Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Celebrating the Season of Joy

"It's a good thing I'm a happy person, or that would really bother me."

I stand in the living room, observing a double-whammy as I say those words. First, the dog has tugged one of the stockings, complete with its heavy stocking hook, onto the hardwood floor. Second, the stocking is misshapen. Not due to the dog, but due to my own poor choice in yarn.

Annoying, but because of what I said about being a happy person, my husband and I chuckle as I set the stocking and hook back up on the ledge.

Why laugh? Mostly, because it's not true. I'm not a noticeably happy person. I try to be nice and have faith and keep my cool, but some things annoy me fairly easily. I take myself pretty seriously; it's easy for me to disappoint myself. I have high expectations; in some circumstances, others find me easily disappointed, too.

I suspect I'm in good company because there are very few people in my life that I would say are noticeably happy. That's probably what makes my husband's aunt and uncle stand out in my mind. Though they've experienced their share of hardships, they have a good sense of humor about life (and themselves), they are active and inquisitive, and they limit worries by recognizing what they can and cannot change. They're fun-loving but not frivolous.

It is because of this couple that I recently told my husband I want to be happy, too.

The next time I was getting annoyed with his driving, my husband replied, "It's a good thing you're a happy person."

I smiled. I relaxed. I chose to be happy. After all, I'd just made the declaration I wanted to be a few minutes before.

And so, the joke was born. When something inconvenient would happen, and one or the other of us would say, "It's a good thing we're happy people!"

But as much of a joke as we made it, the reminder worked. We ended up chuckling when we would've been annoyed.

Why was that little line all it took?

The stuff we were tempted to lose our cool over was really, really small stuff. So small that both the example I opened with and the one about my husband's driving are made up. I mean, yes, they're based on true experiences, but is that when we used our line about being happy? Not sure. The choice to be happy made a bigger impression on me because the inconvenient events threatening my mood were petty.

There's no better time for it. This is the season of comfort and joy. As the angel said: “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10b-11, NET)

That is good news--We have a Savior! We have eternal hope!--and this should still bring me joy today.

The eternal hope we have in Christ is why Paul could write, Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice! (Philippians 4:4, NET)

The mindset that everything is in God's control and is for the good of those who believe is how James could write, My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. (James 1:2-3, NET)

When it comes down to it, all believers should be happy people. Or joyful, anyway.

In the verses above, I interpret joy to mean hope and assurance that God is good and God is in control, regardless of circumstances. Those verses don't mean we're in the wrong to experience grief or even anger or sadness. They don't mean we'll take the worst news with a smile. The joy we have as believers in those times might not be expressed in laughter or jokes. It might simply be the hope that pulls us through.

But if we have that kind of joy in hard times, shouldn't that result in harder-to-shake, closer-to-the-surface happiness in the everyday moments of our lives? Shouldn't joy lead us to choose laughter over annoyance more often? Shouldn't it recognize in daunting circumstances that the outcome is out of our power and in God's perfect, loving hands?

In my experience, often all it takes to redirect everyday negative moods is an accountability partner and gentle reminders. Though my husband and I have begun to let our joke fall by the wayside, I'm resurrecting it because I want joy. I want to be a happy person.

When I make a mistake, instead of taking myself so seriously, I want to acknowledge with humor that I'm not really all that anyway (but Christ is). I want to choose laughter whenever I can. I want to find comfort in the fact that though I cannot make my dreams come true, in Christ, my every eternal need is already met. And that, really, is a dream-come-true I can't even fathom.

It's time to choose joy.

What can you do today to choose joy?

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Choosing the Tree in the Corner

Timid, we approached the trailer parked at the edge of the Christmas trees. Its windows were papered over with notices about only accepting cash and check, about how much a bough or a wreath or a tree would set us back.

My husband, the loud one, spotted the attendant first and called out a hello.

He asked us what kind of tree we were looking for.

We exchanged a glance, neither of us wanting to fess up that, despite being in our thirties, we were novices. But knowing we'd be clueless if I didn't say it, I found my voice. “We’ve actually never bought a real tree before.”

Without further prompting, the attendant graciously explained the lay of the land. “The first three rows are all Frasers. The needles last the longest. They’re like the Cadillac of Christmas trees. Then there’s the Balsam, pretty standard. The needles don’t last quite so long, are a little more prickly.”

He listed the prices of both, the fancy ones only ten dollars more than the standard.

So little to pay for something so long in the growing.

As an afterthought, he waved an arm toward a corner of the lot bordering the road and the edge of the property. “There are some white pines back there.”

An afterthought, but immediately, we saw the lovely long needles, unlike the short ones on the rest of the trees on the lot. These pines looked like large versions of the fake tree we bought when we lived in a tiny house.

But they were just an afterthought.

