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Posts Tagged ‘joy’

 

            This afternoon my editor-in-chief, Nicola Martinez, emailed an encouraging letter to all her authors. My heart was touched as soul tears blurred my eyes. Most of my regular followers know our only daughter died a number of years ago, and due to her home-going and the onslaught of secondary losses, Christmas has been extremely difficult for me. Until last year. And I know many of you find yourselves facing your first Christmas without the one you love and it’s so painful and strange.

            Two years ago, after a heart-twisting meltdown, I made some serious changes and came face-to-face with the fact I’d attempted to travel that same old road, Christmas after Christmas, and it just didn’t work—each year became worse.

‘Til a close friend counseled, “You don’t have to keep traveling down the same road. You can take a new path.” And I listened and tried that new road, and it worked. Does that mean my heart is healed? Far from it…I still have boo-hoo moments, but they no longer incapacitate and prevent me from participating in the joy of Christmas. And your joy will return. It won’t be tomorrow, and it may not be next year, but Christmas won’t always be a time of dreaded darkness for you.

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            Today Ms. Martinez stared, unblinking, into the sufferings of that first Christmas. I pray her words will touch your heart as they have mine. I’ve often said, “That holy baby in Bethlehem was born to die so you and I might live.” But all we consider this time of year is the joy and by our contrast we are devastated.

            I asked to be sure she would not mind if I shared the blessing of her thoughts with you. Her response was quick. “Yes, you may share if you think it will help someone.” I pray the Spirit of God will give you new insight into the throbs of your heart and God’s comfort will soothe and give you peace.

                                                                                    DiAne

“I’ve had my head buried in computer code and databases that I’ve hardly noticed the time go by. With the exception of prayer, it’s rather made my Christmas preparation a little clinical. Add to that my kitchen at home is partially torn up right now, and for the first time in my adult life, I’m not fixing Christmas dinner. And the whole season seems a little strange. Yet, God is awesome, and my discombobulation is nothing compared to what some are dealing with right now.

So many are facing hardships. From illness to financial hardship to family estrangement and having to endure the first Christmas after losing a family member. It’s easy to lose sight of God’s promises. They can feel distant and almost out of reach even though we know as Christians that God and His promises are never out of reach.

You know, when it’s Lent and we’re approaching Easter, it’s easy to ponder Jesus’ suffering and how He endured the same hardships we do, and worse. But, at Christmas, the special joy the world seems to exude tends to outshine the reality that there was a lot of suffering in the birth of Christ. His mother had to tell her fiancé that she was pregnant, which meant risking not only divorce but possibly being stoned. Then, as she was just about ready to give birth, they were forced on a journey. (Mothers, you remember what it’s like to be “big as a house”, “out to here”, right? Must’ve been really comfy riding that donkey!) And what must it have felt like to have to lay the Son of God on a bed of rough straw instead of in a comfy bed.

Mary and Joseph must’ve felt like failures…certainly unworthy of the task to which they’d been entrusted. That wasn’t the end of it, though, because while the angels were singing “Glory to God in the Highest”, Herod was slaughtering babies and toddlers. Shocking, I know.

Those who suffer through loss and loneliness at Christmas are not alone. They are not far from God’s promises. They are as close as Mary and Joseph. They are as close as those parents who lost their children. They are as close as those martyred innocents. There was a lot of sadness and suffering when Salvation entered the world. And yet, this is rightly a season of Joy. Emmanuel: God with us. Through love and miracle, we have everything. There is nothing He can’t accomplish. All we have to do is believe. Trust. Give Him permission to work in our lives.

No matter what your circumstance is this holiday season, I hope you have time to enjoy the miracle of this life and His with which you are blessed. If you are in a place of happiness, contentment and abundance; praise Him. Have compassion for those who are suffering right now. Pray for them so they have the strength to make it through.

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If you are in a place of pain or sorrow or other hardship, try to rest in the promise. It is right there even if you can’t feel it. There is nothing in this world that can make your situation easier at this moment in time. For whatever reason, your situation is something you must endure. But you can endure! And when you come out on the other side, you will be better. I don’t know how, but I know it’s true, and I pray you know it, too.”

 

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NAS).

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It’s Spring in Texas and farmers are plowing ground, getting ready to sow seeds. Seeds that will produce whatever they plan to harvest in the Fall. If it’s a good year and we get a balance of enough rain and sunshine the farmer can reasonably expect a bumper crop. But once that seed is planted, the crop can’t change. Whatever seed germinates will produce after its kind.

Plowed Ground 2

We lived in Florida for a number of years and I promise, I’ve never seen cucumbers or tomatoes hanging from the limbs of that orange tree. Have you? Of course not, that’s against the law of reproduction commanded by God “In the beginning— “

 “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind, with seed in them on the earth; and it was so. And the earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:11-12 NAS).

