As we approach the holiday season, people start talking about “joy.” It made me start thinking: “What is the definition of joy?” It’s not a word we use in our daily conversation, or at least not the people I hang around with. People don’t generally say “I am so joyful,” or “I really experienced joy today.” And, yet, joy is something we think we should have and we feel bad if we don’t have it.
Webster’s Dictionary #1 definition is: “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune, or by the prospect of possessing what one desires”. The #2 definition is: “a state of happiness or felicity.” I am sorry, Webster’s, but I think it is a very sad state of affairs if our happiness or felicity is dependent upon external circumstances, such as what we have or how successful we are. If it is, we are all bound to be frequently un-joyful. I prefer the second definition.
True joy, and consistent, non-mercurial joy has to come from within and can not be a mere reflection of our circumstances. In reality, we, as humans, are very limited in how much we can control our circumstances, try as we might. However, we can seek to find our own joy. Particularly when things are chaotic, or hectic, or stressful, I find joy in the small things, like a cozy fire, a cup of herbal tea, a good book, relaxing music, puppies. Where you find joy will be personal and specific to you. But in order to find this type of joy, we have to slow down, take a beat, and be very observant.
If, like me, you are a follower of Christ, you know that true joy comes from God dwelling within us. If we love God and love each other and keep His commands, God’s joy will be in us and and that joy will be complete. John 15.
I have spoken with so many different individuals lately who have expressed feelings of worthlessness. Maybe it’s just my perspective, but it seems to be an epidemic. Life is full of difficulties; we all face challenges and times when we struggle. We can’t control many of our circumstances and we are bound to have times when we feel discouraged, beat up by life, stressed, or even powerless. I have faced my challenges and know there will be more to come. However, it breaks my heart to hear more and more people say they feel “worthless.” They say things like, “I am a waste of air,”,”No one cares if I live or die,” or “I wish I was never born.”
I imagine the source of this level of hopelessness may be varied. Perhaps it comes from abandonment, traumatic life events, failed relationships, or other types of loss. In today’s global environment, it is easy to feel small and insignificant. But I also suspect our current culture of social media greatly contributes to this problem of feeling worthless. On the internet, we see surface-level images of people designed to make others admire them. Judgements and criticisms are made in a snap second, without any real knowledge of a person. We have no idea if that person’s accomplishments are real, or what struggles they may have behind that glossy image they show the world. If we do not have sufficient “likes” or “followers” in this internet world, or if people say unkind or even cruel things about us, we can feel as if we are not valuable, that we don’t matter.
Every single human being on this planet has worth. Our Creator does not make errors; he does not have “seconds” in the production line that should be cast in the trash. How financially successful, or politically powerful, or even popular we are should not be the measure of our worth. Likewise, the fact that some ignorant, callous individual may tell us we are worthless does not, by any means, make it so. It must be tremendously painful and disheartening to feel as if one has no value.
How can we discover that inherent value in ourselves? First of all, maybe we can make a list of all our strengths and abilities. Then, we can think of people in our lives that actually care for us. Finally, and I think this is very important — if we want to feel worthwhile, and of value, we should seek out ways to make ourselves needed or useful. Look for others who need assistance in areas which we can provide it. These “others” can be family, friends, neighbors, or total strangers. There are many volunteer organizations that can use an extra set of hands. When we take a break from examining our own pitiful situation and look outside to others’ pain, we gain a certain perspective. Even more beautifully, if we can be part of the solution (in whatever small way) to someone else’s difficult circumstance, we immediately receive a feeling of being needed, useful and…. worthy.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-31
The Bible, in more than one Gospel, gives an account where Jesus’s followers were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee during a storm. Jesus came to them, walking on the water. One of his disciples, Peter, said to Jesus, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 14:28) Jesus summoned Peter to come to him. Peter stepped out of the boat and began walking on the water toward Jesus. “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!'” (Matthew 14:29) Jesus reached out his hand to Peter and pulled him back up. “You of little faith”, he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)
How many times am I like Peter in this story? I think my faith is strong. I am sure I can walk on water and bravely step out of the boat. And, at first, I am succeeding. Look at me! I’m a spiritual rock star! And, then, the wind kicks up. The storm rolls in. I notice the waves all around me and I freak out. When I take my eyes off Jesus, and focus on the danger around me, I begin to sink. But, fortunately, and reliably, He is always there to reach out his hand and snatch me from the raging sea. It is my lack of faith that causes me to despair. May I remember that my faith will allow me to do what is seemingly impossible, and that my lack of faith will allow me to falter. When you face the storms of life, keep your eyes above the waves and summon your faith. Hopefully, you, too will be able to do the impossible.
