Monday, December 21, 2015

Choose Joy: A Reflection

I recently read a book titled Choose Joy: Finding Hope and Purpose When Life Hurts by Sara Frankl and Mary Carver. In it the book talks about Sara's outlook on life and how she continually chose joy even while her life was becoming more restricted due to an illness. She was a woman of faith who sought God continually to help her find the joy in each day, especially on rough days. I don't really know how to share the encouragement and truth I received through the book other than to share some quotes from it along with my personal thoughts.
More than anything, I'm in the habit of believing if I just continue to step out in faith, that God will put what I need in front of me. That He'll line my path with the abilities and confidence that I'm lacking. p5
This is a really encouraging thought. I know intellectually that God will equip me with what I need for his purposes at the needed time. My heart sometimes has trouble accepting this and so I struggle with giving in to fear when I face something new or daunting.
I think our expectations of what we want life to be often overshadow the good things that are already in front of us - and that's when we miss the silver lining. p14
I choose joy. When something is going badly and I'm dwelling on it, I think instead of something for which I am grateful. I swear to you, it's as simple as that. You just have to decide today, and again tomorrow. And before you know it, you'll have an attitude of joy more than any other attitude you have at your disposal. p27
I have been thinking about needing to be more grateful for the things in my life. I know that gratefulness is a key to contentment. I don't want to be someone who is always striving for the next, better thing. I want to be able to see the blessings in my life and be joyful for them without a pull to want something more. Especially since I have recently been reminder that Jesus is enough. If I have him, I have everything I need. My discontentment means that I am not believing that Jesus is enough for me.
Control is an illusion. Life will do with me what it pleases, my circumstance will change, my pain will fluctuate, my finances will come and go, my health will alter at will (and alter my weight right along with it), and the only thing I can do is stay open to letting God change me in those circumstances. p40
I definitely struggle with wanting to be in control of my life. I feel like I have been more open recently to allowing God to change how I have perceive events. He has encouraged me to give more grace to others instead of judgment. He is trying to get me to trust him with everything.
Let go of the expectations I put on myself to be more than myself. It's a constant process as I lose more abilities, to adapt and adjust and let go of the notion that what I should be is anything other than what I am. p66
This strikes right at my heart. I often am concerned with being the person I think other people want me to be, even if something is not in my range of abilities. I really struggle with being okay with not being great in every area or with doing things differently than most others (especially in parenting).
It's a relief to know we're not graded on a curve, but instead loved for exactly who we are designed to be. I am whole. I am who He created me to be. p77
Life isn't fair. But it wasn't meant to be. What we tend to forget is that we created the idea of fair. God didn't. He never told us we deserve a perfect existence. He never told us life would be simple if we were faithful. He just told us to be faithful, and that He would be, too. p111 
 I have been dealing with this recently with my five year old. She has been complaining quite a bit about things not being fair. Usually it's when her younger brother gets something she doesn't. I usually start with "Life isn't fair" and then remind her of something she has gotten that he hasn't. Not that it squashes this mentality of wanting fairness but I'm hoping I'm planting some seeds of truth.
It has been in those silent times, when my mind drifts into thoughts and topics at random, that I get sparks of Him. I get an idea or a conclusion or a peace that I know has nothing to do with me. But I have to be quiet. I have to be with Him. p125
This reminded me of the importance of not always being on the go, of spending some time reflecting and being still. Being still is sometimes so hard because it feels counterproductive or like wasted time. But opening my heart and mind to God is never a waste.
Imagine if we all went about our lives remembering the core of who we are: a Spirit born in the image of Christ who is sent here to fulfill a purpose before going back home. I forget that so easily. I want to make this life all about me. All about my human existence instead of my spiritual being. I want to worry about my health and my finances and my housing and my potential. I want less pain and more easy. I want I want I want. p157
I frequently fail to take this perspective that God does have a purpose for me each day and I ought to be seeking his will throughout the day. Often I am focused on my self-made to-do list. I allow bumps in my plans to frustrate me rather than considering that they may be God's plan for me that day.

These last few quotes are from some of Sara's friends and what she taught them through their relationships.
Sara taught me that choosing joy doesn't mean living in denial of reality. It doesn't mean pretending everything is okay when it's not. It doesn't mean not allowing ourselves to grieve or acknowledge our own heartaches in life. It means being honest and authentic with where we are and, from that place, still lifting our eyes homeward. p169
Beautifully said. Speaking your grief or hurts is not the opposite of choosing joy. It is okay to acknowledge that life isn't always roses. Through an honest account of our struggles we can begin the process of healing and finding Jesus in our circumstances.
Choosing joy is acknowledging that while I don't understand what's going on, God does. Choosing joy is remembering that while life seems to be spiraling out of control, it is never out of God's control. Choosing joy is remaining mindful that while my circumstances may feel anything but ideal, God still has my good and His glory in mind. Because like Sara said, "It's not about me. It's about what He can do with my life." That statement holds the very essence of her lifestyle of choosing joy. p170
Such a good perspective to take. Choosing to trust God is involved in your life and will bring some good from any situation (Romans 8:28) helps us to remain hopeful no matter what is going on in our lives.
I dove in. Heart-first. Because that's how all of the great things in life are to be done. p171
This sounds amazing and also super scary. I read Dr. Brene Brown's book Daring Greatly earlier this year and its focus was on being vulnerable, which pretty much means living with your heart open (she calls it living wholeheartedly). I know that this is the only way to really connect and live well but it's still hard to risk rejection and judgment. Perhaps if I trust that wholehearted living is a gift I am giving to others and that falling just means I tried and am still able to get back up and try again, I will have the courage to do so.
She told me once that the most important gift you could give someone was your full and undivided attention. p171
This last quote hit me personally because I have realized recently that I often fail to be present in moments with people, most frequently my children. The things I am choosing to distract me are worthless compared to really seeing and being with my kids. They are so sweet and kind and funny. Why would I want to miss these moments? I hear over and over again that these years are short and I know they'll be gone before I'm ready.

