Freedom and Life

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I was not obligated to sing in a worship service today. I was not responsible for the learning experience in a Sunday School class. I was not required to attend any particular services at any particular time with any particular congregation. No, this Resurrection Sunday, I was, for lack of a better word, free. Free to reflect on the significance of this day. Free to enjoy the celebration taking place among the trees as the songs of the Father’s creation filled the morning air and rose as sweet incense of praise to their Risen Lord. Free to sing along and worship my Savior as beloved songs of praise flooded my thoughts: “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow…”, “You ask me how I know He lives – He lives within my heart…”, “Now I have resurrection power Living on the inside; Jesus, You have given us freedom…”

Freedom. Jesus paid my debt with His life. He bore my sins – my careless words, my unforgiving spirit, my blatant disobedience, my hatred, my lies, my darkness – and He bled on the cross to wash me clean. He suffered to free me of the punishment I rightly deserve.

My freedom cost me nothing. It cost Jesus everything.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭53:5‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Still He chose to die for me and He offers me life through the power of His resurrection.

“And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:11‬ ‭NIV‬‬

As I reflect on the great love my Savior demonstrated on the cross and the power of His resurrection, I can’t help but wonder if I am squandering His gifts of Life and Freedom. Have I forgotten their cost? Am I sharing these gifts with a dying world?

His death set us free.

His resurrection gave us life.

What are we doing with these gifts today?

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He Knew

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“He set His face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51)

He knew His humanity was temporary.
He knew His Father’s plan.
He knew His perfect life would be tarnished by the imperfections of a world He had embraced.
Jesus knew His purpose, still He chose the path He knew would lead to death.

He was God.
He was man.
Heavenly purpose mingled with earthly fears.
He knew no sin, yet He knew love.
He knew sorrow.
He knew joy.
He knew pain.

“Let this cup pass from me, but not my will but Thine be done.” (Matthew 26:39)

Our Lord knew His journey on this earth would lead to humiliation, anguish, abandonment and death. Still He chose to die. With deliberate intention, He walked the path to the cross pausing only to accomplish the work of His Father in the lives of those He touched along the way.

His steps were not hurried.
His load was not carefree.
He knew His Father’s plan.
He set His face to go to Jerusalem.
He set His face to go to the cross.

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“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).

Happiness is… A Keeper

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Happiness is to know the Savior,
Living a life within His favor,
Having a change in my behavior,
Happiness is the Lord.

Happiness is a new creation,
Jesus and me in close relation,
Having a part in His salvation,
Happiness is the Lord.

Real joy is mine,
No matter if the teardrops start,
I’ve found a secret,
It’s Jesus in my heart.

Happiness is to be forgiven,
Living a life that’s worth the livin’,
Taking a trip that leads to Heaven,
Happiness is the Lord.

“Happiness is the Lord” by Ira F. Stanphill

I learned this fun, little song when I was a child and as soon as I began this endeavor of blogging about happiness, the memories of singing this song in church so many years ago flooded my mind. And it has been playing over and over again in my head ever since. Even now, I can’t help but hear (and sing) it! But what a great message – Happiness is the Lord! And what a perfect introduction to this final installment of “Happiness Is…”.

What have we learned thus far about happiness?

We’ve learned that it is not an object, a person, or a desired set of circumstances. These are merely vehicles for temporary pleasure. They elicit short-lived feelings and never usher us into a lasting state of true Joy.

We’ve also learned that true happiness is not a goal to be reached but rather a by-product of how we live. When we live in such a way that honors God, the Creator and Giver of true happiness, only then will we find a Joy that can weather any storm and sustain us for all of our days.

That’s good stuff! 😉

Now that we know how to attain real happiness, how do we successfully retain it?

Yes, unfortunately, it is possible to lose our Joy. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Once we’ve found the true Joy of the Lord, it’s ours for keeps. That doesn’t mean, however, that our lives will be filled with nothing but blue skies and smooth sailing. No, life is filled with storms – big ones! Difficult people, sickness, death, financial struggles and so many other trials of life are lurking around every corner waiting to steal our Joy. All of these “storms” have the potential to leave us lonely, depressed, sorrowful and hopeless. So, how do we make it through the storms of life without losing our Joy?

When the storms of life begin to threaten and we feel as though our Joy is waning, it’s helpful to stop a moment for some serious introspection. In times like these, there are four areas of our lives that we need to examine:

  1. Our faith
  2. Our foundation
  3. Our focus
  4. Our hope (Well, pooey! I couldn’t think of a fourth word beginning with “F” to complete my alliteration. How on earth do pastors do it every single Sunday? 😉 )

An honest look at these four areas is key to learning how to retain our happiness.

