Rejoice always?

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,

give thanks in all circumstances

I Thessalonians 5: 16-18

Seriously?

Anyone who has known me for any amount of time knows that I am not very skilled at concealing my emotions.  If I am mad, my jaw is set, my gait is clipped, my words are sharp.  If I am sad, my face droops, my steps drag, I grow silent.  My demeanor can do nothing but reflect what is going on inside of me.  I am not one of those people who can just smile and say that everything is fine when actually, it isn’t.

So, I struggle with these directions from Paul.  I can’t be fake; it’s not in my DNA.

In fact, way back in 1988 when I was doing my student teaching at Concordia High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, one of my cooperating teachers told me that in order to be a better teacher, I had to ‘stop wearing my heart on my sleeve’.  He wasn’t the first one to tell me to check my emotions.  It started with my great grandmother, Elsa, bless her heart, who told me that my face was ‘going to freeze that way’.  True.  And, I’ve already mentioned that I was voted ‘moodiest’ by my high school classmates.

I actually don’t think I was any moodier than anyone else, I just was incapable of containing it.  I ‘wore it on my sleeve’.  Yeah, not very attractive.

So, when Paul says, ‘rejoice always’, I think “Well, dear Paul, I will rejoice when there is a reason to rejoice, and mourn when there is a reason to mourn.”  And then I remember that there is, for me, always a reason to rejoice.  Even when I was a hormonal adolescent, I did actually have friends who cared. When I was overwhelmed with student teaching, I had already found my future husband who had been crafted by God just for me. When I was fighting my way through the metaphorical desert in St. Louis, even though it was a difficult time, God was still providing for our family in every way.  I did have plenty of reasons to rejoice.

However,  I did also have reasons in all of those circumstances for legitimate emotions — sadness, anger, frustration, hopelessness.  But, I believe that humans are complex enough that we can simultaneously mourn and rejoice.

On Sunday, I got a call from a friend who had recently lost her mother to cancer.  She is simultaneously mourning and rejoicing.  She is so sad for herself and her family because her mother was a gift from God. However, she is also rejoicing that her mother is with Jesus, free from pain, free from suffering.

Of course Paul’s instructions are right.  If the only good news we had was that God had sent His Son to die in our place and pay the debt for all our mistakes, that would be reason enough for rejoicing.  Wouldn’t it?  And yet, most of us who are able to read a blog on the Internet have so much more to be thankful for.  Even if our job is not what we had in mind, our family is struggling, our health is failing, and our finances are in the toilet, we can rejoice.

It’s important to see the next instructions from Paul — “pray without ceasing”.  Paul was aware of the circumstances that can cloud our reason for rejoicing. I mean, let’s be honest, he was continually run out of town, thrown in jail, beaten up, and yelled at. Yet he says to us, “give thanks in all circumstances.”  Really, Paul?  You’re locked in a jail, chained up, probably filthy and starving, and you are ‘giving thanks”?

I can only conclude that Paul was able to rejoice and give thanks because of the fact that he ‘prayed continually’.  In the middle of his circumstances, he acknowledged that God was God and he was not.  He knew that God was holding him in the palm of His hand. He lifted up his situation to God and then trusted that God would “work all things together for good”.

It’s hard to be thankful and rejoice when I feel like I have to solve all of life’s problems by kicking butts and taking names.  It’s much easier when I acknowledge that I don’t have control of the situation, but God does.  He loves me and has always done what is best for me. When I release my stuff up to Him, and offer Him thanks and praise,  I always end up rejoicing.

Ok, Paul, I admit it.  You’re right.

Being Social

Life is weird right now.

The last time I didn’t have a job I had three children at home with me.  They were 8, 9, and 11.  The activities of my life were ordered around their needs and desires.  A typical day would have been structured around three meals at appropriate times, outdoor activities, reading, playing, caring for the house, and personal hygiene.  I didn’t have much wiggle room.  If I wanted to do something without children, I had to do some coordinating with my husband, who was very cooperative, or arrange playdates with friends.

It’s a whole new world in 2014.

Chester doesn’t demand much.  At the moment, he is curled up at my feet under the desk where I am writing.  He’s been feed and watered.  So, now the day is mine to do as I please.  Hmmm.  Interesting.

I have shared that I have established a routine to start my days.  My husband informed me this weekend, in his counselor’s wisdom, that ‘establishing routines is one of the best things you can do during a transition’.  Thanks, dear.  Most days include Bible study, blogging, exercise, reading, my favorite Netflix show, and some socializing.

In order to keep track of how I am doing medically, I have obtained an app that tracks my diet, exercise, social interactions, rest, and symptoms.  Each day I record all the data and the app charts my ‘self-management’ and the ‘arthritis impact’.  It’s actually quite fascinating.  The app has confirmed that I am doing some of the right things to minimize my symptoms, but reminded me that I could be doing more.

One of the most striking realizations from this app is that social interactions are very important to my well-being.  Who knew?  I realized that diet, exercise, rest, and medication played a part, but hanging out with people?  Casually?

For the past ten years, I have squeezed in some socializing on the fringes of my very busy teaching and parenting schedule.  In spite of my combat mode, God did bless me with some great people who met me where I was and endured the ‘current state of affairs’.  I am not sure they would recognize me at the moment.  I joke that I have gone from type AAA to a casual type B.  I used to be at school before 7:00 am, dressed and pressed,  in order to get my ducks in a row. Now it is not rare to find me still in pajamas at noon!  I may have already done my Bible study, blogged, and straightened the house, but I’m still not ready to greet the public.

