Reentry: Summer of Grace — Grace for Others

I sat on the back picnic table, leaning against the wall as I gazed upon all the life around me. Live music from the stage, couples swaying to songs of old, friends grabbing hands and pulling each other toward the crowd, and others, like me, who seemed content to watch it all happen.

Honestly, I’d have been happy to stay in that place all night. I liked the quite conversation with the young couple across from me who willingly shared bits of their stories and sweetly smiled at mine. But the thought of entering the chaos of the crowd overwhelmed me. Mainly because I wasn’t ready — pandemic still looming and my awkward introverted self out of practice. But also because I’m grappling with who I am, and it’s not a crowd lover.

Those moments of not-so-silent solitude on the eve of July Fourth reminded me how differently we’re each wired. Seeing the people of that concert crowd in all their fashions and fascinations brought a smile to my face because I could see the truth of all I’d been learning — we’re each unique yet are woven together by common threads of community and care. Being together brought all of us pleasure even if it presented differently among the pockets of people. 

In the midst of the varying revelers that night, I found myself grateful for our differences. And even more grateful that in that space, there was grace for all to celebrate in our own ways. 

Personalities and People Problems

The first personality test I ever took was Myers-Briggs back in the 90s, and to my horror I failed it. At least that’s how it felt. Most of my results were an even split — neither introvert nor extrovert, not fully judgment nor perception. Clearly a feeler, however, my emotions spiraled with identity confusion, thinking I had to fit in each of the boxes.

So I kind of avoided personality structures till the Enneagram a few years ago, and my eyes opened wide. I’ve surrendered to a self-awareness journey since then, and it’s helping me embrace my why’s as much as my what’s. It’s directed me toward healthier responses and generous grace for myself. I’m not a living label but a complex whirlwind of a woman, full of feelings and thoughts, perceptions and intuitions, all of which can deepen as I mature. 

But maybe the thing that shocked me the most as I read about each Enneagram type is that not everyone thinks, feels, or responds as I do!

My husband and I can see the same movie, and he comes away empowered while I recover from an embarrassing bout of sobs. My oldest son thrives on confrontative conversations that challenge his thinking while my youngest shrivels and shrinks when he hears what sounds like peace-shattering conflict. 

The more I learn about each type, the more I understand personal dynamics. The more I’m able to see what motivates each of us, the easier I navigate my responses to people’s life choices and reactions. Add to all the Enneagram education, I am also coming to understand extroversion and introversion as a spectrum instead of as two distant points of being. I am, in fact, an extroverted introvert! It’s a thing.

Friends, I say all this because if we walk through life without any sort of understanding of what makes us tick, we fail to see our faults and lose opportunities to mature in our faith.

We also miss seeing other people through this lens of appreciation. We. Are. Different. Our needs, our responses, our hopes, our giftings — they’re different for each of us. And if we have no grasp of this reality, we pridefully, albeit blindly, crash through life knocking others down, OR we constantly, and resentfully, get knocked down by others at every turn.

Personalities become people problems when we live unaware. 

Unique and United

As believers, we’re called to be united by our love for Christ.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

As God’s children, we’re given unique gifts and traits and passions.

As followers of Jesus, we’re meant to live in the tension of our uniquenesses and the call to live united. It’s never been easy — just read Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, but it’s possible because the Holy Spirit lives in us. He helps us navigate all our differences in a miraculous blend of perfect purpose — to be the Body of Christ, in the church and in the world.

And grace makes it all possible. 

But he continues to pour out more and more grace upon us. For it says, “God resists you when you are proud but continually pours out grace when you are humble.” 

James 4:6, The Passion 

Humility ushers us into the place where we can open wide our hearts to receive grace. We lay down our assumptions, our pride, and our vain attempts to control — and grasp grace. Grace to love others for the way they are created. Grace for our own reactions and responses. Grace to live from love.

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.

Romans 12:9-10, NLT

When we root ourselves in God’s love, we have all we need to love others well. 

This week in your journal, list, doodle, draw, or write about who needs your grace most in this season. How can the grace you extend manifest in each situation? Then go do it! This week spread a little joy by putting someone else’s needs or wants before your own — great or small. Maybe let someone go ahead of you at the store, or pay for someone’s coffee, or let someone pass you on the highway, or ask someone else to choose what to do that day, or any other way God leads you! #spreadjoy

Becoming More Like Jesus

Sanctification, that lifelong journey of becoming more and more like Jesus, “is always a means of opening to God’s grace in our own lives and it is always for the sake of others” (Invitation to a Journey, page 11). Robert Mulholland’s description of spiritual formation caught me up short — it’s always for the sake of others! In one breath, I say of course. In the other, I’m leveled because I seem to always make it about me.

Join me in allowing the truth of Dr. Mulholland’s words wrap us like a blanket in the warmth of grace so we can then offer grace to those who cross our paths. When we humble ourselves enough to see our own strengths and weaknesses and to acknowledge our uniquenesses and differences — of pace and perspective, of giftings and gut instincts, of opinions and outlooks — we can offer the grace and love we’ve been given to all we meet.

We can re-enter well.

Prayer: “God of our creation and re-creation, you who are constantly at work to shape me in the wholeness of Christ, you know the hardness of the structures of my being that resist your shaping touch. You know the deep inner rigidities of my being that reject your changing grace. By your grace soften my hardness and rigidity; help me to become pliable in your hands. Even as I read this, may there be a melting of my innate resistance to your transforming love.”

(Invitation to a Journey, page 31)

Shelley

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Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash, with edits 🙂
  • Offering grace to others enables us to re-enter the world with the love and patience of Jesus. Be sure to take the time needed to journal about who might need your grace right now and how you might offer it. The #spreadjoy this week by looking beyond yourself and doing something kind for someone else.
    • It would be so fun to hear how God’s grace spreads joy this week through you — do share!!
  • One of the songs on our Reentry Playlist, “A Little Love,” expresses so much of today’s thoughts. Be moved!
    • “With a little love, love, love / Can bring us all together / Turn the world for better”
    • “Throw a stone in the ocean / There’s barely a change / But tomorrow it’s a tidal wave”
  • Not kidding when I say Dr. Robert Mulholland’s book, Invitation to a Journey,* is really opening me up to a lot of much needed truths about myself and my walk with Jesus. You’re invited!
  • We will meet back here in two weeks! Don’t forget to #SpreadJoy.

Featured Photo by Julissa Capdevilla on Unsplash

*This is an affiliate link, which means I am compensated for any purchases made.

Reentry: Summer of Grace — Seasons of the Soul

After the long, cold winter we had, I’m thrilled for summer. The sunshine. The warmth. Getting outdoors. Add to that it’s our Summer of Reentry, and I’m giddy with seeing friends and family after a long pandemic induced bout of loneliness. It’s summer! 

Yet something inside me doesn’t feel like summer. 

I read an article recently that helped me understand my internal season-confusion. Austin Kleon wrote in response to a popular article that defined the “blah” a lot of us are feeling as languishing, a word defined as becoming weak or feeble, as continuing in miserable or disheartening conditions. Austin wrestled through that idea of languishing and decided that he felt more like he was dormant. Instead of feeling weak or miserable, he identified more with a tree that was waiting to wake up and feel life again. 

It got me thinking, where am I on that psychology spectrum Austin spoke of — from depressed to flourishing? 

Austin’s comment, “It is a mistake and a misreading of nature to think that you, a living creature, will be flourishing all the days of your life,” also pushed me toward deeper inquiry as I realized I’ve been living life assuming I should be fourshing all the time. And that’s just not natural. So, I’ve been seeking to understand what season I’m living in now. 

Seasons

Decades ago I taught Freshmen English to a group of eager beavers who graciously followed me through a study of the lengthy book about King Arthur’s life, The Once and Future King. The author creatively structured the book of Arthur’s life around seasons. 

  • Spring — a child who looked for his place, pulled the sword, and became a young king full of life and hope and ideals
  • Summer — the thriving years of his kingship, finding love, establishing the Round Table, doing a lot of good, producing lots of fruit
  • Fall — as the name evokes, the beginning of Arthur’s fall: betrayal, division, struggle after struggle
  • Winter — the death of relationships, Camelot, and a legendary king

I loved teaching this novel because of all the great imagery, lively characters, and this seasonal structure. The comparison of life to the natural seasons has stuck with me, which could be a reason I resonated so much with Austin’s description of seasonal disconnect — how emotionally we can feel like winter (or some other season) on the inside even though it’s summer outside.

Naming our internal season frees us to live from where we are instead of where we think we should be. I’m figuring out that not every season of my life is going to be summer — I am not going to be flourishing all the time, no matter how much I desire it. I need seasons of rest, of filling and regeneration. I need seasons of struggle in order to stay true to who I am in Jesus and stick to the path He has for me. I need seasons of death, where I have to let go of the unhealthy or embrace the ending of something so that I can move forward in newness and hope. I need the fall, winter, and spring seasons so that I can live into each summer full of godly confidence, eager to flourish for Him. 

Despite the bright, hot, vacation-filled days this summer holds, my soul isn’t quite there. Yet when I think of words like languishing and dormant, I think of winter — and I’m not there either. I’m not the dead seed on the ground. I’m not the full plant bearing fruit. For me the soil has thawed out, and as the seed in the ground, I’ve warmed up, growing roots deep into the nourishment of the soil. I’m awakening but not fully grown. Not ready to flourish because I’m in the early stages of spring!

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

And I’m learning to be okay with this season. Thinking about my soul-season of spring and the seed I am, I am recognizing the purposes of this particular season. I’m learning much about myself, learning how to anchor myself in God’s love, learning how to draw all I need from Jesus. It’s a season of preparation not production. And it helps my heart to see the difference. It helps me pause before I try to run ahead of the process, ahead of God. It helps me be more intentional as one who sees her great need for all that God is trying to give me — even if I can’t fully identify those spiritual goodies each day. It helps my trust in God solidify and my joy sanctify. 

Grace for Self

In simple terms, I’m learning how to have grace for myself. I’d much rather be in the throes of summer, fully grown and fruitful, but resisting the season I’m in only sets me up for a lot of frustration and discouragement. Since I’ve begun to embrace this awakening season of preparation, I’ve become more content and able to look for what God has for me each day. Without grace, I grow impatient and want to rush headlong into a season I’m not ready for. I’m discovering that spring, as a season of the soul, is one of waiting. And waiting requires grace and trust. As well as patience.

“Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14, NLT)

This final verse of Psalm 27 comes after a litany of requests and rememberings of the writer, King David, and it captures the cry of my heart of this season — no matter how I feel or what I face or how I wrestle with where I am, I need to wait patiently for the Lord. I can be brave and wait patiently, not in my own strength and resolve, but by God’s grace. 

Take inventory, friend. In what season is your soul? Think of the plant’s life cycle — are you flourishing and fruitful like it’s summer? Are you exhausted and need a season of rest, allowing your leaves to fall to the earth, stepping aside from all the fruit-making for a season? Are you in a winter season that feels equal parts dry desert and frigid tundra, full of death or dormancy? Or, are you like that awakening seed in the ground that is growing deep roots or a seedling that pushes upward toward the Son in new life?

In your journal, take some time to identify your soul’s season. List, doodle, draw, or write about what season you’re in, despite the bring sun and high temperatures outside. What are some ways to have grace for yourself as you re-enter life this summer if your soul season is not summer? OR, how can you have grace for yourself as you feel impatience with the pace of life or other people’s speed of reentry? Finally, think about how grace can give you patience as you wait for the Lord this summer. 

Austin pointed out it doesn’t do any good to try to flourish in the middle of a dead season. Plants know this instinctively. Let’s learn from them and allow God to do the work of healing and restoration when we find ourselves in the fall, winter, or spring of our souls — even though it is summer outside. 

It’s my prayer as we continue to live out this Summer of Reentry, that we can do so with wisdom about our soul season, with grace for ourselves, and with patience to wait on God’s leading through each step of the season. I pray we can embrace where we are so we can live out the grace we’ve been given, knowing that one day we will flourish!

