For the Joy That’s Coming

car stuck in trafficI’m not a fan of long car rides filled with squished and soggy sandwiches that fell to the bottom of our cooler. I never enjoyed listening to our daughter ask, a thousand times: “Are we there yet?” And I don’t like traffic or long stretches of highway with no rest areas in sight.

And yet, our family has intentionally engaged in numerous road trips. The most memorable, and miserable, was when our daughter was twelve. The day before we left, I took her to the orthodontist to receive braces and a contraption called a mara designed to help her lower jaw, which wasn’t growing, catch up with her upper jaw.

The orthodontist warned us she’d be uncomfortable for a day or two, but nothing she couldn’t handle with a steady dose of Motrin. And perhaps that would’ve been true, had she not made a face-plant into the asphalt during recess that very afternoon.

I cleaned her up, gave her some Motrin and a smoothie, and sent her to bed.

The next morning, hours before the sun rose, I loaded our van with snacks, drinks, suitcases, and water toys—everything we’d need for a wonderful Florida vacation. Then, ready to embark on a long-anticipated trip, I dashed inside and upstairs to wake our daughter. (My husband was meeting us there by plane.)

Leaning over her bed, I gentle nudged her. “Sweetie, it’s time,” I said in that sing-songy voice every parent gets when waking their child for their first ever Disney World vacation.

She moaned and rolled over.

And I blinked and stepped back.

Her face! It was swollen, her lips, also swollen, were horribly scabbed, and I hated to think what the inside of her cheeks might look like.

It was obvious she was in pain, and we had a 1,237-mile drive ahead of us—with nothing to distract her from her throbbing face. Stuck in a vehicle for twenty-four hours, not including stops, would be difficult for any fifth grader. But one with a swollen, sore, and bloodied mouth?

And yet, neither of us considered, for an instant, not going.

Why? Because we knew the fun that awaited her would make all her discomfort worth it. Would perhaps even make her forget her pain entirely.

I believe this was the same understanding Paul, the author of Philippians, had, as he sat in a prison cell, waiting to learn, post-trial, whether he’d be allowed to live or die. He knew the glorious future that lay ahead, not just for himself, but for all who believed in Christ. This is why he could say, without hypocrisy, “Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord” (Phil. 3:1, NLT).

A young girl’s trip to Disneyland, sore mouth or not, might seem an insufficient comparison to the persecution Paul suffered and his hope of heaven. And yet, to a child, Disneyland is about as big as it gets, and the pain our daughter endured was significant enough.

But not so significant that it hindered her joy and anticipation of what was to come.

Life is full of frustrations, disappointments, and difficulties. Sometimes our pain is transient, like my daughter’s was. But for others, like those dealing with chronic illness or depression, it can feel like the darkness will never end.

And yet, Disneyland is coming. That is where our hope lies, when we stand before our Savior, enveloped in His love—in heaven, when He’s made all things right and all pain nonexistent.

On our darkest nights, when the road ahead feels steep and long, may we intentionally turn our eyes off of the struggle and instead onto what we know lies ahead.

Let’s talk about this! What are you struggling with right now? How might focusing on the hope that awaits us in Christ help you grab hold of joy in the journey? What are some things you do to center your mind and heart in the joy of Christ? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Has the Hustle Stolen Your Joy This Christmas?

This is the notoriously most stressful, and for many, most depressing season of the year. The pressure to buy that best gift, to create that perfect evening or morning for our loved ones, the urge to spend, to do, to plan … Then there’s’ the sting of unmet expectations or painful memories. In all that mess and stress, is it possible to experience the joy of Christmas? According to my guest, Carole Brown, yes, but it might take some paring down and refocusing.

Where’s the Joy? by Carole Brown

Word image with quote

My calendar—specifically December—said it was full and groaning under the weight of too many things to do and not enough time.

Shopping, Christmas programs, dinners, and decorating. I couldn’t fit anything else in. When had Christmas become so busy?

I had always loved Christmas and all that went with it but my emotions were stretched with stress and worry. I was being drained of all the joy of the season. The real meaning of Christmas.

