quote from post with a floral designed graphic

 

What happens when you lost a document? One you remember writing, reading to your husband, and setting aside to share here two weeks later, yet you can’t remember its title nor seem to find it no matter how many times and ways you search your documents folder?

You re-share a piece from … 2017, updated slightly to make sense when read five years later. Wow, five years. Is it a sign of aging when half a decade seemed to zip by? 

And now, back to our regular programming … or blogging. (And thank you in advance for your grace!)

***

When in the middle of a crisis, one word dominates my mind—help! I’d do anything, give up anything, if only God would come through. But oh how quickly pride and entitlement creep in, once the chaos has passed.

It was maybe ten years ago, we were living in a beautiful, spacious home in a gated community, attended a church we loved, and I spent my days doing what I loved—homeschooling our daughter.

In a flash, everything changed, leaving me scrambling, fearful, and crying out for aid.

Our daughter and I were sitting at the breakfast bar, completing her lessons, when I heard the familiar screech-rumble of the garage door opening. I glanced at the time, finding it strange that my husband would come home so early.

When he walked past me without a word a moment later, heading straight for our bedroom, I knew something was wrong.

I immediately followed.

The defeat I saw in his eyes tore at my heart, but what he said after weakened my knees.

That morning began a six-month bout of unemployment that left us scrambling and me crying out to God, “Help us, please! Fix this.”

Then one day, He did. By this point, we’d depleted the last of our savings, and, with all our belongings in storage, we’d moved to a 500 square-foot, furnished, rent-by-the-month apartment. My husband had found temporary contract work while continuing to seek something more permanent.

It’s interesting what happens, when life hits hard and everything is reduced to necessity. In that tiny apartment, with its cheap used furniture, paper-thin walls, and stained and torn linoleum, I learned to become content. To rejoice, actually, in what I had. By taking away our big, fancy house and all the other fluff I’d come to rely on, God granted me an incredible gift—the ability to cherish those things that mattered most—time with my husband and daughter.

So when His aid came and He opened a door for my husband at Union Pacific railroad in Kansas City, MO, I thought I’d arrived. I’d learned my lesson, had found contentment, and could move forward, receiving God’s blessings with open hands.

Open hands that, once they quit clinging to Christ, quickly grasped and strived, until my easily-swayed heart became consumed with a sense of entitlement. It started while house hunting. Needless to say, our budget had changed drastically, and the houses our realtor showed us looked much different than the large, newly built home we’d frantically sold in Louisiana. As we toured smaller, older, and less aesthetically appealing homes, a sense of entitlement emerged, initiating an ugly and growing discontentment.

It was as if I’d forgotten all God had done—how He’d held my family together, kept us from debt, and provided for us at just the right time.

I had fallen into the same pattern the Israelites had, after God miraculously freed them from slavery to Egypt, provided for them in the desert, and personally led them, by a pillar of fire by night and a sun-shielding cloud by day, to the Promised Land.

“They forgot what He had done—the great wonders He had shown them” (Psalm 78:11 NLT).

They forgot and became discontent, and their discontentment turned their hearts from God, from the One who saved them, the One who loved them, and who cared for them as a parent for their young.

There’s danger in forgetting. Or perhaps I should say, there’s incredible power in remembering all God’s done. It frees us from entitlement, keeps us humble, grateful, and I believe, surrendered with a heart that’s ready to receive whatever God has for us.

Let’s talk about this! Do you ever find yourself slipping into a sense of entitlement? Do you notice, when you do, that your discontentment and misery increases? What do you do to stay centered in gratitude and surrender? In what ways has God used life circumstances to purge the sense of entitlement from you? Share your stories, suggestions, and examples with us, because we can all learn from each other!

And make sure to check out the latest Your Daily Bible Verse podcast!

