End of Year Reflections

Closing the book on 2018

 “For you shall not go out in haste, and you shall not go in flight, for the LORD will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.” Isaiah 52:12

It has been said that the past is the part of our story that has already been written and set in cement. But today and the days to come are the blank pages of our story waiting to be written. We can’t change our past, but we can change our future. As this, the last day of the year is upon us, may we pause to reflect on this past year, to learn from it, come to grips with it, forgive it, and put it to rest, so that we may march forward boldly living out the story God has for us.

calendar-handwriting-notebook-636246.jpgThis past year some have had the best year of their life! Others have experienced a year of overwhelming trauma, grief, illness, or regret. But to most, it was just another year. So I must ask, are we simply ticking off the years of this one life we possess? Or are we evaluating, learning, reflecting upon, and growing from the things we have experienced?

Things I’m reflecting on? Some major and minor joys, and some major and minor disappointments. A beautiful wedding. A missions appointment. A new son-in-love. Serious illness of those I love. The rapid passage of time. Escalating pain of arthritic joints. A new puppy in the house. Another year of reading through the entire word of God. A daughter thousands of miles away during the holiday. The loss of dear Christian mentors. The year has been a mix of grief and joy, welcomes and goodbyes, hopes and fears, success and failure.

imagesMy greatest joy and sadness are one and the same this year – I have a child who has moved abroad to work and spread the love of Christ. I’m so proud of her, so thrilled with this grand adventure God is taking her on, and yet at the same time so sad that she’s not at home with us and we won’t see her for months if not years.

Our daughter is living in Peru and has shared with us some of their traditions for the New Year holiday. A few seem to correlate with our U.S. traditions. They eat their favorite foods, typically seafood, empanadas and rice dishes, which would equate with our black-eyed peas, turnip greens and ham, and at my house, tailgating food as well for watching the New Years’ Day bowl games. They throw rice around the house encouraging financial prosperity – once again the black-eye peas here in the U.S., where tradition says we’ll get a dollar for every black-eye pea we eat on New Years’ Day. They also wear yellow grapes-typical-rituals-new-yearunderwear, (?!) kind of like the way we wear goofy glasses and hats. And just like we count down to midnight watching the ball drop in Times Square, they have their own countdown. During the countdown to midnight they eat 12 grapes – representing each month of the year – for luck.

But my favorite of their traditions has a deeper meaning. The people of the community all go outside together and burn rag dolls, often dressed up to look like themselves in a piece of their own clothing. The burning of the effigy signifies that all of the past year is done and behind you and it is time to start anew.

What a great symbolic way to end the year! How often do we carry over the pains of last year into the clean slate of the next year – the fresh start that our Father gives us.

Oswald Chambers, in My Utmost for His Highest, offers us this wisdom on the subject of how to deal with our past:

God is the God of our yesterdays, and he allows the memory of them to turn the past into a ministry of spiritual growth for our future. God reminds us of the past to protect us from a very shallow security in the present.…God’s hand reaches back to the past, settling all claims against our conscience.… Let the past rest… in the sweet embrace of Christ.

So I encourage you this last day of 2018, take some time to be alone with the Lord. Read in His Word – His letter to you. Reflect upon the past year. Weigh the good and the bad. Forgive. Let go. Rejoice. Mourn. Then pray to your Abba, offering these hurts and joys, pains, regrets, and hopes to Him. He will do more with the pieces of our lives that we offer Him than we can ever imagine. And this is my prayer for each of you:

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:16-21 NIV

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Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God. Philippians 3:13-14

Olympic Faith

True Story: In a race I once beat an Olympic Bronze Medalist in Track.

Every time I mention said winning in front of said Olympian she laughs, it’s a hearty laugh and often I will mention our race just to hear her Nigerian accent and laughter all roll out together in a determined defense. She claims I cheated. I maintain I did not.

