Finding Joy in the Chaos, Part 2

Yesterday I talked about the stress and chaos that often robs us of our joy. Today we are going to focus on some things that help us in regaining and maintaining joy in our lives. Having joy does not mean that we are happy all the time, or that we never have problems. Instead, for the Christian, it is a deep contentment and happiness that is centered on the Creator.

So how do we find this contentment and joy? I believe a large part of the answer is found in Philippians 4:8-9. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—If anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Consider this–if we focus on the untrue, ignoble, wrong, unpure, ugly or abominable, then our minds will fill with depression and fear. But in focusing on the good things, we are much more likely to find joy.

Key to finding joy in our lives is to have a solid relationship with God.

Photo by Preslie Hirsch on Unsplash

If you are struggling spiritually, learn to study his word, spend time in prayer with him, and listen to the Holy Spirit as he guides us. Not only will our spiritual walk continually improve, but this will help us by giving us the faith to hand our problems to God and let him work on them. Of all the things we can do to bring a deep, abiding joy in our life, it is to develop a deep relationship with God.

Colossians 2:6, says, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

The fact of the matter is that joy is one part of the fruit of the Spirit and should be embedded in every Christian’s life. Galatians 5:22 reads, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” By focusing on whatever listed in Philippians 4:8, we will find ourselves changing and growing, and it will be easier to leave the joy stealers behind us.

Identify unrealistic expectations holding us back from true happiness.

We are bombarded on every side by media and even people we know who are telling us what we need to do to in order to have a better life. If we just peruse through a magazine, we will see how many products are being promoted to entice us into thinking if we buy them our life will be better. John F. Kennedy said, “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.” We listen to lies and myths daily. And they set up unrealistic expectations in our lives.

Women especially are bombarded by the messages of being better and being perfect. Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda, becomes a catch phrase for us as we review ourselves from a lens that is frequently skewed and sometimes even detrimental to us. Learn to discern your unrealistic expectations and let them go. Learn to lean on Jesus and let go of the expectations of others.

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

Define ways we can actually bring joy back into our lives.

Immerse your self in God’s Word. Try some soul nurturing. Have a mini-retreat with just you and God (even if it is only 1 hour long!) Have a special place set aside where you can read your Bible, journal and pray. I found that was especially difficult when I had young children, but it can bring such joy to your life when you are at a good place with God.

Surround yourself with Christian friends. Good friends help provide perspective, companionship, a place to vent, accountability and encouragement. However, if you have a toxic friend, they provide doom and gloom and are critical and negative influences on your life. Finding friends is not always easy and I would suggest looking at common ministries at church, small groups, or even in a MOPS (Mothers of preschoolers) program.

The right kind of friends can share our faith and values. Choose someone who is positive, is a good listener, believes the best in you, communicates honestly and directly, and can keep confidences.

Learn to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. It is sometimes hard to find all the good around us, but sometimes we just need to focus on the little things that cross our paths every day. Finding a cheerful heart is important to our mental health. Psalm 119:111 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

If you are having difficulty finding joy, the following are a few ways to enjoy life’s simple pleasures:

  • Reconnect with the world around you
  • Take a walk in nature
  • Garden
  • Cook or bake
  • Develop a daily gratitude practice (I keep a gratitude jar and fill it with things I am grateful for)
  • Listen to your favorite music
  • Sing and Dance
  • Laugh–a lot. Laughter is proven to relieve pain, reduce stress, and build our immune system
  • Get enough sleep
  • Take time to journal or read something that nourishes your soul
  • Meditation, Prayer and Bible study releases feel good hormones, reduces stress and improves cardiovascular health
  • Do Good for others
  • Maintain realistic expectations
  • Play
  • Dress Happy
  • Do volunteer work
  • Set goals – not only for where you want to be in life, but include some relaxing such as a spa day, getting your nails done, reading a good book, taking a bubble bath.
  • Send letters, poems, or drawings to first responders, essential workers, or elderly people on their own, for example.

I am sure we can find the joy that can be ours if we look for the “whatever” in life. One of my favorite scriptures is found in Isaiah 55:12. It paints such a rich picture that it fills my heart with joy each time I read it.

“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”

So while joy may sometimes seem elusive to us, if we practice some of the suggestions above and make Philippians 4:8 a habit in our lives, we will find ourselves much more attuned to having joy. God wants us to have joy in our lives. A deep, abiding joy in him that is not contingent on our circumstances but rather rooted in his love and grace. Let’s start the journey today.