 

The Power of Repentance (Jonah 3:10) Your Daily Bible Verse

Want to listen without the ads? Become a BibleStudyTools.com PLUS Member today: https://www.biblestudytools.com/subscribe/ Meet Our Hosts: JENNIFER SLATTERY is a writer and speaker who hosts the Faith Over Fear podcast. She’s addressed women’s groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s the author of Building a Family and numerous other titles and maintains a devotional blog at https://jenniferslatterylivesoutloud.com Follow Jennifer: https://www.lifeaudio.com/faith-over-fear/ https://www.facebook.com/JenSlatte https://www.instagram.com/slatteryjennifer/ GRACE FOX has published hundreds of articles and authored 10 books including the award-winning devotional, Finding Hope in Crisis: Devotions for Calm in Chaos. She’s a member of the “First 5” writing team for Proverbs 31 Ministries and a regular contributor to Guideposts’ Mornings with Jesus. Grace lives aboard a sailboat in Vancouver, British Columbia. Married in 1982, she and her husband celebrate three grown kids and eleven grandchildren. Check out Grace’s newest book, Keeping Hope Alive: https://www.tyndale.com/p/keeping-hope-alive/9781649380517 Subscribe to her weekly devotional blog and monthly update on her website: www.gracefox.com Follow Grace: Facebook: www.fb.com/gracefox.author Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/graceloewenfox/   Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/gracefoxauthor QUINNISE PETTWAY is a writer, facilitator, Licensed Professional Counselor, wife, and mother whose mission is to help Christians encounter and embrace God as Father and walk boldly as His beloved children. She's the author of A Glimpse of Our Father: Lessons Parenthood Reveals for All of God's Children and hosts a weekly small group called “Gathering For A Glimpse” where she journeys with participants through the book to dive deeper into the heart of our heavenly Father. Follow Quinnise: Website- https://aglimpseofourfather.com/ Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/aglimpseofourfather Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/quinnisepettway/ Check out her YouVersion Bible App Devotional Plan (Inspired by full book) A Glimpse of Our Father: A 5-Day Devotional Plan for All of God's Children: http://bible.us/r/82J JOSHUA LILLIE is a passionate follower of Jesus, spreadsheet enthusiast, and lover of all kinds of art and music. Joshua has almost a decade of experience in music ministry, and has served both in house church and megachurch environments in pastoral and administrative roles, eager to see every man, woman, and child increasingly surrender their lives to King Jesus. He currently serves on staff with Christ Community Church in Omaha, NE, and as an ordained minister with the Christian & Missionary Alliance, a global denomination of Jesus-followers making Him known among the nations.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
  1. The Power of Repentance (Jonah 3:10)
  2. Showing Grace to Those Who Are Hard to Love (Ephesians 2:1)
  3. When God Comforts (2 Corinthians 13:4)
  4. Fight the Good Fight, Finish the Race, Keep the Faith (2 Timothy 4:7)
  5. How God Strengthens Us for Times of Crisis (Luke 22:10)

Isaiah 9:6 on an image with Christmas candles in the dark.

We’ve barely entered December, and I’m already tired. I’m suffering from a bit of the bah humbugs that probably come, at least in part, from the shorter, colder and drearier days. I’m tempted to coax through the holidays, and, honestly, to make them all about me. A time to rest, to watch movies and read books. To maybe go out for coffee with my daughter and friends and out to dinner with my man. 

It doesn’t take much for me to turn my focus inward. But it also doesn’t take much for me to lift my gaze, which inevitably lifts my heart as well. I can determine, well-before I attend my first Christmas party, I drop the turkey on the floor, or burn the pumpkin pie, to worship. 

I’m convinced that is the only way I will truly experience enduring, soul-deep joy. The same joy that filled the wisemen’s souls when they encountered the Christ child.

While Scripture doesn’t specify their country of origin, many scholars suggest they might have traveled from modern day Iran, a distance of 1,600 miles or more, most likely by camel. A potentially sixty-day endeavor, round trip. If you’ve ever driven down a bumpy road in a vehicle with no radio, air conditioning, or heat, you can imagine how uncomfortable their journey must have been. And no doubt they experienced challenges, frustrations, and the occasional quarrel along the way. 

Yet still “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:10, ESV). 

Matthew 2:10 on a picture with candles.

They rejoiced.

Exceedingly.

With great joy.

I don’t know if Scripture could say this more emphatically. They experienced deep, deep joy.

Because, before their camels stepped foot on that dusty ancient road leading to Israel, they had already decided to worship. (Matthew 2:2)

This posture enabled them to experience something others, like Herod and his scribes, missed–a personal encounter with the living God. 

