Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cultivating Joy

Almost a year ago, my sweet roommate and dear friend started what she has coined her “pony journal.” I for the life of me cannot remember how it got that name, but I do remember the content: it’s a journal where she specifically focuses on thanking the Lord. I remember being encouraged when she shared with our community group that she was starting this, thinking how great it was that the Lord had stirred her heart in this way. But for me, it sort of ended there. Not because I thought her idea was bad, but I didn’t really think it was something I needed to consider. Ha.

The bible talks a lot about joy, particularly in the New Testament. Being a words person, I’ll be honest that it’s a tricky one for me. I think to some degree, it’s because it’s lost its luster and power through over or misuse. It’s so often tied to happiness and, while I know in my head they’re not the same thing, I’ve never been able to work out fully in my mind how they differ. I know I want joy more than happiness, as it’s deep seeding, but how does one get that?

Fast forward to this month. A month of hard things and loss in my family, on top of a few years of hard things. I’ll be honest that there have been many times where I’ve literally yelled (okay, maybe just yelled in my head), “Lord, what the world are you doing?” At times the junk feels so heavy, I feel I may be crushed. Last week as I pondered my extreme desire for comfort and ease, I realized that’s a clue to my heart yearning for heaven. A soft reminder that this world is not intended to be home, and it’s good if I feel a little uncomfortable here. And we’ll never be without pain, for sin roams the earth and Satan seeks someone to destroy.

As I thought about this, I realized the best way to defeat this push-pull feeling was to press harder into God’s word, the Spirit’s leading, pray big prayers, and seek eternal change. No, it doesn’t mean I need to quit life and hunker down in a room with my bible alone and be monk-like, but instead to see each moment and each relationship as an opportunity to share love, truth, and serve someone. Engaging intentionally with everyone from the girl standing next to me at zumba to the check-out person at the store to my friends and family; and praying to have the strength and boldness to do so, as it sort of exhausts me to do that on my own (which is good because I couldn’t anyway).

I thought about all of this, and still wondered, though, about that joy thing. Where does that come in? Does joy stem from service? Maybe. Does it stem from sharing the gospel? Sure. But how do you really cultivate a joy that moves mountains and gives peace to your heart in the midst of whatever?

And then I sort of got it.

I’ve been reading a book off-and-on and, in reading on Sunday night realized through the help of the author that joy stems from a thankful heart in all circumstances. I’ve let that idea mull in my mind a bit, and then this morning was reminded of the directive in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Give thanks.

Joy exists above happiness. It’s above circumstances and apart from feelings. And I think that author may be onto something…joy is cultivated when we, regardless of what is going on, take time to acknowledge that God is sovereign and holy and good. And we do that by thanking him. And thanking him, earnestly not giving lip service, submits our hearts his will and reminds us of the Cross, his healing power, and his promise to make ALL things work for the good of those who love him. The world may fall apart, we may be wrecked like Job, but none of those things can steal joy that comes from our bowing down before Christ.

I think this will be a slow learning process for me as it’s most definitely a hard lesson to break-down pride. But I’m thankful for the opportunity to learn, and thankful that the Lord continues to peel back layers and change more and more of my heart.

And, while I know there’s a purpose behind the “pony journal” even though I can’t remember it, I think I’ll opt for a more Sarah-ish name for my intentional practice of cultivating joy: le journal joyeux de coeur. :)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Rut

I'm in a bit of a rut with the Lord. There are a lot of reasons and, if I'm really honest, it all rests on my stubborn shoulders.

Anyway, I was just perusing a few blogs while eating my extremely random lunch, and the idea from this one intrigued me.

If I'm honest, sometimes when I read the Sermon on the Mount, I feel a little overwhelmed. As a whole, it feels so heavy and rules-driven. While reading the entry and considering my previous feelings surrounding this sermon, I started wondering if taking it carefully, slowly, and allowing it to be written on my heart would open it up. Perhaps meditating and memorizing, as opposed to simply reading, would deepen my understanding of Jesus' words. I know they're important.

So, I'm going to try it out. She already did the work breaking the sermon into 52 weeks of memory, and made handy dandy cards that can be printed and inserted however I'd like.

I know it'll change me, for God's word always does. Can't wait to see how.

Monday, January 16, 2012

My Granddaddy

My Granddaddy went to be with Jesus a few hours ago. There was an obituary that was written that speaks of all the amazing ways my Granddaddy served this nation, including as a Special Forces officer in the army, defending freedom in the Korean and Vietnam wars and as an attorney serving as a public defender, championing justice. And also how he joined the High Pointers Club in his 70s, traveling to the highest point of 36 of our 50 states before he turned 80.

To me, this picture is Granddaddy. A man full of joy, looking slightly like Santa Claus, with a contagious laugh, thoughtful, intelligent, a servant, loving, and somewhat quiet. My Granddaddy.

I wrote Granddaddy a letter last week for his birthday, and thought I'd include some of those highlights to share his spirit with others.

1. The summer I turned 13, Granddaddy took my brother and me on a white water rafting trip in Idaho. For four-five days, we traveled down the Salmon and Snake rivers (with a guide of course), camped on beaches along the river, and enjoyed nature. He subsequently took all of my other cousins in following years. Granddaddy loved spending time with his grandchildren and this will always be a trip I will treasure and remember fondly.

2. The summer I got my driver's license, Granddaddy decided I needed to have further instructions on parking, so every morning we were there that week, he took me to the University of Arkansas (they lived in Fayetteville) to practice in a parking lot. One day he told me I was better at driving backwards than forwards. :) I like to credit part of my ticket-less driving record to those practices.

