Paddling and kicking, I keep my head above the waves, water splashing and stinging my eyes. I inhale another raspy breath as I see a swell headed my way. Fighting against the current threatening to pull me under, I wonder how long I can keep treading water.
Seconds from giving up, I see it. Through the misty water sprays, I see His hand. I raise mine unsteadily toward His and feel myself lifted. Saved. Secure. My breathing slows as my body rests upon the side of the boat rocking in the sea, and I finally look up, my eyes meeting His.
Compassion shines brightly, calling me closer to Him. Instinctively, I lean toward Him and whisper, “Thank You.” That’s when His smile broke out freely, but His head shook from side to side.
“Where is your faith, daughter?”
That’s when truth dawned — I never had to be in that water alone, working so hard to stay alive in the stormy sea. He was with me. Always with me. Faith to live dependent on Him, trusting in Him to lead me and equip me, showing me what is mine to do.
The winter lingered. Dreary, drafty days. Illnesses. Restlessness. Loneliness.
My head leaned against the warm wall along our fireplace, my body soaking in the heat as my soul shivered for spring — for life and sunshine, for warmth and health, for people. For joy.
I heard the chirping, and I peeked through the blinds to see tiny warblers and juncos scrambling for the seed sitting on the snow. Life.
Feathers fluttered as my tiny friends fought for food, a spreading smile igniting a spark of awakening within me.
In the winter of my soul, Jesus heard. He saw. He answered. I nodded and headed upstairs to my desk, my place of purpose. Fingers flying across the keys, I connected with a burgeoning desire to belong. Uprooted from a place of deep connection, a readiness to reconnect blossomed in my heart.
So the search began.
As children, friendship seemed simpler, easier, and perhaps a bit built-in. School, sports, and extracurricular activities provided opportunities to belong. Even as kids, we didn’t always feel like we fit in, but there seemed to be more avenues for trying. Like the friends I walked to and from school with one year.
That year I had two neighbors, both a year older than me, who trekked with me back and forth to school each day. No longer walking solo, I was in heaven! We’d talk as we walked, noticing scurrying squirrels and holding our noses as we darted past the stinky trash at the corner 7-11. But the thing that bonded us most was the pomegranate tree. There’s something about being with other people that makes us more observant and brave, so when one of my friends recognized the fruit of a tree I’d never known before, we walked right over, picked a fruit, and split it open.
My eyes grew wide as I saw the hundreds of tiny bubbles of red liquid packed into the pockets of the pomegranate. Plucking the arils and popping them in my mouth, I marveled at the explosion of flavor and juice — sweet and tart. Spitting seeds only added to the cool factor.
Picking pomegranates became our favorite after-school pastime that spring. And every spring after that, I’d see the tree and it’s inviting fruit — and remember. Laughter. Friendship. Belonging.
Now, as an adult, I’ve discovered it’s harder to make those connections. We hide our true selves. We hesitate to reach out. We fumble with finding ways to meet people. Yet our God-created desire to belong yearns for that place of acceptance and love. To know we matter.
Moves often leave us without the friendships and family we once held so close. Our recent transfer to a new city during this pandemic has challenged the already difficult task of meeting people. So, as winter raised this deeper longing I either hadn’t developed in the fall or hadn’t yet recognized, I became acutely aware of that missing piece of life — belonging.
With no natural environment for finding new people — no office, no church, no sport teams because no kids — I turned to the One I know best and started asking Him questions about belonging. Conversation between us flows freely as I express my feelings and frustrations, my desires and doubts, my longings and loves, so periodically, I’d bring up this desire to belong.
And, in April came a reply,
“We believe in Jesus. We become like Jesus. The path between believing and becoming is called the way of the cross. The way of the cross is the way of belonging to Jesus.”
JD Walt, Daily Text, April 2021
Not at all what I was expecting, this answer confused me, but it also kindled curiosity within me. As I reread it, I agreed, sure — we believe in Jesus. Then we work to become like Jesus. But what I’d never considered was that the way, the path, to get from believing to becoming was belonging.