The needles must fall immediately. I bet those long ones are so prickly.

I stopped to touch the needles of the Balsam, circled back to see what the Fraser had to offer. “It’s like pit bull fur,” I said. “Short and stiff.”

Then my husband admitted what we’d both been thinking. “I kind of liked one. One of the white pines.”

I let my fingers drop from the dense needles of the best tree on the lot. We wove our way to the  corner where six white pines with bushy needles insulated the rest of the lot from the brunt of the traffic.

Just six trees among one hundred others.

The long needles were soft, not aggressive, and the sides full and lush. After circling and falling in love, we admitted to the attendant that we wanted not the Cadillac, not the standard choice, but a white pine.

He warned us heavy ornaments would be problematic.

It’s okay. We’ll hang them somewhere else.

And then, as much of an afterthought as pointing out these trees in the first place, he told us white pines are the traditional Christmas tree.

That’s perfect. I like traditional. How much do we owe you?

Another ten dollars less than the standard trees.

Every year, as a child, when me and my brothers and sister would unpack our ornaments and Christmas stockings, the decorations would smell like Christmas. Fresh but almost fruity, I never understood where the scent came from or how it stuck, year after year.

At thirty-three, I’ve learned the answer. It comes from the Christmas tree. Though we have yet to decorate our white pine this year, it’s flung the bright, pine and cherry aroma throughout our first floor, taking care of the invisible decorations, trusting that we’ll get to the lights and glitter eventually.

Like the scent sets the tone for the season in the house, I want the experience of shopping for this tree to set the tone for my mindset this season.

I want to internalize the truth that I really don’t need the luxurious, expensive best simply because that’s what the world tells me I should want.

I want to open my eyes and really see what’s beautiful in this world, though perhaps undervalued by the masses.

I want to raise my voice to claim it as my own.

When I’m warned off because maybe the world’s idea of a fun time won’t go with my choices, I want to insist.

You see, I’ve chosen. I’ve chosen Jesus, and He is all I need.

He is strong enough to hold not only me, but the weight of the world, the weight of eternity.

The best isn’t always on display front and center. Many would sweep Jesus off into a corner of their celebrations, if they acknowledge Him at all. And even God chose not to send Jesus into a palace--front and center in the way humans might expect. He sent Jesus instead to a manger.

Sometimes, the best is off in a corner, emanating soft scents, beckoning those looking for more to seek, come, and find.

I want to open my eyes and really see what’s beautiful, though perhaps undervalued by the masses via @novelwritergirl

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Waiting Awake: Guest Post on Creative and Free

 A few months ago, I volunteered to be part of the launch team for Come, Lord Jesus, an Advent devotional by Kris Camealy. One of the perks? I did get a free copy to read. But also, I got to spend time thinking about what it really means to wait with and for Jesus.

Full of hope and thoughtful encouragement, I recommend the book to anyone looking to focus on and grow throughout this Christmas season.

On Sunday, to kick off Advent, I'm honored to have guest posted for the Come, Lord Jesus book club going on over on Christina Hubbard's blog Creative and Free. Here's a glimpse:


“Couldn’t you stay awake for one hour?”

I would’ve shaken the sleepy disciple’s shoulders until he woke up, but I’m not Jesus. Yet even as our Savior, the ultimate example of patience and love, asks Peter this question, his wording is loud with pain. (See Mark 14:37, NET)

Peter, James, and John were supposed to keep watch as Jesus prayed in the hours leading up to His arrest. Instead, seated in the dark garden, they fall asleep not once or twice, but three times.

The next hours and days will be the worst and greatest of the disciples’ lives. This sleepy band of men will be tempted, they will fail, they will grieve, they will huddle together in locked rooms, they will run to the tomb, they will see the risen Savior.

To prepare, a night of watchful prayer would do them good right about now, but they can’t keep their eyes open. 

As easy as it is to judge them, in Come, Lord Jesus: The Weight of Waiting, Kris reminds us Jesus has commanded us all to stay awake in no uncertain or abstract terms.

What does waiting with Jesus awake look like in our lives today? Join the discussion by following me over to Waiting Awake on Creative and Free.

What are we really waiting for? Not our own dreams come true, but God’s - via @novelwritergirl

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving in Good Times

A handful of red and orange leaves are still blowing around the neighborhood. I collected a few on my last walk and set them in the crook at the base of the big maple out front, finding in the process that it had some lovely green moss to add to the picture.

The display of color made me wonder: Has frost deepened the colors of these leaves? Or were there entire trees full of reds and oranges like these just a month ago? Did I miss just how marvelously the burgundy and orange red glowed because they were everywhere?

Lifting my eyes even now proves that there's still stunning color on a few trees, suggesting that I'm only just now, as I lose it, coming to better appreciate something nature's been gifting me with for an entire season.