Shelley

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Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash, with edits 🙂
  • Grappling with our own need for grace makes us more compassionate for others, as well as ourselves. Share a little of that grace this week by spreading joy!
    • One idea for this week’s #SpreadJoy — write a note to someone who’s on your mind — for no reason except to let them know you’re thinking about them or to tell them what they mean to you! Go, spread joy!
  • One of the songs on our Reentry Playlist, “Next to Me” by Jordan Feliz captures this tension of wanting to live at our own speed, even out of season: “I’ve been on empty. When I’m low, You fill the cup, but my ego fights back, telling me that I’m ready to grab the wheel and take control. But I’ll crash if I don’t let myself go.”
  • I hope you’ll take time to journal about the season of your soul and the grace you’ll need to live in it well.
  • We will meet back here in two weeks! Don’t forget to #SpreadJoy.

Featured Photo by Aleksandr Eremin on Unsplash

Reentry: Summer of Grace — All the Feelings

I could hear the conversation from where I stood, waiting in the check-out line at TJ Maxx. The customer went on and on about masks. How they suffocate. How they create a carbon dioxide problem. How awful they are for kids. On and on. My defenses rose, and the conversation rehearsal in my head kicked into overdrive, defending the use of my mask. 

But I caught myself, realizing my rehearsals served no real purpose and resulted only in raising my stress. The woman hadn’t seen me. She didn’t know my circumstances anymore than I knew hers. She didn’t even know I stood at a distance wearing a mask. I didn’t need to get so worked up. 

Just as I was (finally) going to God about it all, wondering at the mystery of how we’re all created so differently, I heard the woman say with a sense of relief, “But, really, I’m just so glad not to have to wear those masks anymore.” I heard her heart. I witnessed her shoulders relax as she confessed her deeper, truer feelings. I could see she felt free.

My own posture softened. My breathing slowed. And I giggled as I grasped that I was living out the reentry paradox: emotions war within us and around us because each of our pandemic experiences varied and so will our reentries. Every person’s feelings will influence how they reenter post-pandemic life. 

And I realized once again just how much grace we’ll need for all the feelings of reentry.

Grace for the Emotions

We’ll be better able and more willing to grab hold of the grace God offers when we acknowledge all the emotions of the reentry paradox. For instance, impatience with ourselves, others, and the world can coexist with the joy we have of being with people and doing “life” again. Frustration with the pace of life can, in the same breath, be a battle between our desire for life to speed up and our wish to keep things simpler. The temptation to compare our own reentry with others’ can trigger both judgment and jealousy. 

Our emotions live in very real tensions. In a flash we can jump from discouragement to destructive fury, from despair to debilitating fear. If we live unaware of the battles raging within us, the battleground shifts — to around us. And, so. We see our need for grace.

Wherever we find ourselves at this threshold of pandemic reentry, we can pause and acknowledge the grace we need to step back into life well. Being aware of our emotions is a great place to begin.

Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

Equipment Check

Whenever I watch someone scuba dive, I love watching them sit on the side of the boat and do that nonchalant backwards flip into the water. What I’m only recently discovering, however, is that their epic entry only happens after they’ve gone through intensive training and have completed a thorough check of their equipment. That fascinating flip only happens after they have made sure they are fit for diving that day.

How about us? How can we check ourselves each day to be sure we’re fit for living life outside the walls of our house?

Like the scuba diver, we can do an equipment check to be sure everything is in working condition before diving in. We can do an all-systems check. 

  • What’s our anxiety level — Are we willing to take things a bit slower to give ourselves a chance to reacclimate? 
  • What’s our impatience level — Are we anticipating the slower moving people we’ll encounter? Are we prepping our responses for the mask-wearers and not-wearers we’ll see? 
  • What’s our excitement level — Are we prepared to be flexible when life doesn’t meet our expectations? 
  • What’s our compassion level — Are we ready to acknowledge that a lot of people have faced tragedy and trauma over the last year?

The list could go on. The idea, though, is to simply do a self-check, being aware of our tendencies and feelings before we swim out to deeper waters. Awareness is a huge step toward preparedness!

Grace Check

Perhaps it feels a bit corny, unlikely, or even too time consuming to pause each day to do an “equipment check” before we leave the house, but if we keep thinking about the scuba diver, it’ll help us grasp the gravity of the situation. 

What happens if a scuba diver’s tank fails to provide oxygen while in the depths of the ocean? No air — that tank means life or death.

As believers, grace is our oxygen. If we have any hope of exploring the depths of society, our tanks needs to be full of grace. Without grace, we have no power for patience, no ability for humility, no capacity for kindness, no strength for sustaining the love we desire to express and offer to the world. Not without grace.

Paul reminds us that Jesus told us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). But if we haven’t stopped for grace before we do the deep dive into life, we enter each moment of our day choking on pride and fear and anger, unable to say or do anything remotely like Jesus. No matter our weaknesses, God’s grace is sufficient when we fill our tanks and put on our masks to breathe in the power that grace offers.

Filling our tanks requires consistent time with God, in the Word, and doing plenty of self-checks, making sure our “equipment” is ready for use. Memorizing verses is a great way to keep our grace tanks full. Scriptures speak to our specific weaknesses and can become the grace-fuel that keeps us from spiraling inward and spewing outward. 

How fit are you for reentry today?

Friends, each of our reentries comes with a load of emotions — some based on personality, others on experiences. And those emotions are often at odds within us. So as we face reentry, we neither want to hide in our houses nor bulldoze our way through town. We want to live life aware — of our feelings and weaknesses — because our knowing makes us open to the compassion and patience and courage we need to reenter life as Jesus would. And God’s grace makes it possible. 

Shelley

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Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash, with edits 🙂
  • One of the best ways to overcome self-focused feelings like impatience and anxiety is to spread joy to others. So, as you step into the world, intentionally bring with you the joy of the Lord and share it.
    • One idea for this week’s #SpreadJoy — reach out to someone who needs grace and/or joy through a text, call, or an invitation to coffee. Go, spread joy!
  • One of the songs on our Reentry Playlist, “Hallelujah Even Here,” captures an frequent emotional truth, “I don’t feel like it is well with my soul.” Because most of us battle the tension of feelings that comes with the reentry paradox, we can follow Lydia Laird’s lead, giving praise to God no matter where we find ourselves or how we feel: “Hallelujah, when the storm is relentless. Hallelujah, when the battle is endless. In the middle of the in between. In the middle of the questioning. Over every worry, every fear. Hallelujah, even here.”
  • Today in your journal, take some time to list, doodle, draw, or write about everything you feel as you are about to or continue to reenter the world. Mixed feelings? Strong feelings? Primary/hidden feelings laying under the secondary/showing feelings? Acknowledge your emotions and surrender them to God, grabbing hold of that oxygen tank full of grace as you do.
  • We will meet back here in two weeks! Don’t forget to #SpreadJoy.

Featured Photo by Paxton Tomko on Unsplash

Reentry: Summer of Grace — Introduction

For many of us who read this today, we find ourselves moving into a new season of life — one I’ve dubbed The Summer of Reentry. Eager to put pandemic perils behind us yet discerning a lingering disjointedness, we find ourselves on new ground, yet again. Navigating our reentry will differ based on our location, COVID experiences, and general state of mind, but our commonalities unite us as we seek to step back into life as it is now. I’m curious, where do you find yourself in reentry, as depicted by these scenarios?

  1. Closing her purse after the attendant checked inside, she steps through the metal detector and enters her first live sporting event since COVID. Wide-eyed and curious how many people will brave this kind of reentry, she looks around, shocked — first, because of the mass of people; second, because not one of them wears a mask. Taking deep breaths, she lowers her pulse and reminds herself to relax and enjoy this day of being out in the world again. Finding her seat, she realizes there will be no social distancing at this packed house of 40,000. The mask stays on, even if she looks silly.
  1. Chanting for the home team, she pushes through the crowd to catch up with her friends on the way into the stadium. The smile never leaving her face, she talks nonstop about how great it is to be doing normal things again, mentioning how much she had missed crowds and friends and ballpark nachos with extra peppers. She spies a woman walking nearby wearing a mask, feeling deep relief she doesn’t have to be confined by such restraints anymore. Yet equally curious why anyone would choose to wear a mask willingly. She shrugs and searches for the cheesy concoction she craves.

Despite my oversimplification, these two scenarios capture the essence of where the majority of us find ourselves this summer. The first scenario was me just a few weeks ago. The second is a conglomerated creation based on observation and investigation. Other possible reentry positions could be somewhere in the middle — ready but not ready — or very simply, just not ready.

My heart in creating such storylines is to paint pictures that give us the ability to see that other people think and feel differently than we. Post-pandemia perspectives and plans are as diverse as the people themselves. Our reentry, no matter where we are in it or how we feel about it, requires us to be intentional to grab hold of God’s grace, moving through each day with every morsel He gives.

Grace — More Than Salvation

A lot of twenty-first century Christians have had the notion of grace defined only as, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins” (Romans 3:23-24, NLT). We know the big idea — grace is the redeeming power that was missing before Jesus died and resurrected. Absolutely. 100%. 

But what some of us are just figuring out is that grace doesn’t end at salvation. Grace also supports our sanctification, offering hope for the hard seasons, courage for the scary ones, and strength for our weaknesses. Sanctification is the set-aside, spiritual journey that enables us to learn and grow and change, becoming more and more like Christ as we do. Grace is about reconciliation with God but also about “reordering the priorities and economies of our hearts…, the recreation of our hearts and the renewing of our minds — by the reorientation to what is holy and complete” (Dave Harrity, Making Manifest, 74-75, emphasis mine).

Photo by Nong Vang on Unsplash

Reordering Our Priorities

For all the awful we could say about COVID, one thing it did well was highlight what mattered most — family, friends, fellowship. Pandemic lock down brought priorities into focus, so we want to guard them by being prepared for the temptation, and even expectation, to fill life to the fullest. It will be so easy to let busyness dictate our calendars and margin again. Stopping before we step back into “new” life rhythms is key. Writing down priorities before we make commitments is imperative. Putting those priorities on our calendars before we re-enter the swift currents of life helps us reorder the world’s priorities for God’s. 

I’ve had to go and buy a planning calendar — for my summer of all things! After a year of not needing one, I now need to get everything in writing, out of my head, so I can see all the moving parts on paper. When I told a friend about the overwhelm creeping in as my summer fills up, she set her pen down and leaned toward me, admitting that her anxiety rises everyday because suddenly all her evenings are full. After stressful days at her job, the thought of not being able to relax with her family after work nearly had her in tears. We both agreed that we would have to fight to keep our priorities set, building margin in for what matters most.

Recreating Our Hearts

Grace moves in us and through us for God’s purposes, namely for keeping our hearts healthy, holy, and wholly His. For all the stress and strain that was our former lives pre-pandemic, for all the loneliness and isolation that was our lives during the pandemic, God wants to step in and do some heart renovation. Grace makes a way for that to happen, giving us what we need to step aside and allow God to do His work.

If left to its own devices, my heart would remain wrapped in worry over my sons, my writing, and my future every day, distracting me from the work He wants to do in and through me, so part of reordering my priorities has included making room for quality time with God each day so that grace has space to do its work in my heart. But, it’s getting harder as life gets faster. I’m having to get up earlier, carve out alone time for writing, and schedule time for prayer like I do my yoga. I’m living the truth that how we spend our time is our choice. I’m also feeling the results as God’s work of grace in my heart is making me more willing to let go of control and less apt to panic. 

Renewing Our Minds

I’ve read that the Hebrew word for heart actually means the “seat of thought.” What we’d call the mind. The New Testament talks about renewing our minds and taking captive our thoughts, and while there are plenty of great strategies out there for doing just that — hello, Get Out of Your Head! — none of our thoughts get changed for the better without God’s grace. Grace is the go-juice for all things renewal. It’s how we surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit.