More Scriptures about joy: Psalm 5:1, Psalm 5:11, Psalm 71:23, Psalm 94:19, Jeremiah 15:16, John 16:24, Acts 2:28, Romans 15:3, Philippians 4:4, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Hebrews 12:1-3, 1 Peter 1:8-9,

Finding Joy in the Chaos, Part 1

If most of you are like me, the last two years have been frustrating. Covid has changed our world and stress levels are at an all-time high. Our lives are nothing like we envisioned them. I retired when Covid-19 hit such high numbers in 2020.

My expectations for retirement were drastically changed. My bucket list hit the trash can. There would be no road trips to see family and long-time friends, no cruises, and no extra vacations. Suddenly instead of the retirement I envisioned, I was left with the fall-out of Covid and it was hard to find joy in my life.

The fact is that many of the women I talk with are struggling to find joy in their lives amidst the chaos right now. They are tired and worn out. They are juggling their lives, trying to be everything to everyone. You are not alone if you are struggling.

According to Dr. Steve Stephen, in his book The Worn Out Woman notes studies done estimate there are more than sixty million worn-out women in the US alone and just as many are on the fast track to becoming exhausted and overwhelmed! It is no wonder we are having difficulty finding joy in our lives. I suspect those statistics are higher since 2020.

The fact of the matter is what we are feeling now is not new. Psalm 6:6 says, “I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.” Psalm 10:1 is a cry from David, “Why O Lord do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

I want to find joy in my life and instead it seems that stress has become a daily part of it. So, what happens when you are stressed?  Stress can lead to health problems, broken relationships, severe depression, and a number of other difficult consequences. If you ignore these issues, they do not go away. Trying to tap into joy when you are struggling is extremely difficult because the issues sometimes grow and steal our joy.

And the thing about joy is not that we are happy all the time. Instead it is an intrinsic emotion that helps us know that things are well with our soul. The Webster definition for joy is a feeling of great pleasure and happiness, but for the Christian it combines that with a deep satisfaction and knowledge that no matter how our lives are going, God is with us every step of the way.

Joy is a term that appears approximately 165 times in the KJV translation, 182 in the NASV, and 218 times in the NIV.

Crosswalk website notes, “As we read in Scripture, joy is a state of being, and it differs from happiness, which may come and go. Happiness is usually measured by our circumstances, whereas joy is measured by what we have been given. As Christians, we have been given something that cannot be taken away. We have joy because of the grace of Jesus Christ that lives in us. We can hold onto joy, we can feel joyful, and we can rejoice with praise no matter what our circumstances may be because no matter what is going on in our lives God is always near.”1

Valorie Burton, A Christian life coach who regularly appears on the Today Show says, “If you want to be happier on a regular basis, there’s one really simple piece of advice to follow… Happiness is actually contagious, so be intentional about surrounding yourself with happy people.”

So, how do we find joy in our lives? The first thing is to recognize that we really do need to identify the areas in our lives that are joy stealers. In others words, we need to evaluate what circumstances take away our joy and then try to develop healthy habits that help us renew our joy in life. So how and why do we do this? Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow as I lay out a key Scripture to focus on to help you find your way to joy.

Fleeting Moments

Recently I was nestled in the Ozark Mountains during a writer’s retreat. It snowed most of the day and I awoke to a beautifully white, frozen world. The snow was pristine in its freshness because no tracks had marred the surface. The lovely white landscape was stunning. And if I had had the foresight to bring snow boots with me, I could have gone outside to play in the snow. But alas, no snow boots. By the afternoon all that lovely snow was fading away, and the moment for playing in the snow was gone.

Photo by Linda DeLay Wallace

But I savored that small moment where I glimpsed a serene beauty during the midst of winter. It gave me a sense of peace and contentment and reminded me that God is the best artist there is. But it took little time for the peace of the moment to flee.

I thought to myself, isn’t life like that? We have these beautiful pristine moments that are given to us. If we are lucky enough, we can luxuriate in the moment and bask in the joy it brings. The moment may be shared with someone we love or enjoyed with our children and grandchildren. It may be that we can just sit and breathe and appreciate the beauty around us. Sometimes those moments seem so fleeting and are gone before we even realize their presence. We return to our mundane, frequently hectic world, but we can take the moment out of our memory bank and remember the feeling of peace and joy that it brought.

Frequently we get so caught up in the past or planning the future, that we forget about the present. I am not saying to dismiss the past because it helped mold us into who we are today. Nor I am saying to neglect planning for the future. What I am saying is to live today with an awareness of your surroundings and looking for the little moments to capture in your mind.

My sister’s favorite verse is, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24). She tries to see the positive in everything. And she is remarkably good about capturing special moments on her camera and then making them into a scrapbook!

Capturing fleeting moments can seem magical. So today ask God to help you recognize the fleeting moments that bring special joy to your life. Who knows, it may be one of those special nuggets you store in your memory that brings you wonder all over again each time you think about it!

