Monday, July 27, 2015

Joy in the Journey #1/#2: Celebration & Hope

Restoration of joy. That's what's on my mind this morning. For every Camp Robber that attempts to steal my joy, there are specific ways to recover it. Creating space for joy is a definite must. Taking time to be in God's Presence and truly "Sabbathing" are essential. What I do there is something else...

Last week hinted at one way. If I had to give it a label, I'd tag it celebration. Celebration, especially of God's victories in our life - throwing Him a party as evidence of His faithfulness. Everyone loves a party...I would imagine God's included in that, after all they were His idea implanted in our hearts. Those parties should include "lifting up banners of joy in His name." I just wonder what life would be like if we were more intentional about celebrations and parties? After all, the kind of joy they tend to produce is contagious.

I thought of another. Call this Joy Restorer #2. Tag it: Hope.

The last three airline trips I've made have been trips-from-down-under (and I'm not talking about Australia or New Zealand, if you know what I mean). I've experienced delay after delay, mostly due to mechanical failures or waiting to exchange crews who have worked over their hour limits. It began with the trip I took to Phoenix for my grandson's 8th birthday, carried over on the trip I took to my Aunt Frannie's 100th birthday party in Oregon, and this last flight going to Albany, New York. There's nothing like sitting an extra 8 hours at Dulles International Airport. By the time I arrived at my destination, I was getting pretty fed up with United Airlines. I was already forming (in my head) my letter of complaint, as well as how I would fill out their "Tell-Us-About-Your-Last-Experience-With-United" form. Neither would be very pretty. So, on Saturday morning, just prior to leaving for home, my sweet husband asked, no stated, "I bet you are looking forward to the trip home!" He leans toward the sarcastic. Before even arriving at the airport, we knew it would be a 16-hour day door to door. Who looks forward to that? (Actually, I think he was a little nervous traveling with me, since I didn't have the best of travel-fortune.) I thought for a minute, and responded, "What I'm looking forward to is what's at the other own bed, eating my own food, time to go on some long walks, sitting on the couch in my pajamas and just being quiet for a few hours (or a few days)." That's when it struck me about hope. I knew the trip home was a long one. I knew there could be bumps, delays, problems, and flight crew changes. At the other end, I anticipated the joy of being home. I knew what was coming. I could foresee what that looked like. In that moment of insightful foresight, I found a new joy for the journey! It was completely founded on HOPE!

We have such a hope for life. It's also called home. Some call it heaven. The writer of Hebrews, when  pointing to Abraham's exemplary faith, tell us that "he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God (11:10)." The Apostle John pointed to heaven, helping us picture what was ahead - a place with no sorrow, no tears...

Paul reminds us that to "die is gain..." The Apostle Peter weighs in with our inheritance "that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for (you)" and is guarded by God's power (1 Peter 1:6). We don't see heaven, we just catch glimpses of it through the eyes of those who were given opportunity to look at the world beyond and were excited for it. Which is why I love these words from Peter, as well:

"Though you do not now see.., you believe..., and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory (1 Peter 1:8b)."

#lessonsonjoy: When the road of life seems long and problem-filled, a glimpse at what's at the end will restore the joy.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Lift up Banners of JOY!

Lord Byron is quoted as saying, "If I don't write to quiet my mind, I go mad." I've often thought we must have been related, he and I. Typically my mind is spinning and full. This morning it is strangely quiet. Awkwardly so.

Currently, I hold four journals all filled with information on joy. In no way have I completed the topic. The fact is I am supposed to be done; and, I thought for certain I'd be finished at the time I ended the Thrive Retreat where I'd be speaking on Joy in the Journey. Yesterday morning I left Breckenridge after debriefing with the 34 other women who volunteered alongside me. I haven't even begun to touch, in this blog, some of the things I've learned, and even some of the lessons I shared with the "global" women we all went to serve. Again, my mind is oddly still, except for one passage of Scripture. It was a passage I had intended to share with the ladies as I finished out the sessions, but left out as time ran short. It's applicable more to me this morning than it is to anyone, but it is one of the "joy" passages I studied along the way.

May we shout for JOY over your victories and lift up our banners of JOY in the name of our God. May the Lord grant all my requests...Psalm 20:5

My mind is quiet, but my heart is rejoicing this morning. If it weren't 4:30 AM, in a Denver hotel, filled with sleeping folks, I would probably be a bit more expressive. I feel like shouting and lifting up a banner in the name of my God. Why? I saw first-hand-victories over the past 8 days. I watched the countenances of women change. I saw souls arrive in Breckenridge heavy-hearted and leave lighter. I watched confusion melt into peace. I heard stories of fears dissolving. I watched transformations take place. God was good to these women.

The Lord granted all of my requests for these ladies, my heroes of the faith! Missionary life is not easy. Most of these women will tell you that the #1 question they don't want to be asked is "How are you doing?" At the same time, most of them will tell you the #1 question they hope to be asked is "How are you doing?"...and have the one who asked them truly listen. I think that hope was fulfilled. They connected with other women walking the same road called "home assignment." They shared vulnerably. They were heard, and loved on, by one another, and the volunteers. It was a JOY to see.