Where is your Faith?

The tendency we all have (as we learned in Part One of this series) is to stake our happiness on the desires of our hearts, obtaining one treasure, one relationship or one ideal moment after another. When we do this, however, we are trusting our happiness to the objects of our affection and allowing them to reign over us emotionally, mentally and physically. We are essentially placing our faith in our desires rather than in our Creator and Heavenly Father. Only when our faith is placed in God can we be filled with true happiness.

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.”

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. 

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence,  with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Psalm 16:2, 9-11 (NIV)

Is your faith in the pleasures of this world, temporary treasures that are here today and gone tomorrow? Or is your faith in the Giver of good things in your life and the Author of your Joy?

What is your Foundation?

Just like your house needs a firm foundation to keep it from slipping, sinking or falling apart, so does your life need a secure foundation in order to weather the storms that come your way. Unlike the several types of house foundations, though, there are only two options for the foundation of your life: Rock or Sand. Take a look at what Jesus has to say about your foundation:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭7:24-27‬ (‭NIV)‬‬

You see, your life’s foundation is your faith put into action. And the consistency of that foundation depends on where your faith lies (see question #1). If your actions, words and thoughts are driven by your faith in people, things or ideals, your foundation will be shifty and unstable just like the sands on the beach. If, however, you live your life in accordance with God’s Word, putting Him first and allowing Him to be Lord over every area of your life, you’ll find there’s no storm big enough to shake your Joy because your foundation is established on the Rock of your salvation!

Truly HE is my rock and my salvation; HE is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

‭‭Psalm‬ ‭62:2‬ (‭NIV)‬‬

Are you building your life on shifting sand by living out your misplaced faith? Or are you building a firm foundation by honoring God in every area of your life?

Where is your Focus?

There is nothing that can affect your happiness more than your focus. Even when your faith is sure and your foundation is firm, your focus can make the difference between a joy-filled life and a life consumed by negativity and sadness. When you choose to focus on problems, irritations, frustrations and other pains of life, eventually, that’s all your mind will be able to see. And what a shame that would be! God has given each and every one of us so many good things like family, friends, time, the comforts of home, hugs, beautiful mornings and on and on the list goes. Who would want to miss such wonderful blessings!

Focusing your attention on the positive is essential to maintaining your Joy each and every day. It reminds us of what is truly important in life and helps us to stay above those pesky, threatening waves of negativity.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

Is your attention on the negativity of life? Or are you focusing on the good gifts the Lord has given you?

What is your Hope?

At this point (if you’ve stuck with me this long), you may be saying, “Come on! Sadness is a given. There’s no way anyone can be happy all the time.”

You’re right. We all experience sadness, anger, regret, grief and every other negative emotion there is. We are human. We are going to misplace our faith. Our foundations are going to crack under pressure and our focus is most certainly going to be diverted from where it should be. And all of this will result in the loss of our Joy.

But if you take anything away from this post, I hope that you will remember this: No matter your struggles, no matter your sorrow, no matter your pain, it will not last forever. The God who gives us our Joy also walks with us through the storms of life. He comforts us. He leads us and more often than not, He carries us. And when the last rain drop has fallen and the winds have finally settled, He will remind us of His great Joy that has surrounded and sustained us through our troubled times.

Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

Psalm30:5b (NIV)

That, my friend, is your hope. It is the hope to which I tightly cling.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV)

The Choice is Yours

There’s nothing easy about maintaining our Joy. I struggle with it more times than I’d like to admit but each time I let anger, hurt, disappointment or sadness overtake me, I try to remind myself of the questions of faith, foundation, focus and hope. Ultimately, though, hanging on to our Joy is a matter of choice. We can choose to live a life of misery or we can choose a life of Joy.

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

Habakkuk 3:17-18 (ESV)

When your happiness is being threatened, you have a choice to make: either give in and allow your circumstances to steal your joy or stand firm and hold tightly to the precious Joy of the Lord.

As for me, well…

I CHOOSE JOY!

Happiness is… The Search Continues

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Did you know that not once in God’s Word are we instructed to seek out happiness?

It’s true!

While searching for the perfect quote to accompany this highly-anticipated second installment of my “Happiness Is…” series (Hahaha! You’re laughing with me, right?), I came across an article in which the author asserts that the pursuit of happiness does not line up with God’s instructions for our lives.¹ “Hunh!” I thought to myself as I was reading the article, “Could this really be?” I decided to do some digging into God’s Word on my own. What I found is enlightening.

