Tag Archives: Joy

A Letter to my Sixth-Grade Daughter

Dear C,

I recognized that expression in your eyes yesterday as you watched the other girls decorate their lockers. Over the summer we had a lot of fun finding girly stuff for your locker – a mirror, dry-erase board, pencil cups, and picture frame magnets. And yes, of course, a motion-activated miniature chandelier.  But we didn’t purchase wallpaper. Or carpet. And I watched you as you watched the girls and moms cutting and fitting their wallpaper.  We didn’t have anything to measure. You stuck the mirror on this side, the dry-erase board on that side, the cups underneath. Done.

“They have wallpaper,” you said. You didn’t say it in a whining sort of way. That’s not your style. It was just an observation.  And part of me wanted to drive you straight to Target and get that wallpaper. But, as you know, I didn’t offer. Because another, perhaps wiser, part of me wants you to understand as you begin middle school that other kids will have other things. Pretty things. Expensive things. Desirable things. And relatively speaking, you truly have an abundance of those things yourself.  But I understand that middle school students do a lot of looking around to see who has what.

Adults do it too. I do. And when I find myself watching other people with their other things, I have to remind myself of something very important:

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Okay, you say ….but what does that mean? If you did a Google search on this quote, you’d find that it’s commonly attributed to President Theodore Roosevelt (and lots of bloggers like your mom write about it. Seems that comparison is a pretty common experience….) But I can’t find where or when or under what circumstances President Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s interesting to me that one of the most powerful and legendary men of his time would make such a remark. Did he often compare himself to other people? Why would he? Was he lacking joy? I don’t know. But I’ve lived plenty of years beyond middle school, and this is what I’m (still) learning about comparison…

Don’t do it!

(Seriously) Caroline, you are truly one of a kind. Beautifully unique and original. Of course I think so, and your dad and your grandparents and aunts and uncles think so, but you know what?

God says so.

He says that you are wonderfully made.  (Psalm 139:14) He says that you are HIS workmanship. (Ephesians 2:10) He says that He chooses you. (Ephesians 1:4) He says that He has plans specifically for you. (Jeremiah 29:11) That means that God had you in His mind LONG before Daddy and I ever did. He designed you just as He knew best and set your life into motion in this place for this time. You are going to influence lives in your family, in your school, in your church and neighborhood and city in a way that no one else can. There will be things that you do really well and things that you can’t do so well. Some things will come naturally to you (like art and writing and being kind) and some things will require extra practice or effort. These years of middle school are all about discovering these things. So, as you and your classmates are making these discoveries, you’ll look at them, and they’ll look at you. It’s natural. People say it’s part of finding your place in this world. But you know what? As we follow Jesus Christ, we come to realize that our place is not really in THIS world. God has created us for eternity, sweetheart.  He has made us to worship Him, and that’s something that will last forever. Because Jesus is in your heart, you can have true joy. It’s important for you to know that joy and happiness are not the same. True joy doesn’t depend on what you possess or what you can do or whether you’re chosen by a friend, coach, club, or boy. There will be times when you won’t be happy. You already know that. There will come many moments of sadness and disappointment in this life. But joy comes from knowing that, no matter what, Jesus loves you and chooses you and keeps you.  There is no thing, no person, no pain, no mistake, no rejection, and no failure that can steal Jesus’ joy from you. So comparison can’t really steal your joy. But comparison can rob you of a joyful perspective. What does that mean? Perspective is a way of looking at life. It’s keeping your focus on what is most important to you. When we measure ourselves against other people and their other things, we tend to take our eyes off of what really matters. So, let’s try together, Caroline, to keep a joyful perspective. We are really rich, you know? In the things that matter. Jesus. Joy. Love.  Family. Laughter. By the way, my heart did a little cheer when you noticed the locker carpet and you said, “Why do I need carpet in my locker? My books don’t sleep!” That, sweetheart, is perspective! I’m proud of you. I love you. ~ Mommy

A Prayer for My Mother on her 80th Birthday

Heavenly Father,

You are the Giver of all good gifts. I praise You for Your abundant goodness, unfailing strength, and limitless faithfulness. I have experienced these gifts without measure or merit. My joy is fully known in things eternal, and yet You have extended Your love, loyalty, and goodness to me here on earth. Day after day, I receive these beautiful gifts in large part through the love of my family.

