Give me some Sweetness!

honeycomb

Proverbs 16:24 “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

Words are powerful! They bring sweetness or mayhem, joy or pain. Our words can uplift and encourage or knock down and well, discourage. (Deep huh?)

I was thinking about this scripture today. A bee wanders around from flower to flower, collecting from beauty, working diligently to find sweet nectar and, at the same time, serving to pollinate the area. Then it brings what’s was gathered back to the hive and uses it to make honey. I’ve oversimplified the process of course, but I couldn’t help but think about what that looks like for us.

We encounter words everywhere. Some from our own mouths, some from media, some from the lips of others. I think it’s our responsibility to dig through them for nectar. We don’t have to internalize or accept everything we hear. We can choose the Philippians 4:8 route and think on things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely and of good report. We can find the virtue, the things worthy of praise, the good reports. This isn’t the ostrich mentality where we choose to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the bad. It is living intentionally and making a decision to change our perspective.

Years ago, a single word became my mantra in the faith. “Focus!” I realized that I had the power to take my thoughts captive and focus on The Lord in all things. I would have to remind myself throughout the day by repeating it to myself, “focus, focus, focus”. At times it can be hard to see Him or hear Him over the noise. The ever-constant barrage of busy can steal from the things that matter. Suddenly, the to-do list pushes our quiet moments off into the abyss and we are left reeling by the time our heads hit the pillow.

Even there at the end of the day, our minds can go a mile a minute planning for tomorrow or beating us up for whatever we messed up or didn’t finish today. Therein is the moment of decision. We can dig deep in those moments for the nectar. We can find the good. We can cast off the things that bring us down and remember who we are and how we are loved. Then when tomorrow comes, as we dig deep for the marrow of life, we can’t help but spread that joy to others. It’s a side-effect of the intentional life. We pollinate the world with the light of truth and the goodness of God’s love. We speak life and peace to the tormented. We bring hope to those who struggle. Never diminishing the severity of sorrows, but offering comfort and healing in the midst of them.

We’ve been taught a lie. So often the contemporary, American church teaches that we shouldn’t suffer, that life should be lived wearing rose-colored glasses and never admitted that things are tough. This is totally contrary to scripture and, quite frankly, insulting to those who are suffering. We’ve believed if we only had more faith, if we were better, things would be okay. It’s just not true. The Bible says that we WILL suffer for Christ’s name sake.

Try telling Paul, who was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, and (my personal favorite) bitten by a viper (AAGHHH!), that Christians shouldn’t ever suffer. The difference is that Paul made a decision to glory in his sufferings that the power of Christ might rest upon him. (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul was a diligent bee. He found the nectar and made honey despite circumstances few can imagine enduring.

I think what the world needs to see in us is perspective. We are deeper than our situations. We serve a God who is always faithful no matter what it may look like or feel like at the time. We have the power to choose to believe it or be overtaken. Dig deep and find the good. It’s in there, like a hidden treasure waiting to be recovered. And in it, we find our sustenance.

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All the Happy People

JoyI confess that when I was pregnant with baby man I spent a few too many hours watching shows like “A Baby Story” and “The Business of Being Born”. I think it’s inherent to pregnant women to read and watch everything pregnancy related they can get their hands on. This seemed strange to me only because you’d think by pregnancy number four I would be ready to write the material instead of reading it.

Something started to bug me as the months progressed. If you’ve ever watched “A Baby Story” you’ll remember that at the end of each episode, they usually have a clip of the parents saying what they want for their child as he or she grows. I realized that almost all of them said the same seemingly noble thing, “I want for my child to by happy.” Ah, the sentimentality.  Isn’t that what every parent wants… a happy, well-adjusted, smiling brood following behind them like a row of ducklings. It seems so normal and selfless a request.

Bubba

I don’t think I realized why it didn’t sit right with me until this week. Now it seems epidemic. People everywhere I look are touting the need to be happy. It is an inalienable right after all, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. If it’s in the Bill of Rights, it must be a noble aim. Who am I to argue?

Still, I think we’ve gotten it all wrong. Happiness is so circumstantial. It comes and goes like the tide. I’m happy when things go my way and I get what I want. I’m not happy when the hard times come. I’m not happy when I can’t pay the bills or when the kids are sick or when I’m completely soaked with baby spit-up at the office (circa today), or the car or the microwave breaks, or my marriage gets rocky, or my friends prove unfriendly, or…insert whatever else here…

The “pursuit” of happiness is a great way to put it because it’s fleeting. It often seems just beyond our reach and we stretch and fight and push harder and farther hoping to achieve it, the whole time wondering what we are doing wrong. We must be doing something wrong if we can’t grab it! After all, it’s the goal, the dream, what our parents wanted for us, what we were taught to desire and follow above all else. What is life without happiness anyway?

I contend there is a better way. There is such a thing as joy whose purest form can only be found in the Lord. Joy is a gift given freely with salvation. It’s a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.)