Throughout the Bible, we are instructed to seek out many virtues and qualities in life. Some of these treasures to be sought are wisdom (James 1:5), understanding (Proverbs 4:7), peace (Psalm 34:14), good (Amos 5:14), righteousness (1 Timothy 6:11) and humility (Zephaniah 2:3). This list is certainly not exhaustive for the Bible is filled with instructions for living a godly life. Nowhere, however, could I find one direct instruction to seek out happiness.

What does that mean for us? Is God not concerned with our happiness?

Well, let’s not jump to conclusions. First, let’s take a look at the Biblical view of happiness and the source of that happiness.

So, what does God’s Word say about happiness?

In Part One of my “Happiness is…” series, I discussed our desperate pursuit of the objects of our happiness and the fleeting pleasures these objects or people bring. This temporary happiness comes and goes with our ever-changing moods and circumstances. If this type of happiness is all there is, we are doomed for disappointment. The good news is this fickle emotion is not true happiness as revealed in the pages of God’s Word.

The Bible speaks volumes about happiness. There is passage after passage that addresses our joy, especially in the Psalms and Proverbs. Here are a few: (Note that depending on the version you are reading, you may not find the word “happy”; often, you will find the word “blessed”.)

Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding. 

Proverbs 3:13 (NKJV) 

And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways.

Proverbs 8:32 (ESV)

He who despises his neighbor sins; but he who has mercy on the poor, happy is he.

Proverbs 14:21 (NKJV)

He who heeds the word wisely will find good, and whoever trusts in the Lord, happy is he.

Proverbs 16:20 (NKJV)

Happy is the man who is always reverent, but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.

Proverbs 28:14 (NKJV)

Happy are the people whose God is the Lord!

Psalm 144:15b (NKJV)

But the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy!

Psalm 68:3 (ESV)

What do you see in these verses?

At first glance, you may think that the “formula” for happiness in the Bible is the same as our own:

US

IF I DO THIS (obtain/do something, go somewhere, etc.), I’LL BE HAPPY.

BIBLE

IF I DO THIS (live righteously, trust God, give to the poor, etc.), I’LL BE HAPPY.

But a closer examination of God’s Word will reveal a stark difference between the two views. You see, in our formula, the goal is happiness. It is the object we seek in all that we do. In the Biblical view of true happiness, the goal is fellowship with the Heavenly Father, seeking His will for our lives and living accordingly. Happiness in this formula is not the goal but rather the by-product, a purposefully designed result of living a life that honors the Lord.

It seems Eleanor Roosevelt had it right!

You see, God is concerned with our happiness. He has a plan for each one of our lives, “plans to prosper [us] and not harm [us], plans to give [us] hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) And “the hope of the righteous brings joy!” (Proverbs 10:28a)

Above all, God longs for all of us to have an intimate relationship with Him. He desires that we trust Him with our lives, that we embrace His love for us and then share that love with others. God loves to bless us and give us “good and perfect gifts” (James 1:17) but His priority for our lives is clear: We must seek Him first in all that we do.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 6:33 (NIV)

All these things will be given to you!

God is the Source of true happiness. He is the Giver of our joy. It is a joy that endures, a joy that is unexplainable and a joy unmatched by anything this world has to offer.

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. 

Psalm 16:11 (NIV)

Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:8-9

Forget the chase of temporary pleasures. Who needs that drama! Follow the Source of true happiness and the Giver of everlasting joy!

Whew! We found it, my friend. But cling tightly to it for there’s someone out there who’s chomping at the bit to steal your joy. We’ll take a look at how to keep your joy in my next post.

Keep on the look out for Part Three of “Happiness Is…”!

¹Unfortunately, I forgot to save the link to the article I was reading and when I searched for it again, I was not able to find it in order to share it with you.

Happiness is…

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As I was scrolling through Facebook on New Year’s Eve reading all the happy wishes for the New Year and all the smack talk over the highly anticipated Rose Bowl (Yay, Dawgs!), I came across a post that brought my scrolling to a screeching halt. It was a simple question asked by a friend from my high school days:

What makes one happy?

I stared at the post for a long time wondering what prompted the question. What circumstances surrounding that person’s life caused such an inquiry? Was he experiencing some deep emotional crisis and seeking clarity and encouragement from his friends and family? Or was he only curious, wondering what responses the question would provoke?

