Let Joy Win

I’m doing laundry today. You know…my favorite thing. Just kidding! While my hands are busy, my mind has been engaged in a gentle spin of a thousand thoughts.

Despite a list of challenges I’ve encountered in the last month or two, this morning I woke up feeling energized and excited for the week ahead. Such a gift— a new dawn, a new day…and I was feeling good. Then, as I went to make my coffee and start the first load of clothes, the memories of those recent hardships tried to cancel out all those positive thoughts.

Thankfully, some kind advice from a friend earlier this week came to mind—the reminder to “take it all in stride”. Being able to accept and tackle difficulties well is truly a life skill, and one I have been able to accomplish more and more. But it takes practice. Instead of dwelling on all the negatives, I instead chose to shake off all those things weighing on my mind and trust in whatever the outcomes may be.

And just like that, joy wins.

Throughout my life as far back I can remember I’ve had my fair share of trials, as well as accomplishments. We all have. We all face obstacles that can feel annoying or insurmountable. They can threaten our joy. But we all have a list of things we can be proud of (and if you think you don’t, I challenge you to make a list of wins in your life to remind you of your awesomeness). It’s important to recall the good stuff.

In this last half of my life (because a few weeks ago the doctor declared I was middle-aged), I am never more thankful than now for the fact that God can see through to our hearts. He knows when we feel overwhelm…He knows what we can handle, and He will give us what we need to persevere. He is available to us through prayer, and His word will equip us through even the hardest of times.

We have that access to Him all because of Jesus and what He sacrificed for us. We are loved—YOU are loved—THAT much. The creator of the universe is our constant companion. We are not alone in our trials, and the love of God–the joy He offers–will carry us through, if we just seek it out.

So hold your head high, my friend. Follow the loving path of the One who loved you first. Remember your strengths and focus on that. You don’t need to dwell on the past…and you don’t need to fear the future. It is waiting for you with joyful anticipation, because with God by your side you can handle anything.

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“…Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” -James 1:2-3

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” -John 3:16

 

Courageous Kindness

They’d forgotten me.

Tired and breathless, I began to cry. There I stood, in front of a roomful of strangers, sharing my tears with my old college sweatshirt and my trusty work badge still dangling from my neck. For several weeks, I’d been trying to maintain a facade of strength and smiles. Inside, however, the sheer exhaustion of not feeling healthy was slowly taking its toll.

After 3 months of coughing and finding no relief, I had taken myself to an urgent care on this particularly rough day, checked in, paid my copay, then resigned myself to sit and wait for however long it took until I was seen. They warned me it would be awhile. Hours, even.

Four hours and about fifty coughs later, I hobbled over to reception desk and asked if I was anywhere close to being called yet. They looked at me as if they’d never seen me before, and stared blankly at their list. Their expressions told me everything. Somehow I’d been overlooked.

I had spent the afternoon and part of the evening sitting in a corner that was not within their sight, listening to a Chip and Joanna marathon blaring over my head. I hadn left to go get food, even though I hadn’t eaten…I didn’t even use the restroom because I didn’t want to miss my turn. Now it was past dinner time, and past closing time.

They apologized profusely, and since it’s not in my nature to get angry in front of a roomful of strangers, I fumbled on my words as I produced my receipt of payment and quietly insisted I hadn’t left in all that time. I had gone weeks without proper sleep, had tried various medications, and continued to go to work through it all. I just couldn’t carry this any longer. It was affecting everything.

So when I realized I may have been sitting there waiting longer than I might have done, I wept.

My blurred vision from the tears led me back to my chair, and I kept my eyes on the floor trying really hard to not be noticed. Crying in front of others is not my favorite past time, but I’d been doing it a lot lately. This was not the me I was used to.

I honestly cannot fathom how people with chronic illness persevere. And knowing that they do, my heart holds a special place for them.

All of a sudden there was someone by my side. A beautiful blond-haired woman had abandoned her take-out burrito to come over to check on me. Apparently, everyone in the room overheard what happened as much as I had tried to blend in with the walls.

Sadly, I don’t even know her name, but she said she was in town from Kansas for work. She had arrived awhile after me, but when she discovered how long she would have to wait she had gone next door for a pedicure and some dinner. She sounded congested, like so many of us this season, but she chatted on as though she wasn’t bothered by it much. Impeccably dressed and well-spoken, she had been Face Timing with her children before their bedtime.

I explained in between coughs what had happened while trying to maintain my composure. By that day, I had reached a place where I no longer cared that I was in shoes with no socks (the absolute worst feeling!), with no makeup and wearing the vest that just that morning I’d spilled coffee down the front of. My hair hadn’t been washed in days because I ran out of energy to do even that, and I couldn’t even tell you if I’d remembered to brush my teeth. I remember wishing I had her joie de vivre.