I heard the following quote by Pastor Greg Surratt recently, “Happiness is what happens to you but joy is produced in you.” Joy should well up from inside simply because we are His, because the Spirit of God within us is the source of all joy. Nothing else matters.

Paul says in Philippians 4:11, “for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.”  Somehow, we feel like our lives shouldn’t be messy. Somehow, we’ve convinced ourselves that if we’re serving God, everything will be perfect and we will never suffer. This ideal is totally contrary to scripture. Paul was beaten with rods, shipwrecked, thrown in prison multiple times, yet he was content. The disciples were martyred for the sake of the gospel. They suffered horribly, but I don’t think you can convince me they did so without joy or peace.

Ultimately, true joy comes from trust and obedience. If we trust in the Lord, nothing can steal away the joy set before us. If we truly believe what we say we believe, we won’t be thrown by the circumstances of this life. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18

Some may think it seems a little easy for me to say such things when I am now incredibly happy, but I assure you, I know what it is for circumstances to steal the wind from your lungs. I know the ache of life not going as planned all too well. I speak of this amazing joy that permeates everything, including the ugly, not from a place of a life well lived, but from the remnants of a life torn apart and rebuilt after “I never expected things to turn out like this”. I’ve melted to a puddle on the floor of my closet crying to the Lord begging Him to change situations in my life. I’ve spent hours or my past telling Him that I didn’t think I could take anymore. I know pain. I also know that in the midst of the worst of it, He was there and so was a deep peace and everlasting joy.

Now on the other side looking back, I can see it so clearly, the brightness of glory as He carried me through. I see how he molded me into something lovely. He didn’t blow away the ashes of a life once lived and start fresh with new material. He used the ashes of every moment seemingly wasted and shaped them into something beautiful.

He didn’t promise us “happy”. He did promise us joy. For my children and for those I love, I don’t wish for happiness though it seems a nice gesture. My prayer is that my children, my loved ones, may know Him and the fullness of His peace, love and joy. I pray they would dive deeply into every precious promise and seek first HIs kingdom. I pray that they would know that no matter what life throws at them, they can be content.

Lord, I thank you for the hard times in my life. Thank you for being there with me even when the darkness seemed to overtake the light. Thank you for allowing me to know that my joy comes from you alone and that nothing can ever steal it from me or snatch me from your hand.

Crash Course

I was in a car accident about fifteen years ago. It happened on a Sunday afternoon on my way home from church. I was pulling in my driveway when she hit me. I never saw it coming. Apparently, she didn’t notice me slowing down to turn until the last second. When she did see me, she swerved INTO the driveway instead of away from it and consequently, nailed the side of my car right there in my driveway traveling around 45 miles per hour.

Everyone was okay, despite some cuts, bruises and a little whiplash. It was definitely one of the scariest parenting moments I can remember. My daughter was in her car-seat in the middle of the back. I remember it taking me a moment to realize what had happened and then hearing her screaming. My best friends little sister was with me also and the impact was very close to where she was sitting. She was 8. She looked completely dazed and blood was pouring from her face and mouth. It was in that moment, when it all hit me, that the panic set in. Suddenly, nothing else mattered but the kids. I didn’t even notice my injuries until later after I was sure everyone was okay. My car was totaled.

This morning I was thinking about how life can feel like a colossal mess sometimes. You’re traveling along enjoying the ride, when out of nowhere, it hits. You didn’t even see it coming, and you’re stunned by the impact. You spend some time trying to process it all. Maybe you feel your pain first, maybe you notice the others around you. Maybe you realize what you’ve lost right away or maybe it all comes in pieces, little by little, you take it all in and you break down a little more over time.

Often, we wonder why it happened. There’s usually no readily available explanation. Sometimes the hurt is so extreme that we turn heavenward demanding answers. Sometimes, the heavens are silent.

Some react with rage, others sorrow. Some weep while others remain locked in uncomfortable numb. We all have our ways of dealing with the aftermath.

I don’t have answers to the question why. I try to figure it out sometimes like we all do, but in the end only God knows the plan and we are called simply to trust him. But maybe sometimes he’s hoping when life hits hard, we will turn outward first. Maybe the trials of life are intended to train us to think of others and not just us.

Matthew 22:36-40 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”  Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

It’s not always our natural reaction to think of others in the midst of our greatest pain and loss. But our greatest comfort often comes when we do just that. Whatever your reaction is, it’s most important that you get up and keep going. Don’t let anything stop you from fulfilling your destiny. You were created for greatness. Don’t let anything stop you from believing that.

I don’t know what you’re going through. Maybe life is crashing around you as I write this. Maybe your cruising along loving the journey. My greatest desire is that you would know that you are in His hands, He has a plan and that someone out there needs you to get up and keep on going. You are not alone. Look around. Look up. Keep moving forward! It’s going to be okay as long as we keep our eyes on Him.

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

“He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” Philippians 1:6

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28