Saint Luke tells us: “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great JOY, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10, KJV).verse image with red star

Here’s how the verse spoke to me:

  • Fear not. Don’t be afraid to celebrate Christ’s birth the way God desires you.
  • Good tidings. What better news in all the world than when God sent his beloved son to earth for us? Indeed, The news is great tidings.
  • Great Joy. Christmas isn’t about how much we spend, or if every cookie variety gets into your jars, or even how many fun and well meaning programs you attend. It’s about Jesus and the real joy His coming brought.
  • All people. This celebration is for everyone. It’s a period to remember, share, love and celebrate the most wonderful gift in the world—Jesus.

In all the busyness of the season, in all my striving to cram everything that seemed important into our lives, in all my misguided notions that we’d “miss” something, I’d forgotten the most valuable item. Through my own good intentions, I’d robbed myself of the joy of the season.

Until one Christmas when I realized it all was too much and reevaluated what the season was about—that year opened my eyes to what really mattered.

Today, I pick and choose. The rest? Evaluation is easy when using the real reason for the season as the measuring stick.

  • I budget gifts on what I want to spend each year.
  • I plan my holiday meals ahead of time.
  • I do my favorite Christmas decorations and leave it at that.
  • I keep track of what events we’d like to attend and/or participate in and keep a tight rein on it.

However you celebrate the season, remember: it’s not about the busyness. It’s about Jesus. Only when we surrender ourselves to Christ, will the Spirit’s gifts be available. What are some of these gifts to a heart surrendered to God?

  • Peace that passes understanding. Trials, misunderstandings, disappointment and death does not affect the peace dwelling in a Christian’s heart.
  • Love that forgives, that never fails, that is kind and humble and never gives up—priceless and available to God’s children. (I Corinthians 13)
  • Joy that goes deeper than happiness, and only comes because of faith in the Redeemer. (Galatians 5:22)

Remember, works can not produce the fruits of the Spirit. Surrender, trust in our Savior, studying His Word, and talking with Him brings peace, love and joy. With those, we have the assurance that God is with us and working out His divine plan in our lives, and that knowledge makes it easier to focus on what truly matters and purge the rest.

Enjoy the season. Spend time with family and friends, but most of all, celebrate His birth. We have a reason to do so. God’s angel declared it to all mankind: JOY to the world!

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Let’s talk about this! What resonated most with you as you read Carole’s post? Do you plan to imitate anything she’s done in her effortsimage of cover for study based on 1 Timothy to simplify her Christmas? What are some things you’ve done to reduce your stress and focus on Christ? Share your thoughts here or in the comments below.

If you enjoyed today’s post, I encourage you to sign up for my free quarterly newsletter to receive free, inspirational content (and recipes and craft how-tos) sent directly to your inbox. Subscribers also receive a free 36-lesson study based on 1 Timothy (sent separately). You can sign up HERE. And, for added fun, you can snatch Breaking Free and When Dawn Breaks for half off–with free shipping! Grab a copy for yourself or the book lovers on your list!

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An author of ten books, Carole loves to weave suspense, romance and whimsy into her books. She and her husband reside in SE Ohio but have ministered and counseled nationally and internationally. They enjoy their grandsons, traveling, gardening, good food, the simple life, and did she mention their grandsons?

Connect with her:

On her personal blog

Facebook

On her Amazon Author Page

And follow her on Twitter

Make sure to check out her latest book, A Flute in the Willows:

Both rebels in their own way, Josie and Jerry Patterson must figure out how to keep the other’s love…and keep the German enemy at bay.

She has two loves—her skating and Jerry, her husband. But when he returns home looking like a skeleton trying to return to life, she’s scared. What happened in Germany to change a man so much? Has another woman captured his heart?

Jerry has vowed to let Josie live her own glamorous life…especially after what happened in Germany. But when his wife’s life is threatened, Jerry realizes he can’t stand by and do nothing. Jerry has to risk all for the very soul and life of himself—Josie.

These two damaged, rebellious people learn the hard way that leaning on God instead of their own selves and abilities is the only true way to love and happiness.