She was just so kind.

That’s what struck me. Most people would watch and listen, but go back to their phones or continue watching the home makeover on TV. But the fact that she left her seat to come see if I would be okay—such a small gesture, just a couple of minutes– but in the moment when I felt so down…it meant so much.

In the middle of our conversation, they called my name and I bolted up so fast my back felt like it would snap. It was time to get a move on. We smiled at each other, wished each other good luck, and off I went ready to be helped. Later, I was the last patient let out into the cold, black night, so I never got to tell her thank you for coming over to comfort me with her benevolent compassion.

As I drove home later, I wondered at her kindness in a roomful of strangers. It is not that unusual, really, if you stop to look around. There is kindness being shown all over, even though the news would like us to believe the world is at its worst. Yes, horrible things truly are happening, but there are still plenty of good hearts out there who know how to extend a helping hand or a comforting word.

I try to be kind, but honestly….sometimes I’m just not that courageous about it. I thought on this for quite awhile, even into the next day. When it comes to strangers, I’m generally cautious. Especially when their emotions are trembling.  If I say something, will I say the wrong thing? Will I set them off into a tailspin? Or will I really be helpful?

This has been bothering me for a few years. For example, I’ve thought on it when I saw a young family struggling with their rambunctious children in a quiet restaurant. I wanted to reassure them that people understand that kids sometimes have meltdowns, or are loud. The mom had given up, clutching the stem of her still-full wine glass staring straight ahead like she wanted to be anywhere else, barely holding back tears of embarrassment. Meanwhile, the dad was about to snap with frustration that none of his efforts could stop his littlest one from happily bellowing gigantic grunting sounds so he could hear the delightful echoes from the concrete walls. They ended up getting the rest of their meal to go and left with heads down, mouths drawn tight.

I wondered after that, if I had just said something to encourage them would they have been able to relax and enjoy themselves? Or would they have told me to mind my own business?

And when a stranger is crying, like I had been. Have I ever reached out to try to offer an encouraging word?

Or have I been afraid?

Thank you, kind lady from Kansas. Thank you for making me think. For causing me to pause from now on when I see someone who is struggling and perhaps attempt to give them a kind word. Further, thank you for being an example of someone who takes the time to see what is happening around them….to really look in a person’s eyes and be attuned to what they may be feeling. For acknowledging that even reasonable, sound-minded people are not immune to unpleasant emotions. There is nothing wrong with that. We. are. human.

It’s kindness, yes. But it requires courage, too. Courageous kindness. 

Let’s have more of that.

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“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” -Colossians 3:12-14

Isle of Skye

Isle of Skye, I dream of you now,

As I labor to remember the gift of your freedom.

My soul is a weary traveler—

It wishes to be restored by your subtle splendor once more.

 

Remembering your Scottish air, so crisp and vibrant,

Gives life to my timid heart.

Cleaner than white cotton sheets left to dry in the breeze,

Fresh and comforting—

A temporary refuge that feels like home.

 

Your fierce night winds intrigue me…

I recall them with joy,

For they made me feel alive

While nestled warm inside, like a bear cub in her den,

As the windows battled against your strength—

Where grace & mercy let the night pass in stormy calm.

 

The sea, it surrounds you

While the cobalt waters sing to my soul.

The merry salt in the air, the abrupt silence…

The solitude and beauty that only the bravest can endure.

 

You are what I dream of, my escape…

The place where everything else falls away.

And it is just you and I—

Land and sea, wind and sun,

Finding friends along the way

To help us remember to laugh and run and live without fear.

 

The destination which I’ll carry in my heart forever;

The memory of you bolsters my hope.

Because, for a little while,

I was as close to the top of the world that I’ve ever been.

And perhaps we’ll meet again,

my beloved Isle of Skye.

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You Are Significant

Do you even know? Can you see it? That glow inside of you that the world sees?

You’re doing all the things. You’re doing the best you can, and you’re pouring out your heart and soul into what you think matters.

And you think no one knows, that no one can even begin to know how hard you work…how high you strive…you may think no one knows what you’re up against or what you’ve battled to get to where you are now.  What they think doesn’t matter…there’s only one opinion that matters, and that’s of the One who made you…who formed you into the special person that you are.

You plug in each day, you try your best, and you keep showing up. You are amazing. Your grit may not be noticed by the passersby, but something within you still says, “Just keep going. You’ve got this.”

So, you persevere. Because the alternative is giving in to self-pity—and there is no time for that. You’ve got bills to pay and people to feed and laundry to do and lives to inspire.

The world needs you…needs your voice, your love…your joy.