But the old saying, “You get more than you sow and later than you sow,” is true. It’s a cyclical law of nature. And these same laws apply to our lives.

Anacortes Farm land

You and I are planting seeds today that will yield a greater harvest at some point in our future. So I ask, what kind of seeds you sowed last week? Or yesterday? Or today? Seeds of kindness or seeds of chaos? Seeds of hope or seeds of despair? In the process of life, we continually sow and reap. Every day. Are you satisfied with your harvest? If not, why not?

Do you know you can sow different seeds? Regardless of age, creed, or color, God stands ready to implement those seed changing attitudes and actions in your life and mine into a new and better crop. But perhaps you’re having trouble understanding and identifying what kinds of nasty seeds should be eradicated.

Reaping and Sowing

Seeds of anger, left to flourish, will choke out every other helpful and hopeful seeds your heart may attempt to cultivate. These stinky seeds must be yanked out by their roots. No tolerance. Because every day these boogers are left unattended, the second generation of anger seeds grow stronger and more resistant to extinction. And unfortunately, if left to reproduce, this generational crop will morph into bitterness.

God is very clear about this toxic crop.

“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled” (Hebrews 12:15 NAS).

Oh, but you say, you don’t know what (you fill in the blank) did to me. Maybe not, but I know what our Lord Jesus Christ did for you. And how fitting we should talk about this today, Good Friday, the day when Jesus, a little over 2,000 years ago, took every sin you ever committed against Him into His sinless body. He chose to take God’s judgment and punishment for you. He was crucified so God could forgive you.

Now tell me again why you can’t forgive everyone for anything they’ve done to you in light of what Christ forgave you for?

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (Ephesians 4:31 NAS).

Forgiveness isn’t a warm fuzzy. Nor is it a command to be best friends with the offender. Your anger and bitterness does no harm to the person who has wronged you. No, but it sure is a fatal disease for you.

I can tell you from firsthand experience forgiveness is a choice. A choice to obey God. A choice to release the subject of your vendetta and give it over to God. A choice to plant new seeds in your heart that will produce an abundant crop of joy and love and hope—for yourself and for the Lord Jesus Christ.

Plowed ground

Choosing to hold onto your anger renders what Christ did for you null and void. Is this the crop you willingly choose to produce? The crop you will one day give an answer for? The crop that prevents you from being all God intended for you to be?

“There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one. There throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths; and the path of peace have they not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:10-18 NAS).

This is the description of a man/woman, boy/girl, without Jesus. Will this be the final harvest you bring to the Lord in light of His sacrifice for you? You can lay it down today, this moment, by choosing to forgive.

There is great news and bad news about this choice. The great news? The moment you purpose in your heart to forgive—it’s a done deal. The bad news? It’s a life sentence. Yes, because you’ve already given Satan a heads-up on how to sabotage you. So every time that enemy of old tries to punch replay on your old tape of whatever that so-and-so did to me, you immediately punch the off button instead and forgive them again and again and again—seventy times seven. Until Satan sees you mean business and leaves you alone for a season.

Will you choose to let the Word of God plow the hard ground of your heart, and allow the Spirit of God to plant new seeds, for a new harvest? What greater gift could you give our Lord this Resurrection Sunday than to accept His forgiveness and then forgive one (name them) who has wronged you? The Holy Spirit will be faithful to nourish those new seeds of Christ’s love, mercy, and hope in your life that will, if you continue to weed and feed the pasture of your heart, produce a bumper crop!

A Matter of the Heart

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I buckled the seat belt and glanced around the cabin of the plane. Full flight—not an empty seat. And I shifted closer to my husband for take-off. While my son is a fighter pilot who loves his airplane and delights in zooming through the skies at mach speed, no way does that strand of flight genes flow in these veins. Now I just had endure this three plus hours to get home.

Ranier from the lodge
Vacation in Seattle had been wonderful, and I kinda looked forward to the interrupted time to edit my WIP (work in progress) Twisted. Kinda.

About fifteen minutes into the flight the captain instructed the flight attendants to immediately take their seats and buckle up. The voice instructed passengers not to move about the cabin for the next little bit, and those seat-command-lights flashed on.

Dick patted my arm and smiled. Every muscle in my body tensed. I didn’t return his smile.
The bumping began—then worsened. I closed my notebook, stuffed it back inside the bag and grabbed his hand in a death-lock. We dipped and the plane jarred from side to side.
I pushed his hand away and clutched the gray, drop-down tray in front of me, and hung on. But the bumps and rolls continued. Seconds? Minutes? Hours? My hands hurt from holding that plastic so tight. And all that raced through my mind, over and over, “Lord, help us! Please help us.”
“You’re holding onto the wrong thing.” The clear, concise words, sounded in my head and heart.
“What?” I quipped.
“You are holding onto the wrong thing.” The calm voice of the Spirit of God repeated as loud and real as if He were sitting in Dick’s seat.
I stared at my fists clinging to a gray plastic and the stupid absurdity of my actions crystallized. If the plane went down so would I—clinging to that insignificant tray.
The bumping continued, but I loosened my grip and tore my hands away from that false hope of stability and confessed what God already knew. I was wrong. And anxious. And was indeed holding onto the wrong thing.