(Funny how Facebook does this to us. Unless you are closely connected to a person, you never truly know the full meaning behind every post. We’re often left to our imaginations which leads to conjecture, which leads to misunderstandings – one of the downfalls of social media. But that may be a topic for another blog post!)

After pondering all the possible reasons for his question, I felt the need to respond. The problem was I didn’t know how to respond. Because I was unsure of the “why” behind the question, I didn’t feel I could give an adequate answer. But, again, the urge to respond was strong. I began to type but quickly backspaced deleting my reply. I began to type a second time. I deleted it, as well.

“What is my problem?” I thought to myself. “Of all people, I should be able to give an answer to a question about happiness. After all, I did just complete a whole year of posts about finding and sharing SMILES!”

I stared at the Facebook post a while longer but ultimately, I moved on feeling a bit defeated. The question, however, has not moved on from me. In fact, it has prompted even more questions:

What is real happiness?

How does one find happiness?

Once you find it, how do you keep it?

How can one be happy in the midst of a sad and troubled world?

AM I COMPLETELY OVERTHINKING THIS?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

The more I ponder, though, the more I realize the importance of knowing the meaning of happiness, the source of happiness and the keys to maintaining happiness.

So, what is happiness?

Take a quick survey on your favorite social media site. Most likely, you’ll find that when asked the question “What is happiness?”, people will respond with an object, a person or a moment. I actually tested this assumption on Facebook. My post simply asked others to finish the sentence “Happiness is…” with the first thing that comes to mind. Here are some of the answers:

“Happiness is an endless supply of dark chocolate.”

“Happiness is family.”

“Happiness is the beach.”

“Happiness is bread.” (I love this one! She’s been on the Keto Diet.)

“Happiness is grandkids.”

I realize I may have skewed the results somewhat by qualifying the responses but even these lighthearted answers from my unsuspecting test subjects (Forgive me, please!) can provide insight into how we, as a society, define happiness. In general, I think many of us view our happiness as being contingent on something or someone.

If I can buy that new car, I’ll be happy.

If I can find a spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend, I’ll be happy.

If I get that promotion, I’ll be happy.

If he says that he loves me, I’ll be happy.

If she does this –

If I obtain that –

If –

If –

If –

Thus, if our happiness depends solely on others or on things, the logical conclusion is that happiness is nothing more than a feeling or an emotion. And if that’s the case, boy, are we in trouble! Happiness, as it turns out, is quite fickle. Think about it. What makes me happy today may not necessarily make me happy tomorrow. Let’s say I get that new car I was certain would bring me happiness but I find that after a few weeks of driving it, I really don’t like it. What then? I become dissatisfied and – Bam! I’m unhappy, again.

Surely, the happiness we so desperately pursue is more than a mere ride on the emotional roller coaster of life!

Surely…

Today, I again came across my friend’s Facebook question that prompted me to delve into the true meaning of happiness and to my surprise, I found that I’m not the only one who couldn’t offer an answer. After four days, he’s received only one response. Could it be that we’ve become so jaded by the disappointments in our pursuits of happiness that we no longer believe in the possibility of a happy life? Have we settled for a mediocre life over an abundant and joy-filled life?

Well, my friend, hold on. There is an answer to your question and I have to tell you, it’s a good one! There is hope for happiness and we’ll dig into that hope in my next post.

Keep reading! Part Two of “Happiness is…” will be posted soon!

 

A Year of Smiles – Day 334

Reason to SMILE #334: A PLACE OF SANCTUARY

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Beginning the day after Thanksgiving, I find myself spending more and more time in my living room. The Christmas tree is up. The lights are sparkling. The room is clean! 😉 And a sense of tranquility permeates the entire space.

This morning, as I sat in the glow of the tree lights, I began to pray for the two SMILES I needed to write today. (Yep. Behind again. <SIGH> ) As I prayed, I leaned back in my recliner and my thoughts turned to the state of all the rooms in my house. (Does your mind drift when you pray? Mine does all the time. I’m so grateful my God is patient and full of grace.) Though my living room is clean, quiet and inviting, the rest of my house looks like a construction site. My dining room is half dining room half wood flooring storage. My kitchen is filled with paint supplies and Christmas decoration boxes. The hallway houses a toilet and miscellaneous tools being used in our bathroom renovation and just about every other room has a new door and frame leaning against a wall waiting to be installed. It’s a mess. It’s chaotic and it is in no way peaceful.