Your light is shining for all to see…can’t you see it? I hope you do.

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We Need the Encouragers

So many people are quietly desperate for the behind-the-scenes cheerleaders, the roar at the finish line, the pats on the back, or the thoughtful notes replenishing the soul with uplifting words.

We need our encouragers. They get us through the tough times, and they celebrate with us in the good times.

An encourager helps us to remember our voice when we think we’ve lost it.

An encourager cheers us back to believing in ourselves after we’ve made so many mistakes.

They see our potential when we’ve lost sight of our own strengths.

They give us gentle feedback to help us to improve.

Or, they rev up our soul with words of affirmation.

Encouragers inspire.

They challenge us with reminders of hope. They teach us to dare.

They matter. They make a difference. They are catalysts of greatness.

Even the encouragers need to be encouraged.

Where would the world be without the encouragers?

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An Image of Frustration

A man is shaking his fist at the indigo sky.  The horizontal lines gripping his forehead cram together as if it’s stuck in a trash compactor. The tight corners of his mouth dive down deep to meet his jawline. Tears pool and threaten to sprint past his hollow cheeks, dripping onto his shirt…his eyes are hauntingly desperate, his brow defeated with sweat.

But I see his strength in the bottom lip that quivers, like a table about to buckle because it’s been loaded with too much weight. As he struggles to yield to the hope which still exists within him, he breathes deeply and closes his eyes.  This torrent too shall pass.

For all those who are frustrated today, hang in there. Breathe. Pray. Choose to shake it off and focus on something that will make you smile. Or even better, something that will maybe make you laugh. Look for it.

The Lord says, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” -Joshua 1:9

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Forgiveness

Do you forgive others swiftly? Is it easy for you? For me, it depends on the situation. In my head, I know Jesus instructs us to be forgiving, but honestly sometimes my heart just isn’t willing to do it right away. If ever.

It takes courage to forgive someone.

It takes vulnerability.

It takes a heart full of grace.

For the most part, I’d say I am quick to forgive. If someone cuts me off on the road, I might find my temper flaring, but a few minutes later I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. “Maybe they have to rush to the hospital,” I tell myself. “Maybe their wife is in labor!”

If someone I consider a friend doesn’t invite me to their party, I usually don’t fret long about it. “I’m sure there’s a good reason…maybe they just wanted to hang out with a different set of friends tonight.” And I go off and do my own thing, or join someone else.

But sometimes the wound is deep. Sometimes the protective bandage you wrap around your heart is wrapped so tight you’re afraid to let it unravel. So you keep it bound without letting go. “I’m just not ready,” your mind whispers to your heart when it calls on you to release the tight binding.

The problem is, when you don’t tend to a wound, it can fester and get ugly and become ten times worse than when it started. A heart can’t beat freely if it’s being squeezed with contempt.

About five years ago, someone close to me hurt my feelings badly. And even though many times I’ve read the verse below when Peter asks Jesus how many times we should forgive someone—and Jesus’s answer equates to 490 times— I’m still struggling with it to this day.

We’re so quick to point the finger. To declare we would never do such a thing or treat people in such a way. But if we take an honest glance at our past, not one of us has never hurt someone in some way. Maybe not physically, maybe not intentionally…but feelings get hurt…betrayals…the loss of a temper. Each one of us at some point in our life has had the need to be forgiven by somebody. We are human. It is going to happen. We cannot avoid it 100% no matter how faultless we aim to be.

I strive to be kind, but I know I’ve fallen short and I’ve been fortunate to experience the forgiveness of others in the past. I hope that grace has been extended to you with your mistakes, as well. And so, if a day comes when I expect forgiveness but don’t receive it, if I ask myself when that time comes, “Why won’t they forgive me?”…well, all I can do is look in the mirror and see a heart that is also battling to forgive.

Some injustices are horrifying, and some offenses are seemingly unforgivable. I often watch the news in disbelief at the atrocities of many conscienceless members of society. How could we possibly be called to forgive them?

In those moments, I try to remind myself that forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to be okay with what they did. It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t go unpunished. It doesn’t give the green light to stay in an environment that is physically dangerous or emotionally hurtful.

It’s just that, by forgiving, we are to let go of the anger and resentment we feel towards that person. In large part, it’s an act of freeing the bitterness inside of you so that it doesn’t sour your soul.

In the bible, Jesus himself forgave those who were crucifying Him on the cross (Luke 23:34). Those who were driving the nails into his palms and ankles, those who bloodied His head with a crown of thorns…those who left him on a cross to suffer and die. If He could forgive them, surely I can work on forgiving those whom I need to also forgive.

Forgiveness.

Not easy, but not impossible.

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” -Matthew 18:21

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