Friends, regardless of how tired I might feel today, I refuse to be like Herod and the scribes. I refuse to allow a bah humbug attitude to keep me from experiencing an intimate encounter with Christ. This Christmas, I want to approach every festivity, spilled drink, and potentially uncomfortable conversation with the same expectancy that drove the Magi thousands of miles from their home to the Christ child. 

How are you this holiday season? What is most apt to steal your joy or divert your focus from our only real and abiding source of joy? What might your Christmas look like, should you determine, regardless of how dinner turns out, to worship?

Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

You might also enjoy the latest Your Daily Bible Verse episode below.

The Power of Repentance (Jonah 3:10) Your Daily Bible Verse

Want to listen without the ads? Become a BibleStudyTools.com PLUS Member today: https://www.biblestudytools.com/subscribe/ Meet Our Hosts: JENNIFER SLATTERY is a writer and speaker who hosts the Faith Over Fear podcast. She’s addressed women’s groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s the author of Building a Family and numerous other titles and maintains a devotional blog at https://jenniferslatterylivesoutloud.com Follow Jennifer: https://www.lifeaudio.com/faith-over-fear/ https://www.facebook.com/JenSlatte https://www.instagram.com/slatteryjennifer/ GRACE FOX has published hundreds of articles and authored 10 books including the award-winning devotional, Finding Hope in Crisis: Devotions for Calm in Chaos. She’s a member of the “First 5” writing team for Proverbs 31 Ministries and a regular contributor to Guideposts’ Mornings with Jesus. Grace lives aboard a sailboat in Vancouver, British Columbia. Married in 1982, she and her husband celebrate three grown kids and eleven grandchildren. Check out Grace’s newest book, Keeping Hope Alive: https://www.tyndale.com/p/keeping-hope-alive/9781649380517 Subscribe to her weekly devotional blog and monthly update on her website: www.gracefox.com Follow Grace: Facebook: www.fb.com/gracefox.author Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/graceloewenfox/   Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/gracefoxauthor QUINNISE PETTWAY is a writer, facilitator, Licensed Professional Counselor, wife, and mother whose mission is to help Christians encounter and embrace God as Father and walk boldly as His beloved children. She's the author of A Glimpse of Our Father: Lessons Parenthood Reveals for All of God's Children and hosts a weekly small group called “Gathering For A Glimpse” where she journeys with participants through the book to dive deeper into the heart of our heavenly Father. Follow Quinnise: Website- https://aglimpseofourfather.com/ Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/aglimpseofourfather Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/quinnisepettway/ Check out her YouVersion Bible App Devotional Plan (Inspired by full book) A Glimpse of Our Father: A 5-Day Devotional Plan for All of God's Children: http://bible.us/r/82J JOSHUA LILLIE is a passionate follower of Jesus, spreadsheet enthusiast, and lover of all kinds of art and music. Joshua has almost a decade of experience in music ministry, and has served both in house church and megachurch environments in pastoral and administrative roles, eager to see every man, woman, and child increasingly surrender their lives to King Jesus. He currently serves on staff with Christ Community Church in Omaha, NE, and as an ordained minister with the Christian & Missionary Alliance, a global denomination of Jesus-followers making Him known among the nations.See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.
  1. The Power of Repentance (Jonah 3:10)
  2. Showing Grace to Those Who Are Hard to Love (Ephesians 2:1)
  3. When God Comforts (2 Corinthians 13:4)
  4. Fight the Good Fight, Finish the Race, Keep the Faith (2 Timothy 4:7)
  5. How God Strengthens Us for Times of Crisis (Luke 22:10)

Picture of a calendar

When you review 2019, the highs and the lows, the goals you began with and those unexpected yet precious moments experienced along the way, does it change how you view 2020? Does it change what you’ll prioritize and what you’ll release?

It does for me.

I’ve discovered how fleeting grand achievements can be. Last decade, years before I received my first publishing contract, I often dreamed of the “call.” For a time, this longing became my obsession, causing my emotions to rise and fall on every step forward or rejection. And now, nine titles and countless articles later, though I’m grateful for every opportunity God allowed, those accomplishments aren’t what I hold most dear.

Similarly, as a former high school dropout, it took me nearly twenty years to earn my college degree. Twenty years of moves and starting over, of switching majors, juggling motherhood and canceled babysitters and studying and tests. But though my family celebrated—with flourless chocolate cake!— when I finally graduated, that event wouldn’t make my “end of life” list. Too many other, much more monumental and sacred memories will occupy that spot.

