Joy-Do We Even Know What It Means?

JoyBlackboard

Each year I attempt to set some goals (you can read more about that on my business blog).  More importantly, I begin in November to pray about a “word” or theme for the year.  I haven’t been doing this long, and began the practice after some encouragement from a dear friend, Shari Edwards.  As I have begun this practice I have come to realize how valuable it has been in helping me to really know WHO God is.  It is easy to know of God.  Even as a Christian I can study and know more about Him, but it can be challenging to know WHO He is, to experience Him.

As I prayed the word JOY kept coming to my mind.  Initially I brushed it aside, thinking it too trite.  Who picks the word JOY as their word for the year?  Pollyanna?  It felt too simple.  In my mind it was too close to the “blessed” syndrome of American religion-the one of prosperity and good if you love God.  Not my doctrine.  Not my faith.  So, in all honesty I began to pray really hard the word would go away.  Surely I needed something more serious, more worthy.  Ahhh, the human ego and our desires to do, to strive, to know.  In the course of those prayers, repeatedly god brought to mind or used a devotional or magazine article to put James 1:2-3 in front of me.  In those moments I began to understand what He desired for me.  I chose obedience and placed my thoughts upon JOY.

JOY isn’t a feeling.  JOY is a state of being.  JOY is one of the Spiritual Gifts His Holy Spirit gives us through our obedience and faith walk.  JOY is an attribute of Christ.  I can only experience JOY when filled with His Spirit.  I can only know JOY when I know HIM.

As I ventured through this season of doubt, fear, and anxiousness God has taught me much about faith.  How little mine was, can be and still is on too many occasions.  He has taught em to let go.  He has brought me from the desert abiding, to a deeper relationship with Him.  I know with certainty JOY is my word for 2015.  It won’t be a year of laughing, jovial moments, happy, happy, happy.  No.  The reality is life will continue to be hard.  Friends will lose battles with illnesses.  Loved ones will be lost.  Children will make poor decisions.  Persecution will increase.  But I know this to be true-when I walk in faith He will fill me with HIS JOY, an abiding peace which promises me salvation and wholeness.  He is reminding me this life is about being ready.  I want to grow this year and be the kind of woman who is ready.  Ready for the life I am living.  Ready to respond to the world in which I live.  I want to be spiritually grounded so I can experience His attributes in the midst of it all and be ready-ready to respond in deep abiding faith.

JOY-it isn’t a feeling.  JOY-a state of being.

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Every Decision Matters-For THIS Moment

Our family has had ample opportunity this past month to discuss the importance of decisions.  There have been the normal school decisions, friend issues, but added to that our family circle and community have been impacted by infidelity, pregnancy outside of marriage, loss of life, crime, etc…  Those “big” items that cause you to stop.  As parents, my husband and I have found ourselves pausing to think long and hard about how to explain.  How to teach grace, justice and accountability.  It is not easy.  It often doesn’t make sense.  We want our girls to be forgiving and gracious, yet we want them to understand that no place in God’s word does it say that forgiveness means no consequences, no judgement, no accountability.  They have questions.  We have questions.  We admit all we do not understand.  We share what we know to be truth.

One thing became abundantly clear as we had these discussions over the course of the past few months.  God’s word is not void of instruction.  His word is clear we have choices, which means we have decisions to make.  Every decision matters, for THIS moment and for eternity.  What seems like a seemingly singular event can carry heart ache or patterns of behavior through generations.  One lapse in judgement can create life.  In some of the situations we discussed, our girls could quickly see a pattern of decisions/ a series of decisions, that led to the hardship.  In others it is not so clear.  For some, they are innocent, yet the choices/the decisions of those around them have had impact upon them.  It is much like dropping the stone in the still water.  Circles form, spreading out through the entire lake.  Even the smallest of stones can create a small wave, movement of still waters.

While there were many “Why” questions left unanswered, one lesson was learned by us all.  We were reminded our decisions matter.  Our decisions impact others.  Our decisions are for THIS moment and eternity.  Whether our decisions be good or bad, they have lasting impact.

I am not glad the situations we discussed exist.  They are difficult.  They carry pain and sorrow.  They bring disappointment. However, I am glad the situations led to discussions which led to realizations.  In THIS moment we are conscious of our every choice.  I  know we will not always be on high alert, although we should be.  But for today we are.  I pray the consciousness lingers.  I pray we remember.  I pray we choose His truths, His ways, and we decide obedience.