In all of the craziness of installing new floors and new doors and renovating a bathroom, my living room, which is smack dab in the middle of my house and newly decorated for the Christmas season, has become my sanctuary. No matter the state of the other rooms in my house, no matter what craziness is happening in those rooms, if I’m sitting in my living room with the tree all aglow, I can find peace. I can find joy.

Hmmm. I suppose not all wanderings of the mind during prayer time are distractions. Sometimes, those thoughts that seem to pull us from our communion with the Father are actually the whispers of the Holy Spirit calling us to a truth or lesson He wants us to learn. As I was contemplating the contrast between my living room and the remaining rooms of my house, I realized my sanctuary was the perfect example of the mind-boggling peace God offers to his children in the midst of a chaotic world.

Ah! There was my SMILE. No matter what is happening in the world around me, no matter the news stories, no matter the political messes, no matter the financial woes, no matter the family dysfunctions, no matter the worries, sicknesses, sorrows or fears, if I’m resting in the sanctuary of my Heavenly Father’s arms, I can find peace. I can find joy. And I can find a SMILE.

A Year of Smiles – Day 329

Reason to SMILE #329: TRUSTING GOD’S PLAN

This was my Christmas tree.

crooked tree

It was not being very cooperative. And it certainly was not making me SMILE. (Nor my husband – Yikes!)

This is the third year that we’ve purchased a real tree. I suppose it was time for one of them to rebel. 😉 No matter what we did, the tree simply would not stand up straight. We tried everything. It was so frustrating. I almost resigned myself to decorating this leaning tower of pine needles and cocking my head to one side every time I looked at it. Tilt to the right. There! It’s perfect! 😉

As I surveyed my crooked tree, I wondered why it was being so difficult. Didn’t it know that soon it would be decorated with twinkling lights and colorful ornaments? Didn’t it know that soon it would be fulfilling it’s purpose – being a Christmas tree?

Yeah. I realize it didn’t know anything. It’s a tree but by the way it was fighting me, I couldn’t help but see it as an ornery child or…

… a stubborn Christian.

We often act like this uncooperative evergreen, don’t we? We hear God’s voice telling us to move and we feel His hand nudging us in the direction He wishes us to go but we tenaciously refuse. We’re quite comfortable with where we are, who we are and what we’re doing. Why should we make a change?

“No, God,” we object, “I don’t want to go there; I’d feel out of place. I don’t want to do that; I’m not qualified. I don’t want to get rid of that habit; it’s not that bad.” Our objections are plentiful and the “buts” flow freely as we firmly plant our feet or run in the opposite direction. Surely, God doesn’t know what He’s doing. Surely, God is mistaken.

Oh, but if we only knew. The change we so adamantly refuse or the direction we do not follow or the call we do not heed is only pointing us to our intended purposes. If we’d yield to the Heavenly Father’s urgings to move, to change, to follow, we’d enable God to create something amazing with our lives. If we’d trust His Plan, we’d discover a life more fulfilling, more abundant and more beautiful than we’d ever find on our own.

decorated tree

And in following God’s plan, we’d always find a reason to SMILE.

tree smile

A Year of Smiles – Day 312

Reason to Smile #312: CONTENTMENT

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Would you like to know the secret to living a contented life? Well, here it is:

Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV) “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.”

The secret is reliance on Christ’s strength. Easy enough, right?

Sure. Tell that to my pride, my selfish desires and my jealous nature!

I’m working on it, though. It’s a process but I’m finding that the more content I am, the more I am able to count my blessings. And the more I am able to count my blessings, the more SMILES I am able to find.

More SMILES? Yes, please.

Okay, God. Please give me your strength to be content where you have me and with what you’ve given me. Help me to remember that your grace is always sufficient and you always provide. Give me the self-control to stop spinning around comparing my life to the lives of others. Help me to stop and be still so I can fully appreciate the multitude of blessings you have lavished upon me. What a patient, loving and generous God you are!

A Year of Smiles – Day 309

Reason to SMILE #309: REACHING THE TOP

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In my life, I have had many difficulties. Being born with a physical disorder pretty much determined that. Walking, running, jumping and just getting from Point “A” to Point “B” have never been easy for me. I’ve had to learn to adapt. I’ve had to live without the fun of running races and jumping rope and as for walking, well, let’s just say I’ve never been much of a pacesetter. That’s my life. It could be worse.