Much more, God heard my cries for help, and responded. I came to Him with a request to allow me to "be a vessel of honor, sanctified, useful to Him, and prepared for every good work (2 Timothy 1:23)." I prayed a declaration of King David in Psalm 18, that my God would indeed "help me to advance..." and to be with me, helping me to "scale a wall (vs. 29)." This morning as I write, I'm listening to a TobyMac song on Pandora.

"You take me to the place where I know I need you -
Straight to the depths I can't handle on my own.
And, Lord, I know, I know I need you.
Take me to your great unknown...

You gave me stars, put them out of my reach...
Called me to waters a little too deep.
I've never been so aware of my need.
You keep on making me see-
It's way beyond me."

That resonates with me this early morning hour. God has, once again, taken me to a place where I desperately needed Him. He called me to deep waters, which were a little intimidating, and certainly difficult to navigate without His help. He asked me to step out of myself and do that which is "beyond me"... But in that place His faithful Presence went with, and as I stepped into His Presence, I, also, stepped into strength...and JOY.

#lessonsonjoy - When I step out of my comfort zone, into His Presence, I can confidently do that which is beyond me and find joy.

I'm headed off to New York this morning. Soon as I get home, I need to create a banner of JOY to raise to in the name of my God. He helped me scale a wall. I saw victory unfold before my eyes.

At least I can shout for JOY (somewhere in a place where people aren't sleeping)!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Camp Robber #9: Undermining Shame

I have written much, spent a lot of ink, on the topic of shame. Shame is, in my opinion, my #1 enemy when it comes to joy-robbing. He's almost giant in proportion, but not quite big enough (this is true, at least the case in my world, but not so true in others'). In spite of all I know about shame, I still haven't conquered it. Shame still swoops in from time-to-time without much warning, and, oops (!) there he goes again, off with my JOY. I'm left shouting, "Off with your head!" As far as "Camp-Robbers" go, this one is, well, "shameless;" and, like all camp-robbers, quick and sneaky (so much so, he's almost invisible to the naked-eye). When his theft goes undetected, and we're left stewing in silence, wondering what happened, unable to put our finger on exactly what, shame grows - he grows bigger and fatter. So, it's important to learn to recognize his presence, his thievery, and deal with him, IMMEDIATELY and CONSISTENTLY. We've been given that authority,  and the sling-shot to rid ourselves of him, even though he'd like us to think otherwise.

Here's what shame does. He swoops in, plants a thought, steals my joy, and leaves me as quickly as he came, feeling dirty, defiled. He attaches himself to things I've done or not done (my shame is often the result of my perfectionism); to things others have done to me; or to people who've done bad things and to whom I associate myself. No matter which vehicle he uses, I'm left looking a lot like this...

Then, before I know it, I'm wallowing...languishing in the messiness...

Dirt sticks. It dries. It cakes. The problem is that it's caked to our souls, not our bodies. When it's caked to our souls, we know we're defiled. There's no way we can be holy. No matter what anyone tells us. We can confess to a priest, but inside we still feel dirty. We can try to cover it with a medication, but that only helps for so long. We can turn to drugs, or alcohol, or some other method for forgetting, but it's only a mask, and underneath, in our sane moments, the dirt and defilement still loom large.

In the pictures above the dirt can be washed away, a good hosing, a soak in a tub, and the body can be clean again. How is the soul washed? And, once washed, how does it stay clean? How do we recognize shame, who never gives up, and persistently attacks again and again? More importantly, how do we make it stop?! Secular author, Brené Brown has written books on her years of shame research. They are good. They are helpful. I've quoted her often. They just aren't complete (sorry, Dr. Brown). The helpful things she's told me are:
* don't silence shame - wrap words around shame - we need good COMMUNICATION
* find safe people to whom you can share your story - we need CONNECTION
* be kind to yourself; talk to yourself the way you would a friend - we need COMFORT
* we must learn to be truly vulnerable - it is through vulnerability we will develop COURAGE
* courage leads to CONFIDENCE
* confidence steps over shame and allows us to live in CREATIVITY (shame-gone)

These are good things...they are right...they are even Biblical. Yet they don't clean the soul. What cleans the soul? Blood. That's what the entire book of Leviticus is about. Moses unveils THE LIST - here are the things that will defile you. When you are defiled, you must go to the temple. Bring or purchase a lamb. Give it to the priest. The priest will sacrifice it, take it before the Lord, and you will be washed clean from the blood. Done. Done. Done. The people believed Moses. They fact the outer courts of the temple were a bloody mess. Yet, when they left, their belief in the WORDS OF THE LORD and the blood spilled were visible signs that they were cleansed. DEFILED-NO-MORE! 