So, my question has become, what does it look like to belong to Jesus? I’m sure the simple answer is the one most American Christians have had put in front of us our entire lives — when we believe in Him, we belong to Him. Absolutely, 100%. But something in my soul has felt there’s more. More to this belonging to Jesus. More to truebelonging.
That brings us here to today, the beginning of another series together.
My curiosity has been piqued — not only about this belonging to Jesus but also about the vast number of articles and books being published about our need for belonging, for community. So many authors that I’m familiar with have or are about to come out with books on the topic that I can’t help but wonder why.
The obvious short answer is that we’ve been living disconnected and isolated for the last year and a half — hello, COVID. Another quick answer is that we’ve been deemed the loneliest generation ever, which is ironic because we’re the most “connected.” But studies (and there are a lot of them) are showing that our phones and laptops — our connections on social media — do not equal belonging. In fact, scrolling photo after photo of smiling faces and beautiful places makes us feel quite the opposite. Like we’re missing out. Like we don’t belong.
The more I’ve read and studied — articles, books, and THE Book — the higher the curiosity factor has risen within me. So, for the next several weeks we’ll explore together Scripture (John 17 to be specific), stories (mine and others), and pomegranates. Ha! You didn’t see that one coming. But, really. Pomegranates. Maybe it’s my own, odd obsession with the fruit known as the “apple of many seeds,” or maybe there are some true connections to this idea of belonging. We’ll see. 😉
I hope I’ve captured your curiosity!
We’ll have a bit of rhythm in this series, where one week we’ll look at lessons in belonging and the pomegranate (trust me). Then we’ll do a deeper dive into John 17 the next week. Ebb and flow. Ebb and flow. Till we begin to see all the pieces coming together, giving us glimpses of what true belonging is.
We’ll ebb and flow — belonging and John 17 — except for today. Instead, we’ll launch into this True Belonging series introductorily. Pretty sure I just made up that word, but you know what I mean.
A lot of the Book of John captures stories and teachings of Jesus in the last week of His life. Chapters 14-17, specifically, record ONE conversation Jesus had with His disciples on His last day. More commonly known as His Final Discourse, these chapters convey Jesus’ deepest hopes for His fledgling followers. Think about it as His final teaching — the really important things He wanted to be sure they “got” before He left.
If you read these chapters in one sitting, you’ll notice an abundance of belonging language, some of the most creative being the metaphors Jesus spoke into being about grapevines where He is the vine and His believers are the branches. Connection. Dependence. Life-giving. Fruit-bearing.
Chapter 17, our focus in this series, is the closing prayer Jesus spoke over the people He belonged to while on earth. We’ll take each segment of this prayer and study it for all the ways Jesus prayed belonging over His disciples. And, maybe as we soak ourselves in these words of our Savior, we’ll begin to see a deeper meaning of what it means to belong to Him, then perhaps we’ll see what JD Walt has been trying to get his readers to understand — belonging is the bridge to becoming like Jesus. For the good of others.
In all our studying of Jesus and John 17 and what it means to belong to Jesus, I suspect we’ll also get a better sense of what it looks like to find true belonging in this world. In the here and now.
And, I can’t wait to make the discoveries with you!
I came across this Henri Nouwen quote in one of the books I’ve been reading. In his brilliant way, he has pulled together the joy I’ve been seeking this year, as well as, this more recent search for belonging:
“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. It is a choice based on the knowledge that we belong to God and have found in God our refuge and our safety and that nothing, not even death, can take God away from us.”
Henri Nouwen, Here and Now, p. 27 (emphasis mine)
Whew! And that’s just the beginning of this journey to true belonging.
Here’s to pomegranates and belonging! See you next week, Shelley
I’m already discovering in my seeking and practicing that the best way to experience and feel that belonging connection with our Father in Heaven is to worship Him. Knowing that worship helps us keep our focus on Jesus while living in the here and now encourages our practice of worshiping with Christian music. So, I do have a Belonging playlist I’d love to share with you.