Lord, today I’m especially thankful for my mother. Her children, and her husband, arise and call her blessed. As a woman who fears the Lord, she has given her family a firm foundation upon which You have built our faith. Without ever wanting to draw attention to herself, she gives, cares, serves, and encourages. For almost 62 years of marriage, she has exemplified what it means to be a godly wife. She has devoted herself to enriching her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, family, church, friends, and neighbors. In the face of uncertainty and trials, it steadies us to know that she looks to You as the anchor of her soul. Her family could not be more blessed or more thankful.

Lord, would this day – her birthday – be the beginning of a year in which my mother knows the deepest peace and richest joy?  I pray with thanksgiving for the promise that You are the strength of her heart and her portion forever. May she be sustained daily by the comfort that You are the eternal refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

And Lord, I pray for the simplest but most meaningful joys to come her way – such as sweet times with Daddy and with her family.

For laughter. And more opportunities to explore an open road.

For days to enjoy good meals with good friends. For many more victories on the court or on the field for her favorite teams (Your help is especially needed here, Lord!).

I pray for precious memories made with the little ones. For weekends to watch swimming practice or go shopping or eat ice cream with her granddaughter. For the satisfaction of knowing that these shared experiences are creating a lasting legacy.

Perhaps this year, more than any other, has impressed upon us that life is not to be hurried. We cherish each day, and thank You, the Giver of all good gifts.

Thank You, Lord, for gifting me so well with my mother. You have done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.

Proverbs 31: 28 – 29 – Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”

Hebrews 6:19 – We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.

Psalm 73:26 – My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Romans 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Deuteronomy 33:27 –The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

Psalm 126: 3 – The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.

Divine Appointments

“Interesting – that sounds just like someone we met at one of the craft shows.” My sister-in-law Linda continued, “She was selling vases that she had decorated, and as we talked with her we learned that she had experienced a traumatic brain injury as a child.”

My husband, John, couldn’t believe it. “Do you think it could be the same person?”

We were sitting at my parents’ home with mom, dad, my brother, and his wife. John had been describing his experience as a host at Joy Prom the previous evening (more about Joy Prom – http://dimlyburning.com/2013/04/26/anticipating-joy/). He shared how much he enjoyed the prom with his guest, a young woman who, as a 9 year old child, had suffered a brain injury in an automobile accident. She spent 9 months in a coma with many uncertainities about her recovery. Years later, Susan changed her middle name to “Grace” in tribute to God’s gracious, healing work in her life. Although she is affected daily by her brain injury, Susan says that the joy of the Lord is her strength. This was Susan’s first experience at Joy Prom, and John escorted her through a special evening created in honor of adults with special needs.

As the guests arrive to Joy Prom, they are introduced to a wildly cheering crowd. Female guests are paired with male hosts and vice versa. 400 guests are matched with 400 hosts in a seemingly random way, but my husband is convinced that the evening with his guest was divinely appointed. As John and Susan got to know each other, John learned that Susan had a gift for decorating glass vases with decoupage. With her special talent, Susan participates in craft shows and shares how God has done beautiful things in her life. Her mission is to be a vessel of God’s grace, to show how God has filled her with His love and how He purposes to use her gifts and even her disability to honor Him.

Instead of being bitter about becoming disabled, Susan chose to focus on the ways that she is especially abled by God to serve Him.

“We bought one of her vases for you,” Linda said to my parents. “I think it’s in your kitchen.”

I remembered the vase sitting on the window sill, and as I picked it up, I noticed that tucked inside the beautiful vase was the same business card that Susan had given to John the night before.

“You’re right! This is one of Susan’s vases!”

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Susan, through her artwork, demonstrates what happens when a person gives his or her life as an offering, weaknesses and all. It is the weaknesses, in fact, that bring out the beauty of God’s grace.

In the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4: 6 – 7:

Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers…. It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful. If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots (earthen vessels) of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us.

The treasure in the earthen vessel, according to Paul, is the precious Message of the Gospel – the personal understanding of God through Jesus Christ. No matter how able-bodied we may be, we are completely insufficient to accomplish in our own strength what is accomplished by the Gospel.