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Though the bumping didn’t stop, I felt God’s presence and peace wrap me, body, soul and spirit, in His sovereign arms—after I put away foolish substitutes and trusted Him to care for me.
During this Christmas Season, that question has played through my mind many times since that high-flite-testing.

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Amid the hustle and bustle, what insignificant, useless things are you holding onto?
Are you clenching your fists at God because He took your loved one home this year? Are you determined to keep all things as they were before their death—accusing God of taking someone you can’t live without? Are you holding onto anger, anxiousness, and agitation?
Or are you so spun up over the world events crumbling around us you can’t enter into the truth of the Christmas celebration? Are you holding onto the hope of salvation through the right candidate, right political party, or right Congress to set this nation back on it’s godly foundation?

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What shape and color plastic are you holding onto?
What deception have you allowed to creep in and cloud your ability to see the Light of Christ?
What turbulent situation is robbing you of faith, peace, and confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ to give you help, hope, and healing?

Anacortes barn 3
Dick leaned over and whispered, “It’ll be over soon. We’re just flying over the Cascades.”
I had no idea flying over mountains in the atmosphere of the afternoon would cause turbulence. Did you? We had flown over them in the early morning and it had been smooth. I was ignorant of the facts.
And many of us, even those who believe in Christ Jesus, and have been washed in His blood, don’t know the facts of the truth of His Word. And, like my ignorance of the cause of the bumps and rolls, they are ignorant of what God tells us about who He is, who we are in Him, and what is to come.
And how we are to behave in the process.

Hot in the Kitchen 4
But He has preserved His love letters. His instructions on how to make it through these harsh and barren times. And it’s not too late to educate yourself.
Will you search His Truth?
Will you choose to release your grip on your understanding in order to embrace the truths and peace of His Word?
Will you make a daily practice of focusing on the only One who can deliver you through the storms and tragedies of life? Jesus—born to die so you might live in the joy of His presence—right now and forever.

Wise Men 2

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:5-7 NAS).

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world” (1 John 4:1-3 NAS).

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“You can’t stop birds from flying over your head, but you sure can keep ‘em from building a nest there.”

Mama’s voice still resonates in my ears and I can see her stern expression as she repeated her reprimand for any type of unbecoming behavior I displayed during my teen years.

Now I’ve never allowed these winged creatures to build nests inDSCF2525 my hair, but I’ve sure built some nasty nests in my mind.

Little by little, bit by bit, I collected trashy anger, strings of pain, and lint balls of jealousy and carefully poked them into the dark corners of my mind. I harbored those fragments of left-over animosity and replayed the tape—over and over again.

Ever done that?

Or have you captured broken twigs of disappointment and leaves of shame to feed the growing tangled nest of emotions? And tucked them away ‘til you were trapped in an emotional time-bomb of depression and self-pity dragging you into a quagmire from which you could not extract yourself?

Let me explain.

We live near a wetland area where eagles nest. Cameras set up by the wetland officials revealed skulls of ducks and skunks left in the nest. Nests are temporary shelters for baby birds to grow ‘til they can fly, not permanent homes. Nasty places filled with particles of animal remains, bugs, and unspeakable refuse. And the refuse we pile in our mind is no different and just as nasty.

God created us in His image and in the 15th Chapter of John gives us the cure for our self-destructive hoarding habits. Jesus said:

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you. By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love” (John 15:4-10 NAS).

In these six verses Jesus tells us to abide in Him ten times. And He gives us conditional promises if we do and lays out the consequences if we don’t.

Are we to have a part-time home in the tangled mess of past heartaches? Absolutely not.

Abide is the Greek verb meno and means to stay, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, stand, tarry.

Oh my, could that be why God’s people are in so much trouble? Why our families are falling apart? Why our nation is on the brink of disaster? We fail to stay, dwell, endure, remain in Him, in His Words, in His commandments, in His love.

I have read these words many times, but three weeks ago conviction stabbed to the depths of my heart and soul. I was not abiding in Jesus.

Had I missed Sunday services? Of course not, but once in the car on the way home my mind shifted gears. Did I neglect to pray at night? No. I always mumbled incoherent thanks for the day and His blessings before my eyes closed. Didn’t I? And I always read that little devotional blurb at night.

Dr. Paul David Tripp says, “We trouble our own trouble.” And that’s exactly where I had lived for months. Troubling my own trouble. Choosing to spend more and more time in the nasty nest of anguish, plucking at lint and strings, wondering why I couldn’t soar with the eagles.