 Description of protagonists:

Josephine Rayner Patterson, the second sister, is quite different from her older sister. She’s athletic and training for the Olympics once it’s resumed after the war, plays the flute, a little uncaring about her looks and is quite rebellious.

Jerry Patterson, dark, sardonic, sensitive and smart, he despises his overbearing, condescending and wealthy father and joins the service. Because of his sharp senses, he’s trained in subversion for the military and ends overseas in Germany but will the mistakes he makes while there cripple his and Josie’s lives forever?

Trading Expectations For Joy

As a frizzy haired, awkward elementary student, I entered the beauty shop with such hopeful anticipation. A few snips and some deep conditioning, and my aunt would tame my unruly tresses, causing heads to turn the moment I entered my fifth grade classroom.

Oh, heads turned all right, but not in the way I’d expected.

Then there was the time, with a quivering heart and stomach, I stepped out in faith, fully expecting God to bring fruit from my obedience, only to hit a major setback that left me confused and broken.

And last Friday, I wrestled with our bike rack, heaved and grunted and fought to secure my husband’s bike in it, then headed out to visit him while he was away on business. All the while thinking about the wonderful, romantic time we’d have come Saturday afternoon. The weather was supposed to be perfect. My husband would be off by three, and we’d spend the afternoon enjoying one another and one of our favorite, shaded paths.

We’ve had a relationship of bike rides—of me lacing up my shoes and heading for a run while my sweet man pedals beside me. Those are some of my most cherished memories, some of our sweetest moments. Those were times I was greatly looking forward to repeating!

Things didn’t turn out as I’d expected. First, the straps on the rack came loose mid-drive, leaving his bike dangling by its brake wires, which had somehow become twisted around the handlebars. Then, once I’d managed to untangle the bike, I was left trying to  get the incredibly heavy contraption in the back of my already packed car.

I almost gave up, leaving my poor husband’s bike deposited along I-29, but I’m cheap and stubborn, and after a great deal of effort, managed to squish the thing in the back, front wheel cockeyed, and continue on.

Convinced, with some minor adjustments and tweaking, we could follow through with our plans.

I went running by myself that Saturday, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed.

Life is full of disappointments. When things don’t go as anticipated. When friends or loved ones let us down. When our best efforts are thwarted or lead to naught.

Some of our deepest hurts come from unmet expectations. Sometimes those expectations have felt so certain, we never fathomed things could turn out differently, only to find ourselves sideswiped by life or rejection or betrayal.

Did Paul experience this? I know those he trusted abandoned him. I know God abruptly shifted his plans on more than one occasion. I know he spent times alone, cold, hungry, and beaten down–literally (1 Corinthians 11:16-28). But I also know he lived with unconquerable peace and joy—during incredibly dark circumstances, like imprisonment (Philippians 1).

How was that possible? I believe the answer is found in how he refered to himself in Philippians 1—a slave for Christ. This was Paul’s mentality.

Slaves have zero rights and zero expectation except to serve. They live to honor another more than themselves. Their every focus is on their master, alert to the slightest command. Ready to do his bidding.

That is what it means to live for Christ.

People and life will let us down. If we expect otherwise, we will be disappointed. The only expectations we can count on are those rooted in Jesus Christ. It’s when we live surrendered to that truth that we find lasting peace and joy.

Let’s talk about this! Do you agree? When have expectations left you hurt or disappointed? What are some ways we can replace our worldly expectations with those grounded in Christ? Share your thoughts in the comments below or join the discussion on Facebook, because we can all learn from and encourage one another.

If this post blessed you and you’d like to receive more great content, including short stories, recipes, and craft how-tos, directly in your inbox, sign up for my quarterly newsletter. (You can do so HERE.) I’m working on it now and plan to release it at the end of this month, along with info regarding a fun give-away contest for subscribers.

You may also enjoy:

Thinking Right When Things Go Wrong by John C. Hutchison

Count it All Joy

Finding Joy in the Chaos 

Joy in the What?

The Faithfulness of God in the Middle of Our Uncertainty