On New Year’s Eve, as I sat across from the love of my life and, together, we reminisced on all of our successes and failures, some patterns emerged—patterns of beauty, of growth, of healing. Of heart-purging and filling, adding clarity to my days ahead. I want to live with intentionality, absolutely! But I want to make sure I’m pursuing what matters most, what adds beauty, purpose, and joy.

In 2020 …

  1. I want to prioritize prayer

Each morning, before I write one task on my ever-lengthening to-do list, I want to prayerfully offer each moment to my Savior. I know He has a plan, not just for my life, but for my every day as well. He knows what’s ahead, whom I’ll encounter, and when my loved ones will need an extra hug. Ultimately, I want to live as if God truly is my Lord—my master and my guide.

  1. I want to practice gratitude Gratitude notebook

The other night, my husband said something that briefly took me aback. He said I was a positive person, and this brought me joy, not just because I believe that’s such a godly trait to cultivate, but also because there was a time when he likely would’ve said the opposite. There was a time when my thoughts instantly jumped to the negative and I complained much more frequently than I praised. But as my intimacy with Christ deepened, my perspective changed. My heart changed, and I realized how blessed I truly was. God has given me so much—a husband I adore, a daughter who daily makes me laugh, loved ones who see the best in me, and a faith-family who continually points me to Christ. But even if all of those things were absent, I’d still be abundantly blessed because I always and will forever have my Savior, the One who knows me, sees me, stands beside me, and loved me enough to redeem me.

  1. I’ll take a regular Sabbath rest

If you know me well, you’ve discovered how easily bored I can be. How much enjoyment I receive from productivity, efficiency, and forward momentum. My husband often jokes that I have “ants in my pants,” claiming I can’t even watch television without having other tasks to complete. He’s not wrong. I’m a writer, editor, mentor, ministry leader, teacher, and speaker who often works long hours and ruthlessly eliminates distractions. But amidst all my busyness, I’ve learned to fiercely guard my Sabbaths. Sundays are my rest days and have been since my daughter’s preschool years. Those are the days I set my manuscripts and computer aside, turn my phone to silent, and spend my afternoons and evenings reading or napping.

Those moments of reprieve give me the energy I need to successfully tackle the rest of my week.

  1. I’ll diligently live in grace

I used to waste so much time and energy on guilt and regret. When I’d say something I wished I hadn’t or maybe acted rude rather than loving, I’d rehash the scenario in my brain for days. I routinely lived in shame rather than grace, in essence, elevating my sin above the cross. But no more! Jesus paid much too high a price for me to hold on to my former self. I most honor His death and most clearly represent the gospel when I live in its reality. When I anchor myself so deeply in Christ’s love and forgiveness, that everything else fades so far in my periphery that I forget it entirely.

God doesn’t ask me to live perfectly. He doesn’t expect me to strive or perform. Rather, He invites me to abide and accept, fully and deeply, the precious gift of atonement He granted.

  1. I’ll diligently dish out grace

I cannot simultaneously live in grace while withholding it from others. Whenever I cling to an offense, whenever I harbor bitter thoughts and emotions against another fallible but deeply loved human, I’m demonstrating I’ve lost sight of the cross. I’ve lost sight of my Savior. I’ve lost sight of hope. But when I begin to view others through the same lens through which Christ views me, healing prevails. Christ’s love purifies my heart and draws me closer to Himself and others.

  1. I’ll live generously

God, my Provider and Sustainer, invites me, daily, to live in full dependence on Him. That is where my generosity stems from. When I realize I belong to the God who owns a thousand cattle on a thousand hills, I find the courage to release my grip on my time and resources. As I do, His joy flows, unhindered through me and my heart and life align more closely with His.

  1. I’ll dance often woman dancing in the sunset

Years ago, my daughter came home from school one afternoon feeling down. I don’t remember why, but it was a situation I had zero control over. I stood there for a moment, saddened by her pain. Then not knowing what else to do, I grabbed her hands and pulled her into a goofy dance. At first, she was stiff, reluctant. I’m sure she rolled her eyes with a huff. But soon, she relaxed, and together we danced about the kitchen, both our days momentarily lightened.