We don't sacrifice in our temples/churches anymore. I'm so thankful. I'd have to camp out at the temple. I'd be lamb-rich and penny-poor. Instead, the rest of the story is JESUS. The spotless lamb. The ONE who chose to die, once for all, to cleanse me of shame's attempts, for ALL TIME. Yes, I need communication, it's called REPENTANCE. I need CONNECTION, it's called BELIEVING on the Lord Jesus Christ. I need comfort, it's called SALVATION (past, present, and future tense). I need COURAGE, it's called the HOLY SPIRIT dwelling in me. I need CONFIDENCE, it's called a NEW IDENTITY in Christ. I need CREATIVITY, it's called MISSION.

The break down comes when I don't walk belief... I go through the steps, I acknowledge the truth with my head, but I must transfer it all to my heart. That's why we've been given a visible sign. Our sign is the cross. Again and again, when shame strikes, I must look at the CROSS (that's the one thing missing in Dr. Brown's list). When I look at the CROSS, Shame flees, taking his bag of seeds with him. 

This weeks #lessononjoy: Always stand within the shadow of the cross. There is JOY. SHAMELESS JOY.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Camp Robber #8: Un-relatable People

Life just keeps moving forward, and here I am, still navigating these roads that lead to joy. Along the way, I've discovered a lot of ways to create space finding joy. By creating space, I am choosing joy above anything else: anger, sadness, jealousy, fear, anxiety, __________ (you can fill in the blank). It doesn't mean I ignore those other emotions (have you seen Pixar's movie, Inside Out? A must!). However, joy can still exist alongside those other emotions. That's what I choose. It's what I want. It's the thing for which I will continue to fight.

As noted over the last several weeks, there are "Camp Robbers". Little things with wings that flit in and out of my world, attempting to steal away what I want most. Of course - joy. I've grown accustomed to the fact that they are sneaky little rascals and am more aware of them. The problem is that they just don't stop. As soon as I have identified one, another dives bombs the picnic table set for joy, and catches me off guard. I know this, because I am a living, breathing human. If we aren't six feet under, there will always be "Camp Robbers." There are at least two that flitted into life-as-I-know-it over the last couple of days. So, one today, the other next week.

In my journeying, I finally arrived at Paul's book of Philippians - a very thorough writing on joy. I see in Paul's writing that he categorizes several of these robbers of joy in a particular pattern. Accordingly, these things attempt to keep us from "rejoicing always, and (he) says it again, rejoice!" Here's Paul's list: places (like prison), people, problems, pedestals (idols), and pollution (sin). I should have read his list before I started creating my own.

There in the midst of Philippians (just about the time Paul tells the church to "be of one mind," to "maintain the same love," "to be united in Spirit," and "to be intent on one purpose,"), it happened. It being that someone did something, didn't communicate something, and ignored important relationship rules in such a way that I got all worked up internally. So much so that I allowed what was done, un-communicated, and ignored to rob me of sleep and, yep, joy. The ridiculousness of it all was that I was taking up a sense of offense, justice, and annoyance, and it wasn't even my problem. This all belonged to someone else. I was all riled up for a situation that wasn't mine to own. I tried to come up with an UN-word (since my list, unlike Paul's, all started with "un"). I spent an entire middle-of-the-night looking at UN-words in the dictionary to fit how/why this person had begun to strip me of joy. They weren't being "unlikable," "unneighborly, or "unbiblical"... Yes, they were a little "un-smart," and, somewhat "unaccountable." Yet those weren't the best words to define what was happening. The UN-word I finally came up with was "un-relatable." Sometimes, in life people do things we can't relate to and we wind up all discombobulated in soul. Such was this situation. I simply couldn't file away the decision that had been made by this individual. I couldn't make sense of what seemed to me to be irresponsible, thoughtless, misdirected, and financially poor stewardship. Again - not mine to even worry over; yet, I was the disturbed soul. Camp Robber #8: Un-relatable People

Fortunately, it only lasted for a part of an evening...even though these were sleep hours I wouldn't retrieve. Back to Philippians I went, and there it was, "Tell Euodia and Syntyche to live together in harmony..." First, though, Paul makes sure the whole church took time to reflect on their relationship to Jesus and all that had been done for them: had Jesus made a difference in their hearts and lives? That's when Paul tells them in very specific terminology to "regard others as more important as themselves." Ouch. He also says in not so many words, "Stop being selfish and conceited." Just stab me with a sword, Paul! There was MY HEART PROBLEM in five words. When I find it hard to relate to others, it's often because I think I know better than they do how they should live their lives. In my self-centeredness, I think I have all the answers. In my conceitedness, I think I am somehow a bit smarter, and others should listen to me, ask my advice, and then follow it. Living in harmony always means I must always work on my humility. Always! Living in harmony means I must develop of Jesus-attitude of emptying, serving, humbling...even to the point of death. However, right now, other than dying to self, Jesus isn't asking me to die, I am pointedly aware that what He wants from me is LIFE: a life of living together in harmony established without self-centered conceit.

Then I will find joy...

...and possibly sleep better, too.