Find Your Joy

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.

Go find your joy and be complete.

Before the Phoenix can Rise

We have all heard about the phoenix rising from the ashes. Of course, it’s a metaphor for coming back to life after apparent total destruction. Too many times we burn down our own lives through our bad decisions or self-destructive behavior. Sometimes others burn our lives down through their bad decisions or self-destructive behavior. And, occasionally, circumstances such as health problems, job loss, or natural events burn our lives down. When we face such catastrophic times, we are, understandably, devastated. We feel overwhelmed. We mourn the things we have lost. Sometimes we feel like giving up.

But, maybe, we can look at these seasons in our life in a different way. In order to have the opportunity to be a phoenix, by definition, we need to first face total destruction. We can’t rise again as new creatures unless and until the old version of us is destroyed. It’s kind of like trying to restore an old house — you can add on, expand, renovate and redecorate to try to make that old house better. But sometimes you get to the point where it just becomes apparent that it is easier, and probably more cost efficient, to tear the old house down to the foundation and start again. In that way, we don’t have to work around the old plumbing, electrical, shifting foundation, or persistent mold. We get to start anew and re-design and re-build the house that we really want.

So it is, also, with people. Sometimes in order to rebuild ourselves into the person we want to become, we have to do a complete tear down. Maybe we have to walk away from a career, or from some relationships. Maybe we need to root out unhealthy bad habits. Maybe we need to take a break from the rat race of life and take time to reflect and reevaluate. And sometimes the bad things that cause disruption and “burn down” our lives force us to do just that. If that happens, we have the opportunity to rise again from the ashes and re-create ourselves as the person we wish to be. Not that it is easy. Not that we won’t be tempted to give up. But if we focus our thoughts on the goal — of the phoenix we want to become — we may receive the strength to rise.

You are NOT Worthless!

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

Calm in the Storm

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

Fear No Evil

Napa Wilderness

Earlier this summer I was at a women’s retreat in Napa Valley, California. One afternoon we were directed to go on a “meditative hike” in a wilderness area nearby. The task was to walk, think, pray, and write down my reflections or responses in my journal. After walking for awhile, I sat down at a picnic table. I was meditating and writing in my journal, lost in my thoughts when, in my periphery vision, I saw something move on the ground. Just as I looked down, a snake slithered over my left foot. He was about 3 feet long, with alternating brown and off-white rings. I gasped and quickly jumped up on top of the picnic table. My heart was beating a bit faster and my breath had quickened. I peered down at the ground under and around the table, but could not see the snake. I had no idea where he had gone. After a few minutes, I jumped from the table to the dirt path nearby and continued on my walk. Later on, when I had cellular reception again, I did some internet research on the snake, based on my recollection of its markings. I determined what I had seen was probably a California King Snake who, according to californiaherps.com, is “Not Dangerous to Humans.”

Later that day, I processed this encounter and discussed it with the other ladies. I found it somewhat curious that my reaction upon seeing the snake was less extreme than I would have thought. The snake surprised me, and I was concerned enough to move out of its path, but I was not terrified and did not scream or otherwise react in an extreme manner. It was almost as if I instinctively knew that, although the snake looked exotic and was not known to me, it posed no threat of harm.

Of course, the snake or serpent is, in Western culture, often representative of Evil, or Satan, or the Devil. In the book of Genesis in the Bible, Satan appears to Eve in the form of a serpent and tempts her into committing the first act of disobedience to God (sin). Genesis 3. In mythology, snakes were often portrayed as coming from the underworld, the purveyors of evil. Think of Medusa, whose gaze would turn people into stone. Shakespeare also used the snake to represent evil or treachery. Lady Macbeth tells her husband to be deceitful like a serpent. Macbeth later calls Banquo and his son snakes because they are an evil threat. Most Westerners are, on some level, afraid of snakes.

Although I am wary of Satan, or the Evil One, like the California king snake, I am not in danger of any real harm from him. The reason for this is that I am a follower of Christ; I have accepted Him as my Savior and have surrendered my life to Him. As a result, I wear a cloak of protection against the Evil One. The outcome of the battle between Good and Evil is already known; God will always triumph. The Bible is very clear on this point. Though evil may sometimes win the battle, God will win the war. As a follower of Christ, I rest assured that “the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” 2 Thessalonians 3:3. I have seen and experienced this truth on many occasions. Although I may be tried, and may go through hard times, God has repeatedly protected me from real, lasting harm. I know this in my heart and I feel it in my soul. Because of this, I can remain calm in the face of danger and in the midst of the storm.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…” Psalm 23:4