The next day when she returned home, she grabbed my hands and began to dance as I had done with her. I realized how much that silly yet special moment had meant to her. This soon became our tradition—on good days and bad, hard days and those filled with celebration, we learned to hit pause, to intentionally create moments of joy.

  1. I’ll laugh often

Ladies, we often set the tone in our homes. We can sprinkle gloom and frustration or stir our family to laughter. Both types of environments are contagious. One leads to increased tension while the other binds hearts, defuses stress, and infuses our days with life and light.

  1. I’ll guard my peace

We’ll likely face numerous challenges in the year ahead, many we won’t have control over. But that doesn’t mean we must absorb the tension and chaos. We certainly don’t have to reflect it. God invites us to live from a higher plane—seated in the heavenlies with Him (Eph. 2:6). In other words, to remember where our true home lies, where our Power Source resides, and to live, continually, yielded to our guide.

Perhaps God leads us to remove ourselves from certain situations, or maybe He’ll call us to persevere in love. Regardless, when we’re following Him, seeking to honor Him above all else, everything will feel much less consequential. Because our eyes will rise above the drama of today and center on the things of eternity.

  1. I’ll embrace godly risk

Scripture tells me I have the power of the risen Savior living and breathing within me, stirring and empowering me to do His will. I refuse to allow my fears or insecurities to hinder what God might want to do in and through me. I belong to Him, to be used as He wills—for His glory, not mine. When I daily squash my pride to give God’s Spirit free reign, my fears begin to die as the strength and courage birthed through surrender take hold.

God has so much planned for 2020, plans He’s inviting you and I to participate in. He’s not calling us to change the world with superhuman faith. All He’s asking is that we’d yield, live in and breath out His grace, and grab hold of every moment of joy, so that He can change the world through us.

Speaking of moving boldly into 2020 … I invite you to join me for my Faith Over Fear challenge, which I’ll launch next month. Keep an eye out!

Additional resources:

Better Than New Year’s Resolutions by Jennifer Slattery

10 Steps to Help You Think Through Your Goals for the New Year by Jennifer Slattery

More Than a New Year’s Resolution by Girlfriends in God

 

sunrise image with quote on surrender(Taken from a lesson cut from Wholly Loved’s Unshakable, Unbreakable Joy study, releasing soon.)

I often decide, before my feet hit the floor, how my day will go. Will I be disappointed and frustrated or at peace and fulfilled? Will I be self-obsessed and therefore prideful or insecure or will I sift everything through a story more beautiful and enduring than anything I could ever dream of or achieve on my own?

We can decide how we will respond before difficulties and frustrations ever hit. When we cultivate a surrendered heart, life feels much easier, more joyful, and we’re less reactive. We can stand strong and faithful, empowered, no matter what we encounter.

So often, we forfeit our joy through default. We behave as if we’re victims to our circumstances and other people’s reactions and forget that God the enormity of God. We forget that He’s in all things, working through all things, andMountain image with quote from post will ultimately redeem all things.

More than that, we allow life’s temporary challenges to overshadow the things of eternity.

My daughter is getting married this spring. By the time this study releases, the wedding, with all its glamor and chaos, laughter and tears, will be over. The vows will have been spoken. The guests, many of them family we see maybe once a year, will have come and gone. Those first dances—between my princess and her prince and my girl and her daddy—will be but memories and captured photographs. The spilled drinks will be mopped up, the trash carted away …

I have no idea what that day will bring, but here’s what I know: I’ll cherish every moment; I’ve already decided this, and I refuse to let temporary circumstances and mishaps steal what’s most precious. Those moments, whether celebrated or bemoaned, that I’ll never be able to get back. Knowing this, I will choose celebration over bemoaning.

I refuse to allow inconsequential details distract me from my part and enjoyment of the bigger story.

I wonder, what might my life, my joy, and my effectiveness might look like if I made this decision daily, no matter the situation? If I began with an attitude of surrender and determined to remain there? If I didn’t allow the problems of today to distract me from the glory of eternity.

When our daughter was young and I felt perpetually insecure, I carried 2 Timothy 2:4 in my pocket. It says: “No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer” (NIV). Or to phrase it differently, no one called to serve an eternal king becomes entangled in daily drama. They remain focused on their higher calling.