I encourage you to start reading John 17 — slowly, steadily, with spiritual eyes open for whatever God wants to speak over you.
Journaling is a great spiritual practice that opens us to more of what God has for us. As we begin this True Belonging series, start with a question to yourself — In what ways do I live my life as though I belong to Jesus? You can also explore the differences between believing, belonging, and becoming.
If you’d like a new journal, I actually found a composition notebook* with really cute pomegranates on its cover!!
*this is an affiliate link, which just means I’ll earn a wee bit from any purchases made Featured photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Irony. I remember learning the literary meaning of irony sitting in my high school English class when dramatic irony held our interest in the classics. But, in our culture we mostly use irony as a verbal expression that drips from our lips when we say one thing but really mean the opposite.
There is a third definition for irony — when life or a certain situation doesn’t turn out the way we expected. And it feels, somehow, deliberate.
I find it incredibly ironic that I sit to write the final post of our summer series meant to be all about re-entering the world as the pandemic ebbs beyond view while, in actuality, it’s making a cruel reappearance. My expectations of August have had to adjust.
Such has been our experience over the last eighteen months. Just as we adapt to a “new normal,” we’re forced to readjust — our attitudes, our assumptions, our practices. So. Here we are nearing the end of August 2021, and we are further from true reentry than we were in June.
What are we to do?
Well, ironically, the answer to that question lies in the theme I’d originally planned for this post: TRUST. I love how God has gone before us with this theme and given us a way forward in our current circumstances.
Many feelings surface as this new variant dominates air waves and news threads: Disdain. Distrust. Discouragement. Despair. Defeat. Disbelief.
I wonder. How do you feel?
Depending on our individual experiences since COVID became a household, worldwide reality, our reactions vary:
Those who were nervous about re-entering life too quickly are devastated to have fears proven true.
Those who never took the pandemic seriously remain dubious of the new reports of rising numbers.
Those who were on the front lines earlier are overwhelmed and burned out…yet again.
Those who lost loved ones despair further loss of life.
Those who have a new label — COVID long-haulers — are just. so. tired.
Those who are isolated or high-risk feel the creeping fingers of fear reaching in for the strangle-hold.
Yet, I suspect every single one of us just wants to know, When will this be over?
I have no answer to that question, but I am learning how to navigate this reality of ours. First, it’s good for us to identify the why behind our feelings, to get beyond reflexive emotional reactions to the why am I feeling this way of deeper inward realities. Because when we can put our finger on the why — the motivation or trigger — of our responses, then we can start to deal with the what, those actual feelings.
And then, we can learn how to take those to God.
Laments as a Way to Release and Revere
One category of psalms, lament, make up nearly half of all the psalms in our Bible. They express honest, raw emotions of sorrow, grief, and regret. They plead for God’s help, and they show us how to do the same. Understand, laments are not tantrums but well-crafted expressions of deep emotion that often have three elements: a cry out to God, a plea for help, and a response of trust. While they begin with despair, they almost always end with hope and faith (Jen Wilkin, Psalms study, p. 145).
One such lament, Psalm 13, captures many of the feelings swirling around us as we’re compelled to push pause on our reentry due to the continued pursuit of this viral enemy. I invite you to read this aloud with some real feeling. Make it your lament.
O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand? Turn and answer me, O Lord my God! Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die. Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!” Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall. But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me. I will sing to the Lord because he is good to me.
Psalm 13, NLT
I am learning to lament. Instead of ignoring my emotions or stewing in them, I am discovering ways to dig within myself for a better understanding as to why feelings of discouragement, frustration, and anxiety continually rise up within me. The practice of lamenting and identifying the why behind my feelings frees me to be honest with myself and God, releases the negativity within me, and helps me turn my face back toward God. As a result, my love of Him grows. My hope and faith increase. And I am better able to make the choice to trust Him.