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This past week I have been watching the coverage of Hurricane Ian and the survivors. I was particularly intrigued by the interviews with people who did not evacuate and rode out the storm. People stayed for a variety of reasons: old age, infirmity, lack of the funds to pay for gas and a hotel, as well as those who were skeptical of the predicted strength of the storm, wanted to protect their property from looters, or were just plain stubborn. People knew the storm was coming; it was predicted days in advance. They did what they could to prepare: they boarded up windows, assembled sand bags, stocked up on food, clean water and batteries. They tied their pleasure craft securely, away from the shoreline. They charged up their cell phones, laptops and power banks. And then they waited. Just before the storm came, the weather was reportedly gorgeous. Folks walked their dogs, enjoyed the beach, and took selfies in front of the mounting surf. And then Hurricane Ian reached landfall. It was a Category 4 (out of 5) storm, and among the top five storms to hit the U.S. It turns out people were, in fact, not prepared. Calls for help swamped the emergency hotlines. Panic ensued.
It made me start thinking… I try to mentally prepare myself for life’s metaphorical storms. I know storms are inevitable. I know they will come. I can’t avoid troubles in life. And so I try to prepare myself. I hone my skills and coping methods. I familiarize myself with Bible verses and Scripture passages that can reassure me. I practice my yoga, meditation, and deep breathing. I tell myself I am ready to handle adversity. But, then the storm comes, am I tempted to panic?
I think most of us, when the storm actually hits with a fury, are tempted to panic and may even start down that path? But how can we snatch ourselves back from the proverbial edge and not lose our cool? In my experience, first of all, we need to remember and recall our preparations. Soldiers do the same drills over and over so that when real combat ensues, they will automatically recall their training. We must do the same thing.
So, what do we do when the storm hits? First, calm ourselves. Do deep breathing, meditate on calming thoughts, do yoga, listen to nature sounds. Second, once our heart rate has slowed to a normal level, do activities to gain perspective. Review Scripture verses and passages that remind us God is in control. Remind ourselves of other trials and adversities we have gone through and survived, or even, thrived. Remind ourselves that the current situation is probably temporary and will not last forever. Finally, take action. Do what we can to improve our situation, or, at least, mitigate the damage. If possible, reach out and help someone else; helping others almost always gives us perspective.
The storms are going to come. May I prepare myself to the best of my ability and may I do my best to remain calm in the face of the tempest.
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. when you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned.” Isaiah 43:1-2
Not long ago, I was at a Women’s’ retreat in Napa Valley. I was with some amazing, accomplished, Godly women whom I did not know well, or at all, before that weekend. Over the course of our weekend of activities and self-reflection, various members of the group allowed me to see their perceptions of me. Because they are kind and positive people, those perceptions were flattering. I felt honored and seen. A few of the ladies also shared their visions of what they thought I could achieve in the future and what impact I could possible have. I have to admit, their vision far outreached the dreams I have dared to dream for myself. It really made me reevaluate as to whether I sell myself (and my God) short by not setting higher goals.
I have generally been a proponent of not paying too much attention to what others think of me. I certainly don’t want to allow myself to be limited by the skepticism of others or brought down by the haters. However, sometimes it may be beneficial to at least listen to what others are saying. Maybe they will see me better than I see myself. The flip side (and the side requiring more bravery) is that we might learn some hard, but true, facts about ourselves. Maybe we say or do things that, unbeknownst to us, hurt or offend others. Maybe our view of ourselves is overinflated. The tricky part is being able to gain perspective. In seeing ourselves as others see us, we gets a different perspective. The next step is to honestly and bravely examine that other perspective. Is it valid? Is it partially valid? Or is it just empty flattery or hateful lashing out? To discern the difference requires introspection and some knowledge and understanding of the source. If we can make that distinction, a lot can be learned from seeing ourselves through the lenses of others.
My first grandchild was born the other day! I know, it’s a miracle that has been occurring since the dawn of man. But it is still, nonetheless, a miracle — and now it’s our family’s miracle. It is true that you love your grandchildren exponentially more than you love your children. It’s love squared — love to the 2nd power.
As I held my grandson in my arms, I couldn’t help but reflect on how amazing our God is. His creation of man and mankind is unbelievably complex and incredibly detailed. Not only does this complete, perfect, tiny human emerge from his mother’s womb, but the entire system works together. As soon as a mother gives birth, her hormones immediately change from pregnancy to new mother. The same hormone that causes the mother to produce milk also causes her uterus to contract and begin to return to its pre-pregnancy state. The mother’s milk the baby drinks provides him with needed antibodies and also urges baby’s body to purge the amniotic fluids from his system. The whole scheme is so wonderfully designed!