If you were to pick up any of my copious Bibles stacked on my shelves, you’d likely find one phrase underlined again and again: “a servant of Christ.” That was perhaps Paul’s favorite way to introduce himself. This was the mindset he maintained. More than anything else, more than being a church leader or pastor or traveling evangelist or even husband, he was a slave of Christ. Nothing else mattered, and therefore nothing else had the power to defeat or derail him.

I want to live with such focus, such purpose, each and every day. Thanks to Christ in me, I can.

So can you.

Let’s talk about this! Can you share a time when you chose surrender in a chaotic or unpleasant situation? What helped you make that choice and what was the result? Share your comments, thoughts, and stories with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another.

You might find Wholly Loved’s latest Devotional, Intentional Holidays: Finding Peace in the Prince of Peace helpful:

cover for Wholly Loved's devotionalThis holiday season, God invites us to slow down our hustle and to trade our striving for resting and rejoicing. Immanuel, God with us, encourages us to hit pause in the middle of our crazy, beautiful, and not-so-glamorous moments to experience Him. No matter how busy our days, fragmented our minds, disrupted our plans, or frazzled our hearts, God beckons us to draw near so that we can live filled and refilled. We can experience peace, no matter our circumstances, through the Prince of Peace, our Savior.

Grab your copy HERE.

Additional resources:

Preparing Our Hearts For Christmas, Wholly Loved’s latest Bible reading plan on YouVersion:

This holiday season, take some time to slow down and reflect on God’s goodness and the precious gift of Christ with us.

Find it HERE.

Additional resources:

Freedom From Self-Sufficiency (video)

Choose a Positive Attitude, Pastor Rick McDaniel

Don’t Let a Bad Attitude Rule Your Life (Proverbs 31 Ministries)

 

Upset woman by herself in a dark alley. For years, I chose misery over life. I tended to magnify the negative and completely overlook the good. Not only did this strangle the joy, peace, and vitality from me, birthing in their place bitterness and agitation. It also routinely distanced me from Christ. I often felt disconnected from Him, confused regarding His guidance, anxious regarding my circumstances, and unfulfilled in my relationships.

I routinely blamed others and my circumstances for my inner disconnect. Or, I’d simply try to shove all the negativity down in an attempt to muddle through my dimmed existence in my own strength. But then, come Sunday, I’d enter into the church sanctuary, and praise music would begin to play. As was expected, I’d begin to join in. Before I reached the chorus, however, I’d sense God tugging on my heart: Forgive, and as if to halt any excuse hidden in feigned ignorance, a name or face would follow, and in this I was given a choice.

I could continue feeding the negativity brewing within me, or I could step into—bask in—my Father’s grace—a grace deep and strong and present enough to bring light and joy and life to the most deadened hearts, mine included, and lifeless situations.

1 Peter 2:1 lays this out pretty clearly. It says, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

In other words, we’re to do two things: Deliberately and diligently purge all that is dark and ugly within and seek out God’s light. As we do, He draws us closer to Himself and floods the deepest recesses of our hearts with those things that are good and lovely and pure.

My heart cannot be deeply united with Christ unless it is also deeply immersed in His will. I cannot simultaneously Woman sitting outside with text pulled from post. experience the full expression of His love and grace within me while withholding those same gifts from others. What flows in will necessarily flow out. Therefore, if God’s reconciling, forgiving, life-giving Spirit isn’t flowing freely from me, it’s quite likely my heart valves have become clogged.

The results of spiritual blockages are similar to what one experiences with obstructed arteries. We lose oxygen and energy. We lose our vitality and dilute and distort everything good both within and without. Within because those best parts of us, those unique personality traits God hand-crafted within us to add color to our world and strength and healing to our relationships becomes tainted with self-protection, distrust, and harbored offense. Without because this settled anger begins to blanket our thoughts and distorts our perceptions until we see more gloom than good.

In John 10:10, Jesus said that He came to give us “abundant” or “filled to overflowing” life. This speaks of a vibrancy that saturates to our core and spills out into every moment and on every encounter. Envisioning what this might look like lived out, I’m reminded of my daughter as a toddler. She had a joy about her that radiated so brightly from within, she often captured the attention of strangers. Her laugh could produce smiles on the gloomiest faces and often made one feel as if, but for a moment, they’d encountered the divine.