My own toxic thought life has been undergoing a massive reconstruction for the last decade. I’ll admit that as truth came to me at first, my reaction was to balk, deny, and run the other way. But, by faith and a deep desire for change, I kept going back to God. And by His grace, I have been able to take a step toward a healthier thought life each day. 

Reorientation of All That Is Holy and Complete

None of this — not the reordering, recreating, nor the renewing — happens without grace reorienting us to God. Our holy God. Our God who is Perfect and Complete. He lacks nothing. Not one thing. Then He goes and gives part of Himself, that grace, to help us become more like Him. He invites us into His sacred space to offer us grace. And when we accept it, we become like a compass needle, moving from our own direction to His true north. 

I remember college orientation with each of my sons. It was a day full of facts and helpful hints to get them used to their new environment. The leaders at the college were intentional to give them tools to orient these freshmen to college life. The great news for us, friends, is God keeps orienting, or reorienting as it may be, us toward His way of doing life. His Word and His Spirit have been given to us, left for us as gifts to guide, direct, encourage, and reorient. Grace, its own gift, can be picked up  and used to help us move toward God and His offerings. Grace is our vehicle to becoming holy and complete.

Reentry

Our summer series will carry us through six short sessions, every other week, with the purpose of getting us to focus ourselves intentionally on God and His grace as we do the work of reentering post-pandemic-life well. 

Our summer of reentry will take us to new depths, offer us opportunities to spread joy, and lead us toward purposes in this new season that will not only please God and bless others but will help us live grace-filled lives. Here’s to reentering TOGETHER!

Shelley

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash, with edits 🙂
  • One thing we can all do, no matter where we are on the Reentry Spectrum, is spread joy. So, each time you step into the world, bring with you the joy of the Lord and share it. In fact, let’s look for ways to #SpreadJoy all summer. I’ll offer suggestions in each post, but take the idea and run.
    • Need an idea? This week spread a little joy by sharing your favorite song with an individual, with a group, or on social media. Pay attention to how spreading joy brings you joy. Go, spread joy!
  • The opening song of our Reentry Playlist is actually called, “Come Forth!” If you’re a person who needs to hear those words to help you step out, blinking into the summer sun, come forth and take a small step forward. Meet a friend for coffee. Take a stroll through a bookstore. Or sit on the back row at church on Sunday.
    • If you’re someone who finds herself barreling headfirst into life and already feel yourself spinning with all you’ve committed to, hear the words, “come forth,” with the grace that says, “Be still and know I am God.”
  • I was recently introduced to author and artist Austin Kleon when I read an article he wrote about how he pours out ideas and thoughts in his logbook — a practice he calls “journalizing.” Austin challenges us to get everything out of our heads and onto paper, which helps us gain perspective and hear from God, so we’re going to take him up on his idea and journalize our way through reentry. 
    • Before you groan too loud and stop reading, just know that journalizing can be any combination of getting our thoughts out — like lists, doodles, art, free writing (just whatever comes to mind), prompt responses, notes to Jesus, comics, literal cut-and-paste, or any combination of what you come up with. In other words, there are no rules when it comes to journalizing. The point is to keep tabs on what we’re feeling, learning, and worrying about during our reentry. I’ll provide a journal prompt in each post to help us stick with solid, spiritual habits — even during summer! But feel free to journalize all you want!
    • Today in your journal, take some time to list, doodle, draw, or write about grace — what you know about it, how you need it, questions you have about it,  and why grace is our way to enter/reenter the world…each day!
  • We will meet back here next week. Then we’ll head into an every other week rhythm!

Featured Photo by jcob nasyr on Unsplash

Journey of Joy: Week Fifteen — Homecoming

I love that you’ve stayed my faithful travel companion for nearly four months, exploring joy from many facets and at every phase of desiring, seeking, and living it. We’ve immersed ourselves in Scripture and story and self-discovery to unearth everything about God, joy, and ourselves so that we can learn to embrace and exude a life of true joy. All our preparations, packing, and purposeful explorations have enabled us to name what hinders us from a life of joy, what helps us stay anchored to God and His goodness, and what hastens us toward our hopes of living like Christ.  

We sense the selcouth ending of this particular journey — its rare yet marvelous conclusion — aware that we have learned important truths and have changed somewhere in the depths of ourselves. What we know about joy is both definable and nebulous, solid truth and fragile mystery. But one thing we can take away from this excursion is that joy is meant to be ours. Jesus wishes it. God promises it. The Holy Spirit unleashes it. In us. For us. 

So, as we wind down this incredible adventure of ours, let’s pull in for a quick chat about how we make the most of what we’ve learned and how to celebrate this great homecoming!

Hinders: Joy and Obedience

King David learned the hard way that the biggest hindrance of true joy is sin. This part of his prayer reveals what he hoped to regain:

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and make me willing to obey you.” 

Psalm 51:12, NLT

The NLT version makes it easy to see the relationship of joy and obedience — David’s joy had been lost because of his disobedience to God’s commands and expectations. 

Notice David qualifies his joy. In his deep grief and regret, his penitent prayer laments the joy he missed most — not momentary happiness but the joy of his salvation. John Wesley defines the joy David asks God for as “the comfortable sense of thy saving grace, promised and vouchsafed to me, both for my present and everlasting salvation.” 

We can over complicate our search for joy — that comfortable sense of saving grace. But the simple truth is joy follows obedience. Friends, nothing will hinder joy in our lives like our own disobedience

Helps: Trust and Marvel 

It seems only fitting that we should end where we began, with Paul’s blessing to the Roman believers — and to us:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 15:13

Smack dab in the middle of Romans 15’s lessons, Paul throws in this beautiful blessing of joy and peace — the hinge for joy and peace being trust in God. 

Over and over on this journey we’ve run into trust. When we trust who God is, our faith grows and fear takes a backseat. When we trust God’s goodness, we have confidence in His plans — even when we don’t understand. When we trust God’s timing and purposes, we are better able to surrender our plans, our control. The fruit of trust is peace and joy. And when we embrace God’s peace and joy, we’re living life open to the Holy Spirit’s power and the hope that overflows!

My husband and I have been rewatching all the Marvel movies in the order they were released. Despite my familiarity with each story, I can honestly say I’m enjoying them as much, if not more, this second time through. My eyes see more detail. My ears catch more of the quick one-liners and conversations that explain or foreshadow. Overall, my understanding is greater. And, because I know “the end of the story,” I better see how everything is connected and points toward that great ending. 

It dawns on me — that’s how Scripture is meant to work. The more we read and hear it, the more we grasp, comprehend, and appreciate it. The better we know how the “story” ends — the part where Jesus wins and we all get to be with Him — the more we’ll see how our story fits in and is supported. Knowing builds understanding. Understanding breeds trust. And trust — well, trust ushers in peace and JOY!

Photo by Jessica Delp on Unsplash

If we’re to live changed by this Journey of Joy, then trusting God has to be a priority, and as we’ve been experiencing, the best way to trust God is to keep spending time with Him. Not out of duty but with devotion and hope for how we can be loved and transformed by Him. 

Trusting God helps escort us into His joy.

Hastens: Presence and Habits

Speaking of the end of the story, Isaiah paints a beautiful picture of that reunion we’ll have with Jesus when we gather with Him in the New Jerusalem:

…and those the LORD has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Isaiah 35:10

The desire we have for joy is planted deep within us because it’s what we were made for. Everytime we feel beat down, discouraged, and overwhelmed, we can look to what is to come and find HOPE! We can remember that joy will be ours — everlasting joy will crown our heads; joy will overtake us to the point that all sorrow flees!

Isaiah gives us a promise to hold onto for the future, but let’s not forget that joy can be ours now. And the only place true joy can be found is in God’s presence. The intentional seeking of His presence needs to be at the core of all we are and do because it’s in God’s presence that we find all we seek, including joy.

Prayer is a vehicle for ushering us into God’s presence. God’s Word gives us the directions:

  • Seek His face
  • Fear His name with reverence and awe
  • Claim His name
  • Walk in the light of His presence
  • See God as our dwelling place 
  • Give God all the glory
Photo by Kentaro Toma on Unsplash

In one of her podcast episodes, Annie F Downs spoke a profound truth to all of this, “What we make space for is what we do, and what we do changes who we are” (That Sounds Fun, episode 13). 

If we’re not finding joy, we have to ask ourselves what are we making space for? 

If we’re not finding joy, we need to look at our habits and practices — are they Jesus-focused or self-focused? 

If we’re not finding joy, if we’re not experiencing the transforming power of the Spirit, then let’s make a change — let’s make space for God. Let’s do the work of seeking God’s face and claiming His name and walking with Him because pursuing God’s presence is making space for all that God has for us and wants to do in us. 

The holy habits we put into practice allow us to cultivate a culture of joy within ourselves — a culture that looks like rich soil ready to be planted with seeds from the Fruit of the Spirit, a culture that regularly weeds out the distractions and lies and fears, a culture that nurtures itself by the daily immersion of God’s love and truth and grace, and a culture that encourages sanctifying transformation. 

Healthy habits usher us into God’s presence, and His presence hastens our joy.

Joy: How We Can Choose It

We’ve established on this Journey of Joy that joy is, indeed, a choice. Not a conjuring of a fleeting feeling, but an intentional decision to trust, obey, and seek God. 

We know this. So, the question we must sincerely ask is if we know this truth, then why aren’t we living it out? Maybe there’s still a seed of doubt that questions God’s goodness? Maybe we are still living life by the “rules” other people have given us or by the critical voice in or heads? Maybe we’ve bought into the lie that we should be able to pick ourselves up and handle life on our own? 

If you feel that nudge from the Spirit saying, yes, to any of the above, I hope Aubrey’s confession brings hope and freedom to your heart today:

“Yet even though I know this fact—that everyone suffers—what’s become especially apparent throughout this season is that there’s some voice in my head, some combination of pastor/parent/professor/platitude that says I need to handle this suffering and handle it well. Learn whatever lesson God is trying to teach me so that I can graduate on to the next stage of spiritual maturity. Be brave. Be strong. Be an example to others. Keep that chin up. Pass the test. Choose joy. Fake it ’til you make it. Smile. 

So I try. I strive. 

The problem is that no matter how hard I try to stay positive, my best efforts at “perky” can’t mask the fact that what I really long for are answers, reasons, meaning. But even that longing is conflicted and complicated because I also want to pretend like none of this is happening. I want to tie up my pain in a pretty little package. I want to place my suffering in a vacuum-sealed container and hide it under the bed with my skinny jeans and old journals—things I’m desperate to ignore.” 

by Aubrey Sampson, Jun 1, 2021, from Redbud Writers Guild Monthly Newsletter

I love Aubrey’s honesty because she captures the flippancy of settling for less than joy. Friends, we are not going to settle for anything but God’s true joy.

I love how Aubrey captures the truth that “perky” isn’t what we’re after. We don’t have to wear masks with God — we will come to Him as honestly as possible. Which means getting honest with ourselves. Even in our pain or grief or confusion or shame or regret, God’s joy can be ours. 

I love that Aubrey reminds us how striving on our own isn’t what joy is about. We don’t make it through life in our own strength. The joy of knowing Jesus is that He walks with us through it all, helping us endure, persevere, and eventually find victory. 

I especially love how Aubrey reminds us that our desire to ignore the hard feelings removes the opportunity for true joy. To numb or hide or avoid the pain of life means missing the joys of it. So, we can choose to enter into the hard places with Jesus — and that leads us to the true joy we seek.

Choosing joy can be a catchy trend on t-shirts, and though there’s truth in it, the danger is thinking we can, in our own strength, choose to feel joy. The context of choosing joy, though, is grace. It is by God’s grace that we are saved, but it is also by God’s grace that we find strength to keep choosing to walk each day by faith. And that brings joy.