I’ve never been what one might call athletic, the concept of organized sports is really quite foreign to me. I know this will boggle the minds of some, but sports, most of them anyway, do not make much sense to me. Despite years of football indoctrination from a lifetime of SEC Football exposure, the sport of football is a subject where I lack understanding. One would think purely by osmosis, or at the very least, genetic makeup I might have gotten more than a minimal understanding of sports. Athletics, competitive in nature, boggle my mind. I have tried over the years to understand but I can not.

I’m more of an expert stick man artist kind of gal. I can Macgyver a harmonica out of a couple of popsicle sticks, some paper and rubber bands in no time flat, but Heaven Help if someone asks me what the down means or a touchdown or something. I only know a safety is loosely translated as going to someone else’s house and beating them up. It took my coworkers one full Saturday shift during Football Season to explain that concept to me. They soon gave up any further teaching, abandoning me as many have that I just will not get it.

My sister is as much of a Football Fanatic as I am not. She cheers for her school, The Alabama Crimson Tide. She tailgates and touchdown dances, and I don’t even know what all, I just know she loves her team and by sheer happenstance, my wedding anniversary tends to fall on one of the lesser important of the game weeks. My Birthday is an altogether different story. Often it falls on the Iron Bowl weekend and I know that means Alabama and Auburn will be playing each other, families will be divided, and about a metric ton of Ro-tel Dip will be consumed by Alabamians across the state. Game Time is also a good time to pick up some Christmas gifts because just about everyone but me is somewhere, eyes peeled, consumed by one of the most dramatic quarters of a competition for nearly a whole year… or so I am told.

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When third grade boys inevitably ask me “Who I go for?” (That’s Alabama slang for which team do I prefer to win; it took me 3 years of teaching third grade Sunday School before I caught on.) I leave them scratching their heads with my answer. “Well, my sister went to Alabama and she and my Husband like them so I like them, but I like Auburn’s history and it fascinates me so I like them too, but My money and my Husband go to Mississippi State so I figure I like them too.”

“But Mrs. Amy, Who do you go for?” I usually just shrug. I digress yet felt it necessary to explain how unnatural a competitive athletic experience is for me.

I suppose that is why I find it funny that by chance circumstances on that fateful day I would beat a medal-possessing track athlete. Perhaps therein lies the answer to my sports disconnect.

My friend, the Olympian, is one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. I had known her sometime before I even knew her amazing history. Another coworker had mentioned it in passing and because it was the honest truth she did not deny it. I was floored. Once I got hold of the fact that she held a for reals, hard-earned medal, I ran with that one. I would question and quiz her daily. I would listen to her stories, woven together in the thread of her native tongue intertwined with words like Alabama and the University and nursing and back home. Commonwealth and games and I would listen and I would watch.

Once I learned of her medal I asked her why she didn’t wear it to work like everyday? She laughed her hearty laugh and I jokingly said “Well where do you keep it? Your panty drawer?!” Again she laughed, there was no denial, and she said “I used to have it hanging on a nail.” I rolled! She kept her medal in her unmentionables drawer! Later as I pondered that one I learned a great and valuable lesson. I can laugh all day about one’s greatest treasure being stowed away with one’s underpants, yet there are days I am no different.

The King’s Word says, I’ve been given a great inheritance, and I’ve been guilty of cramming that baby in my panty drawer and never giving it a second thought. My Salvation, the Lord’s Grace, THAT is a great reward, it is THE greatest reward, but if one were to observe me they would have no clue whatsoever that I held such a tremendous inheritance. A Heavenly reward that supersedes all earthly riches. I walk around some days like a Pauper with that Treasure stuffed down in my drawer next to a bunch of mismatched socks.

My friend, Faith, has also taught me that her treasure, her true treasure isn’t in things. Never once had it occurred to me that mine might be. But it was, it has been, and it’s one I am committed to work on surrendering daily.

