‘Tis the season of frantic preparation to manufacture joy. At our house, the halls are decked, the presents are wrapped, the spirits are stocked, and the anticipation of a houseful of guests has commenced.
By this third week of Advent, we are ready to light the candle of joy. We await ultimate news of the angels singing our Savior is born. On Sunday, the pink taper in the wreath will be lit.
Joy, as the emotion of great delight or happiness, is out of reach for many. Spiritually, we are awaiting the fulfillment of God’s promise. Practically, we are overpaying for an evergreen tree, missing loved ones past, working undesirable hours, using our credit cards, over scheduling ourselves, and searching for perfect gifts.
In this context, how can we choose joy? I believe, it is not in the preparations, but rather in the experiences.
Attend a Christmas concert or pageant — look at the joy in the faces of the performers. Turn the radio dial to holiday music and notice the bright and beautiful outdoor lights on your drive home. Notice the man in the Santa suit, and pause to remember a time when you believed. Bake just one handed-down goody recipe and remember the family member who made it for you with love. Write out cards or post a greeting on social media. Display the Nativity scene, or the nutcracker collection, or Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
Joy is an expression of glad feeling, festive gaiety, or a state of happiness. We picture it loudly. Yet, we can rejoice quietly as well. Enjoy the early darkness in the evening with hot cocoa or apple cider. Cuddle with your softest blanket and watch your favorite Christmas movies.
Biblical joy is beyond the happiness offered by this season. It is more than an emotion. It is a state of being that finds its source in God. Biblical joy is gladness and contentedness flowing out of God’s mercy.
Christians have joy, because they anticipate a time when Jesus comes to the world. While, we acknowledge joy on Sunday, Christians also know to carry joy throughout the year.
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines … Yet, I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” Habakkuk, 3:17-18.
Faith isn’t something we feel; it is something we trust. It is one of the gifts God gave us.
“God gave us faith, hope, and love,” 1 Corinthians 13:13.
Faith, as a noun, is a belief that is not based on proof. It is confidence in a person or thing. Faith can mean a belief in God or anything such as a code of ethics, standards of merit.
One day, my teenager told me he finds it awkward to be growing up in a Christian family, because he is an atheist. This was not a shocking revelation. Or even unexpected. Teenagers rebel.
Yet it takes faith to believe in the absence of God just as it takes faith to believe in the presence of God.
I cannot prove to my son that God exists. I am not a theologian. I also struggle to be evangelical, to bring additional believers to know God. I could waste my time presenting evidence. But, of course, there is no proof that there is a God, only indications and signs.
My child cannot prove that God doesn’t exist. Though, this aspiring debater sure likes to try. And, there are plenty of ways to demonstrate the lack of a spiritual creator.
I decided we will agree to disagree. Just as teens believe they do not need algebra, they still learn it. My teen will learn about the Christian faith. I believe, when he is thirty, he’ll need to draw upon his basic mathematical education for deductive decision making. I also believe, he may find a time to draw upon his teaching of God to garner hope, joy, and peace. And, yes, I hope he will find faith.
My faith has been affirmed. That happens. Evidence is attributed to support the belief. I have felt God most strongly witnessing birth, death, and loving celebrations. I also feel him in watching the work of the faithful to aid fellow man.
I have never held the belief that God didn’t exist. Yet, my faith has meandered. There was a time my views were agnostic. Did it really matter if there was or wasn’t a God?
At present, I am an affirmed believer. I ask myself, if God doesn’t exist, what exactly is the point of life. It is easier to live in faith and try to follow the teachings of Jesus, than to live without faith in pursuit of happiness.
Thanksgiving weekend is the busiest travel season of the year with 42.5 MILLION people traveling. Expect delays.
We all know it is about the journey not the destination. In this regard, we talk about journey as a verb, to make a journey, to travel.
The action of journeying speaks to more than the logistics of packing, flights, trains, and way finding. It isn’t about the accommodations or the companions.
To peregrinate is to hold a mindset of growth. The state of movement, progress.
It is one thing to physically roam from destination to destination. It is another to have a journey of personal development. A faith journey, from nonbeliever to believer. A love story, from strangers to soul mates. A quest, from meager to mighty. The growth, from novice to expert. Sometimes the journey is backwards, faithful to agnostic, lovers to adversaries, healthy to ailing.
The verb journey is derived from mid-14c, “travel from one place to another.” Also, from Anglo-French journeyer, Old French journoiier “work by day; go, walk, travel.” Also, from jorunee “a day’s work or travel.”
Journeying it is about both the smooth sails AND the bumpy roads. One does not arrive. One travels from state to state. All the while appreciating the ride, gratefully accepting the crooked line.
Journeying is movement. Yet, to enjoy the ride requires deliberate presence in each step.
This is a month of thanksgiving. Despite the origins of the holiday. Presently, we pause, we feast, and give thanks.
There are no gifts to exchange. There is no music. Decorations are subtle earthy tones coupled with luscious reds, oranges, and yellows. The kitchen brings comforting aromas of family dishes brought out just this one time a year.