Living the &

I think navigating life is a little harder for women than men.  I base this on conversations with friends and acquaintances, not scientific data.  Like me, most women I know feel a constant pull/tug of war. We long to help in providing for our families, and yet we have an innate desire to create-whether it be pro-create or create beauty in our homes, through meals, hobbies etc…  We are also drawn to relationships.  We long to have girlfriends with similar interests, struggles, family situations.  We are bombarded with mixed messages.  I have often told my husband if he could hear all the conversations going on in my mind he’d know why I’m so frustrated or hard on myself.  It’s the voices of dreams gone by, the task I didn’t complete, the blog post from the mom that cooks only organic meals, the weight loss report of the last friend to start Advocare or Plexus.  It’s the note from the school about the end of year activities.  It’s the last page of the last book I started (which may have been 6 months ago!). Everything that comes into my line of vision seems to take on a voice in my head.  Some days it immobilizes me.  Some days it spurs me on to accomplish great things.  Some days it drives me to my bed in a heap of hurt feelings and disappointments.  Some days it overwhelms me to the point loud, harsh words come out of my mouth aimed at those I love most.

So, what’s a girl (woman) to do?   I find I have to still my mind and delve back into God’s word, studying His prescription for Biblical Womanhood.  I fell in love with the Proverbs 31 woman towards the end of high school.  I have made it a point every year since, to read through those scriptures at least once per year and to read one biblically based book built around the Proverbs 31 scripture.  I have journals full of notes, insights and directives.  The reality is God gave us a blue print.  Like many things He calls us to, it is unattainable in our humanness.   It is perfection.  It is the bar by which we can assess ourselves.  It is the end mark to strive for.

In more recent years I have begun to study more in depth the women of scripture.  So often we glean the story for a main idea or truth and move on.  We know the story from first glance.  But, if we delve into each story, dig deep, we find that every woman in scripture is an example, a living out of the Proverbs 31 woman.  When we step back and let God unfold before our eyes the big picture, what I like to call His tapestry, we see that we are called to be the &.

Recently in scripture God used the stories (yes, there is more than one) of the beloved sisters, Mary & Martha, to teach me much about Biblical Womanhood and the &.  In the faith walk, I have found that little is about doing this or that.  Instead, I find He calls me to keep adding to.  Not adding to my schedule, but adding to my skills, my knowledge, my character, my faith.  He calls me to the &.  I am not to be more Mary, I am to be Mary & Martha.  He didn’t chastise Martha for her planning, preparations and provisions.  He chastised her for not knowing when to stop and enjoy the fellowship.

God used this story and others to show me my life story is about all the &.  All my experiences are a part of who I am.  Each one plays a role in my story, in who I am becoming, in my faith walk.  I so often want to move past the mistakes, the failures, the broken heart and think only on the good, share only the mountain top experiences.  When I do that I rob others of my testimony.  God’s handiwork is not evidenced.  I rob myself of the confidence and joy that comes from growing, making it through, moving forward.  I am the good & the bad.  I am the joyful moments & the heart wrenched moments.  I am the insecure wife & the wife growing in confidence.

Less than 30 days ago, after having a real aha moment regarding brokenness and pouring myself out in order to really be a testament, a business opportunity came across my path.  the company is called Mary & Martha.  As I read more about the opportunity I read where the & is key to the company’s philosophy and mission.  The company is a direct sales company selling home decor products with a faith message.  The purpose is to use the business to engage with women helping them learn to entertain (entertaining made simple) and use their homes to minister to others.  I LOVE it!  I love the message of the company more than I love the products, but let me tell you, the products are incredible.  They are above and beyond what one would think they would be.  They are quality.  They are built to last.

It’s been a journey the past few years.  One I wouldn’t trade.  I am learning to live the & and I am going to treasure it all.

 

If you are interested in Mary & Martha please go to my website:  www.mymaryandmartha.com/SHANA

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Ice Baby, Ice!

The ice hit home last night.  We’ve had a crazy winter, but not near as bad as others.  For that I am thankful.  I have to admit, while it is an inconvenience, and I know many don’t like it, I love “snow days”.  I always feel like I have been given an extra day.  Crazy, I know, but it works for me!  Ice, baby, ice!  I love having my peeps all at home.  I love feeling like our “to do list” has gone out the window.  I love that everyone seems to slow down, rest, be creative.  