Giving my feelings honest release has also opened me up to receive Scriptural intervention. Throughout this pandemic, God has honored my decision to memorize His Word, blessing me with peace when I’ve been tempted to panic, favoring me with great doctors when I struggle with unhappy lungs, bolstering my faith each time frustration and fear have threatened to pull me under.
Most recently, Priscilla Shirer encouraged me (in her Elijah* study) to memorize a section of Psalm 73. I wrote the lines on an index card and put it on my bathroom mirror. I can’t even begin to express how these verses have solidly rooted themselves in my heart. I took the long minutes of breathing treatments, hair drying, and make-up applying to say these words of truth over and over. Now that they’re memorized, I speak them over myself wherever I am, allowing their peace to pour into me.
I still belong to you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny. Whom have I in heaven but you? I desire you more than anything on earth. My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever.
Psalm 73:23-26, NLT
It never fails that when I get to the line, God remains the strength of my heart, my throat cinches and tears rise because the words reminds me that no matter what I face each day, no matter what this virus does, no matter my emotional reactions, God remains the strength of my heart. He remains. The strength. Of my heart.
Worship with His Word
One reason I listen to Christian music so regularly is because many lyrics recount His Word and truths. Those words and phrases I need to hold onto and believe flow through my mind and find places to roost in my heart, not leaving room for thoughts to doubt and feelings to despair.
MercyMe’s new album as a whole has such a variety of messages and musical rhythms that I find myself hitting replay multiple times a day. My favorite song at the moment is “Uh Oh.” It’s fast. It’s fun. It’s classic MercyMe full of deeper truths, wrapped in humor and creativity about someone ready to take a big leap — maybe literally or, better yet, spiritually. There’s a middle section where the sound of the song shifts to something out of the seventies with this powerhouse couplet:
“Until you learn to trust you will not jump”, I’ve always told myself But from up here it’s clear that trusting is the leap itself”
MercyMe, “Uh oh”
This toe-tapping tune takes me to a happier place just in the hearing of it. But when I really listen, I take in a much needed truth — until you learn to trust you will not jump. Friends, when I’m not trusting God, I am holding back, and I can hold back in a variety of ways. I can hold back trying new churches. I can hold back reaching out to make new friends. I can hold back submitting another article that I’m sure will be rejected. I can hold back trusting God as pandemic numbers rise.
However, the more I worship God, the better I’m able to surrender myself to Him, to see all the ways I hold back, and to discern when I need to jump.
But then, the power behind this line: Trusting is the leap itself. This is a revelatory truth for me, a new understanding that many times to trust God IS the leap. Whoa. I’m still soaking this in…
Learning to Leap
Y’all, I wouldn’t know or be able to live out any of this if I weren’t constantly in His Word — reading it or singing it. When I feel like I’m drowning in sadness or pain or hopelessness, I drag myself to His feet and cry for help. I lament and remind myself to do so with hope because I TRUST HIM. Everyday.
It’s my most sincere prayer that however you’re feeling, or whatever you have going on in your corner of the world, you can find hope and faith and trust in God’s presence and power.
We can trust in His unfailing love. We can put our hope in His strength. Because grace.
There’s so much irony in how God has worked grace into every crevice and corner of my life this summer because I didn’t fully grasp my need of grace. But He did. And He’s been so so good to keep giving it. Like manna every morning. For every curve ball this life throws, His grace always remains. And it’s always enough. Putting our trust in God is the answer we need to the ever-present question, what are we to do? So, our role in these changing and challenging days is to simply take the leap and believe that God remains constant — that He has enough strength and courage and hope for all of us.
Trust is the leap itself.
Lord Jesus, we need You. We feel a mess. Our world looks a mess. Our families, our friendships, they feel messy. We confess our tiredness, our hopelessness, our despair. But we remember, Jesus, that we belong to You. That you take us by the hand and guide us by your counsel and wisdom. We remember Your generous grace and that You remain the strength of our hearts. So we rejoice — even when we don’t feel like it — Lord, we rejoice in who You are because You are our Rescuer, our Savior. You see the enemies we face — invisible viruses, devious demons, and our own broken state. But You are always there, always defending and protecting and strengthening us so that we can be true overcomers by your power. For your glory. For our healing and wholeness. And, for the good of others. Jesus, we claim the grace You offer us, and we trust You. No matter what we see or feel, we. trust. You. It’s in your most holy name we pray, Amen.
In your journal this week list, doodle, draw, or write about your current state of mind and your underlying feelings that motivate your actions and responses. Write a prayer — maybe a lament! — to God that expresses all this, asks for His help, and establishes your hope in Him. Also, what are some practical ways you can build practices into your life as you step into the next season (literally and spiritually) to help you keep seeking God’s grace?
#Spreadjoy this week by giving someone a BIG hug, like you really mean it and aren’t afraid of it. If that’s still not something you can do for health reasons, offer love in other ways — a poem, a picture (drawn, painted, taken/photo), a flower (bought or picked), etc. The idea is to love one someone greatly — even if the gesture is small.
We will meet back here in two weeks — starting a new series on belonging! Don’t forget to #SpreadJoy.
*This is an affiliate link, which means I earn a little something with purchases. 🙂 Oh. And I really can’t recommend Priscilla’s Elijah study more. It’s been a huge part of my unpacking and understanding this season of my life and God’s possible purposes in it.
I made assumptions at the beginning of summer that with each passing week, COVID numbers would continue to go down and reentry would gain momentum until we attained normalcy. But as I watch the number of cases increase each day and hear of friends coming down with the dreaded virus, I’m reminded how dangerous assumptions can be. And how flexible I need to remain. Now I’m back to my careful ways, pulling on masks (which I had begun to wear less often), lathering on the hand sanitizer.
And I’m not happy about it.
My own grumbling reminds me of the Israelites when they trudged through the desert as recent (reverse) refugees from a lifetime of slavery in Egypt. They were hot. And hungry. But, God heard their cries and answered their prayers — with manna.
Manna, a heavenly bread that miraculously appeared each morning like the dew, met the needs of every Hebrew sojourner. God provided enough food for each day, yet He required every person to leave their tents to gather their own celestial crumbs. The bread didn’t appear on their plates, even though we know that was possible (hello, feeding of the 5,000). The manna didn’t show up in barrels that lasted for months.
Rather, it was a daily practice — a practice of trust that God would provide.
Grace works the same way. God makes it available to us everyday, but we have to move toward Him with open hands to receive our portion. We have to be willing to accept what He offers then take it in. Like eating manna, grace is meant to nourish us from the inside out so that no matter what the day holds, it’s enough to sustain us.
Comparing manna to grace was not my idea. I remember Beth Moore teaching that concept in one of her Bible studies years ago. She taught that God’s grace is present for us each day, like manna, and is always in proportion to our needs. Beth’s example — her friend who’d lost a child needed bushels of grace compared to her bowlful. Our lesson was to learn to trust God to give us grace in the amount we needed, no matter the circumstance. In other words, we don’t have to fear how we’ll survive tragedy or make it through tomorrow. Instead, we can trust God’s provision today — perfectly proportioned.
Knowing where we are emotionally and spiritually helps us acknowledge our need for grace. It also enables us to become willing recipients. For instance, I’m discovering as the heat goes up and the air quality goes down that my lungs are still not fully recovered from my bout with COVID in February. I desire more energy and labor-free breathing so that I can get out there with all the friends and family who are re-entering life, so my discouragement can easily lead to despair. Except grace. It’s a beautiful thing to worship God with my honest laments and hopeful cries for healing because as I surrender to Him, His grace washes through me with renewed conviction to remain on the path and wait for His perfect timing.
His grace has been enough.
And when He blessed me with a whole week of happy lungs when it counted most, I praised Him most fervently.
His grace was abundant and appreciated.
And when the hated haze in the sky rolled back in the very next week, I puffed in my meds and thanked Him for all the ways His grace manifests.
His grace is still enough.