Social media suggests calendars and prompts of things to be grateful for each day. It is the quiet time before the bustle of the Christmas season. It is a reason to celebrate gratitude.
During Lent, I read, “A Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp, learn more. A small group of women reflected on the transformation that could come from listing, actually writing down, daily things to be grateful for. Voskamp writes like a poet; her, sometimes flowery, chronicles of gratitude challenge us to see the world through a lens of awe and appreciation. Her words stay with me even though practicing gratitude preceded reading “A Thousand Gifts.”
My pastor preaches radical gratitude year round. About three years ago, I started gratitude journals. Each day, I list three things I am thankful for. This is not as holy as Voskamp’s but is effective in changing mindset.
From the good night’s sleep, to the sunshine, to the steady paycheck and health insurance from my day job. From the report cards highlighting my children’s achievements, to the YMCA where I get to work my body, to the meals I eat and do not have to make. For the opportunity to cook for my family. For the garage that keeps my car free from the icy snow. For the time in my office with its muted pink walls. To the mobility and freedom I have in a body that is healthy. To the cheesecake I bought from a fundraiser. For the likes on my posts.
The list goes on. And on. And this keeps me positive. It has trained my brain to see the gifts rather than the disappointments.
Imagine if I kept a list of all the things that go wrong: every red light on a tight schedule. Storms that shut down power. Furnaces that break. Kids that get fevers. I won’t go on, but I realize fixating on these things would bring me down. These things can be turned to gratitude.
Grateful to slow down on my way to work. Grateful for candles and flashlights in the dark. Grateful for repair men that work on call. Grateful for Tylenol, warm blankets and snuggles. The shift in thinking makes the difference in well being.
While it is great to have a season, a holiday, a gathering of thanksgiving. It is greater to have an attitude of gratitude as a way of constant thought. A steady diet of appreciation.
Gratitude, a noun, the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful. Give thanks every place you go. This mindset is a gift you give yourself.
One can be brave only in the presence of fear, never in its absence.
Brave, not hesitant. Just hold your breath and leap into the unknown outcome. Exhibit courage or have courageous endurance. An adjective, make a fine appearance; be intrepid, dauntless.
I was brave once or twice. I spoke in public to an auditorium full of people. I zip lined through a jungle. I fell in love.
Perhaps my bravest moment was to publish a memoir. In my mind, it was not a tell-all confessional. Yet, readers responded to it as a raw, honest, reveal of a mental illness. The book, published in 2014 under my maiden name, was released for consumption and opened me to judgement.
It was bold and daring to authentically share my humanity full of flaw. One reviewer called it a hero’s journey, likening my path to wellness to Joseph Campbell’s mythical story lines.
I had fears prior to the release of the book. Would anyone like it? Would I be ostracized? Did I offend anyone?
The fear and subsequent bravery of publishing the book was minor in comparison to the fears I had in accepting bipolar nearly ten years ago. I was terrified of the medications, the months of endless side effects and moderate improvement of symptoms. Yet, I bravely subjected myself to additional regimen suggestions. Maybe a blue pill, maybe this yellow one, what about a small, white disc?
What makes a person brave? Bravery is believing the result is worth the risk. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that.
In the years following my book, I garnered readers from seven countries. I received thank you cards. I received affirmations that my disease was valid and my writing was solid.
Brave, as a verb, to meet or face courageously, to defy; challenge; dare.
It is not truth or dare. It is dare to live your truth.
Dabble, verb, to play and splash in or as if in water; to work at anything in an irregular or superficial manner.
Having published poetry, journalism, and a memoir, I continue to dabble in fiction. I have 275 pages of a novel written, working title “Poetic License.” This draft is, by my estimation, about half finished.
I know people will be more impressed by what I finish than what I start. Yet, I have merely tested the waters, got my toes wet.
There is a gimmick-like promotion well known to aspiring novelists, NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month is a sort of boot camp for writers. By following the prescription of writing roughly 1,600 words a day, one can complete a 50,000-word novel in the thirty days of November.
Truth be told, my draft already has 50,000 words. I have puttered with plot, fiddled with form, and toyed with characters and setting. My interest in this project has ebbed and flowed for more than five years. Writing friends have read chapters, given critiques and resounding support to keep going. “There is something here,” they say.
I pick up the book for a day here and there. I won’t say I have Writer’s Block. I will admit to self doubt. The thing about 50,000 words is that it is A LOT! But, also, not enough! A first novel is 70,000 to 80,000 words. A finished novel is also said to be the rough draft minus ten percent in the editing process. I do have plenty of work to do to complete the draft. And the draft is just that, a baby step to completing the novel.
There have been other Novembers where I say I will commit to the thirty days of writing. I haven’t. Maybe this month will be different. Maybe 2019 is my year!
There is a saying, “you become effective by being selective.” In order to stop dabbling, I need to reject other pastimes. For me, for fiction, for the aspiring novelist in me, I will dip a little and often and hopefully not superficially.
Sticky notes of forget me nots. Planners of exact dates and times — birthdays, appointments. Bulletin boards of invitations, obligations. The secret list of passwords.