Once we were having a discussion about children and it dawned on me like a slap across my face, Faith gives birth to Hope. As a matter of fact, Faith did give birth to Hope and on my birthday (I know the King must’ve planned that one just so that I could understand). I’ve never known humility like hers. I’ve often said she’s taught me more about Jesus in my adult life than near anyone has. I love her, her humility, her joy. I found a picture on the Internet once when I googled her name. It was prompted by Shelton Martin yelling at the Olympics on our television one summer, “C’mon you can win one for YOUR underwear drawer too! Go USA!”

It dawned on me, that is where he thinks one keeps one’s hard-earned medal. He has nothing to tell him otherwise, or at least what his experience dictates. As I thought about our friend, how I love and adore her, I googled her name and found the image. I giggled. It reflects her perfectly. She is laughing and smiling. Her Joy apparent. As I surveyed it, I was once again aware she had taught me yet another lesson, her joy comes from within, from the Savior she serves. He is her joy and her strength and it is to Him I am grateful for having a plan that includes such a Faithful friend.

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Choosing Joy!

256px-united_states_declaration_of_independenceI recently took my first trip to Washington, DC.  During the bus trip to and from Washington I was reading Dr. David Jeremiah’s book “A Life Beyond Amazing.”  One of the chapters was titled “A Life of Joy.”  While on the trip I got to view the Declaration of Independence.

In this document, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” 

That got me thinking what is the pursuit of Happiness?  And after reading the chapter “A Life of Joy” I had to ask myself: As Christian should my pursuit in life be for Happiness or for Joy, or are Happiness and Joy the same thing?

Your Dictionary online defines the “Pursuit of Happiness” as a “fundamental right mentioned in the Declaration of Independence to freely pursue joy and live life in a way that makes you happy, as long as you don’t do anything illegal or violate the rights of others.”

birthday-bow-box-264771.jpgSo I am entitled to pursue a life of happiness as long as it is not illegal or violates the rights of others.  So what makes me happy?  Things? Friends? Money? Something new? A birthday or holiday? I could say, “I’ll be happy when…” or “I’ll be happy if….” If or when… I get married, have a new house, am healed, have more money, my favorite football team wins… .

Just imagine each Saturday, as YOUR team takes the field to play. You are so excited. You wear your team colors. You plan to watch the game either on TV or in the stadium. You are yelling your teams chant! Your team takes the field. You can’t sit down. Your team scores! You are so Happy!

But how do you leave the game? Do you leave happy, sad or mad? If you team win you are happy. If you team loses you could be either sad or mad? Your happiness only lasted as long as your team was winning. Once things started to change, either the offense or defense wasn’t performing or someone go hurt, or circumstances around you started to deteriorate, your happiness seemed to disappear.  Your happiness was about what was happening to you, how you felt. Happy is an emotion and is dependent on your circumstances, your behaviors, and your attitude.

blur-business-contemporary-811574.jpgSo what about Joy?

Is joy the same thing as happiness? The world would have us believe it is, but the Bible tells a different story. The Pursuit of Joy is about a relationship with a person – JESUS. It’s something we have access to, but it’s also something we must choose. Joy is what we receive when we believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior. It is part of the Fruit of the Spirit. The Greek word for joy is Chara and it means joy, rejoicing, gladness, enjoyment, bliss. Lewis Smedes wrote: “You and I were created for joy, and if we miss it, we miss the reason for our existence.” Joy is cultivated by the Holy Spirit. Joy makes us strong. Joy has to grow and mature. We must choose to cultivate joy that will remain even when our circumstances, behaviors and attitudes are affected by changes in our life.

Dr. Jeremiah in his book tells the story about a Headmaster at a London Boarding school who was always joyful.

“One day a student would remark he thought the headmaster must go to heaven each night because each morning when he saw him the headmaster had such a wonderful smile on his face. The student figured the only place he could get that kind of joy was by checking in with heaven at the end of each day. When the headmaster was asked about his joy his response was: ‘Joy is the flag that is flown from the castle of your heart when the King is in residence.’ … In other words, joy is determined by whether or not Jesus Christ is at home in your life. … Since our joy is in Jesus and Jesus never changes, the joy of Jesus never changes either. Christian joy is continuous, never-ending, constant joy. In it not hinged on happenings; it is perfected in a person.”