Crazy Cool Threads

Aimee Walker, in Counting It All Joy, ends her study with the encouragement that joy “is a gift of His grace that we choose to unwrap daily as we revel in His many blessings. It’s the fruit of His presence dwelling within us that grows and overflows as we choose to abide in and surrender to His grace” (page 76). So pick up that glittery, glowing package Jesus is handing you — right now. Open it. Receive His grace that pours over you and in you and through you, gifting you with the joy you seek.

And open it again tomorrow. And the next day, and everyday after. 

As the joy you’ve sought fills you to overflowing, allow your smile to bless all who cross your path. Allow your words to flow like honey on all who are blessed to hear your words. Allow your joy to spread!

Because every good gift is meant to be shared.

A Homecoming Benediction

While our eternal homecoming yet looms in our futures, today we can celebrate our homecoming after a long season of exploration and discovery. We can and should celebrate our endeavors and successes. We ought to raise high a string of Pinterest-worthy pennants in honor of all the ways we’ve been transformed by God’s power and grace. 

So, lift your heads and pray this ancient prayer with me — both as your hope and promise:

“Grant me, even me, my dearest Lord, to know Thee, and love Thee, and rejoice in Thee. And, if I cannot do these perfectly in this life, let me at least advance to higher degrees every day, till I can come to do them in perfection. Let the knowledge of Thee increase in me here, that it may be full hereafter. Let the love of Thee grow every day more and more here, that it may be perfect hereafter; that my joy may be great in itself, and full in Thee. I know, O God, that Thou art a God of truth, O make good Thy gracious promises to me, that my joy may be full. Amen.

—Augustine, in Prayers of the Early Church, page 38

May we choose to know God and love God and rejoice in God more and more every day. May we trust that God’s promises to make our joy full are true and right.

I chose the final song on our Journey of Joy playlist as our conclusion because I wanted you to hear its words and melody in your hearts for years to come — to be our parting words and God’s banner over you. 

May the joy of Jesus be with you
May the joy of Jesus be with you
May you know the joy of Jesus
And may the joy of Jesus be with you

Thank you for exploring joy with me! Thank you for allowing me the gift of processing all my learning with you. May the joy of Jesus be with you, Shelley

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Photo by Precondo CA on Unsplash
  • What’s next? Well, we’ll start spreading joy as we float into the summer of our Reentry after our year of isolation. If you haven’t followed me on Instagram or Facebook, I’d love for you to do so now because I’m doing a series of posts that allow me to hear from you. Your responses will shape our summer Reentry posts!
  • Today I mentioned the study, Counting It All Joy.* The Joyful Life* offers Bible studies in print or as a digital download. I have particularly come to love Aimee Walker, one of the key writers for The Joyful Life. And this is one of her studies.
  • I didn’t offer a journaling prompt this week, but I hope you’ll continue your daily practice of writing three things you’re grateful for. I’ll admit that I have turned this practice into a nightly prayer — so instead of writing what I’m grateful for, I end my day reviewing it in my head then thanking God for at least three things for which I’m grateful. Because gratitude is one of those attitudes that becomes a practice hastening us toward joy!
  • I hope our “Easter egg” hunts throughout this series have helped expand your vocabulary. Or at least intrigued you. 🙂
    • Last week’s travel word was sonder, French for the realization that each random passerby is living life as vivid and complex as your own.
    • And our final travel word was in today’s post: selcouth, English for unfamiliar, rare, strange, yet marvelous.
  • Our Journey of Joy playlist on Spotify continues to encourage me as I seek Jesus and joy everyday. I hope this is another thing you can take from this journey that will continue to bless you.

*This is an affiliate link, so I’ll receive compensation for any purchases made.

Featured Photo by Emily Rudolph on Unsplash

Journey of Joy: Week Fourteen — Learning a New Culture

Surrounded by people chanting prayers in a city that was ancient yet new to me, everything felt a bit surreal. But when I saw a young Jewish couple wearing their traditional clothes in the middle of Old Jerusalem while pushing a very typical twenty-first century stroller, a light bulb went on. I grasped the realness of what I was seeing. This was no Disney rendition. This was their life — a blend of old and new, traditional practice and modern convenience. The sonder struck me profoundly.

What I experienced that day reflects the collision of my ethnocentric assumptions with the reality of a different culture. Like most humans, I have assumed all people live and think as I do — mostly because I don’t know otherwise. But not being aware of a culture’s practices, way of thinking, and even their language becomes a barrier to my understanding, my compassion, and my ability to adapt and grow. 

Friends, we have been on this Journey of Joy for a lot of weeks now. If we’re to be shaped by what we’ve learned, we need to build a healthy culture within ourselves, letting go of assumptions, habits, and practices that don’t serve us well. If we’re to live lives full of joy, we’ll need to cultivate a culture in our hearts and minds that creates fertile soil for the Fruit of the Spirit to flourish within us.

Sowing and Weeding

I absolutely love all the agricultural analogies Jesus used as He taught new ideas to a community steeped in old tradition. So, we’ll borrow from the best today, and run with the plant metaphor.

Our hearts and minds are like soil. The plants and fruit that grow sprout from seeds that get planted. If we sow seeds of jealousy, fear, shame, anger, or bitterness, guess what kind of fruit grows. Hint: it’s not peace or joy. Even if we don’t intentionally plant seeds, whatever we focus our attention on sows its own seeds in our hearts and minds inadvertently — sexy images, comparison, discouragement, moral corruption, divisive language, and hatred multiply in untended soil — like weeds.

The good news is the opposite is true. If we sow love, peace, and kindness in our hearts, the fruit reflects the seeds. If we fill our minds with images of harmony, healthy relationships, Godly truths, loving acceptance, and values of God’s kingdom, seeds germinate in our soil to become the good and holy fruit we desire.

Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash

The particular fruit we’ve sought on this journey has been joy, and it won’t grow in soil roiling with negativity and cynicism. Joy needs soil abundant in God’s goodness, so we need to weed our gardens to create healthy environments.

It starts with taking time to study the culture we’ve built within ourselves. There’s nothing like our thoughts to reveal the health or unhealth of our minds, so we need to pay attention to what and how we think. In her book, Get Out of Your Head, Jennie Allen teaches: “our thoughts dictate our beliefs, which dictate our actions, which form our habits, which compose the sum of our lives. As we think, so we live” (page 220).  For our entire lives we’ve been sowing seeds that spread untruth like a virus in our minds. But we can weed those lies and assumptions out of our gardens to make room for the holier thoughts and truths to take root. 

Science proves we can. Our brains are full of neural pathways, some shallow and moldable and some grooves dug deep from a lifetime of toxic thoughts. In both cases, God is mighty to save. In both cases He’s mighty to heal.”

Get Out of Your Head, page 34, emphasis mine

Scripture says we can. By the renewing of our minds and by taking captive every thought. Hear both of those references in “different” versions to get beyond the rote and recognizable, to go deeper with the truths offered:  

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”

Romans 12:2, NLT

“We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.”

2 Corinthians 10:5-6, MSG

We can bring science and our Savior into the process of weeding the gardens of our minds because we’ve been given the tools to do so. 

I keep reading how naming what we fear or feel helps the healing, so let’s take time now to name the thoughts that need to be weeded. As in right now. In your journal, start a list of toxic thoughts or lies that tend to cycle on repeat in your brain. Name them. See them on paper. Then ask God to help you find truths to replace the toxic thoughts . Let the weeding begin!

Tending the Garden

If you’ve ever tried to plant anything in the ground, you know that weeds are persistent. You pull ten one day and ten more pop up the next. It’s constant — as will be the weeding of our minds. Lest we get discouraged, there’s hope! Our brains can change! Science backs up the fact that we can create new neural pathways with new thoughts (see Get Out of Your Head, pages 207-209). Unlike that garden in your yard, your mind won’t keep producing the same volume of weeds once you’ve begun nourishing the seeds (aka: neural pathways) you’ve planted and watered consistently. We can create new mind habits with fewer weeds!

I’ve watched my husband nurture his herb garden this spring. Every other day he waters those plants. And every so often he feeds them extra nutrients and prunes stems that hurt more than help the plant. These herbs are the very definition of flourishing!

Our hearts and minds are no different. Left untended, desirable plants wither, weeds take over, and holy seeds fail to sprout, so once we have sown seeds of joy, let’s not neglect them. Our hearts and minds need the dailiness of truth — God’s Word. They need the attention of the Father as we draw closer to Him in relationship and prayer. The habits and practices we implement keep the soil of our minds fertile with the Living Water and Bread of Life.

In fact, the more we tend the garden of our hearts and minds, the healthier we’ll be, both in thought and in emotion. As we think, so we feel and live. 

Credits for this poem range from Dr. Seuss to William Wadsworth. We’re grateful to whoever penned it!

Transformation

I once watched my mother-in-law tackle her overgrown, neglected backyard. She yanked weeds taller than my three year old. She tossed rocks. She added fresh, nutrient-filled soil. Then she planted seeds.

The next time I visited, her yard had transformed! No longer a jungle of junk or a bare strip of dirt, her backyard flourished with life and fruit. The tomatoes and lemons and other delectable delights seemed to multiply before my eyes. That transformation took work, effort, and intentional care, but the result flooded her yard and kitchen with fruit. If we’ve given this journey any attention, a similar change is taking place within us. 

We began this journey with exhaustion, anxiety, and despair, but we had hope. With Jesus, our hope helped us step into the adventure of discovering joy — not just for the moment, but for life. What we’ve been experiencing is the transformation of sanctification, which is a big word for making something holy. 

Before you dismiss the possibility that you can be made holy, remember that we don’t achieve holiness on our own but through the sacrifice of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. Sanctification is THE journey of believers. Everyday we’re meant to be learning from Jesus so we can be more like Him. And, as we do, the Holy Spirit grows within us FRUIT: love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Nine character traits of the very Person we seek to emulate. All of which can be ours, for our good and for the blessing of others. 

Maybe this list of the Fruit of the Spirit sparks no curiosity because of its familiarity or no excitement because they seem impossible to possess, so I’d love to offer the same passage from The Message, today’s word of joy:

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”

Galatians 5:22, MSG

I’d love for you to go back and reread each phrase, looking for the fruit it describes. Affection of others = love. Exuberance about life = joy. And so on. Do you find all nine? In your journal, take some time to write out new revelations you have after reading this passage in The Message. What new understandings do you come away with?

Sharing the Fruit

I just love that JOY is one of the Fruit of the Spirit because it implies every believer is meant to have it. These nine fruit are intended for us to enjoy while we’re here on earth. God wants us to find joy and keep it. Jesus exuded it. So can we. 

[Side note: If you have a difficult time picturing “joyful Jesus,” I highly recommend the series about Jesus and His disciples called The Chosen. It’s a crowd-funded show that is well-written and performed. And of all the things I love about it, I think what moves me most is seeing Jesus so full of all the fruit we’ve been looking at today, including joy!!! You can learn more and download the app here.]

The beauty of the Fruit of the Spirit is two-fold. As we become more like Christ on this journey of sanctification, we embody each fruit for ourselves and others. Like love — we embrace Christ’s love for us and exude it for others. Like peace — we permeate Christ’s peace and pass it on to others. Like joy — we become Christ’s joy and bestow it on others. Our very essence takes on that of Christ’s and in turn blesses other people.

Photo by Fahd Khan on Unsplash

The soil we’ve sustained, the seeds we’ve sown, the roots we’ve patiently given space and time to deepen, and the plants we’ve protected have produced fruit! And, in God’s economy, there’s always plenty to share.

Creating the Culture

Just as we’d want to pay attention to, appreciate, and affirm the culture of the people and places we visit, we need to do the same within ourselves. 

Creating a Christ-like culture in our hearts and minds requires that we first pay attention to our thought patterns and habits, to what we consistently expose ourselves, and to whom we heed. If God’s Word, truth, and presence are not first and foremost on those lists, then we know what changes need to be made. To renew our minds in Christ requires effort and intentionality, perseverance and patience. 