We lie awake at night and remember our day. We think about what we have to do the next day.
And, who hasn’t walked into a room straining to recall, why did I come into this room?
Our mind is full of memories. Remember is an action, which we involuntarily do all day long. Imagine programming your remembering with intention.
Let us remember our affirmations, the assertion that something is true. Make these positive. Make this habit. Have this come to the mind, again and again.
Here is a list I remember:
Important, a priority, significant other.
Wholly subjective, what you choose to spend time on?
My friend Heather used to say, “If it’s important to you, you will find time for it.” The next breath was, “If it’s not important to you, you will find excuses.” These were not her original thoughts, but rather her mantra. And she always made time for people — friendships, family, business associates. Relationships, were her priority.
Because she died young, age 39, I am preoccupied with time. Do I have enough time to reach my goals, to live a life of significance? Heather’s death was nearly three years ago, but her voice, her advice, her wisdom echos in my mind. I hear her nudging me toward significance, the quality of being significant or having a meaning.
Each day we wake up, we are given a blank page, a fresh start. What is significant? How can we make time for the important stuff when fitting in the daily mundane tasks. Too many times, my to do list only contains laundry, errands, and appointments.
The question Heather wrestled with as she endured a terminal illness, was what matters anyway? Does any of it really matter? Her fitness, her career, her material accumulations?
I advised her, that yes, yes these things matter, because the pursuit helped others. She was a realtor helping people find and sell homes, to transition from one life stage to the next. Her fitness inspired those around her to take care of their bodies, and the camaraderie of work-out buddies created fellowship and lasting memories. Her material accumulations provided stability for her children.
What if I started my daily list answering the question, what significant thing can I accomplish today. In order to live with that kind of purpose, one must identify what is of significance, give up the excuses, and make time for it.
Heather shared her last months’ of life on her blog, LovingLivingLife2Day. One post had the song, Seasons of Love. “Five-hundred, twenty-five-thousand, six-hundred minutes. How do you measure, measure, a year?”
Love. The answer is always love.
This was Jesus’ answer too. In John 13:34, Jesus told his remaining disciples, as little children, that he will be with them for only a short time, then will leave them. In the verse, Jesus told the disciples: “Love one another; as I have loved you.”
My writing often lacks transition; bounces from idea to idea, I neglect to connect them. The cue to readers to move from one thought to the next is often missing. Passages from one scene to another require a smooth transition. When this is awkward, writing comes across as choppy, jumpy, or abrupt. I have been accused of all these assessments.
I’m taking a jump here, transitions in writing are hard because transitions in life are hard. Remember adolescence? Complete and utter chaos transitioning to adulthood. Transition doesn’t stop here, but repeats throughout life.
Times of transition are often a mess filled with uncertainty. I, for one, would like to skip over the disorder of change. I fight it. I cling to a known way of life. As it transforms to something new, I would like to get there already. I’d like to forego the muddled period.
The noun transition comes from Latin transitionem, “a going across or over.” We are leaving behind the known. I hurriedly want to get over the past and embrace the future. I want to know how it ends. Transition correlates with unrest.
At my day job, we are transitioning to new leadership, new colleagues, new processes. I do not fear the future. I want to welcome what unfolds. Embracing the transition itself creates anxiety for me. I choke in the uncertainty of this time. Transitions in writing are brief. In reality, they stretch and zigzag. When a group, such as my work team, is forced to transition together, there is friction.
As I reflect on transition, the change from one state to another, I am reminded of scripture. From Isaiah 43:18-19, the Lord says, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
When I trust God in the outcome, I can trust Him in the process. I can find peace in my faith that the result, though unknown, will be good and just.
Relief, a sigh of. The noun is the alleviation, ease, or deliverance through the removal of pain, distress, oppression …” Sometimes we don’t realize how tense, unpleasant, stressful a situation is until it is released from us. Then, we feel the relief. Relief is a thing we can hope for, and, I believe, count on.
Take Psalm 23, one of the most known and quoted scriptures. You make know from its beginning, “The Lord is my Shepard, I shall not want …” You may have heard it at times of grief or times of trouble.
In it, is the promise of relief. The promise. The certainty. Psalm 23 contains the following affirmations of times of rest and reprieve.
“He makes me lie down in green pastures.”
“He leads me beside quiet waters.”
“He restores my soul.”
In this scripture, we are told there is relief. God brings us to places of rest and revival. Like sheep who fight this resting, we are prone to overlook the relief that is all around us. Even temporarily we can feel relief even if not a complete absence of pain, at least a respite.
Relief originates in the late 14th Century — “alleviation of distress, hunger, sickness — from the Anglo-French relif, from the Old French relief “assistance,” literally “a raising, that which is lifted,” from stressed stem of relever.
In reviewing Psalm 23, we can learn to bask in the green pastures, relax by the still waters, restore ourselves to true form. Not so literally, we can find windows of opportunity to be led to a place that offers relief to us — our bed covered with comforters, our kitchen table set with a meal, our yard ripe with late season flowers.
In these places, we can give credit to the Creator. We can think of the following verse also contained in Psalm 23:
“Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”