I hope these small bits from the book encouraged you and made you think as they did for me. Sara's joy, gratefulness and heavenward perspective are inspiring and make me want to live similarly. If you are desiring a more joyful heart, I strongly recommend reading this book.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Dear Daughter: Learn From My Mistakes

Dear Daughter,

I love you so much! I know that you are only five years old as I write this but there are some things I want to remember to share with you as you get older so I thought I'd write them down now while I'm thinking about them. I pray that you choose Jesus while you are still young. I pray that you know how much God loves you and that he is trustworthy and has wonderful plans for your life. I pray that you will choose to love and honor Him with your life. I asked Jesus to be my Savior when I was 17, but I did not understand what it meant to follow him then and didn't really begin that process purposefully until I was nearly 20.

I wish I had been more secure in my knowledge of who I was in Christ and more confident in God's plans and provision for me. I struggled for several years with feeling shame at my failure and imperfection before learning that the shame and fear I felt were from Satan. God is love and perfect love casts out fear. There is no condemnation for those who belong to Jesus. I didn't fully comprehend that my first couple of years of college and believed the enemy's lies about myself. I pray that you do not also believe the enemy's lies and so I want to share some of my experiences with the hope that you might not travel some of the same roads I did.

I made a public profession of faith in Jesus and was baptized the spring of my junior year of high school. I had a friend tell me he already thought I was a Christian. I was actually really good at following the rules and acting somewhat like someone who was a Christian. I hated getting in trouble and was fine with playing the role of a "goody two shoes". It was not the outward manifestation of a heart who loved Jesus. So when I was baptized, I continued in my rule following because I didn't know that there was more to being a Christian. Perhaps someone had talked to me about how much Jesus loved me and encouraged me to deepen the relationship through prayer and reading the Bible but I don't remember. Sometimes I wonder whether I would have been more firm in standing up for what I thought if I had gotten that aspect of the relationship with Jesus while in high school.

Nothing major happened between 17 and 20 but I had some stumbles I was afraid to share for a long time because I thought it made me a bad Christian and I would be judged poorly by other Christians (and considered a hypocrite by those who didn't believe in Jesus). I allowed the physical boundaries I had set up for myself to be breached because I feared that if I stood firm I would be rejected (and I am a recovering people pleaser). At the time I did not trust that God had plans regarding my relationships and would provide me with a man who loved God and loved me enough to respect my boundaries. I sought man's approval over God's. I admit that I blamed others for taking advantage of my naivety and trust and for manipulating my emotions. I am learning to see that they are human, too, and were seeking love and acceptance like the rest of us. I understand now that they were trying to obtain that love and acceptance in the ways the world told them were right or normal. I'm not saying that there is not responsibility on all sides, I'm just saying that I don't think they were trying to purposefully hurt or take advantage of me. 

I share this with you to say that God is trustworthy and faithful. He knows what you need when you need it and will provide you with it at just the right time. This includes a loving, respectful relationship. It is important to remember that God's timing is not your timing. I know several people who dearly love Jesus and had to wait longer than they wanted to meet and marry their spouse. It is possible that you may meet your spouse in high school and college so I'm not going to say that dating during these times is fruitless but I don't think finding a spouse should be your main objective. I think you should focus on loving and serving God with your life. If you are pursuing his purposes, he will provide whatever is needed, including relationships. I believe that God will provide you with a spouse who respects you and your boundaries, one who does not put any pressure on you to prove your love for them. I believe someone who truly loves God and is pursuing Him themselves will be more concerned with increasing your intimacy with God than increasing your level of physical intimacy with one another.

Right about the time I started to understand more about what having an authentic relationship with Jesus meant, I met your father. In one of our first interactions I attempted to share my faith with him. It turned out he already knew Jesus, but it was a good start to a potential friendship. God's timing was perfect. I was seeking to know God more and was quite excited about what I was learning. As such it was a subject I brought up often and wanted to discuss with others. In our first few months of getting to know each other I was praying a lot more and seeking God's guidance. We were friends for about eight months (part of that time I was dating someone else, the rest was spent trying not to begin a dating relationship with your father before I studied abroad for a semester). Our first four months of "dating" were spent on pay phones using international calling cards and long emails filled with questions about one another. As hard as it sounds not having any physical contact for months, it was such a blessing. I feel like we were really able to spend that time focusing on our individual relationships with God and encouraging one another in our faiths. It helped secure our relationship to God, I think. Our dating relationship wasn't perfect (obviously since there was a break-up along the way - another story for another day) but I know God was in it with us and helped us become people who encouraged, supported, loved and were committed to one another. That's what I want for you - a spouse who loves you and God, supports you, encourages you in your endeavors and faith and is committed to you and your relationship together.

My precious girl, you are worth the wait. You are worth a commitment of love and faithfulness. You are worthy of a spouse who loves you and respects you and encourages you to become the woman God created you to be. You are lovable just as you are and there is nothing you must do to earn or be worthy of another's love. Jesus loved us before we loved and knew him. He found us worthy of love and sacrifice simply because we are God's creation. If Christ's love has no demands, then neither should man's. Love is something that is to be freely given without expectation or demand for reciprocation. Remember that God loves you no matter what and that your father and I will also always love you. You cannot lose God's love nor ours. It is yours regardless of your words, thoughts or actions. We love you and desire God's best for you and your life. We are proud of you and we pray that you will grow into the woman you were created to be, a woman who loves and serves God and others.

Love, Mom