Justice Can’t Wait

My friend, Patrick Heston, is a crafter of words. I always enjoy his insights and frequently find myself saying, “Yes, that is exactly how I feel!” but he articulates it so much better than I do. This morning as I read his words, I found it echoed in my heart. So I asked him if I could share his thoughts on my blog. He graciously said yes. So I hope this resounds with you as much as it did with me.

“The negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the . . . Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice.” (The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.) I know MLK day is past, but this isn’t a post about MLK. This is not a political post, regardless of what some may think. This is a post about me. Whether it is a post about you . . . only you know. On my Facebook profile, I long ago described myself as “more conservative than most liberals like and more liberal than most conservatives like.” There is a word for that. Moderate. I like moderates. I like being a moderate. I haven’t always been one, but have been one for a long time.

I’m one of those people who hated to see Justice Kennedy leave the United States Supreme Court because I knew — depending on who would be President at the time — he would be replaced by either a democrat or a republican, either a liberal or a conservative (both of which, from time to time, get under my skin big-time). So, both those options scared me. But, now, even being a moderate scares me. It scares me because it is in my nature, in my way of thinking, in my passion to unite rather than to divide . . . to wait.

But we can no longer wait to call injustice by name. We can no longer wait to speak against and work against injustice. We can no longer deny justice to others in order to preserve some Camelot-ish status quo. I think it is because moderates, like me, have a tendency to patiently wait and work for much-needed change, rather than to lower our heads and charge on through the obstacles like the proverbial bull in a china shop. You know . . . slow down, be patient, give it time, we’ll get there. That is, I think, why we don’t see many moderates who are black or poor or disenfranchised. The vantage point is different. After all, it’s a lot easier to wait for everybody to have food on their table when there’s already food on ours.

But here’s the deal to me anymore: Justice can’t wait. I think I would understand that better if I were wearing black skin instead of white, if I were female rather than male, if I were roaming the streets in the cold instead of sheltered warmly at home, if I were stereotyped instead of blending in. Doctor King was, I think, on the mark. I had read the quote before — many times — but it had never hit me like it did this morning. There is something about that comfortable stance of moderation that should make me . . . well, uncomfortable. And, as the years have passed, it has. I think that in many ways, for a large portion of my life, I have unknowingly, unwittingly, unintentionally elevated order over justice by trying to achieve justice in small, spaced-out increments. In other words, by moderation. It hasn’t worked. It won’t work. Of that, I am finally convinced. I am not calling for revolution . . . beyond the revolution in my own heart, mind and lifestyle. And I make such revolution incumbent on no one else.

I am not for throwing order out with justice, but neither am I for throwing out justice for the sake of order. I’m just saying that it’s a mighty thin slice of pizza that only has one side. Order and justice are never either/or, but always both/and. Still, scripture comes down on the side of justice, repeatedly and unhesitatingly, and so must I.

I can no longer live content being more devoted to order than to justice. Dr. King was right — about both. It’s the “more” in his statement that we can’t afford to miss . . . “more devoted to order than to justice.” MLK was more than willing to disturb the prevailing order with pointed talk and peaceful action, while devoted always to justice. Always.

Well . . . there it is. I got if off my chest the way I best know how: In print. More for me than for anyone else. Like that step in AA where you have to make things public, if you’re going to win the battle within you.

If you interpret this as a political statement or as some sort of knuckling under to white guilt, then, I am sorry, but you simply do not understand. And that’s okay. It really is. Pointed talk, peaceful action — always and only. But justice simply can’t wait.

Whitewashed Tombs

In the city where I used to live there was a place near the business district that could really use some sprucing up. I was pleasantly surprised when I drove by that location one day and they had installed attractive concrete walls. By the next time I drove by, shrubbery had been added and everything looked very nice. But as time went on when I would drive by I could see all the shrubbery had wilted and died. You see, it had all been built on the remains of an old landfill and there was so much toxicity still in the ground from the buried garbage, that nothing could thrive in the area around it.

This reminded me of a Scripture I read recently. Jesus was addressing the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 23. Actually, he was predicting the woe that would come to them because they were so self-righteous. In Matthew 23:27-28 he says, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are filled with dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

Jesus did not pull any punches with the Pharisees when he was speaking about them and in fact, while speaking to the crowds and his disciples, he listed seven woes and called the Pharisees hypocrites several times. Not only did he call them hypocrites, he called them blind fools, snakes and vipers!

I often wonder what Jesus would think of modern day churches and their leaders. I have been reading so many stories about moral failures of church leaders that it makes me heartsick. The fact of the matter is that hidden sin will always be revealed eventually. Whether it is someone nationally known or just someone known in the local community, every time buried sin surfaces, the consequences are damaging to the name of the Lord.