Creating a Christ-like culture in our hearts and minds requires that we appreciate the One we ascribe to emulate. We appreciate the fact that divine Jesus lived a life fully human, with all its temptations and tragedies. We appreciate the reality that Jesus chose to leave His throne and descend to earth in order to offer Himself as the atoning sacrifice for us. We appreciate the way He lived out each of the characteristics we desire, including joy. And all that appreciation humbles us and grows in us greater desire to please Him and be like Him.

Creating a Christ-like culture in our hearts and minds requires that we affirm the culture Christ established — one of grace and truth, love and justice, kindness and goodness. We’ll feel the tension of such all-encompassing ways of living because the world is just the opposite — polarizing and divisive. We’ll wrestle with how to live in the complexities of Christian gentleness that is both strong and loving. We’ll discover that peace and joy can reign in our hearts even when the world offers neither and life is hard. 

Because when we allow ourselves to become tilled, planted, nurtured, pruned, and harvested by the Gardner Himself, the fruit is beyond anything we can ask or imagine.

Wherever you find yourself today — whatever place or season or circumstance — surrender yourself to the way of the seed. It’s what Jesus and Paul meant when they talked about dying to self. We lay down our own ambitions and hopes and plans, allowing them to blow away in the wind like chaff, so that we become fertile ground for God’s great planting. 

Here’s to cultivating our inner culture!

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Photo by Precondo CA on Unsplash
  • I’ve read Get Out of Your Head all the way through twice, and picking it up again this week makes me realize how much I need to read it again. Jennie Allen vulnerably shares about her own battle with toxic thoughts and beautifully marries science and Scripture with experience to offer us tools for a better thought life. Really. This is one you want to read. And share. Get it here.*
  • Our Journey of Joy playlist follows this journey. I hope it continues to pour truth and joy into your life!
  • This week’s journaling prompt is two-fold — list the thought patterns you have that need to be weeded, and respond to the Galatians 5:22 passage from the Message version with new insights about the Fruit of the Spirit. Also, don’t forget our daily practice of writing three things we’re grateful for. I’d love to hear what you’re seeing and learning through these practices. Please leave a comment.
  • Just for fun — find the “Easter egg” in this week’s post! It’s a travel word.
    • Last week’s travel word was smultrostalle, Swedish for a special place discovered, treasured, returned to for solace and relaxation; a personal idyll free from stress and sadness.
  • I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to check out The Joyful Life* yet, but just this week they sent out their monthly newsletter, and I just loved it. I signed up for free on their website. Funny thing — the founder and editor of the Joyful Life Company, Sandi Warner, mentioned The Chosen in her “Joy in the Daily” post. I can’t pass up sharing it with you: “[The Chosen] is one of the most impacting things I have ever seen in my life. My husband and I are pretty Biblically literate—so the liberties they take with some of the storylines are obvious to us‚ but by and large, it has increased in GREAT measure my love for The Gospel and has drawn me into the culture of Christ’s life in a way that nothing else has. It is beautifully done and the characters are phenomenally developed (Matthew is just amazing!). And as we binge watched the first season and caught up to the current releases of season two, we have all left every episode in pure awe of Jesus.” Trust me, you want to watch it. Here. BTW, Matthew is phenomenal. Truly. But I still love Peter most. 😉 Well, after Jesus, of course.

*Denotes an affiliate link, so I’ll receive compensation for any purchases made.

The featured photo was taken by me in 2014 at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Journey of Joy: Week Thirteen — Experiencing the New

The first time I went away for a weeklong girls’ trip, my eyes opened to a whole new way of exploring and experiencing a new place. We moved at our own pace without children dictating the stops or menu choices, ordering local fare that excited our taste buds with flavors of rich southern goodness. We moseyed through art museums, traipsed through old towns, and rambled down beaches full of sea oats and sandpipers. 

By the time I left Emerald Isle, North Carolina, I’d encountered so much new that I have since traveled with a greater desire to experience as much of the smells, tastes, and sounds as I can of each destination I visit. I’m even trying to explore my new city of residence with a similar determination. 

On this Journey of Joy, each smultrostalle takes us deeper and wider than we’ve been before. To experience God’s true joy, we must be willing to try the new things He puts before us, squeezing past the discomfort and doubt in order to step forward with a faith that He leads us well. Trust, surrender, obedience — ideas that have woven themselves into this journey each week — pivot us toward all the joy God has for us. We just have to be willing to try all the new along the way.

Smelling the New

Smells can be the first indicator that we’re not home anymore: 

As soon as I step out of the car in Colorado, I smell that wild, mountain sage.
At the beach, I breathe in the salty air and that pungent mix of damp earth and decaying sea life that are somehow beautiful and inviting.
When we explore the Old City of Jerusalem, the scents of spices and leather and roasting meat mingle, pulling me into the city’s everyday life. 

The sense of smell strengthens our sense of place and showers us with powerful associations, like how the smell of certain foods elicits thoughts and feelings of home and love and joy. So, it’s no wonder when Paul encourages us to be imitators of Jesus, living our lives in love, that he describes those loving actions as fragrant offerings and sacrifices (Ephesians 5:1-2). And, he depicts our going out into the world to share Jesus as the “spreading of the fragrance of knowing Him everywhere” (2 Corinthians 2:14). To live from love, to share the knowledge of Jesus Christ as Savior are to delight God greatly — like a pleasing aroma. 

So as we encounter each new experience in life, let’s not neglect our noses! We can breathe in every scent, allowing it to build memories and connect us with the people and place of our new destination. Similarly, we can breathe in the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to awaken us to all the new experiences God has for us. And, remember, that we can be a pleasing fragrance to God each time we are obedient to Him.

Tasting the New

I perused the menu at the little hole-in-the-wall restaurant perched atop the dock where boats rolled in with each day’s catch. The mental debate happening in my mind inhibited me from deciding what to order — play it safe and order the fried catfish because I knew I liked it? Or try something new and take a chance? I took a deep breath and ordered.

I stared at the steaming bowl of shrimp and grits in front of me so afraid I’d regret choosing my friends’ recommendation. Grits sounded, well, gritty. But not wanting to disappoint my friends, I dipped my spoon in for a taste. First my eyes closed and rolled back. Then I’m pretty sure a moan escaped my throat. When I opened my eyes, my friends teased that they knew I’d love it. I laughed and ate till I nearly burst.  

That night a new understanding of exploring local cuisine awoke within me. I realized that to travel is to taste. Each destination holds its own flavors, and I allowed my experiences that week to change the way I approach traveling. I resolved to taste my way through each new place.

A year later, I found myself in Israel with a similar decision — order the chicken that’s familiar or the falafel that was foreign. My brief hesitation allowed me the chance to recall my recent revelation. I ordered the falafel. Now everytime I’m in a Mediterranean restaurant, I enjoy tasting each chef’s version of the famous fried dish, and I think of Israel.

Experiencing the tastes of a new destination helps us open ourselves up to that place’s uniquenesses and nuances. While seeing the sights helps us grasp some of the beauty and history of a new city, tasting its foods invites us into a deeper, fuller experience of the people, their traditions, and their ways. In a similar way, God’s love can fill our hearts so that we seek to draw closer to Him and experience more of Him. It’s why David, in Psalm 34:8, urges us to taste and see that the Lord is good. His figurative language invites us to discover more of who God is, surrender to His ways, and enjoy His nearness. 

On the chance that my descriptions fail to elicit a deeper reality for you, imagine your favorite sweet treat. I’m currently thinking of some chocolate I tasted in Louisville recently. Stepping into the candy shop filled my olfactory senses with delight. Seeing the round balls of deliciousness also brought some happy anticipation. But it wasn’t until I bit into it, letting the smooth blend of flavors melt in my mouth, that I fully experienced that piece of chocolate. 

“Taste and see that the Lord is good” is our invitation to experience God most fully. 

Hearing the New

Another way of engaging more fully in a new destination is to listen to its sounds. On Emerald Isle, I woke up to the sounds of waves crashing on the shore and gulls crying their good morning. In Bethlehem, each morning I awakened to a foreign melody paired with a half-sung chant, beckoning people to prayer. Sounds remind me I’m somewhere new, a place to discover and explore.

Jesus taught that His people would know His voice and so follow Him, just as a sheep knows his shepherd’s voice and follows (John 10:27). In our search for joy, sounds can either inhibit our ability to hear God’s voice or enhance it. Take time to evaluate what sounds you’re listening to. The pings of your phone’s latest notifications? The voice of someone who says you’re not worthy or able? The constant stream of noise flowing from all your devices? These are the inhibitors of hearing our Shepherd’s voice. 

As Elijah learned in 1 Kings 19, God’s voice isn’t loud. It comes in a gentle whisper. So, to hear our Father’s voice, we must quiet the other sounds, lean in, and listen. 

It occurs to me that often in my prayer time I fail to hear God’s voice because of my own voice. If I don’t cease my lists of needs or the pleas for help, I’ll miss getting to hear what He wants to say. I have to choose to silence all the voices and noises — in my head and in the room — so that I have the best posture for hearing what Jesus has to say.

And, then, when we do hear from God, we have to trust it’s His voice. His words come from a place of truth that His Word supports. His words come from a place of love, and they’re meant to encourage or convict (not condemn). His words come from a place of wisdom that are meant to teach and guide — like the time I heard that gentle voice interrupting my laments one night about how “this was not the plan.” God most tenderly spoke two words that caused me to stop crying and start listening, “Whose plans?”

When I heard those words, I knew they were not my own. I knew the Father was reminding me of my own tendency to fix and plan and take control. I knew He was guiding me toward a deeper trust that His plans are best. I heard His words, and I discovered a new layer of His love for me.

Not Senses for Senses Sake

To explore a new place with our noses, mouths, and ears is to relish in it. But I can smell the sage and taste the falafel and hear the waves without making the association to the place or the people because I’m living distracted, perhaps focused on the past or looking ahead to the future. Our senses can run neutrally in the background, offering input that’s easily missed if we’re not paying attention. Slowing down enough to fully engage in the moment, allowing that input to be logged in our brains, opens opportunities for joy. That’s why every morning while at Emerald Isle I opened my window then crawled back in bed to listen. I wanted to soak in the sounds of the beach while I could. And this not-much-of-a-morning-girl girl smiled wide with every crash of a wave. 

Paul alluded to this truth in his letter to the Romans. While his context for this statement differed from ours today, a similar conclusion can be drawn:

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Romans 14:17, NIV

The experiences of our faith can’t just be about rules or pleasure. To limit them like that is to miss the point.  Hearing this same verse in The Message version might be helpful:

God’s kingdom isn’t a matter of what you put in your stomach, for goodness’ sake. It’s what God does with your life as he sets it right, puts it together, and completes it with joy.

Romans 14:17, MSG

Being a child of God, invited into His presence, is to experience His righteousness, peace, and JOY! So, yes! We want to take in our surroundings, allowing our senses to build memories and experience pleasure, but we also want to be sure to take the same intentionality into our relationship with Jesus. If we step into each moment fully aware of Him, we will experience more and more of who He is, including His joy.

To experience God more fully, builds our trust in Him. The better we know Him, the more easily we surrender control and obey His ways. 

Wholly Experiencing the Holy

Our intentional efforts to experience God more completely only happens when we are willing to employ new practices. Just as it would be a huge miss to eat McDonalds when the falafel stand is across the street in Nazareth, it would be our loss if we kept trying to gain any sort of peace or joy from God through the same, fruitless routines we already keep. Logic would say if we want something new, we’re going to have to do something new. 

In your journal this week, ask the Holy Spirit to help you define what it is you seek. Assuming that might include joy, try to be specific about why joy. Then make a list of the spiritual practices you currently employ to achieve what it is you want, being as honest as possible with yourself — keeping it a judgement free zone. Finally, ask the Spirit to lead you over the next week to a new spiritual practice you can make part of your daily routine.

If prayer is a practice you want to engage more intentionally, I’d recommend finding a source to help guide your prayers so that your prayers expand beyond your (our) usual lists of wants and needs. Then be sure to pause long enough to give God a chance to speak into your spirit. The Lectio 365 app is a great resource, as are any of Stormie Omartian’s books on prayer.

