his eyes, and a smile on his face.

So what was the secret for Robert?  Apparently he was looking at what was going on around him when he was driving instead of focusing farther down the road.  I didn’t really think much of it at first, but the episode came back into my mind later, and I realized what a good life lesson it portrayed.

When we focus on our circumstances and our problems, they can be all consuming and overwhelming, but just a shift in our focus to the One who has the answers to our problems can bring peace to our troubled souls.

I love the message of the old hymn “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.”  The chorus reads:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,

In the light of his glory and grace.

Such a simple concept, really, but it can make a huge difference.  If you’re struggling to find peace in your current situation, just try shifting your focus to Jesus who isn’t surprised or overwhelmed by your circumstances, but desires to help you through them.

So, Robert was the first of the drivers in season eight to graduate and get his license back.  He was a relatively quick fix. Some of the other contestants – not so much.

A dreamer’s got to dream…

                 There is freedom waiting for you on the breezes of the sky, and you ask              “What if I fall?”  Oh but my darling, what if you fly?”  – Erin Hanson

He talks about it all the time, Pastor Tom does.  He knows how to dream.  Lisa, his wife, dreams big too, but she says he always trumps her dreams.  And guess what?  Time after time after time, they see God fulfill their dreams and then some.  They’re not afraid to dream really big!

I’m learning.  I’ve always said I’m not a dreamer.  Todd is.  We’ve been married 30 years now, and his dreams have always shaken me because they are big, and they seem impossible at best.  So sadly, on way too many occasions, I’ve taken it upon myself to be the “voice of reason” and squashed some pretty great dreams along the way.

Perhaps it’s fear.  Perhaps it’s because of prior disappointments, maybe a mixture of those and other excuses as well.

Anyway, I’m spreading my wings a little and trying this dream thing on.  Now that I said that, I think I’ve always had dreams, but have never given them a voice.  So here is one of my dreams.  I want to change the world…through my writing.  Sounds all big and cliche, doesn’t it?  That’s okay.  It’s my dream, and it fits me just right.  Our family is a “go big or go home” kind of family, so they get it, and they’ve got my back.

I’ve always loved to write, but primarily kept it for myself.  Gary from church said that God told him I was a writer, and that I should get back to it.  That was a few years ago.  I needed the nudge.  Even then, though, I had excuses.  Too busy, not the right time, no one cares what I have to say…and on and on.

But no more excuses and no more delay.  Dreams are a launch pad for action.  Just like the springboard that gymnasts use to propel themselves over the vault.  If they don’t step onto it, it does nothing for them.  And, if you don’t step into your dreams, you go nowhere…fast.

What are your dreams, and what are you waiting for?