Today, especially, I loved this unexpected snow day.  I have been reading and studying mentoring from a biblical perspective and just finished a lesson on Daniel for another project.  As you know, I’m nearing the end of an on-line bible study with a group of women I don’t know, but am connected to via ministry connections and mutual ministry partners.  It has been an incredible blessing to learn from these women, to pray for them and have them pray for me.  This week, my year long desire to focus on “who” I am in lieu of pursuing answers to “what” should I be doing and the scriptures raised to the forefront in my studies has me thinking on the following:

Resolve.  “Daniel resolved…”  As I mentioned last week, I am at that point I can begin to lose sight of my goals, feel discouraged and/or re-evaluate.  What I realize is this, anything I was truly resolved to do, I am still doing and willing to stick with.  Those are the tasks I should have focused my attention on.  I was also struck by the fact that Daniel knew in advance what he would not compromise on.  He knew who he was and what he believed.  Who, not what.  As I thought about the story a little more, I also realized Daniel did not try to get anyone to join him.  He didn’t worry about what others were doing.  He didn’t try to sway others to join him in his efforts. My studying of mentoring. brought similar points to focus.  Mentoring is NOT about me sharing my life, my lessons learned.  Mentoring is “joining the Holy Spirit in His work in another’s life.”  Ele Parrott, Transforming Together.  Mentoring begins in the quiet place when I am praying, reading His word, growing spiritually and living authentically in all places.  

I love that I have had the extra time today to ponder all of this.  To look again at goals and tasks and continue to re-evaluate, focus…I love that in 2 days the season of Lent begins.  As I enter lent this year, I want to purpose to do less.  Not as a sacrifice, but as an act of worship.  I want to focus on Who I am in Christ because of His great sacrifice and love.  I want to resolve to finish the race.  I want to resolve to continue my work towards being available, listening more than I talk, pointing my girls towards scripture as they enter adulthood and need to have their own resolve!  I want to worry less, releasing my fears, trusting more as I allow myself to know Him more.

Yep, I love ice-sort of.  I am going to relish the rest of this snow day.  As I write, my girls are informing we get another one tomorrow! Hmmmm…… I’ll probably have to do a little less pondering tomorrow.  But then again, maybe not.  Looking forward to another day at home with my family enjoying who we are as a family!   

Average: Perfectly Acceptable to Me

Average:   a level that is typical of a group, class, or series : a middle point between extremes.  

The above is “average” as defined in the Webster dictionary.  Nothing extraordinary.  A simple word.  Why then do we as a culture, as parents, gasp at the very utterance of the word?  Why has “average” become something negative, looked down upon?  Why this drive to excellence-not just for ourselves, but for our children?  There is this never ending push, striving for excellence.  One can no longer just play ball in the backyard and make the school team.  One can no longer take instrument lessons from the sweet lady down the street and expect an opportunity in the school orchestra or a chance to obtain a scholarship.  One can no longer take “regular” classes at school and even dream of getting into the best college and receive financial aide.  Everything, everything seems to be about achieving excellence, being accelerated.  A 4.0 GPA is to be frowned upon. Now we demand or expect a 5.6 GPA and our 18 year old children to enter college as Sophomores!

What happened to average?  Average is really all I want.  It is perfectly acceptable to me.  Especially as a parent.  I would love to think my kids are “a middle point between extremes”.  I want my children to be more focused on WHO they are, than WHAT they are.

As I pondered this thought, that average is perfectly acceptable, I turned to scripture.  What does God expect of us?  No place in scripture does God ask for excellence.  Not one place in scripture does God say we are to perform at a higher standard than everyone else.  Quite the contrary.  Repeatedly in scripture God says we are to be humble, “the least of these shall inherit”, and the last shall be first.  He told us the rich man was not greater than the widow who gave her one mite.  God didn’t call men of wealth or position or of education to be a part of the inner circle to walk with His Son on this earth.  And the few who did have some means or success in their “careers” He asked to walk away from it all.  God did not send His Son to be born in a five star resort, a midst the royalty of the day.  He chose a young girl, of little means, to bare His son.  He sent her on a donkey to a small village town, to give birth to her son in a stable, surrounded by sheep, goats and donkeys.

I think average is perfectly acceptable to God.  I believe He wants me and my children to do everything we do to the best of our abilities and “as for Him”.  But, I still think He finds average perfectly acceptable, in fact desired.  God doesn’t want me striving for earthly success.  He doesn’t want me to strive for position or wealth.  God wants me to strive for Him.  He asks that I yearn for Him, for wisdom.  He asks that I earnestly seek Him.  He asks that I persevere and run the race.  He doesn’t ask me to win the race.  He just asks that I run it and I run it with my eyes on Him.