3. Times at my grandparents' house was always filled with playing games, especially if my cousins were also there. Hearts was the card game of choice, and then we'd drag out a host of different other games from Triominoes to Monopoly. I remember one time my brother, Adam, cousins Mat and Jon, Granddaddy, and I were playing Monopoly, but the kids teamed up (I was with Mat and Adam with Jon). Mat and I have always been rule followers where as Adam and Jon...not so much. They were cheating (I don't even remember how) and when Mat and I realized, we told Granddaddy. He responded that we should have been paying attention and noticed sooner. Oh Granddaddy. :)

4. Granddaddy HATED gummy worms. And yet, I loved them. One of my favorite things to do was give him gummy worms because he made the best face (that's actually what the above picture is of). I will forever remember that face and the belly laugh that accompanied the smile.

5. Every year for my birthday, Mammy and Granddaddy would call and sing. Except halfway through, Granddaddy would bow out because he liked to listen to Mammy sing.

6. I'll remember the creak of his old rocking chair, the pristine organization of his desk in which everything sat at perfect right angles, how he would make me breakfast every morning when I visited complete with a banana (which he cut open for me) and grape juice, and so much more that I could write volumes.

Last night at shoreline we sang the song Forever Reign and I completely lost it. Big ugly cry. This song always instigates emotion as it reminds me of Brazil, but last night, I was also just grieving over so many hard things in my life and the lives of friends and one of my college girls. It reminds me that there are hard things, wicked things, but also joyful things that occur in this life. And even so, my heart will sing, no other name...Jesus.

On my way home, I switched to another favorite, Constant. As I listened and reminded myself of Jesus' faithfulness, love, perfection, etc, etc, I realized I have been looking for heaven on earth; for myself and others. And I remembered yet again, it will not come. There will be trials, persecution, and challenges until God takes me or Jesus returns.

As I continued to ponder this when I got home, I began to pray for God to take Granddaddy to heaven. For Him to give me boldness to share the Truth of heaven more freely and frequently, and for my life, no matter what I'm doing, to sing praises to His name.

Granddaddy is whole. He's with Jesus. And not because of the good things he's done, but because he's recognized that he is unable to achieve heaven through any good works. Only by accepting Jesus' free gift of grace is he in heaven. For that assurance, I will mourn and grieve him leaving this earth, but I will rejoice that I know he is whole. His strength was failing, and now he'll sing Jesus' praises forevermore.

And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore

Thank you, God, for my Granddaddy. For using him to teach me so many things, for the joy he has brought into my life, but more than anything, please use him to draw me closer to you and, with greater boldness and zeal for heaven, share your Truth with those you've placed in my life. Thank you for the gift of life and the gift of death when both are walked with you.

Come quickly, Jesus, come quickly.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Irritated

So, I somehow managed to herniate a disc in my spine. Yeah, I'm a smart one, eh? But you want to know the kicker? More than annoyance with the pain (though it's pretty much some of the worst pain I've ever felt), I'm annoyed that I can't go to zumba.

Yes, I have problems...

Here's hoping that a mix of heavy-duty pain meds, muscle relaxers, steroids, and physical therapy will make my back a-okay again. And not greatly impact my new workout loves.

Till then, I'll just listen to some Latin and Latin-inspired music and dream about future zumba days. You think I kid... :)

Monday, January 2, 2012

Some 2012 Goals

Well, it’s January. By far my least favorite month of the year. So blah. I wonder if January is anyone’s favorite month? Hmm…

Anyway, this year I decided to participate in the goal setting process for 2012 as opposed to resolutions. I like the idea of goals as opposed to resolutions since they have more flexibility and celebrate the process of achieving them (including grace when there’s a setback) as opposed to the finite “succeed or fail” feeling that stems from resolutions.

I broke them up into several categories and have listed some of my goals below (there are a few more which I don't want to share with the cyber world). I didn’t necessarily place timing on these. Maybe that’s wrong for real goal creating, but it felt too restrictive for me.

Spiritual
1. Follow the Journey in 2012 (reading through the New Testament)
2. Practice meditation on God’s truth without analyzing, simply sitting still to “listen”
3. Focus on working through things with the Lord first
4. Increase practice of Scripture memory

Healthy Living
1. Achieve my goal weight!!
2. Successfully proceed through the maintenance phase to achieve lifetime membership of WW (six weeks maintaining +/- two pounds of my goal weight)
3. Try new foods that I’ve been afraid to attempt cooking
4. Increase frequency of my yoga practice…added goal: complete all chaturangas without dropping to my knees! And complete wheel (backbend) from the floor as opposed to from three-legged dog
5. Participate in spin classes more frequently on non-zumba days for cardio
6. Increase weight at Bodypump with the goal of toning (I don’t want to be big and muscular :))

Financial
1. Follow the cash system for food, entertainment, and hobbies
2. Continue to work to increase savings and pay-off debt

Personal/Attitude
1. Focus on the positive in myself and my circumstances
2. Rest my mind more frequently (tied to Scripture meditation and yoga, too)
3. Consider myself as someone valuable, worth getting to know, and interesting

Others-Centered
1. Write to my sponsored child regularly
2. Expand my horizons with friends, reaching-out to people including new possible friends
3. Continue to get to know my new small group girls (I hope to have new goals related to them as the year progresses, but am still in the process of getting to know them)

For Fun/Artistic
1. Finish knitting my first sweater!
2. Machine embroider something for me, which I have yet to do since receiving my machine from my grandmother (everything has been given to others)
3. Work on a project I have in mind for my niece :)
4. Drink more hot tea in pretty teacups
5. Light more candles
6. Read more than watching television