Fasting is another practice you can use to focus more fully on God when, normally, you’d be focused on food. I know there are always a lot of questions about fasting, so here’s a resource to start the process of understanding it, and Seedbed invites everyone to be part of their weekly community fast

Journaling is a practice we’ve been breaking into during our Journey of Joy because writing down our experiences gives us a log of all we’re learning, and it helps us process and hear from God. If journaling in a blank book sounds intimidating, try a journal full of prompts and structure. I’ve discovered such journals at Well Watered Women

If we’ll pick one new practice to engage consistently over the next few months with the intention of experiencing God in new ways, we’ll become more aware of His presence, plans, and person. I pray we’ll guard against the temptations to talk ourselves out of trying the new experiences or giving up because they seem odd or senseless or fruitless — because trusting God’s path means moving forward in the new experiences despite how we feel or what we see.  Like the smells, tastes, and sounds awaiting us at each destination, God has much for us to experience. As we wholly surrender to all the expressions of holy He invites us into, we’ll discover depths of joy we didn’t know existed.

Let’s close this week’s post with a Lori Hetteen poem, whose words give life to so much we’ve been discovering about joy:

God is setting our lives right and completing them with JOY! Amen!

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Photo by Precondo CA on Unsplash
  • I discovered Lori Hetteen on Instagram, bought her book, and generally enjoy her whimsical and witty way of pouring truth into my life. If you want to read more by Lori, you can find her on Etsy.
  • Our Journey of Joy playlist follows this journey. I hope it continues to pour truth and joy into your life!
  • This week’s journaling prompt is a challenge to take us beyond this series! Engage in new practices in order to discover new depths of holiness and joy. Also, don’t forget our daily practice of writing three things we’re grateful for. I’d love to hear what you’re seeing and learning through these practices. Comment below.
  • Just for fun — find the “Easter egg” in this week’s post! It’s a travel word.
    • Last week’s travel word was perengrinate, Latin meaning to travel or wander from place to place.
  • The summer print edition of The Joyful Life Magazine, called Rest,* is now shipping, and the price has dropped! The Joyful Life* description of the summer edition sounds so much like what we’ve been learning through our journey: “We’ll be challenged to reexamine present circumstances and redefine the rhythms of our days in light of unseen goodness even when what is before us may appear anything but good. We’ll be encouraged to trust the Almighty in all things—resting wholeheartedly in His perfect character and loving plan.”

*Denotes an affiliate link, so I’ll receive compensation for any purchases made.

All photos this week are by me 🙂

Journey of Joy: Week Twelve — Seeing the Sights

Stomachs growling, our group of four left the airport late at night to find a restaurant in a city we didn’t know, and did we ever find the right one! The Agave and Rye turned out to be full of surprises — its artsy views, its heated back patio, and its delicious food. But nothing held more surprise than Kingsley, our server. Bubbly and beautiful, the New Zealand native sat several times with us to chat. First about our food choices. Then about how she landed in Louisville. And, finally, about her dreams of going to New York. 

That meal, those conversations with our new friend set the tone for the rest of our vacation. Every time we sat down to eat, we made it a point to get to know our server. At each tour, we did our best to engage with our guide. And it changed our trip. The sights we set out to see became as much about getting to know the people who lived there as getting to know the area.

The stories we heard and the hearts that poured out surprised and blessed us beyond what we could’ve imagined. The craziest part of all of it — we didn’t start out with this plan. It happened so naturally with Kingsley that we instinctively became more intentional with our future interactions, and our eyes were opened. I suspect we glimpsed a little of what God sees everyday. Talk about sightseeing!

Seeing As God Sees

We, too, have much to see on this Journey of Joy. In fact, as we perengrinate along the roads of life, we will come across places that need to be explored, even excavated, to find joy. Sometimes these places are planned stops where we highly anticipate joy. Other sights come along unexpectedly, taking us by surprise. But, whether joy is expected or not, each location holds joy. We just need to see as God sees and look for it.

One way to find joy at each of the sights in life is to fully engage while there. We can look people in the eyes, fully seeing them rather than staring at our phones or feet. We can talk with the person in our path, asking about their day, their life. We can ask God to give us eyes to see the way He does, to make us brave enough to speak up and listen well.

One of the women we met in Louisville was Day. Born and raised in Louisville, she overflowed with southern charm. Each time she stopped by our table, one of us asked her a question, and she was quick to reply, often elaborating. When she delivered our breakfast, she opened up about what a hard year it had been in Louisville, getting honest and real. We just listened. 

By the end of our meal, her tone shifted. Where her brows once furrowed, they lifted as she told us about her new home in a safer area and how much she loved the people she worked with, even speaking the words, “It’s gonna get better.” Her resilience and grace moved each of us deeply. Her story opened our eyes and hearts — so much so that my friend asked how we could pray for her. And Day reached for his hand to join in our prayer. 

After breakfast, we left our table full of notes and blessings to our new friend, Day, but we were the ones who stepped out into our day full of God’s joy.

Digging for Joy

Another way to unearth joy at each sight along our journey is to look beyond the varnish of life to see what lies beneath the surface. It’s too easy to gaze upon an old home and only see the chipping paint and sagging roof, but if we get past the cosmetic to visualize its true beauty, we will be gifted with the joy of discovering its rich history and the unimaginable stories of the people who lived lifetimes ago. 

Similarly, with each season of life, we can bore beneath the grief, the pain, or the regret to find what God has waiting for us. In my current season of solitude, of beginning the hard work of becoming a writer, and of learning to parent adult children, I’m being taught how to get beyond the disappointments and frustrations. Some days my digging looks more like scooping sand with a spoon. Other days, I bring out the backhoe. But no matter what I’m digging with, I try to get beneath all the feelings to look for God’s joy.

Some days I find joy in the simple sound of birds chirping at our feeder or flowers blooming in the pots my husband planted. Other days I’m giddy for the warm sunshine. But there are days I need to dig deeper, so I call a friend or reach out to my parents because I need real interaction with real people. Some days I’ll pull out a stack of note cards and write to people I know who are grieving or celebrating. Then there are moments I turn everything off and just sit with the Lord. I’ll even talk out loud with Him about everything I’m thinking and feeling, remembering to praise and thank Him. And, every time, joy arises.  

On the chance this sounds too simplistic or impossible for where you find yourself today, I humbly challenge you to give some of this a try. Unearthing joy can be hard work, but it is not impossible. 

“For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his dwelling place. Ascribe to the LORD, all you families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.”

1 Chronicles 16:26-28

As I read this verse, I begin to understand why I find such joy most days in the smallest of things — Juncos chasing each other with a mad whirl of chirps and sunbeams breaking through gray clouds — because the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before Him. And when I seek joy in the people and plants and paintings and pieces of music around me, I find joy because God made it all! His very essence holds joy, so it only makes sense that His creation carries joy, too.

Mud Pies

Don’t get me wrong, digging often gets dirty. On those days when I am struggling with my sorrows or tempted to give in to panic, the depths of mud I have to slog through are messy. But worth it. CS Lewis warns us, however, not to settle for making mud pies when true joy is to be had. 

“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea.” 

CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Lewis sets up quite the contrast: God’s promises versus our desires. Reread his words and hear God’s voice as He makes you a promise. In case that is hard for you to imagine, here are a few promises to embrace as your own:

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

“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.” John 16:33

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” Psalm 32:8

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:2

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Luke 11:9

These are promises spoken into being by the Promise Keeper. Actions made possible by the Way Maker. Paths revealed by the Light of the World. Yet, as Lewis explains, too often what we desire pales in comparison to what God offers. Too often we settle for less.

Like a child who wants to go on making mud pies because she can’t imagine a trip to the beach. 

Friends, let’s dig for joy at every sight we pass on this journey of life! There is so much more for us than scrolling social media robotically, watching TV numbly, or looking out our windows wistfully. We don’t need to settle for a moment of fleeting happiness when God is trying to hand us a lifetime of joy. His joy. True joy.

Tools for the Digging

Our journals become mighty excavation tools, revealing nuggets of God’s truth, uncovering troves of hidden motives, and bringing to the surface broken pieces of our lives that need to be restored. I pray that you continue to use it consistently as part of your faith journey. In your journal today, take some time to ask God to show you what your mud pies are. Where do you settle instead of embracing all God has for you?

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Unsplash

I journaled my own response to these questions back in January, and my eyes opened to the truth that my desires are too weak. I settle for worrying my prayers instead of speaking them with faith and thanksgiving. I settle for what I can see instead of allowing God to dream bigger dreams within me. And, because I desire so much for my adult sons, I too often neglect my own desires. 

I’ve been working to stop settling for mud pies and to start looking for God, asking Him to awaken my heart to His desires for me. Since praying those prayers, this blog series on joy has emerged, which is no coincidence. Writing these posts has been opening me up to God’s desires for me. It’s giving me new perspectives on how to live my life, for God, in the world. God’s desires for us are deep, indeed!

Stop Settling

Instead of settling for mud pies, let’s set out from this moment forward to journey through life with intention. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to give us eyes to see all the sights around us so we can see as He sees, allowing God to surprise us with what and who comes along our paths. 

Emily P Freeman challenges you to “…take some time to look out the window. Pay attention to what’s happening around you and, in turn, within you” (The Next Right Thing, 233).

Her wisdom is appropriate as we set out to see the sights — we’ll miss half the surprises if we don’t also look within ourselves at each point because God will put places and people and bits of creation in front of us that are meant to do something within us. 

This journey we’re on is one of transformation. Nothing will bring true joy like allowing God to use what we see to focus the eyes of our hearts. Broken places will be healed. Dreams ignited. Hopes raised. Grief comforted. Doubts assailed. Fear defeated. Shame atoned. Regret redeemed. Joy released!

One of God’s biggest surprises of our Louisville trip happened as we sat eating pizza at a local hang out one afternoon when I noticed a woman madly waving in my direction. I quickly convinced myself she was flagging down a friend who must have been standing behind me. But when she didn’t quit, I glanced over at my friend, and we wondered aloud if she was waving at us.

When I looked back, I realized it was Kingsley!! I squealed her name as if she were a long lost friend, and before I could think what to do next she was at our table, offering hugs to each of us. Obviously, she’d been as moved as we were by our dinner at “her place.” And, she jumped at the chance to spread a little more joy with uninhibited goodwill and grace. 

Settling for anything less than God’s true joy means missing out on the very thing He desires for us. It’s my prayer for each of us that as we move into the world, or even look out our windows, we’ll see each opportunity God offers for our joy. And, like Kingsley, we’ll not be able to contain ourselves when we find it — we’ll spread that joy to all who let us!

Grateful for God’s surprises, Shelley

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Photo by Precondo CA on Unsplash
  • Our Journey of Joy playlist follows this journey. Ellie Holcomb’s song “The Broken Beautiful” captures so much of this particular post with lyrics like,

You say that You’ll turn my weeping into dancing
Remove my sadness & cover me with joy
You say your scars are the evidence of healing
That You can make the broken beautiful

  • This week’s journaling prompt might sound deceptively simple, but I pray you’ll give it some real thought — what are the mud pies that you settle for? Also, don’t forget our daily practice of writing three things we’re grateful for. I’d love to hear what you’re seeing and learning through these practices. Comment below.
  • Just for fun — find the “Easter egg” in this week’s post! It’s a travel word.
    • Last week’s travel word was coddiwomple, English slang meaning to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination, and probably the most fun of our travel words to say out loud. I want to adopt it into my everyday vocabulary: “I’m just gonna coddiwomple on up the road.”
  • The summer print edition of The Joyful Life Magazine, called Rest,* is open for pre-orders at The Joyful Life.* The write-up of the magazine sounds so much like what we’ve been learning through our journey: “The summer print publication of The Joyful Life Magazine will invite our souls into genuine rest as we quiet our hearts and homes before the Lord, content in His sovereignty. We’ll be challenged to reexamine present circumstances and redefine the rhythms of our days in light of unseen goodness even when what is before us may appear anything but good. We’ll be encouraged to trust the Almighty in all things—resting wholeheartedly in His perfect character and loving plan.”
  • Finally, I mentioned Emily P Freeman’s book, The Next Right Thing.* I just keep coming back to it.