It is a priceless gift. Grace is not a product of our eloquence, abilities, intelligence, winsome personality, or right choices. A vessel is a receiver – a holder of that which is poured into it. Such are the redeemed of God.

Our natural tendency is to be full of ourselves – our accomplishments, our good works, or our talents, but the truth is there is nothing about us that could commend us to God. We have all fallen short. Sin is the ultimate disability.

When we awaken to the Truth that our goodness is about as worthy as a dirty rag (Isaiah 64:6), we finally recognize that we are needful, empty, hungry and thirsty. And then as empty vessels, God fills us with His mercy. When we pour out ourselves and lift the cup up to Him, it overflows.

A life like Susan’s is the picture of the overflow. Her cup may be fragile, her vessel may be cracked – the same is true of all of us in more or less obvious ways. But Susan offers her weaknesses to become portals to God’s strength. John’s divine appointment with Susan has inspired us to do the same.

Ephesians 2:10 – For we are God’s handiwork. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He appointed for us long ago.

2 Corinthians 12: 9 – 10 (words of Paul): But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 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.

Anticipating Joy

There’s a wonderfully HUGE event happening in Matthews, NC this weekend, and my husband and I are so excited to be a part of it. Our church family, along with scores of volunteers from the Charlotte-area, will throw a big party for 800 guests with special needs. “Joy Prom” is truly a full-scale prom with music, evening attire, dancing, formal pictures, and some special extras like a dessert reception, a red carpet introduction for every guest, tiaras and jewelry for the ladies, and shoe shines for the gentlemen. Guests will travel from many miles away (like Canada!) for this incredible evening (and some of them arrive in limousines – so fun!) This is the fifth year that my husband and I have participated in Joy Prom, and we always say by the end of the evening that the aching of our feet doesn’t compare with the aching in our faces from smiling for hours.

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Joy Prom has been on my mind often this week as we prepare (as I write, my husband is out shopping for a bow tie to go with his new suit – I love that!) I’ve spent the afternoon baking cookies for our guests’ caregivers who will sit back and relax in the hospitality suite on Friday and Saturday nights. As I’ve mixed and stirred, I’ve also been thinking about Sunday morning when my friend and I will share stories and pictures from our recent mission trip to the Dominican Republic.

Whenever I think of our mission in the Dominican Republic, I remember Psalm 126:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.

Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”

The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.

 Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.

During the mission trip, one of our team members read Psalm 126 aloud. The psalm served as our devotion before we began another day of hand-fitting wheelchairs for people with severe disabilities who had never before had a means of mobility.

I re-read Psalm 126 several times over the course of the trip; it was so beautifully fitting and hopeful. When the Israelites were freed from captivity, says verse 1, they “were like those who dreamed.”

The people of Israel must have dreamt of

Freedom

Joy

A fruitful Promised Land

God’s Favor

Safety

Security

A Home

Are our dreams not the same for ourselves and our children? We are still longing for the Promised Land. In her book Believing God, Beth Moore describes the New Testament concept of the Promised Land. Followers of Christ can experience the Promised Land this side of Heaven. It’s not necessarily a physical place found on the other side of the river or exclusively a spiritual place entered into on the other side of death.  The Promised Land can be known to us today as a life-place of freedom, fruitfulness, favor, safety, security, and a home with Jesus.

From my American perspective, it might be natural to think of the Promised Land in terms of nice house, safe neighborhood, healthy family, couple of dependable cars, full pantry, etc… But the concept of the Promised Land transcends history and culture. It surpasses the dream of health and wealth.

The true Promised Land is the place where we can say, “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” It can happen even in – perhaps more authentically – in the midst of illness or hardship or disability.

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Among impoverished people in the Dominican Republic, I witnessed mouths filled with laughter and tongues singing with joy. Mothers and fathers arrived with heavy burdens, in more ways than one, as they carried their disabled children into the church. But many of these families received not only the gift of mobility but also the gift of an everlasting relationship with Jesus.  As an older woman saw her son placed in his new wheelchair, she said, “He’s never sat so straight. He looks like a king, and I feel like a millionaire.” The love of Jesus became tangible to her, and her joy made her the richest woman in the world.