Woman laughing with text pulled from post.Because, in a way, they had. Whenever we see joy, we catch a glimpse of heaven, where joy abounds.

When we express joy, we experience a token of eternity in the here and now.

But when we harbor bitterness in the heart Christ gave His dying breath to cleanse, we quite literally become our own killjoys.

We all want to experience vibrant, joy-filled, thriving life. We all have access to that life through God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Why would we allow anything or anyone to steal that joy from us?

Let’s talk about this! We get to choose whether or not we’ll live with joy or bitterness, forgiveness or offense. When hurt, what are some things we can do to center ourselves and our hearts in Christ’s love? Share your thoughts and stories with us in the comments below.

Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

sunrise, flowers, and clouds with quote regarding joy

Some of my darkest periods have occurred when I’ve appeared to have every reason for joy. And I’ve experienced deep joy during difficult and painful situations.

About ten years ago, after a series of moves and job shifts, our family landed in a small town northeast of Kansas City, MO. I homeschooled at the time, we weren’t wealthy by any means, but our finances were solid and our bills paid, our marriage strong, and our home-life largely tension free.

But I was miserable. Defeated and confused. In pursuing what I thought would bring me joy, I was robbing myself of it.

At the time, I was working toward a teaching degree, or perhaps geology or chemistry, I can’t remember which. (I changed my mind regarding potential career plans each semester, it seemed—because I wasn’t called to any of them.) I knew with the deep yet quiet certainty that can only come from the Holy Spirit within that God wanted me to write, something I had no problem doing—as a hobby and according to my terms.

Terms that involved ample self-protection, also known as no transparency, and guaranteed financial payoffs.

But God was calling me to surrender. Everything. My plans, desires, wisdom, and all those prospects certain to include a secure 401K and steady paycheck. For surely, aren’t those things, and all the material benefits included in them, what bring joy?

If that were true, I would’ve had it in abundance. Instead, my heart felt dulled and dark, a darkness that increased as, through disobedience, I continued to distance myself from God and His love.

Light—and joy—flooded in the moment I surrendered.

I experienced the converse of this about four years later when a mysterious illness began stealing my energy and dignity. Though I later discovered the cause of my rapid weight loss and related symptoms, for almost a year I sat in the tension of not knowing. Of fretting and imagining and striving to control what felt like a revolting body. But in the middle of all my uncertainty and pain, I experienced peace.

And joy. A joy much greater and stronger and more abiding than my circumstances—a joy Image of mountains, lake, and a sunset with a quote pulled from the postfound in abundance as I sat, each day, in God’s presence. Because, as Psalm 16:11 states, joy comes not in the absence of difficulties but instead in God’s presence. As we hit pause on our busyness and each day’s stressors, as we allow His gentle whisper to drown out our worries and fears, He births joy within us.

His joy, not ours, given to us as a gift, if we’ll receive it. A gift that doesn’t necessarily abate our sorrow. In fact, joy and sorrow, even intense sorrow, can quite naturally co-exist. It did for Jesus, as He wept in the Garden on the night before His death. I imagine it did for God the Father as well, when He sent His precious Son into our sin-tainted world.

Joy isn’t an emotion. Those come and go based on countless external circumstances. Rather, joy is a deep awareness and appreciation for God’s love and grace, which is always at work, even in our darkest moments.

Let’s talk about this! What resonated with you most in today’s post? Is there anything you disagree with or maybe would add? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another.

cover for Bible studySpeaking of finding joy during hard or painful periods, for those following along with our Becoming His Princess Bible study, last week we talked about ways to remain faithful during periods of disillusionment. You can watch that session HERE. You can grab a free copy (ebook) of the study HERE.

If one of your friends or loved ones is hurting but you don’t quite no what to say, how to respond, or how to help, you may find encouragement from my post on my Crosswalk blog on helping our hurting friends. You can read that HERE.

 

 

 

Woman in hat smiling

Our purpose, infused into our hearts before we took our first breath, is universal and will never change–to know God and make Him known. How we express that purpose, however, is unique to all of us. We’ll never truly feel fulfilled until we discover and live out who Christ created us to be. My guest today, author and blogger Robin E. Mason, shares how this has proven true in her life.

What’s in Your Heart

By Robin E. Mason

“What’s wrong with me?”

I asked God that question more than twenty years ago. I had no sense of purpose or identity.