*Denotes an affiliate link, so I’ll receive compensation for any purchases made.

Featured photo by Peter Kasprzyk on Unsplash.

Journey of Joy: Week Eleven — Destination

When my husband and I are wheels down in Italy for our someday-dream-trip, we will have finally arrived at our destination. And not. Because if we only ever stayed at the airport, we would not have had much of a vacation. Think of all the places we’d want to go while in Italy — Tuscany, Rome, Naples, the Amalfi Coast. Think of all the sites we’d want to see — the Colosseum, vineyards, villages, beaches. 

Hearing the captain say over the plane’s intercom, “We have landed in Italy,” certainly denotes destination arrival, but the adventure itself has only begun. 

The same is true of joy. We’ve spent weeks researching and doing deep dives in our hearts and minds. We’ve committed hours to reading and writing down all our experiences and revelations. We’ve traveled a long way, but to say we’ve arrived cuts the trip short. Yes, we’re discovering joy but there’s more yet to uncover. And, as we learned last week, this excursion was never really about the destination but the journey.

Continuing our Journey of Joy

We’re stepping off the plane into the great adventure of learning how to journey this life with joy. Just as we might coddiwomple through the streets of Florence, we’re going to take our time as we take-in all that joy has to teach us. And, we will heed Nehemiah’s advice as we set out to explore our destination:

“Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.’”

Nehemiah 8:10

Nehemiah, governor of the returned exiles to Jerusalem, extolled the people to celebrate even as they wept over how they’d grieved God. Their repentance was appropriate, but excessive mourning can become a hindrance to the joy of experiencing God’s redemption, which is why Nehemiah instructed the people to celebrate.

The Matthew Henry Commentary on this passage helps us clarify: “Even sorrow for sin must not hinder our joy in God.” I invite you to read that sentence again. Like the Israelites, we can grieve over our sin so much that the sorrow shadows what God has for us — joy. We can be tempted to believe that what we’ve done is too much or too great to be forgiven. We can become so consumed by grief that we can feel guilty when joy comes along. And these responses to our sins and sorrows are not what God wants for us. Instead, God offers us His joy for all kinds of sadness, and we’re meant to receive it. 

Photo from ElizabethGeorge.com

Joy Our Strength

If you’ve listened at all to our Journey of Joy playlist, you’ve heard several songs claim Nehemiah’s credo — the joy of the LORD is your strength. I admit I’ve listened to our playlist so many times that even as I write that verse, I hear Audrey Assad singing it in my head. I also confess that when we began this adventure of ours, I didn’t fully understand her lyrics or Nehemiah’s tenet.

I have wanted to know — how is God’s joy our strength? Looking back over what we’ve learned recently about joy, truths accumulate to help understanding dawn on us and in us:

  • Joy transcends earthly emotion — we feel joy, yet it’s beyond a feeling. 
  • Joy is not dependent on our circumstances.
  • Joy becomes an action when we choose to rejoice in Jesus, no matter how we feel.
  • Joy is much more likely to be our reality when we become present in the moment.
  • Joy is found in God’s presence.

Upon such recollection, our evidence helps us deduce that joy is profoundly more than any state of mind we can recall. Add to that the impactful verse we studied earlier — Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him — plus Nehemiah’s exhortation to set aside grieving for rejoicing, and the power of joy emerges

It’s how Jesus could withstand belittling, torture, and death on a cross — He could look ahead to the joy of defeating death, to the joy of redeeming mankind.

It’s how Paul could bear shackles, shipwrecks, and stonings — he could see ahead to the joy of the church finding its footing and moving forcefully into the future.

It’s how Nehemiah could confidently tell his followers to lay down their sorrow and celebrate — he knew that God’s joy would help them rise above their shame and sadness.

Just as joy empowers, it also strengthens. 

This is revelatory for me. I’ve never stopped long enough to understand how God’s joy could be my strength. For too long I’ve believed that joy was only a feeling that happened when things were going well. What a gift to arrive at our destination to realize that joy is so much more than I could have imagined. But my comprehension feels fragile — like I’m getting it, but my grasp of this joy-as-my-strength could crush under the weight of fear, shame, or confusion at any moment.

Let’s bolster our understanding of joy as our strength.

God As Our Joy

One way to deepen our discernment of God as our source of joy is to look back at our Nehemiah passage. The joy of the Lord is a phrase that presupposes God possesses joy. Therefore, to know joy we must know God. As we consistently talk with God, read His Word, and sing His praises, we are setting ourselves up for finding joy because as we draw closer to God, the more His joy becomes our joy.

Another way to get our understanding of joy’s power to stick with us is to recognize that joy isn’t just for our pleasure. While Jesus promised joy to His disciples and God takes pleasure in our pleasure, that’s not the end of the story. Our second word of joy today sheds light:

Sing to the Lord, all you godly ones!
    Praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
    but his favor lasts a lifetime!
Weeping may last through the night,
    but joy comes with the morning.

Psalm 30:4-5, NLT
Photo from Abide.co

This Psalm echoes the theme of Nehemiah’s urging — let go of sorrow. There’s joy to be had! And, as familiar as this passage is, we miss a big chunk of the message when we stop at verse five. If we read the rest of the Psalm, we see there’s more to learn about joy:

You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
    You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.
    O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!

Psalm 30:11-12, NLT

God clothes us in joy so that we can sing His praises! The joy of the Lord takes away our sorrow, not just for our sakes but for His glory.

I recently watched a teaching video by Angie Smith in which she echoed this same joy-truth:

“When we talk about joy, it’s easy to talk about it in reference to ourselves as if it’s a gift, a thing we want. Ultimately, the goal of joy is that it doesn’t end when we feel the joy itself. Rather, the full expression of joy is when we realize…the most beautiful thing we can do with it is return it to its rightful owner in praise! …When we praise God, giving Him back the joy — that’s the fullest expression of joy.”

Angie Smith, If:Lead 2020

Angie has suffered much in her life, yet she exudes this joy she speaks of. These aren’t empty platitudes for her but truths she has discovered and lived out. God’s joy strengthens.  And, her belief that praising God is the fullest expression of joy folds nicely into our lesson last week about rejoicing — the idea of praising God no matter how we feel. 

God has been teaching me this exact lesson lately. In the last nine months, I have lived more secluded and in more silence than ever before. The solitude has done much good for my relationship with God, but there are days that grief swallows my hope and joy. Honestly, I’ve first had to learn how to allow the grief to happen as I sort out all my feelings of loss after our major move, yet I’m also discovering that grief could be my only response to life if I let it. So, I’ve been applying what I’ve been writing here. I praise God. No matter how I feel, I praise Him when I pray. I praise and worship Him as I sing along with powerful songs. I praise Him at the end of each day as I thank Him for at least three things I’m grateful for. 

And let me just tell you, the craziest thing is happening — the joy of the Lord is strengthening me. Seriously, I am stronger today than I was last week. I even feel more joy today than I did last month. So I’ll keep praising — even on days when I don’t feel like it. Especially on days when waves of grief try to take me under because as I praise the Lord, His joy pours all over me, and I feel stronger.

Praise, Songs, and Journals

There are so many great songs on our playlist, and I have them playing in the background as I write this post. A minute ago, as I was struggling to write about how God’s joy strengthens us, Matt Maher’s song, “Alive and Breathing,” came on. Instead of pressing through my paragraph, I paused. I pulled up the lyrics on Google, and started the song over. As I read the words, their truth resonated like never before. 

What I hadn’t realized before, rang true today. This song not only echoes Psalm 30’s mantra but captures the heart of Nehemiah’s story. I encourage you to pull up the lyrics and listen along as you read so you can feel its impact. For now, we can look at the chorus:

Joy still comes in the morning
Hope still walks with the hurting
If you’re still alive and breathing
Praise the Lord
Don’t stop dancing and dreaming
There’s still Good News worth repeating
So lift your head and keep singing
Praise the Lord

Matt Maher, “Alive and Breathing”

The upbeat song encourages joy. Its lyrics resound with God’s truths as they differentiate our assumptions from God’s actualities, all the while inviting us into God’s joy. 

Perhaps as we ponder our purpose here at our destination, we’ll recognize the rightful response to joy — praise! And, as we move into life with all we’ve been learning, we just might see praise as a way of life. Whether we feel joy or seek it, we can always praise the One in whom joy resides.

In your journal this week, I encourage you to go back over all your lists of gratitude. Notice what has caught your eye over the last few weeks — where have you seen God at work? When have you paused long enough to see something or someone to be grateful for? Write about that for a bit, asking the Holy Spirit to do some revealing.

Then, turn on “I Love You Lord” from our playlist and let it wash over you. As feelings and words rush to your heart and mind, write a prayer of praise and thanksgiving. Pour out to your Father all that has stirred your heart. Allow yourself to feel that YOU are a joy to God. Hear your voice among those singing, “take joy my King in what You hear. May it be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear.” Oh, my soul — rejoice!

While we’re on the subject of joy and journals, it’d be awesome if you kept up this practice of journaling long after this particular journey is over. Maybe look at it as your Joy Journal, a place to continue listing your “gratitudes,” documenting all your joys, and writing out your praises!

Destination Desires

So, we’ve landed. We’ve deboarded and collected all our luggage. We’re ready to hail a cab and head out for our grand tour where we’ll see all the sights and encounter new experiences, discovering new ways to stimulate our senses. We’ll learn a new culture and discover ways to take joy with us as we go. 

Goodness, we’ve come a long way! It’s good to celebrate all we’ve learned and even revel in joy’s transforming power. Yet, even as we’ve arrived at our appointed destination, let’s not give up searching for more joy-lessons. Let’s carry trust with us into all the places God has for us to experience, keeping our hands open to His ways, His timing, and even His joy. Let’s praise Him — for His joy will be our strength!

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Photo by Precondo CA on Unsplash
  • This week’s journaling prompt asks us look back over our gratitude lists for some reflection time. But be sure to keep up with your daily practice of writing three things you’re grateful for. I’d love to hear what you’re seeing and learning through these practices, so comment below. What do you think of keeping a Joy Journal?
  • Just for fun — find the “Easter egg” in this week’s post! It’s a travel word.
    • Last week’s travel word was vacilando, a Spanish verb that means the act of wandering when the experience of travel is more important than reaching the a destination.
  • The summer print edition of The Joyful Life Magazine, called Rest,* is open for pre-orders. The write-up of the magazine sounds so much like what we’ve been learning through our journey: “The summer print publication of The Joyful Life Magazine will invite our souls into genuine rest as we quiet our hearts and homes before the Lord, content in His sovereignty. We’ll be challenged to reexamine present circumstances and redefine the rhythms of our days in light of unseen goodness even when what is before us may appear anything but good. We’ll be encouraged to trust the Almighty in all things—resting wholeheartedly in His perfect character and loving plan.”
  • Our Journey of Joy playlist on Spotify follows this journey. I chose these songs months ago, so it’s incredible to me how their meanings become more and more relevant the longer we journey. How have the songs impacted you?

*This is an affiliate link, so I’ll receive compensation for any purchases made.

Featured photo by Ken Yam on Unsplash

Journey of Joy: Week Ten — Delays, Detours, and Disappointments

It rained the whole week. Here we’d planned a much-needed getaway to our favorite city on the South Carolina coast, and instead of warm, life-giving sunshine, we had to splash our way through town with umbrellas and jackets. This wasn’t what I’d wanted.

The temptation to pout and give in to disappointment-induced-grouchiness, nearly overtook us. But then we peered out the window and saw the beauty before us. Despite the gray clouds and blustery wind, we bundled up and set out to adventure through a city full of antiquity and amusement. 

And we had the best time! 