Look at Paul, he spent a lot of time in prison, but in Philippians 4:4 he says “Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again:  Rejoice!” Paul faced many difficulties and chose to rejoice even when he faced the worst of circumstances.  In Acts 16:25 we find Paul and Silas at midnight “praying and singing hymns to God” after being beaten and severely flogged. They chose Joy! We also have to choose Joy when things are at their worst. Joy is knowing that Jesus will see us through.

In Luke 6:22-23: Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” And Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 1:6 “you yourselves became imitators of us and of the Lord when, in spite of severe persecution, you welcomed the message with joy from the Holy Spirit.” We have to choose Joy when we are persecuted and mocked for our faith! Joy is knowing that Jesus also faced what we are going though.

Rob Morgan said: “We may not be able to rejoice in our load, but we can rejoice in our Lord.  We may find no joy in our situation, but we can rejoice in our Savior.”

The Declaration of Independence may give us the right to pursue Happiness, but I don’t want to settle for a temporary happiness that is here then gone based on what is happening to me or around me. I want to choose a life of Joy that is constantly maturing as I become more like Jesus. Joy that will be there even when life circumstances might be loading me down. I want people to see the Joy that I have in Jesus radiating through the storm clouds of my life.

So are you just settling for Happiness or are you choosing JOY?

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Choose Joy!

Choose

I Peter 1:8 “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.”

Today I’m choosing joy. Again… Because it’s another hard day. Just like he did that day two weeks ago, the Holy Spirit reminded me to choose joy.

Mom was in the hospital and not herself at all. It had been a very long and lonely several days with me as her primary caregiver outside of hospital staff. I was exhausted, concerned, and ready to go home to my bed. Mom looked at me in her semi-aware state and told me I just looked mad. I guess that’s the message my countenance was showing. I wasn’t mad at all and told her I was just really tired. But the fact that she thought she saw that on my face really bothered me and I began to ponder and pray.

The next morning as I was getting ready for the day, the Lord spoke directly to my heart and said, “Choose joy.” Well, that snapped me right out of the stupor I was in! When the Spirit speaks like that, you listen.

cheerful-close-up-coffee-208165He reminded me of the devotional I was reading, “One Thousand Gifts” and of the list of thanksgiving that I had begun to write. Remember the song? “Count your many blessings, name them one by one…”

He reminded me of the prayers of many being lifted for the hard time we were going through. Oh, how they sustained me!

He reminded me that the missing family who were usually there to help were on mission trips in various places around the world serving Him. I was not alone. This didn’t catch him by surprise.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33          He reminded me that in this world I would have troubles.  Do you know that in John 15:11, just one chapter prior, that the word talks about our joy being full and in John 16:24 it is mentioned again? Full joy in the midst or in spite of tribulation and suffering! In those chapters, we are told to abide in Christ and that the Helper is with us. (John 16:20)

I chose joy that day as I laughed at funny videos and photos of my grandson with Mom. I chose joy as I watched her smile and talk to him on Facetime. At times he was the only one that she recognized and he brought her such happiness in those moments.

I chose joy that day when the Lord reminded me of Revelation 21:5. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” He also says, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” I do trust Him! My mom’s body that is often full of pain will be made new. And she will rejoice with the one who will make her whole again. The one she calls to over and over to help her. The one she has trusted and believed for so long. The one who sustains her in the darkest moments.

Revelation 21:3 “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Joy…My faith rests in Jesus alone and in the Helper’s abiding presence in my life. I’m clinging to the fact that one day we will finally be in God’s presence and all things will be made new. I’m trusting those trustworthy and true words.

I’ll need to be reminded again, I’m sure. For today I’m good and my joy is full.

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