Every time I read about a pastor’s infidelities, his lies to the church, or his financial greed, I cringe. I am grieved, because don’t they realize the harm they are doing to the body of Christ? When a minister throws up his “righteousness” while castigating others, it makes me wince, because doesn’t he (or she) realize that love and humility are greater ways to show the love of Christ?

We as a body of believers need to bring sin to the light and hold people accountable. Whether it is the hidden sins of child pornography, consorting with prostitutes, sexual abuse, or simply self-righteousness, all of those who call themselves Christians need to be held to a higher standard.

Jesus saw the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders. He ended his list of woes with lament, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Matthew 23:37-39

image by Matthew Troke on iStock

Lord, I pray that I am willing to not only be gathered under your mighty wings, but to learn to soar above my earthly desires so that I bring honor to your name. I pray that any hidden sins I have will be shown to me, so that I may repent and glorify the name of Jesus. Lord, help me to be a beacon of light that reflects you, rather than a hypocrite who dishonors your name. I pray for the church and church leaders who get caught up in the self-righteous path and fail to recognize the sin in their lives. Lord, open their eyes and show them your truth and your righteousness. I am so thankful that the day will come for all of us to say “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Amen

A Day of Disappointments

Photo by Anh Nguyen on Unsplash

Recently I had one of those days. You know the kind. The kind where nothing has gone the way you planned–where because of Covid, you had to cancel an activity you were looking forward to, where something broke and you need to decide if you will replace it or fix it, where a friend found out they had cancer. Those are the kind of days a lot of people experience.

My list of disappointments can go on and on. However this is the thing–all of us can find all kinds of things to be disappointed about in life. And dwelling on our disappointments just magnifies feelings of anger, frustration, worthlessness, and bitterness.

The good news is that life’s disappointments do not define us and cannot defeat us if we hold strong to some tools for overcoming disappointments. One of my favorite verses is found in Philippians 4:8-9. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

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Bittersweet Days

This evening will be bittersweet for me. I am going to the Alumni Homecoming banquet at the college I graduated from in 1974. (I know–I am truly getting old!) The reason it is bittersweet is that the college is in its last year of existence. When May arrives, the last graduating class will receive their diplomas and a school that has been in existence since 1956, will merge with another college. Like many Bible colleges the financial burden of staying open, the pandemic, and the lack of incoming students have created the perfect storm, causing hard decisions to be made.

Unfortunately I have seen several Bible colleges close in the last decade. I could cite a multitude of reasons why the majority of Bible colleges are struggling to remain open. Some of the reasons are valid, some of them are not. But that is not really the purpose of this post.

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Agnes Dei – Alleluia

Sometimes it is difficult for me to find the words to say to convey a feeling or emotion so that it can be visualized and experienced the way it was originally. That is the difficulty I have now. During a recent time of worship at church we were led to the throne of God through musical praise. As the musicians prepared our hearts for time with our Creator, I found myself picturing what heaven is going to look like. As I sang Agnes Dei (by Michael W. Smith) with hands raised in worship and tears gathering in my eyes, I could only get an infinitesimal glimpse of what is in store when we reach heaven.

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My Independence Day

Today we celebrate America’s Independence Day with picnics, food, time with family, and fireworks. A multitude of people celebrate without recognizing the great sacrifices that were made in order to gain autonomy from Great Britain. We need to remember the lives that were given, the homes that were burned, and the families that were forever changed when America made her bid for independence.

Photo by Weston MacKinnon on Unsplash

While I love July 4th, today I want to talk about my own personal Independence Day. It is a day I still remember vividly even though it was many years ago. I came from a good home, but not a home where we learned about Jesus and made faith a foundation. My life changed when a neighbor volunteered to send me to church camp. I had absolutely no idea what church camp was, nor did I understand why I was chosen to be sent since there were six of us children in my family. But God had a plan for my life and he used MacGomery Christian Camp to set me on my path to independence.

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I Love You More

When I was growing up my parents were not good at saying “I love you” or giving out hugs. It really wasn’t until my early 30s that I started hearing those words when I would come home for a visit. Do not misunderstand me—I knew my parents loved me, they proved it over and over by their actions. But they did not say it until I was older. I am not sure why it changed, but I remember being surprised the first time my mom actually said “I love you” when she hugged me goodbye. Those were words I treasured because I did not hear them very often.

When I was in high school, I remember going to my friend’s house and she would say to her mom, “I love you” and her mom would always reply, “I love you more.” I would longingly think how nice it would be to hear those words. They really were not a contest about who could love the most, but an affirmation that their love was deep and abiding.

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