God created this little boy. He knows what this child’s future holds. He knows what this baby will like and dislike, knows his strengths and weaknesses. God loves this child so much more than I can, which is unfathomable. I can rest assured that God has his hand upon this little blessing and it is my duty and privilege to share this wonderful news with him and all my future grandchildren.
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:13-14. This child is fearfully and wonderfully made — handcrafted by God in his mother’s womb.
May I take time each and every day to wonder at God’s miracles and His creation. May I ever take notice of each and every detail and marvel at His power.
I have recently been ill. Nothing serious, from a long-term standpoint, just a wicked ear infection. However, I have a disorienting “whoosh” in my left ear, am off-balance, and have diminished hearing. At the beginning of the illness, I also had a fever and felt miserable overall. The experience has been worse than average because I was traveling. I was in rural France when I was struck down. I was forced to go to the Emergency Room, on my birthday, in a country where I did not speak the language. I had to wait 5 hours and struggle to communicate with the doctor about my symptoms and her diagnosis and prescription for treatment. When I finally left the ER on a Sunday morning, all the pharmacies were closed. It wasn’t until the afternoon that I found an open pharmacy and was able to get some antibiotics.
The next day, Monday, I had to travel alone from Paris back to the U.S. I had to walk from the hotel to the train station, take the train to the airport, and then navigate the airport. Ordinarily, this would be a tiring, but very doable trip. But to make this trip while feeling absolutely awful was very daunting. I considered postponing my journey, but I was anxious to get back to the U.S., where I have insurance and speak the language. In addition, my first grandchild is due any day and I really wanted to be present.
My initial reaction to the situation was to think: “Why is this happening to me, and why now?” “How can I possibly manage this?” But, then, I examined my options, or lack thereof. My choices were very limited: I could postpone my trip home, stay alone in a hotel in Paris without meaningful access to healthcare; or I could haul myself home. I chose the latter course of action.
I am reminded of the Apostle Paul. He had some unnamed physical ailment, his “thorn in the flesh.” Paul’s take on it was that God allowed him this weakness “in order to keep [him] from becoming conceited.” (2nd Cor. 12:7) I don’t think that’s why I am currently ill, but there are still lessons to be learned from Paul. The Lord promises: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2nd Cor. 12:9) Whatever the challenge or weakness faced by us, God’s grace is sufficient to see us through.
Even more mysterious is the second part: when we are weak, Christ’s power rests on us and flows through us. God’s most amazing work occurs through weak vessels; he doesn’t choose the most powerful or charismatic or most talented to perform His best tasks. The Bible is full of examples of imperfect people furthering God’s Kingdom.
So, back to my situation. Although my getting home was not my performing any big work for God, I view it as an exercise in substituting my strength for His. My trip home seemed such a monumental task. But I took each step as just that — a step, and focused on completing the immediate step ahead of me. Make it to the train station (despite going 4 blocks in the wrong direction). Make it to the train. Make it through the check-in. Make it through security. Make it to the gate (of course, the very farthest one). Make it through passport control (the longest line I have ever seen). Make it to my friend’s car in parking (after walking to the wrong parking garage). I survived the journey, sustained by prayer and a confidence in knowing that it was not the measure of my own strength that determined my success or failure.
I still have a blocked ear, and diminished hearing. As a result, I think I am listening a little closer to people, and perhaps I am ignoring more of the “noise.” While it is frustrating, I am trying to have a positive attitude and rest in the belief that this, too, shall pass.
“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2nd Cor. 12:10)
Why do we, as humans, need or want to create? Aside from a few anecdotes about elephants or gorillas who paint, humans are the only creatures who create. God is THE Creator. He created the entire universe and our world out of nothing. A walk in the woods is enough to cause us to marvel at the beauty and perfection of God’s creative work.
We are created in God’s image, so we have the ability and desire to create. We can’t create out of nothing, but we can create without limit from the things God has given us. J.R.R. Tolkien, the author the “The Lord of the Rings” referred to man as God’s “sub-creators.”
God’s glory and the source of creativity is like a beam of sunlight, radiating from Him. I like to think of us, his creatures, as being prisms. As God’s glory flows through each one of us, it is reflected out in a multitude of colors, shapes, and variations of light. Each person’s expression of creativity is unique and reflective of that person God created.
Embrace your God-given ability and need to create. Don’t suppress it. Whether you write, paint, play music, sing, sew, cook, decorate your home, make crafts, or come up with innovative new ways to do things at your job, you are creating. It doesn’t really matter if other people appreciate your efforts or not.
As we allow God’s glory to flow through us in expressions of creativity, both we and the world are blessed.