But today is different!  Today I have not one, but TWO, social engagements!!!  I mean, I’m just trying to improve my health here!  This morning I am meeting a new friend to go walking.  This afternoon I am meeting a dear friend who I haven’t seen in ages!  I know, I know, I was supposed to go grocery shopping and mail a couple of packages, but, guys, it’s for my health!

In all seriousness, I feel so blessed to have this season of transition, this grace period where I have room to breathe, time to think, and freedom to socialize.  I am extra blessed that God has plunked me down in a space where I can connect with friends, new and old.  And, really, the groceries can wait.

I John 4:11

Dear friends, since God loved us,

we also ought to love one another.

Love that lasts

During this time of transition, my husband and I are visiting many churches — some of them because he is speaking there, others because we want to get to know the area and find a church home, and still others because we want to learn where those we are serving with are worshiping.  Today was option three.

We worshiped with one of my husband’s coworkers at an area church that is focused on outreach — they are very intentional about connecting with the community in very tangible ways. Pretty cool place.

The message today was centered on how to have love that lasts — sure, marital love, but also love between friends, between parent and child, etc.

I will take a short commercial break to let you know that my husband and I, along with a half-dozen other couples, were asked to stand in the aisles of the church and dance.  It’s not what you think…the pastor had all the married couples stand like they often do at weddings.  Then he asked those who had been married five years or more to remain standing, then those who were married ten years or more, etc.  Finally, all the couples who were married more than twenty-three years were invited into the aisles. Music was played.  The couples danced, and then were invited to sit as the years ticked on.  You know the drill.  The final couple standing had been married forty-three years! What a blessing!

The pastor then suggested three methods for planning for a ‘love that will last’.

  • Worship God
  • Work on yourself
  • Serve your spouse

Three steps.  Should be easy, right?  Read them again.  Not so easy.

However, I have to say that after twenty-four years of marriage I have to agree with his strategy.  Although we are flawed human beings who have not always put God first in our lives, we did marry with the intent of serving God together.  I believe that this foundation is the sole reason that we are still together after all these years.  It hasn’t all been a walk in the park.  There have been some (very) difficult days, weeks, months, and even years.   The grace of God coupled with our commitment from the beginning to hang in there, no matter what, has held us together.

Now, I may have started this marriage thinking that both of us were perfect and that we were perfect for each other, but I have since faced reality.  I will admit that I noticed his flaws before my own.  Shocking, I know.  But I remember quite clearly one day, in a living room with sculpted brown carpeting, when I was very upset with my husband. He had the audacity to suggest that he was not the one who would ever make me happy.  What?  Well, then, why in the world did I marry him?  Amidst my fussing and fuming, he reminded me that the only one who would truly bring me contentment would be God, since He is the only one who is not selfish or flawed.  Well, then.

It may have been about that time that I began to look in the mirror.  Small glances at first.  A lot needed to be addressed; it would take a life time.  I’m still working on it.

As far as the third area that the pastor suggested, I must say that my husband has always been better at serving me than I am him.  In fact, it began on the night that he proposed to me.  He washed my feet, yes, literally washed my feet with a basin and a towel, and then told me that he wanted to serve me for the rest of our lives.  And, so far, he has done that.  Even during the ugly times, he has put me, and the children before himself.  He has gone without to make sure that we wouldn’t have to. He has stayed up late and gotten up early to make sure that we could all sleep as much as we needed.  He has worked his tail off to provide for us.  But most importantly, he has served us by serving God first.  We haven’t all always appreciated that, but it was precisely the right thing to do.

I don’t know if I will ever be as much of a servant to him as he has been to me.  I still get distracted by protecting myself, you know, kicking butts and taking names.  But, it is getting easier all the time to take care of him, especially when I realize how well cared-for I have been.

This morning was a good reminder of how blessed we have been.  I am glad that we have this grace period to pause and take stock. We are rich to have a love that lasts.

Matthew 19:6

…what God has joined together, let no one separate.

Giving Thanks

I Chronicles 16:34

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.

I interrupt these solemn posts to bring to you a thankfulness break.  (I can only take so much self-revelation!) 

Here are some things I am thankful for this morning:

  • I had an excellent sleep last night.  Knocked out!
  • We had a young couple for dinner last night.  They were delightful — full of energy and a desire to serve the Lord.  (And the dinner was pretty amazing if I do say so myself — roasted pork, curried lentils, spinach and baby kale salad and strawberry shortcake!)
  • I thank God for excellent food!
  • And Tazo Awake tea!!
  • And the deer who graze outside my window almost every morning and evening!
  • I thank God for my new women’s Bible study that meets in one hour!
  • and for putting me in a women’s Bible study!
  • I thank God that I was able to get a membership at a gym with two salt water pools!
  • and that one of the pools is 93 degrees Fahrenheit!
  • and that in a warm salt-water pool I feel no pain!
  • and that the gym is giving me a free fitness assessment with a trainer this afternoon!
  • I thank God for this gym membership!
  • I thank God that it’s fall!
  • and that I get to wear jeans and sweaters in fall!
  • I love jeans and sweaters!
  • I love fall!
  • I thank God for this blog: it is a vehicle for me to explore my thoughts, feelings, faith, and life.  It brings structure to my day.  It connects me to others.  It is a blessing.
  • I thank God for you for engaging with me through my blog — for reading it, for liking it, for posting comments, for sending me affirming messages, for letting me know that it is a blessing to you, too.
  • I thank God for holding us in the palm of His hand — for watching us as we struggle through life, make mistakes,  connect with each other, laugh, cry, and even shake our fists at Him.
  • I thank God that He continues to draw us closer to Him, raising His palm up to His eyes so that we can see into them, and wonder at the vast mercy and grace He has for us.
  • I thank God that His love for us endures forever.

Psalm 118: 21

I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation.