Want a Big Heap of Crazy Joy?

noramommy

 

Today’s words will be shorter than usual.  But this is what’s on my heart today and it’s kind of simple.

I got thinking about the little things in life, and how when you count the small joys, they add up to Crazy Joy…and when you count the small aggravations, the opposite happens.  And then I got thinking how we, as human beings, tend to count up the aggravations and not the joys.

But, when you’re just on the other side of almost leaving this world forever…the little joys seem all the more precious and the little aggravations just seem, well, inconsequential.  And I’m so grateful for that side effect of Nora’s and my medical trauma.  Those little things that would’ve killed my mood Before, they seem like nothing compared to the fact that my eleven weeks early daughter is beautiful and thriving and growing.  They seem like nothing when I am walking and talking and breathing.  Nora and I…we are here, miraculously.  We are here because of the prayers of the saints and the power of God.

And so when I look at the little things in life that used to bring me down…they just have no power anymore.  I’m alive and I almost wasn’t.  So what if I spilled coffee on my new sweater?  So what if there’s traffic on the way home from the hospital?  So what, even, if Instagram changed it’s policies?   I’m alive.  Nora’s alive.  We are both okay.  We are both eventually going to be perfectly healthy.

I keep on saying I don’t want to miss the refining work God is wanting to do in me.  I mean that with my whole heart and I think this is part of it:

Counting little joys adds up to a big heap of crazy joy.  Counting little aggravations adds up to a big heap of cranky grumpiness.  

Which one are you looking for?  Are you looking for the gifts?  Are you looking for the aggravations?  Or are you looking for crazy joy?  Which one is easier for you to see?  When you practice gratitude…finding those Good Gifts gets easier and easier and the crappy things fade into the background.

Don’t you see how it honors our Beloved most when we are thankful and not when we are irritable and angry?

Yes, yes, hard things happen and yes, yes, we have to process our feelings.  We have to.  But we also have to look for the joys, for the good gifts.  It’s the quickest route to a satisfied life filled with crazy joy.

This is a Christmas gift you can give yourself, the people in your lives and most of all that you can give God.  Get yourself a pretty journal and every day, write in it three things that you are thankful for.  Maybe get this book that will change your life:  One Thousand Gifts and READ it!

Count the gifts, count the joys, let the other stuff go.

Psalm 45:11

I’ve spent the last couple of hours trying to figure out how to say what I want to say this morning.  In fact, what usually takes me an hour or at most two has taken me more like four hours.

Really, I’m still figuring it out.

So, I’ll ask you to forgive me if this seems ragged, pieced together crudely or less eloquent than I sometimes am.

And even more than being worried it won’t be good writing…I’m also worried it’s going to be a little too heart-real and a little too soul bare.  I’m going to share something that sums up my life’s struggle and it’s a little bit scary.

Deep breath.  And then I’m jumping in with both feet and I’m going to show you a deep, deep piece of me.

Here is the truth.  I’ve struggled always with feeling like I don’t measure up.  I’ve struggled always with feeling like I’m not enough.  It’s hard for me to receive the affections of my God and King.  It’s hard for me to believe that He’s “enthralled with my beauty”. (Psalm 45:11)  My whole life…I’ve just longed for belonging.  To know and be known and to be loved anyway…All my life, I’ve felt this feeling of restlessness and  “if only”…This restless feeling of longing to be better, to be more, to prove that I’m something, that I’m someone.

There have been so many who have loved and who do love me.  I am blessed to be loved so much and so well.  But the truth is this:  there have been a number of people and circumstances who have left me with deep wounds and left me deeply scarred.  And while I would allow the Lord to work on those wounds and scars, to soothe them with His oil and with His love…I guess I didn’t let Him keep at them until they were fully healed. I always held back enough of that woundedness to fuel my self-pity and my insecurities.  My restlessness.

The restlessness came and went.  I would throw myself into this or throw myself into that…I would spend too much time away from home doing the work of the Lord or put too much faith in this friend or too much weight to that friend’s opinion.  I would agonize over things I’d said and things I’d done…wondering if I could’ve said it better, could’ve done it better.  I would beat myself up with “if onlys” and self deprecation.  I was (and often still am) my worst critic, my worst enemy, my worst friend.

The restlessness drove me to constantly reinvent myself, to make me second guess my every move.  I lived and died by what others thought of me.  And there would be seasons where it was better and there would be seasons where it would be much worse.  On a scale of 1-10, ten being the worst and one being the best…I would go through cycles of being every single number.

Whenever I would find a place of belonging, I would cling to it hard and throw my all into it.  I would serve my heart out, doing the work of the Lord, sacrificing all else….and sacrifice is good.

But did you know?

He desires obedience more than sacrifice.

And it was only when I began to be obedient to His leading, listening to His prompting and putting what I wanted on the backburner that I began to feel freedom.

Freedom from the restlessness and freedom from the desire for the approval of others.

Freedom.

You see, I am right where I am supposed to be.  And nowadays, my service to the Lord has more to do with what happens within my four walls than what happens out in the world.  I am fulfilling my calling.  By just being present in my home fully…body, mind, soul and spirit…I am doing the work of the Lord.  I believe I’ve learned the art of contentment, at long last.

I started to make a list of every volunteer ministry position I’d ever been in…but it was a long, long list.  I spent quite a few moments on it, listing my accomplishments, my job titles, my endless hours of serving.  I found pictures to match the job descriptions.  But He stopped my fingers typing and said no to the list.

Because this particular entry is actually not about what I’ve done.  It’s about why I’ve done what I’ve done.

I’ve served for lots of reasons.

1. I love the Lord.
2. I love to do His work.
3. I love to serve out of my giftings.
4. I am a team player. I believe that kingdom work is more effective when we do it together.
5. I love being a part of something that impacts the world.
6. I need to belong. I need to be known.
7. I crave the approval of others.

And it’s numbers six and seven that begin to get me in trouble, to distort things.  All these many years I’ve lived, I have often lived according to numbers six and seven.

It’s scary for me to share this stuff.  I’ve deleted it and typed it, deleted it and typed it again.  I want the world to see that I’m whole, that I’ve got it together, that I’m okay.  But the truth is that…I’m somewhat  whole, being constantly healed and loved into His image.  That I absolutely do not have it together, but I rest in the Hands of the One who holds everything together.  That I’m okay but only because I’ve been redeemed.

And I think it’s important for you to know that this work He’s done in me…He can do in you.

Here and now I’ve discovered this side effect of dwelling in thankfulness.

I don’t need to please anyone anymore.

I don’t need to reinvent myself.

I don’t need to try so hard to prove I’m okay.

This is new to me, this feeling of peace that has replaced my restlessness.  This feeling of having good gifts to offer…but not feeling like I have to do every single thing that comes my way to prove my gifts are good.  This calm, this release…this freedom to be the me-est me I can be.  It’s new.

It’s good, my beloved ones.

I say that I think it’s come about because of thankfulness and I do think that’s true…but I’m thinking about my life now and my life during my most restless times…and there are quite a few things that are different now.

1. I live in a healthy home. My husband loves me fully and as Christ loved the church. He values me for who I am and I have nothing to prove to him. He loves me because I am me and he doesn’t ever ask me to be different than who I am and he doesn’t ever ask me to be better or do better. He just loves me, I am good enough for him…and that makes me want to be better. A Christ centered marriage…for this I am every day so thankful, so grateful and so overjoyed that I could cry.  What a good, good gift.

2. Obedience. I am living out my true calling. God has been asking me for years to put my wifehood, motherhood and stewardship of my home first. And I’ve listened for a season here and a season there but with no consistency. I love my family, I love being a mom but there were definitely times over the years when I became a ministry-aholic. A messy, messy house, kids that needed more of my time than they got and (in my first marriage) not making my husband a priority all limited, I think, my freedom from the restlessness. And it so typical of me, trying to meet my needs my way instead of His way. Now, I put John, my children and caring for my home first. I don’t do a ton of ministry away from home because my gifts are best suited to my home. I sing in the prayer room twice a month and hope to eventually move to once a week. I lead a small group of first graders at church every week and that’s it. The rest is here- at home. And I have bloomed as I’ve lived out His will for me.

3. Thankfulness. It’s teaching me to see His goodness and to see His love for me. I must believe He loves me as I am when I write out all the beautiful gifts He gives me everyday. It makes it easier for me to give and receive love because my heart is satisfied with the goodness of God. I’m no longer starved.

Here I am, just me, but beautiful in the eyes of the King of all.  I was good enough all along…because I am made in the image of the King.  I am covered by the blood of Jesus and through that filter, God sees me.

It’s so simple and I want to make it so hard…but here I am!  I’m almost forty, and I’m just figuring out so many things.

He loves me.

I read Psalm 45:11 in every possible translation and every single one was truth and we must write this truth on our hearts.  Write it on your hand, write it on your mirror.  Know it and believe it.

“Let the king be enthralled by your beauty;
honor him, for he is your lord.” (NIV)

“For your royal husband delights in your beauty;
honor him, for he is your lord.” (NLT)

“Then the King will desire your beauty.
Because He is your Lord, bow down to Him.” (NASB)

“So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him.” (KJV)

“Be here—the king is wild for you.
Since he’s your lord, adore him”.  (the Message)

“So the King will greatly desire your beauty;
Because He is your Lord, worship Him.” (NKJV)

What’s verse or truth can you share with us today? A verse, a truth that says who you are? Will you share it?

Come on, Joy!

When I was in the hospital after having Lila, I noticed that the joints of my knees and hands were very achy.  It got worse as the days went by.

In later years, it would migrate- my back, my shoulders, my hips, my ankles…with it came achy, feverish type symptoms.  It came and went.  Was worse under stress.

I saw my family doctor, a rheumatologist…I had blood tests and exams and consulted Dr. Google constantly.

Many hypotheses have been formed.

1. Rheumatoid arthritis. For several years, the doctor felt it was this…even though it didn’t show up in my blood tests. It still could be, we’re just not sure and it still doesn’t show up in bloodwork. My symptoms always did fit this diagnosis and there is a percentage of people who have it without testing positive.
2. It’s related to the Vitamin D deficiency I have. This seemed very likely until I kept having flare ups even after being on megadoses of Vitamin D.
3. It’s related to Hashimoto’s disease. I was diagnosed with this in the fall. This seems somewhat likely, though the joint pain is an uncommon symptom.
4. It’s some kind of combination of the previous three or two of the three or something.
5. We just don’t know why my joints ache.

For five years, my joints have troubled me.  And this morning finds me stiff and achy…my shoulders and neck and hips and back especially.  I shuffle instead of walk, I can’t get comfortable.  I need a heating pad for every part.  I just want to stand in the hot shower all day long.   And, there’s something else…some kind of allergic reaction or who knows what…but I’m itchy…really, really itchy.

I feel pitiful and put upon.

But I have a new life now and I have learned that I must be thankful…even in literal suffering.

So, my joints ache and burn…my skin itches and crawls…but I give thanks.

290. My little girls hugging
291. The way Claire backs into her little Adirondack chair
292. Lila counting down the days until her birthday on Friday
293. The smell of whatever Deanna cooked this morning
294. The coffee my husband made me
295. My recliner
296. Aleve

My grumpy, pessimistic inner me protested when I said it was time to give thanks.  She whined and cried and said, “I’m not thankful for being itchy and in pain and with no relief in sight.”  But we persevered.  Counting joys, counting graces, being thankful.  Seven came easy and then even more…

297.  Claire dancing to the SpongeBob theme song
298. A sunnier day than yesterday
299. A ride for Julia to Newport News
300. Chatting with loved ones on Facebook

Because don’t we all know that practicing anything makes it come easier?  It’s the same with gratefulness.  The more I practice, the easier it comes.  And it doesn’t take the pain away, but it takes the pain’s place away.

The pain was winning.  It was the biggest thing I had going this morning.  Achy joints, itchy arms…they were my predominant thoughts this morning.  It was my focus.  I was impatient and sour and feeling sorry for myself.

Naming my joys took that place of honor from my suffering and gave it back to Him- the giver of all gifts.  I had to sacrifice- I had to give up the right to self pity, the right to wallowing, the right to grumbling and complaining.  I had to let that go in favor of the higher thing.

He is good, even in my suffering.  That part doesn’t change.  He is always good.  And this too shall pass.

Doesn’t Psalms 30:5 tell us so?  Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

Baby Birds

Outside of our door, there is life so fragile.

In the boxwood by the driveway, a mother bird has made her nest.  And in that nest, she has layed some tiny little eggs.  Lila is fascinated by them.

On Sunday, the little eggs hatched and now there are tiny little birds…just tiny little  buds of new life.

I worry endlessly about these little birds.

Will the mother abandon them?  It’s a high traffic area there.  Kids running by, Caroline barking her head off, cars coming and going.  And we’re all so interested in the babies.  We have to constrain ourselves to checking on them only once a day.  Will they be hurt?  Will some well meaning child try to “help” them or move them?  Will some force I can’t control come along and hurt them?  A bigger animal, some weather situation like wind or too much rain?

They are so fragile, so tiny, so helpless.  I look at them and think of human hearts…how easily they are broken, how fragile and tender.

I ask the Lord to protect our baby birds.

He gently reminds me of this:  “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”

He knows of our baby birds.  He knows their destiny.  He knows the plans He has for them.

The truth is, that mother bird is unfazed by our comings and goings.  She isn’t stressed about outside influences.  She isn’t anxious about weather.  She just sits on her nest and regards us with her shiny black eye.  She stands her ground, doesn’t leave her babies, but just sits on her nest….We have only really seen those fragile little buds of new life a couple of times…because that mother bird is doing her job.  She is not worried.  

Her confidence is in the Lord’s provision.  She does her part and she knows He will do His.

And then He gently reminds me of this:  “Are you not of more value than they?”

Matthew 6:26 pierces my soul and I ask the Lord to write it on my heart.  To keep it strong and fresh in my consciousness.

Because I’m not like that mother bird.  I don’t just do my part and believe He’ll do His.  I don’t dwell in the confidence that He’ll come through for me.  I worry and I stress and I strive.

I’m aware of truth.

He is able.
He is good.
He loves me.
He has a plan for me.

And I know that I am more to Him than the birds of the air.  I know that He loves me with a whole and perfect love that I can not even understand.  I know that He is with me.

But I lack the confidence to not worry.

I’m asking for that confidence today.  The confidence of Matthew 6:26.

To set aside my worries and trust the One who has promised to keep me.

Important Things

I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s really important in life and what I’m really living for.

Lots of things are important, lots of things are urgent…we must work, take care of the house, care for the children, get dinner cooked, finish the laundry, drive this one here and that one there.  We must walk the dog, pick up kids from preschool, clean the bathroom, do the homework, get to the doctor’s appointments, pick up the groceries.  At the end of the day, we fall into bed exhausted and I wonder sometimes aloud–

Did I do what was important today?  Did I do what I enjoy doing today?

Because doing what I want to do, what is enjoyable, is a whole other thing.  We want to watch a movie, check Facebook, play Draw Something or Words With Friends, we want to nap, eat Reese’s cups, visit with friends, linger over one more cup of coffee.  We want to paint our nails or color our hair or read a magazine.  We want to sit in the sun with eyes closed.  There are so many things we want to do that don’t necessarily fit in with the urgent.

The days fly by and all I’m doing is rushing around and trying to Get Through The Day.  

And I want more than that.  I want more than just getting through the day.

I say to John all the time, “It’s another marathon week.” because we have one jillion things planned, scheduled and that urgently needed to be attended to.

But what really matters most?

If you’ve been reading this blog at all, you know that my inner me is under major reconstruction.  God is really weeding some crap out of my heart and making me better.

This has been a painful and glorious process.

Since Paw has gone on to the Lord, my heart and my prayers have been fixed on the heritage she’s passed down to us.  The heritage of faith and family.  On Easter Sunday, my heart almost broke with love for my family, not just my immediate family but aunts, uncles, cousins.  I saw unique beauty in each one, I saw Paw in us all.  Memories and moments and quirks and strengths and weaknesses of  60 odd people coming together in the most beautiful tapestry that Paw began with her own two hands years and years ago.  This is Important.  This is Vital.  This family is full of love and life and laughter.  This family is a good, good gift.  And what better way to honor our Paw than to keep it close.  Deep inside, I hear a cry, “Do not take this good gift for granted.”

Here is the children singing their hearts out to the Lord in honor of Paw on Easter.

All the kids in attendance!

We watched “the Passion of the Christ” on Sunday and I keep seeing Jesus, beaten and bloodied and just made of love and mercy.  I want to burn the images into my eyes and on my heart and I don’t want to forget how I feel right now.  Because seeing that…remembering Him in that way…it makes all the worries that I worry over, all the stressors that I stress over, all the strivings that I strive for…it makes those things seem almost ridiculous.  And while I’m not saying that I should just stop washing the dishes and doing the laundry and only ever read the Bible and I’m not saying that I should never laugh at “Raising Hope” again…I am saying that all the things that make me crazy (or crazier) throughout the day are just almost nothing.

I’m saying that I must examine my life and get rid of the things that hinder love.

And that’s a tall order and it carries enormous implications.

But when I think of Jesus on the cross…when I think of Paw and her faithful, love filled life…I know it’s the next step.  He died for my sins and my pain.  He died for love.  And He didn’t just take too many Ambien and go to sleep…He suffered and struggled and was separated from His Father and descended into hell.  He was beaten and bloodied and bruised.  And my face was in His heart as He did this.  So was yours.

So…all this rushing around…all this stressing and worrying and panicking…all of this must go.

“Therefore, be imitators of God as dear children.  And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.”   Ephesians 5:1-2

Real Love

The Sacrifice of Praise

I think we know in our heads and even in some places of our hearts that God knows best.

But that doesn’t stop us from trying to tell Him what to do.  I often get His plan “figured out” and then I try to make it happen.  Yes, you read right.   I try to make it happen.

This is, of course, fruitless.

I think of Abraham and Sarah and how they tried to make God’s promises come to pass.

It began with this- a Holy visitation and a word from the Lord.  “I will make you a father of many nations.  I will give you and Sarah a son.”

And the two of them wanted that son a lot…Sarah grew impatient and decided they would need a surrogate.  She supplied her servant Hagar to her husband in order to get this son.  But it wasn’t a good thing…and it wasn’t really what Sarah wanted because this is not what God had in mind.

Genesis 21:12 says, “For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.”
The New Living translation says, “…This happened just at the time God said it would.”

God’s timing.  He sets the times and none of our striving can change that.  It’ll happen at the time God said it would.

Last night, I made oven baked chicken with a ritz cracker crust.  It was really good but man, it was spicy.  I couldn’t figure out what was making it so spicy.  Paprika, salt, pepper, thyme, onion powder.  Why were we all on fire?

John suggested, “Maybe you mixed up the paprika and the cayenne?”  And sure enough I had.  We all agreed that it was better this way and it made me think about God.

Sometimes we think we’ve figured out His plan. Sometimes we think we know best but the truth is…

“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord.  Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans for a hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

And only He knows when and how and all of that.  And it’s like the chicken.  Sometimes the unexpected is the most flavorful.  Sometimes we can’t imagine what His best really is, we can only see our best.  And how can we even know what the best is?  God can see the end of the story and we can’t.

I’m in a season of surrender.  I’m in a season of placing all that I try to control and manage and worry about on the altar.  To make my life a sacrifice of praise.  It’s a choice I must go back to day in and day out.  Laying down my plans for my family, my plans for my future, my dreams (this one hurts) for all of us on the altar and giving all to Him.

I want my heart to beat with His.  I want my steps to be in sync with His.  I want to walk the paths He has for me.  It’s scary to lay it all down and surrender my own will.  It’s hard.  But I don’t want to miss His best for me.  Thirty nine years in this life has taught me one thing- I am nothing without Him.  And His best is what I want.  There is joy in the laying it down.  There’s something about emptying ourselves out and letting Him fill us back up.  There’s something powerful in surrender.

He never holds His best back from us.  He gives it with no strings attached and with open hands.  But we have to be willing to release control and take it.

 

Scratching the Surface of How To Love Well

God has given me five answers on how to love well and I want to share them with you.

1. Honor

The importance of honor was made real to me over the summer when we went to the Wave Leadership conference in Virginia Beach. I have since listened to Kevin Gerald’s podcasts on honor.  My heart was stirred and even torn a little as I thought about the ways I honor and dishonor.
You can click here to hear for yourself. Kevin Gerald

2. Forgiveness

I have learned a lot about forgiveness as I’ve moved through the stages of grief in the wake of my divorce. I’ve learned that forgiveness is more about the one who’s been wronged than the one who has hurt us. Forgiveness is key to letting go of bitterness and living life whole and full.

3. Selflessness

This one is big. We must put others ahead of ourselves. It’s the epitome of honor and love. When we serve the ones He loves, we are serving Him.

4. Thankfulness
Have I mentioned “1000 Gifts” by Ann Voskamp and the joy dare? I’ll mention it again…just in case. This book and this dare have changed my inner voice. They’ve changed my heart, my mind and my spirit. I have gained so much from reading this book and learning to live thankful…God has used these tools mightily.

5. Believing God
Oh, my friends and readers, this is The One. We have to believe Him when He says who He is, what He can do, how He loves us and what His plans are. He is believable…and it is key.

So, I’m mulling over these five things. There is so much there that I am almost overwhelmed. I think I could write 365 blog posts about each piece of the puzzle.