There is, however, one thing in life that I have not been able to avoid and that is climbing stairs. Ah, stairs – the bane of my existence! Life would be so much easier for me without them but where would we be without stairs? We’d be stuck at the bottom of everything, right? No! Come on! Elevators have been around forever, like since 200 BC or something. So what’s the deal with all of the stairs in this world?

I know. I know. Where would we be without stairs? Would I have been able to look out over the Atlantic Ocean if I had not climbed to the top of the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida? Would I have been able to take in the beauty of Mount St. Helens if I had not climbed up the stairs to the observation deck? Would I have been able to effectively be an angel in the Christmas pageant if I had not climbed the scary scaffolding to appear above the shepherds and sing of Jesus’ birth? Probably not. Sure, someone could have jeopardized the historical integrity of that beautifully maintained fort in St Augustine by carving out an elevator shaft. And someone could have built a lift to raise me up over those shepherds watching their flocks by night. (Seriously. Someone really could have built me a lift!) But the reality is there are always going to be stairs to climb whether I like it or not.

Stairs take us to a higher level, to a better view of things. And though a struggle for me, I’ve found that the climb is always worth it. In fact, with my limitations, conquering a flight of stairs is actually an accomplishment. I don’t always feel that way, especially when I’m standing at the bottom looking up. But when I’m looking back down after I’ve made it to the top, man, what a feeling! I did it!

So it is with life. No matter which way we turn, we cannot avoid those cursed stairs! If it is worth striving for, there always seems to be a climb involved. It may be difficult for us. We may not be adequately equipped to make the climb. We may be emotionally, financially or spiritually deficient and feel as though we will never make it to the top. But the Bible tells us God will equip and strengthen us (Psalm18:31-36). He never said the climb would be easy; still, He encourages us to keep going (Hebrews 10:36). Would we ever truly appreciate the accomplishment without the struggles of the climb?

There are always going to be stairs to climb but take heart. God has even overcome those nasty stairs. And when you get to the top and take in the view, nothing will be able to stop your SMILE!

A Year of Smiles – Day 302

Reason to SMILE #302: ROLLER COASTERS

Adobe Spark (36)

Sweaty palms, racing heart, quick breathing, jittery nerves – nothing can abate the anticipation of reaching the pinnacle of the roller coaster except the thrill of the plunge when you’re flying full speed down the coaster track, gasping for breath, choking on your own heartbeat and shrieking promises to the Almighty that you swear you’ll keep if He’ll only let you live to the end of the ride.

Aren’t roller coasters fun? 😉

Yeah. I used to love riding roller coasters! I used to – past tense. It’s not happenin’ today or any day in the future. Give me a nice little train ride around the mall at Christmastime and I’m good. Seriously.

I feel the same about life, too. If I had my choice, my life would be filled with smooth, level roads to travel. Directional signs would be well lit, easy to read and conveniently placed. There’d be none of those high, rickety bridges, ridiculous detours, unchecked potholes, unfinished roadwork or mislabeled street maps. Period.

My life, however, completely ignores my wishes!

Last week was busy for me (one reason why I’m so far behind on my daily SMILES – ugh!). I was planning and preparing for the church fall festival. I was also preparing myself to say “good-bye” to a ministry position I’ve held for the past four years (another reason I’m behind on my SMILES – 😦 ). The fall festival was my last event and last day at the church. Talk about your roller coaster rides! One minute I’m slowly climbing up a steep incline as I’m mourning the loss of time with “my” kids. The next minute I’m free falling down a 50-foot drop as I’m bustling to create carnival games, recruit volunteers and beg for candy donations. And the next, I’m doing loop-de-loops as I’m running through the fall festival, assuring everything is running smoothly, giving hugs to children, friends, even strangers, trying not to freeze my hiney off in the 40 degree weather and praying that somebody figures out how to use the cotton candy machine.

Whew! What a ride!

This particular ride has been a rough one. I’m following God’s direction to go but I’m not sure where He’s leading. Though I know He knows best, not knowing what’s in store makes the ride pretty scary. And the good-byes are definitely much harder. BUT there is a SMILE in even this crazy roller coaster ride.

You see, no matter where life takes me, whether I’m on the mountaintop where all is well or I’m in the valley where things look bleak and uncertain or I’m spinning round and round in the hallways of life waiting for doors to open, GOD IS THERE. He’s with me on the mountain, in the valley and in the hallway. He led me to each of those places and He’ll continue to lead me on. I may be hanging on for dear life during the ride but God is there hanging on to me. That, my friends, is more then enough reason to SMILE.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.

Psalm 139:7 – 10 (NIV)