The day after I came home from the Dominican Republic, I returned to my work-study in pastoral care at the hospital. At chapel service that morning, the chaplain read Psalm 126! As I sat in stunned silence, I realized that joy can be harvested even in a hospital, a place where many tears are sown. God, I prayed, send me out to plant seeds of joy – not just in a village hundreds of miles away, but in my home, my neighborhood, and in the sterile hospital rooms I will enter today. And I witnessed again how the Holy Spirit, through suffering, tills the soil of a soul, uproots the weeds of bitterness and discouragement, pours out the love of Christ, and cultivates His joy. A patient cried as I prayed with her, but through her tears she praised the Lord. “Praise You, Jesus,” she whispered, “I prayed for someone to show me love, and You sent this girl.”

Joy Prom is a large-scale banquet prepared for those who have sown in tears. Our guests have dreamt of and prayed for someone to show them love, to treat them like millionaires. At Joy Proms past, we’ve said that the event seems like a picture of heaven although we know that doesn’t really fit because there will be no disabilities in heaven. Perhaps what we’re experiencing, no matter how abled our bodies are, is the anticipation of ultimate joy. Every one of us is handicapped by sin, but in Jesus we will be fully free.  We are all dreamers, and there will be a Day when we awake to His glory.

The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”

http://www.joyprom.org/

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The Gift of Gifts

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The Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan prayers, and one of its prayers, “The Gift of Gifts,” so beautifully captures the heart of Christmas worship. I’m including it today with my hopes and prayers that your Christmas is filled with the peace, joy, and wonder of the best gift ever.

You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that by His poverty He could make you rich” ~ 2 Corinthians 8:9

O Source of All Good,

What shall I render to Thee for the Gift of gifts, Thine own dear Son, begotten, not created, my Redeemer, substitute;

His self-emptying incomprehensible, His infinity beyond the heart’s grasp.
Herein is wonder of wonders: He came below to raise me above, was born like me that I might become like Him.

Herein is love; when I cannot rise to Him He draws near on wings of grace, to raise me to Himself.

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Herein is power; when Deity and humanity were infinitely apart He united them in indissoluble unity, the uncreated and the created.

Herein is wisdom; when I was undone, with no will to return to Him and no intellect to devise recovery, He came, God-incarnate, to save me to the uttermost, as man to die my death, to shed satisfying blood on my behalf, to work out a perfect righteousness for me.

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O God, take me in spirit to the watchful shepherds, and enlarge my mind; let me hear good tidings of great joy, and hearing, believe, rejoice, praise, adore, my conscience bathed in an ocean of repose, my eyes uplifted to a reconciled Father;

Place me with ox, ass, camel, goat, to look with them upon my Redeemer’s face, and in him account myself delivered from sin;

Let me with Simeon clasp the newborn child to my heart, embrace Him with undying faith, exulting that He is mine and I am His.

In Him Thou hast given me so much that heaven can give no more.

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~ The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, edited by Arthur Bennett, 1975

Every Longing Heart

Eighteen days until Christmas, and my ten-year-old is eagerly counting each one. Anticipation builds each time she opens a door on the Advent calendar. While I want to slow down and savor the season, the 25th could not come fast enough for my girl!

This morning I’ve found great comfort in the words of Chris Tiegreen in a devotion simply titled “Joy.” Today’s devotion is based on Isaiah 65: 17 – 18, “Behold I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind. Be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create.”

Tiegreen writes: “Most of us are good at reaction emotions. We grieve when tragedy strikes; we get angry when injustice is done; we celebrate over good news, and we feel peaceful when all is well. But God asks us to do a strange thing in Scripture. He calls not only for our natural, reactive emotions, but also for supernatural, proactive emotions. He urges us to be glad and rejoice forever in something that has not yet taken place….

This dynamic of rejoicing before something has happened is an integral part of faith. It’s just as much an act of faith to celebrate a promise as it is to set foot in a Red Sea that has not yet parted…”

This devotion reminds me of Advent, for “advent” means “coming.” It is a season of expectation. It’s a time when we celebrate the fulfillment of God’s promise to send a Messiah (Isaiah 7:14 & 9:6; Micah 5: 2 – 4) and a time when we anticipate His return. A time to be glad and rejoice forever in His eternal promises.