“Sit down.” I could imagine Him answering me. “This is going to take a while.”

And it did. An emotionally excruciating and physically exhausting three years of counseling. I “happened” to choose that spring to work in the yard. And as I dug up rocks to make way for daisies, I felt like the same thing was happening in my soul; God was digging and uprooting years and layers of lies that had burrowed deep in my heart.

Years, a lifetime really, of hearing “You could have done better,” had translated into nothing I did was good enough. The most staggering statement was, “You’re nothing but a failure.” Even though I knew better intellectually, it didn’t even faze me; it was the summation of what I had accepted all my life.

I grew up believing the Bible was absolute Truth. The Bible says I’m to have an “abundant” life. But mine didn’t fit that at all. I suffered depression, worked at jobs that didn’t satisfy me. Believing lies will do that. And no matter how hard I fought to be “better,” I never was.

I was a single mom and I worked to provide for my children. I did what I had to do. The problem was fighting to measure up to someone else’s standard for me, and not Father God’s design.

In a particular counseling session, my pastor held his hands out, cupped as though he held a grapefruit in each. One hand, he said, was Bible Truth. In the other were the lies I had believed. He put one hand on top of the other; the lies say this. Then he switched hands. But the Bible says. He repeated this a few times, and it registered in my broken mind. That was twenty-three years ago.

Long before I asked that fateful question, Father God had been laying groundwork to bring me to that point of recognizing the disparity between my life and His plan. And I’ve watched in the years since then as He unfolds one mercy after another—so that I like myself now, and I can say without vanity that I’m a pretty cool gal! And fun to be around!

Which brings me to my writing. Stories have always been in my head. But I was pushed in other directions, pressure to be something I’m not—someone else’s ideal of success. The stories were there; I just didn’t know I was meant to write them. But as I was struggling through the anguish of counseling I began writing—almost as a Divine form of therapy.

And for all I’ve put my hands to over the years—the temp assignments, jobs that were just awful, so many I’ve lost count—nothing has “fit” like my writing. Once I got swept up in that first storyline, I knew. This was, and is, and has always been, that desire of my heart. The words. They speak to me. They reach into me. Whether fiction or His Word.

What’s in my heart? Stories that speak to the sense of identity. Stories that help others know who they are, and to embrace and live in that knowledge. Stories that reach into the heart of others, who, like me, don’t know and aren’t living the life God intended.

Take a look inside your heart. What secret dreams are hidden in your there? How can you begin the journey to live in the fullness of Father God’s plan and purpose for you?

Get to Know Robin!

Robin's author photoMs. Mason writes stories of identity conflict. Her characters encounter situations that force the question, “Who am I really?” For all who have ever wondered who you are or why you’re here, her stories will touch you in a very real—maybe too real—and a very deep way. “I know, I write from experience.”

Ms. Mason has seven novels, Tessa, Clara Bess, and Cissy, in the unsavory heritage series, and The Long Shadows of Summer, The Tilting Leaves of Autumn, The Silent Song of Winter, and The Whispering Winds of Spring in her Seasons series. All of Ms. Mason’s books are available on Amazon, both for Kindle and in print. She also has several poems included in an anthology, Where Dreams and Visions Live (Anthologies of the Heart Book 1) by Mary Blowers, as well as a short story, Sarafina’s Light, also in an anthology, Blood Moon, compiled by Mary Blowers. She is working on a on One for the Price of Two, the first story in her new series, FourSquare, to release next year.

Visit her online HERE.

Check out her new cover of her debut novel, Tessa:

When you pretend to be something you’re not, it always finds you out.

One mother. Two daughters. One favorite. One not.

When Cassie Barclay is presented with an opportunity – or is it a curse – she jumpsCover image for Tessa at the chance. She takes on a new life, her sister’s life, and although at first, it holds appeal and promise, she soon realizes sometimes the fairy tale is tainted.

Image by Cory Bouthillette on Unsplash

I’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, “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord” (Phil. 3:1, ESV).

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.

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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!

image of cover for study based on 1 TimothyAnd if you haven’t already done so, don’t forget to sign up for my free quarterly newsletter! You’ll receive great, inspirational content sent directly to your inbox, and as an added bonus, subscribers also receive a free 36-lesson study (ebook, sent separately). You can sign up HERE!