How about you? Where do you find yourself this week of our Summer of Reentry? Impatient? Excited? Discouraged? Fearful? Content? Overwhelmed? When we acknowledge our feelings and take them to God, we can more freely receive His grace.
Manna For Us
Jesus mentioned manna in one of his sermons, reminding those listening that it was God who provided the manna. Then He spoke one of His paradigm-shifting shockers that left His audience scratching their heads:
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven. My Father did. And now he offers you the true bread from heaven. The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” “Sir,” they said, “give us that bread every day.” Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Jesus is the manna. He is the bread that gives life to the world.
We look to Him for every need and grab hold of the nourishing goodness He offers. We cry out to Him when our hearts are broken and welcome the warmth of His life and healing in us. We pause in our busyness to recognize our spiritual emptiness and receive the fullness He gives. We open our mouths while in the desert of our souls to drink in His refreshment that satisfies. We lay down our selfish desires for “more” in exchange for His offerings that are always enough.
Jesus. He is our bread of life.
Wisdom — A Gift of Grace
Moses turned to God with the cries of the people because he needed heavenly help to determine a way to meet needs and move forward. He sought God’s wisdom. Instead of stubbornly or pridefully trying to feed the people himself, He kneeled before the One True God. And asked for wisdom.
In our own season of moving out of the enslavement this pandemic has wrought on us, we can take a page out of Moses’ book to lay down our urges of doing things our way. We can trust Jesus to show us the way forward.
“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone.”
James 1:5-6, NLT
When we leave our tents of grief or impatience or despair to seek God’s wisdom, we’ll discover a generous Father who extends His hand, freely offering us what we need most. He intentionally shares His thoughts, His love, and His grace with us. And when we receive with hearts full of faith — even the size of a mustard seed — He bestows on us the wisdom we seek.
Wisdom and Grace
I’ve mentioned to you how much God speaks and ministers to me through music. Melodies, rhythms, and lyrics awaken me to His presence and purposes. During Sunday worship this week, a song from my recent past played, and pre-pandemic memories flooded in. I remembered how I’d been soaked in the Spirit of God as I worshiped corporately.
As I sang along from my couch this week, one particular stanza leapt out at me like never before:
I know You love me I know You found me I know You saved me And Your grace will never fail me
Hillsong, “As It Is in Heaven”
God’s grace never fails me. Never fails you. We just have to trust Him enough to take what He offers, allowing His grace and wisdom to do their work in us.
Recognizing our assumptions, our frustrations, and our brokenness for what they are allows us to step toward God with humility and reverence, opening ourselves to accept the wisdom and grace God has for us. But holding those things too tightly can keep us stuck, enslaved — unable to heal or love or grow. So, in our Summer of Reentry, we can release the death-grip we have on our hearts to become open vessels for God’s grace and wisdom to pour in. His grace, like manna, is always enough.
In your journal this week list, doodle, draw, or write about what you think about grace as manna. What’s your grace-need awareness like? Ask God to make you open to the grace He wants to give you then receive it — with the grace it is given. Secondly, list, doodle, draw, or write about wisdom as a gift of grace. What wisdom do you crave? What wisdom could God be trying to convey to you for this season?
#Spreadjoy this week by surprising a neighbor with a sweet treat or an act of kindness. The sweet treat could be baked or bought. The act of kindness could be picking up their newspaper for them, pulling in their garbage can, or offering a simple hello with a wave and a smile! Let them know they’re seen and loved.
I’ve been sharing our Reentry Playlist, all summer. I’ve also been building aGrace for the Journey Playlist, full of songs that remind of us, first, of the grace we were given when we stepped into relationship with our Savior and, second, of the grace we need on a daily basis. The song I mentioned today, “As In Heaven,” is the last song on the playlist.
We will meet back here in two weeks! Don’t forget to #SpreadJoy.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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!
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!
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 thisweek’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 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.
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!
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.
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 thisweek’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.
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?
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.
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).
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.
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!
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? Thisweek 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!
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.”
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!
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.*
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.