True joy is “supernatural” and “proactive.” After all, it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit – not something that we can muster up our own, try as we might.  Christmas joy is not related to festivity, parties, presents, or cookies. It has nothing to do with a party outfit that fits just right, or a meal that wins praises, or a beautifully decorated tree, or a perfectly chosen gift.  If we experience Christmas in a reactive way, imagine what we’ve set ourselves up for when the dress doesn’t zip all the way up, the green beans get cold, one strand in the middle of the tree goes dark, or the sweater is not the right size.

As I write, I’m sitting in the oncology clinic, waiting for my dad to get through another MRI. To pass the time, I’ve been thinking about shopping lists, and ironically the only two people I have left to shop for are my daughter who seemingly wants everything the toy aisle can offer and my dad who wants nothing. Well, nothing that money can buy. While many of my girl’s wishes will be fulfilled in 18 days, my dad has to wait and focus his longing upon a promise that one Day there will be a world without pain, worry, and cancer.

Joy has to be an intentional focus upon our Savior who has come and who is coming.  Joy doesn’t depend on our circumstances – it depends upon His character. Christmas tells us that God kept His word about Jesus’ first coming. Christmas assures us that we can await all the joyful promises of His coming again.

Luke’s gospel presents two of the most joyful people in the Christmas story: Simeon and Anna.

About Simeon, Luke says: “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

Simeon had longed for many years for see His Savior. Can’t you imagine the joy in his heart as his longing is fulfilled?

Barely after Simeon proclaimed his praise, Anna, an 84-year-old widowed prophetess, confirmed his revelation about the baby. Luke says of Anna:

“She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.  And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

I love how Luke portrays the faithful anticipation of those who were waiting for redemption and the faithfulness of God to fulfill what their eyes had longed to see.

Simeon and Anna were waiting. They were old. Surely they were tired and frail. But they made a choice to focus upon the Promise, and the Promised One made their joy complete.

And so, as we live between the Advents, let us find our joy in the Promise fulfilled and the Promise to come… He is the Joy of every longing heart.

Come Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee
Israel’s strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth Thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart

Born Thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a King
Born to reign in us forever
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring
By Thine own eternal spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone
By Thine all sufficient merit
Raise us to Thy glorious throne

~ Charles Wesley, 1745

The Present is the Gift

Happy Thanksgiving, friends! It’s a very different Thanksgiving for my family this year as we celebrating in south Florida instead of our North Carolina home. We’re with my husband’s siblings and their families, and our days have been filled with swimming and playing on the beach with cousins. We’ve discovered live starfish and sanddollars and even happened upon an alligator this morning! This is the first Thanksgiving we’ve ever spent away from our parents, and we’ll go to a buffet instead of cooking.

Even though it doesn’t seem like a traditional Thanksgiving, I realize that we don’t need the aroma of roasting turkey or the sounds of the Macy’s parade on TV to remember thanksgiving in our hearts. We have many, many reasons to thank God for the abundance that He has provided.

And when I think about Thanksgiving this year, I am trying to stay anchored in the present – with all the gifts that this day offers. Two things often rob me of a grateful heart. They are “ifs” – as in “what if?” and “if only…” The “what ifs?” put my focus – and worries – on the unknowns of the future. As the daughter of aging parents – one with cancer – my thoughts trend this way quite often. What if there will not be any more Thanksgivings together?

And the “if onlys” put my focus on the unchangeable realities and regrets of the past. If only I had not wasted the promising years of my young marriage and early career, bound by an eating disorder….

When these big “ifs” steal my peace and joy, I have to make a choice to stay right here in today. The past can’t be changed and the future can’t be controlled. I have to fix my mind on the one “IF” that brings my heart and mind back into the right focus:

IF God is for us, who can be against us?” ~ Romans 8:31.

God is for me, and neither the if onlys of the past or the what ifs of the future can take that away. That truth anchors my heart in gratitude for today. Gratitude that my regrets and shame are wiped away in Christ. Gratitude that He promises His sufficient grace for whatever lies in the future.

My heart is free and thankful today. I like the expression “Today is a gift – that’s why it’s called the present.” May we sincerely lift up our thanks today to the Giver all of good gifts – to the One who has redeemed our past and secured our future in Christ.

I truly hope that your heart will be free and thankful in Him too.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~ Romans 8: 38 – 39