That is all I want of and for my children.  I want them to be willing to spend more time seeking God than they spend seeking straight A’s.  I want them loving Him with their whole beings-heart, soul and mind (Matthew 23:37).  Secondly, I want them to allow that love to spill over into others (Matthew 23:38).

Does this mean I wont’ challenge my children?  Does this mean a C average in school is all I expect?  No.  I expect them to work hard, to give everything they do their best effort. But, if the choice is between making the team only if they invest 5-6 hours per week in expensive, private coaching, the answer is “NO.”  If taking AP and college concurrent courses means they can’t attend Wednesday night worship, work to sacrifice and save for a mission trip, or engage in missions in their community, then the AP and college concurrent courses won’t make the cut in our house.  Average will be just fine.

When I stand, when they stand, before Christ at the judgement seat and are asked, “Did you love me?  Did you really love me?” I want to, I want them to, be able to say, “Yes, Lord I loved you above all else.  I loved you so much your loved spilled over into others and they too learned to love you.”

More than ever I am convinced it is OK for me to accept average.  I challenge you to accept average.  What are you and/or your children missing out on as you chase after excellence/success as defined by the world?  Will it matter when you die?  Does it honor God?  Is it a means of loving Him, worshiping Him?  If not, could you give it up and refocus those monies, time and energy on Him?

Average-it’s perfectly acceptable.

Survival of the Fittest: Thanksgiving Style

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Hallmark version of the holiday emerged victorious in all our homes?  Instead, for many of us, it turns out a little more like “Christmas Vacation.”  The reality is, even with the best laid plans, executed with grace and efficiency, people are a part of the holiday and, sadly bring to the table emotions and baggage.  Maybe that is not your experience, and if not, I pray you know how blessed you are.  For me, the family strife seems to creep its way in, no matter what I do.  This year, proved no different. An ongoing volatile relationship exploded once again, and to round it all out nicely, the dreaded stomach virus has over the course of a week taken immediate and extended family out one by one.   It’s given new meaning to “survival of the fittest”.

I have a tenuous relationship with my mother. There are many reasons for it, most a result of life circumstances in and out of our control, her struggle with depression, and an innate desire as a daughter to want to fix things, do enough to obtain approval, maintain peace…  For years I allowed those desires to almost consume me.  I took on every need, every disconnect and feverishly sought to find a solution, a way to mend the fences.  In the end though, I did little more than take on another person’s anger and dissatisfaction. I was changed and in return able to do little to create change.  Last year, all things came to a climax-yes, at a holiday.  It was devastating.  It was painful.  It was terrifying.  It was the end of me, and the beginning of truly learning to let go of the things that bound me and learn to live freely in Christ.  I look back now and wonder why I didn’t let go earlier.  Why I didn’t realize that the struggling was not a part of my spiritual growth, but more a battle to hold on to “earthly ways” and a failure to trust God.  Beth Moore, in Breaking Free says “..the most debilitating loss for a Christian is not the loss of a loved one, but the loss of faith.”  It is hard to admit a loss of faith.  Too often we think of it in broad terms-walking away from a relationship with Christ.  If we look at it in broad terms we can protect ourselves from having to face the harsh reality of our spiritual condition-the lack of faith.  As a Christian it is heart wrenching to come to terms with a faith problem, yet anything binding us/oppressing us is just that.  So, while I hated last year’s events, they were the beginning of looking deep within myself and coming face to face with my lack of faith issue.  And so, this year, through much prayer, quiet reflection and pursuit of God’s word, He has begun to restore.  The relationship with my mother is not restored.  It may never be fully restored, for some of the work is hers to choose to do.  He has begun to restore me, free me to live abundantly as the person He created me to be.  He has shown me cycles need not be repeated.  He has shown me I must trust Him to see my mother through her journey on the path she chooses.  He has shown me I can not live “for” others, but can live freely “with” others.  And as happens when we let go, have faith, He grows in us the very image of all we have hoped to be.

As for the stomach virus, well, not much to learn from that.  Life happens.  Sometimes you just roll with the punches.  You get back up, you clean up and carry on.  In the end, we all survive.  Some of us may not grow or seek a new path, but some of us will.  We survive, but more importantly we chose the path less traveled, we get through it and we thrive.