DSCF4307 “Today I start a new chapter in my life.
I close the door to the past and open the door to the future, take a deep breath and step into my new life.”

Abiding in Jesus is a choice we must make every day. And I’m so grateful God’s mercies to us are new every morning. His love never fails and His arms are outstretched to those whose hearts are toward Him. Jesus’ blood washes all my sin away and He fills me with His joy.

What about you? Where are you spending your time? Abiding in Jesus or sinking in a nasty nest of anguish? You don’t have to keep traveling the same painful road. Give all your heartache to Jesus and abide with Him. He’s waiting. Just for you.

“Brokenness is realizing He is all we have.IMG_0013
Hope is realizing He is all we need.
Joy is realizing He is all we want.”

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            Springtime in Florida was always a multi-colored landscape of hues of green, buttercup yellow, and pastel pink. We watched for those delicate white blooms to dot prickly vines that grew along roadsides and covered fence lines. Those tiny flowers with pollen-filled centers, swayed in the breeze and honey bees swarmed, promising yummy desserts and black stained fingers.

            Lumpy, green balls soon replaced the blossoms and confirmed this was indeed the perfect patch. Our very own blackberry patch. We kept an eye on those hard green spheres as they ballooned into hundreds of scarlet berries. And we waited for sunny days and spring rains to urge their yearly transformation into plump, delicious blackberries.

            Eventually the day arrived. And the berries were ripe for picking. One such day, our family piled into our ‘57 Ford, and headed toward our special berry patch alongside a country road near the marshes of the St. Johns River, outside of Jacksonville, Florida.

            The Gooding family joined this annual first-blackberry-picking event of the season. There were six of them—three boys and three girls. My brother and I brought the number to eight boisterous youngsters—ready for the hunt!

            Parents set our boundaries and issued warnings about snakes, stickers and sandspurs. They might as well-a’-been-talkin’ to the wind. We grabbed our buckets and raced down the slope to be first to find the biggest blackberry in the patch.

            Shouts of competitive exuberance filled the air.

            “I got the big one!”

            “ Nope, I do!”

             We shrieked and laughed and scrambled here and there, hoping to find the berry of the day—waiting to be picked by someone—hopefully me. And truth is, we ate as many as we picked, evidenced by toothy grins smeared with tell-tale black juice tinting our lips, our tongues, and grimy fingers.

            During one of those scrambles Elaine, running faster than all the rest, lost her balance, bounced bottom first down the sandy slope, and landed right in the middle of a patch of cactus.

            Her wails brought an end to our fun. We gathered our juice-stained buckets, full of  luscious berries and trudged up the hill. And deposited our black jewels in pans provided by the moms. The two dads carried the wounded berry-picker to the car where she laid, face-down across our laps, and cried all the way home.

            Our moms washed the black treasures, then mixed ingredients for the anticipated cobbler. My dad churned the homemade vanilla ice cream that would crown the scrumptious berries already bubbling in the oven.

             That left the unpleasant task of removing those nasty stickers from Elaine’s backside to her dad.

            I’ll admit, we were not sympathetic onlookers. She had spoiled our fun. We sneaked peeks around the corner and snickered and giggled with every shriek of pain—secretly grateful it wasn’t one of us.

            Glasses of iced tea with mint sprigs, bowls filled with warm cobbler and scoops-full of homemade ice cream proved our blackberry-picking day a success.

             Then we lingered in the backyard as the last moments of the day slipped away, swaying and singing in old wooden swings that hung by gnarled ropes from aged oak trees. But when fireflies flickered in the hedges, a whole new chase was on—to see who would capture the biggest, brightest insect.

            Everyone but Elaine, who stood with her bowl of cobbler and a sore backside. And her reward? The paddle from the ice cream churn!

            I no longer search country lanes, but drive to Walmart and buy expensive berries, packed in plastic—not a kid’s bucket—with a layer of moldy ones on the bottom.

             This evening I sat on the patio and watched the sun sink below the horizon, while the latest accounts of troubling information blared on the evening news, and my grandchildren texted me in three word sentences.

            I recalled these joyful childhood memories as I watched a couple of fireflies dart in and out of the bushes around our pond and marveled that times may change, but God is the same—yesterday, today, and forever. He is sovereign and on His Throne.

            But it makes my heart sad that my grandchildren will never experience the excitement of beating their friends to the biggest blackberry in the patch, or catching the brightest firefly in their jar, or joining lighthearted conversation with grown-ups as the day comes to an end.

            My memories of a tummy full of cobbler, topped with fresh homemade ice cream, wrapped in the blanket of love provided by family and friends, while holding my jar full of God’s miraculous, little lights, are safely tucked in the secret places of my heart.

            Precious memories this world of technology and idols can never duplicate.

“Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10 NAS).

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