The wintry weather may not have eased up, but we found that we could slow down — and enjoy it. What began as a low-blow became a blessing. What started off as a disappointment opened doors of delight we would never have discovered. 

Blown Plans

Be ready — it’s going to happen. In travels and in life, we will inevitably encounter setbacks and upsets. The question before us this week is how do we deal with delays, detours, and disappointments and not give in to the desire to pack things in and head home?

First, it is wise to remember the previous lesson of holding plans loosely. No matter how prepared we are, no matter how detailed our itinerary, the uncontrollable happens. Flight times change. Hotels overbook. Tours cancel. In life, the unexpected rips away all the hopes and dreams we’d clutched to our chests. Marriages end. Cancer wins. Money runs out. The changes and challenges threaten to ruin every prospect of joy. 

“As we make plans, fill out lists, and do the things that need doing, may we remember still to remain open to surprise. Instead of insisting on clear plans, may we be willing to settle in and take the next right step even though it may lead someplace we didn’t quite pack for.”

Next Right Thing, p.232

Emily P Freeman’s idea of remaining open to surprises challenges our hopes and plans. Her notion of taking the next right step even if it leads somewhere we didn’t expect (or pack for!) reminds us what little we control — except our responses. So, today let’s focus on the best responses in the inconvenient delays, the unexpected detours, and the painful disappointments. 

Learning and Lessons

One response is to look for lessons in the lay-overs, for meanings in the hard moments. Sometimes God allows the letdowns and setbacks because He has something deeper for us to discover, spiritual work He wants to cultivate in our hearts and souls, but that doesn’t happen as we fret and flail, frustrated by the detours of life. 

Admittedly, sometimes those lessons don’t come to light till we get a little distance from the deeper losses, but in many situations we can shift our responses in the moment to look for God’s purposes. Let’s not miss the transformation that takes place when we set ourselves aside for the greater good of the journey, of God’s deeper work. Sometimes what looks like a delay is part of God’s perfect timing. Or what appears as a disappointment is actually a divine appointment.

Rejoice as a Response

Habakkuk, a prophet in the Old Testament, lived in the days of Judah’s exile in Babylon — the darkest of days — and he demonstrated our next healthy response:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.”

Habakkuk 3:17-19, NIV

Habakkuk’s list of all the losses the people of God endured isn’t just about food for the moment but also sustenance for the future because each crop and flock were sources of income. I look at a catalog of casualties like this one and can’t help but think of Job. EVERYTHING is lost. Everything. Panic rises. Despair settles in. The future seems bleak and hopeless. 

Photo by Anqi Lu on Unsplash

This is how the people of Judah would have felt — all of them — because they’d lost everything in the exile. Yet, what does Habakkuk say in light of all this destitution? I will rejoice in the LORD

In the midst of such loss, Habakkuk’s declaration is hard to fathom. But in case we doubt, he reiterates, I will be joyful in God my Savior. This intentional decision teaches us much about the reaction of rejoicing. 

Back in January I journaled about this very passage. My response was raw and rough but real:

“We’re meant to praise Him–to ascribe to Him all the glory and honor He is due. Despite how we feel. Despite how we feel, He is still God. He’s still on His throne. He still has all the power and is still in control. He is still worthy of praise, glory, honor, and worship. Even when we are so broken and scared and lost that we don’t think we can lift our heads, much less praise. Rejoice. Rejoice? Rejoicing sounds like joy, like laughter and happiness and feeling good, excited, even celebratory. So, maybe my understanding of rejoicing needs to shift. Not so much about victory and celebration but more about adoration. More about getting on my knees and declaring to God just how great He is.”

My journal entry 1/25/21

As I’ve been discovering, Habakkuk’s intentional decision to rejoice can be ours. His extreme example of exile shows us there is nothing we can face that is worse. No loss. No delay. No detour. No disappointment is larger than losing everything. He models for us a response that is holy and healthy. And, Habakkuk is not our only example.

The Mystery of Rejoicing

Philippians 3:1, a simple call from Paul to his brothers and sisters in Philippi to rejoice in the Lord, further demonstrates the rejoice response. Like Habakkuk, Paul found himself in dismal conditions — locked in a pit of a Roman prison. Yet throughout his letter to the Philippians, he exuded joy over and over. Paul encouraged his readers to do the same, despite the challenging circumstances they found themselves in. 

If Paul, Habakkuk, and the Philippians found themselves in the midst of wrenching delays, detours, and disappointments, we cannot imagine them feeling very happy or glad. Yet they rejoiced. Do you see that this kind of rejoicing is not a response to blessings or bounty? Do you feel the significance of understanding why they would choose to rejoice in such circumstances? 

JD Walt can help us. In a recent Daily Text post, he unpacked this Philippians 3:1 verse by defining the joy Paul embodied. This paragraph is what I call a JD’ism — brilliantly complicated. Admirably convoluted. Yet packed with truth that will help us untangle this mystery of rejoicing:

“Joy is supernatural. It is a wellness that transcends health, a state of being that eclipses emotion, and an inner realism that overwhelms apparent reality. Though it transcends the ephemeral notion of earthly emotion, we might think of joy as the primary emotion of the realm of eternal reality. Joy is that deep inner conviction that though things are not right, everything is going to be alright.”

The Daily Text, May 2, 2021

JD urges us to see joy as a state of being that eclipses emotion — as transcending our understanding of emotion. To eclipse or transcend is to surpass or rise above. While I may feel something when joy is happening within me, that feeling is beyond any sort of earthly, “normal” emotion. 

So, if it’s not an earthly emotion, what is joy? JD suggests it could be the primary emotion of eternity, the realm where we will live in the presence of God forever. Joy. An emotion yet not exactly. A feeling yet so much more. That about clears it up. 😉

Logic says if joy transcends emotion, then so would the action of rejoicing. Paul and Habakkuk didn’t rejoice because of how they felt. Instead, they chose rejoicing as their response because of who God is. No matter what we face, God is bigger still. No matter how we feel in the midst of all the hard moments, we can transcend all of it by an obedient act of rejoicing. 

Andrew Peterson’s lyrics capture this choice in one of the songs on our Journey of Joy playlist:  

And when the peace turns to danger
The nights are longer than days
And every friend has a stranger’s face
Then deep within the dungeon cell
You have to make a choice
Rejoice

“Rejoice”

In all the delays, detours, and disappointments, we have a choice — react out of raw emotion or rejoice in the Lord who transcends it.

Habakkuk Again

Habakkuk’s resolution to rejoice caused a shift in me. In fact, that shift continues to change me as we trek along this Journey of Joy. I started this jaunt of ours believing I couldn’t choose joy — I think because I still had joy in the category of earthly emotion. But what I’ve been seeing in the Pauls and Habakkuks of Scripture is their willingness to trust God and choose joy. So, joy is chooseable.

Last month I picked up a book I’d heard about called Fight Back with Joy by Margaret Feinberg. This book is so much more than a memoir, but it does capture Margaret’s journey with breast cancer and her decision to fight all the awful moments of that season with joy. 

As God does, He put Habakkuk back in my path via Margaret. She did her own unpacking of the same passage, and ended with this thought:

“Habakkuk’s rejoicing does not center on circumstances; it’s founded on God’s intent and ability to save. Rejoicing is not a prescription as much as a gateway to possibility.”

Fight Back with Joy, page 102

Because I’d been wrestling with the why of Habakkuk’s choice to rejoice, Margaret’s statement jumped out at me — rejoicing comes out of our understanding of God’s intent and ability to save. Margaret, like so many before her, discovered that to find joy, she must trust God. And that requires getting to know God well. When we know that God is good and that He is always for our good, our trust in Him grows. We trust His intent even when the worst happens. We trust He is able to save even if it looks differently than we planned.

When our faith is anchored in God, we begin to understand that rejoicing isn’t some slap-happy, fake-it-till-you-make-it kind of hoorah. And, as Margaret shared, rejoicing isn’t a prescription — something we do to make everything better. Rather, rejoicing happens because of who God is. And, rejoicing opens doors to things like joyful hope. 

Friends, we may not be able to conjure emotions but we can choose to rejoice. Because of God.

Joy in the Journal

Looking back to a past journal entry and seeing what I had written was a gift. There was so much I hadn’t remembered. There was so much truth I needed to see again — from my own pen, no less! So, I hope you will do yourself a huge favor and journal today.

  1. I’d love to start by issuing you the same challenge JD did earlier this year: go through Habakkuk 3:17-19 one phrase at a time and write about what it means to you. While those opening lines drive home just how desolate things were in exile, I found I had my own memories and connections to each fruit and animal that impacted my deeper understanding. I bet you do too.
  1. After you unpack the Habakkuk passage, spend some time writing down your response to the idea of rejoicing in the midst of the delays, detours, and disappointments.  

It’s All About the Journey

Friends, we’ve been traveling together for quite some time, and it’s taken a lot of self-control not to say this till now — it’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey. Next week we will talk more about the destination, so it’s good to recognize now that joy is not the destination. Joy is the journey

Rather than letting the delays, detours, and disappointments of life become obstacles to our joy, we are learning to look for God and see how the unanticipated are actually part of the journey — because to vacilando is to travel with the understanding that our experiences are more important than the destination. So, instead of being derailed by the unexpected, we can choose to rejoice in our God because He is good and holy. He is sovereign and trustworthy. He’s the One — the only one — who will ALWAYS be there no. matter. what. And we rejoice!

I don’t know about you, but the word JOY jumps out at me everywhere I go. In a tiny town not too far from us, I found the cutest journal with the word JOY on it. Scrolling through my social media, I notice t-shirts with all sorts of sayings about JOY. Then strolling through a consignment mall with my hubby one stormy Saturday, I saw this:

Photo of art by WhimsEchols as seen at The Painted Tree

And Larry knew before I said a word — I needed a picture. I needed a minute to take-in the gift that this was to me. So he gave me space to do both, and now I finally get to share it with you! (PS–I bought the magnet and it hangs on my fridge so I see it everyday!)

Find joy in the journey, friends!

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Photo by Precondo CA on Unsplash
  • Our Journey of Joy playlist follows this journey. I mentioned Andrew Peterson’s song, “Rejoice” in today’s post. It’s the second song in the list, right after our opener by Ellie Holcomb, called “Constellations” — talk about a raw cry to God. Ellie captures the essence of what the hard things in life can make us feel — namely, alone. I thought this song represents where we often find ourselves in our journey of life. And our response to those hard places? Rejoice.
    • Another song I can recommend comes from a brand new album from some amazing women called Faithful. The song is called…ready for it…”The Detour.” I’ve literally been listening to the album all week on replay. I could hardly believe the timeliness of that particular song.
  • This week’s journaling prompt is worth the effort. Allow yourself the physical and spiritual space to process each phrase of the Habakkuk passage, and see where it takes you! Also, don’t forget our daily practice of writing three things we’re grateful for. I’d love to hear what you’re seeing and learning through these practices. Comment below.
  • Just for fun — find the “Easter egg” in this week’s post! It’s a travel word.
    • Last week’s travel word was soli vagrant, Latin for wandering alone. Something we never are because of our constant Travel Companion.
  • The summer print edition of The Joyful Life Magazine, called Rest,* is open for pre-orders at The Joyful Life.* The write-up of the magazine sounds so much like what we’ve been learning through our journey: “The summer print publication of The Joyful Life Magazine will invite our souls into genuine rest as we quiet our hearts and homes before the Lord, content in His sovereignty. We’ll be challenged to reexamine present circumstances and redefine the rhythms of our days in light of unseen goodness even when what is before us may appear anything but good. We’ll be encouraged to trust the Almighty in all things—resting wholeheartedly in His perfect character and loving plan.”
  • Finally, I mentioned Margaret Feinberg’s book, Fight Back with Joy.* She does a great job of weaving in her experiences, the lessons she learned along the way, and practical ways she sought to bring joy to others when she was at her lowest.

*Denotes an affiliate link, so I’ll receive compensation for any purchases made.

Featured Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash.