When mama ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy!

Well that’s a lot of responsibility now isn’t it?  Can the same be said for joy?  If mama ain’t full of joy, ain’t nobody full of joy.

We’ve all heard this analogy before; when you’re on an airplane the flight attendant lets you know that in case of an emergency you’re to put your own air mask on before you help children, elderly or anyone else needing assistance.  The whole point is if you stop breathing you’re not going to be any good to those around you.

How does that relate to joy?  If we don’t grasp ahold of true joy (not happiness or pleasure) we aren’t going to be able to pass that along to our kids or share it with those around us.

In the last part of Nehemiah 8:10; Nehemiah was telling the Israelites to stop their weeping because the joy of the Lord would be their strength.  You see, the nation had been celebrating the Feast of the Trumpets.  It was supposed to be a party atmosphere, kind of like our upcoming New Year’s Celebration.  It marked the clean slate and fresh start for a new year.  So why were the people weeping?  The priest had been reading to them from God’s word and they were upset because they knew they had fallen short when it came to following God’s law.  Don’t we all?

Nehemiah noticed the weeping and told the people to stop crying and celebrate.  There’s a time to evaluate where you are in life and make necessary changes, but this was not the time.  This was a celebration!  It was a time to remember all the Lord had done for them.  It was time to jump for joy!

Photo Credit: rAmmoRRison via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: rAmmoRRison via Compfight cc

So where do we get our strength; same place, it’s the joy of the Lord.  It’s sitting and remembering times, people, places and events in our lives where we could see God’s hand.  The joy in knowing He’s been there through it all and will continue to be.  The knowledge that He wants a relationship with us and isn’t turning His back on us.

As women I know sometimes we feel selfish taking time for ourselves.  After all, if we take a break who is going to do all the work that needs done?  Well guess what mama; there’s always going to be work that needs done.   Taking a few moments to remember what the Lord has done in your life could mean the difference between you having a lousy day, working in your own strength, or a great day, because you are relying on the Lord the way you have in the past.  Remembering what He’s brought us through builds our joy in current difficult situations because we have a history with Him.  He’s carried us before and yes, He’ll do it again!

While we’re approaching the end of a year and looking ahead to 2014, it’s a good time to celebrate!  Take a few minutes and write down a list of things the Lord has done for you.  Better yet; start a gratitude journal that you can look through this time next year and remind yourself of a year worth of God’s blessings.  Then share it!  Tell your kids and your spouse.  Let them read the journal; pass on the goodness of God to those around you.

Don’t keep it all to yourself!  Spread the joy mama!

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Joy in Giving

It’s the holidays, but you knew that didn’t you?  Everywhere you turn you see or hear the word “JOY”.  It’s used in quite a few Christmas hymns and songs.  It graces the front of Christmas cards.  People on the next block over from me even have the word in lights in their front yard.

Photo Credit: worobod via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: worobod via Compfight cc

 

We’ve all heard the saying “the joy of giving”; it’s true.  You do experience joy when you give from your heart.  So that’s good; one more step realized in this joy journey we’re on.  We’ll have to make note of that; all year there is joy is giving.

Yesterday, on my blog “A Life Well Penned”, I wrote about my dad and how difficult it was figuring out what to buy for him.  At least his birthday and Christmas were both in December, so I only had a few frustrating weeks of decision making.  After all these years I’ve finally realized how my gifts for my dad can tell us something about gifts we can present to God.  And yes, God likes gifts too!

Take a second and click on over and let me know if you think I’ve made a decent connection between the two!

 

Stay Well! ~ Live Joyfully!

WHY I AM NOT CHOOSING TO HAVE JOY IN MY LIFE

I know what you’re thinking. “Really? Isn’t this what this blog is all about; finding joy.”

I certainly thought I was searching for the illusive. To be honest, most of us want some magic pill or glorious epiphany. We desperately search for the new job, house, perfect marriage, group of friends, or life purpose, thinking that once we find it our eyes and hearts will be opened to joy. (Queue the spotlight and orchestra as angels jump on the stage and present “JOY”.) It will never leave us and will stop any negativity from getting back into our lives.

Well I’m certainly disappointed here, but I have found out through my research,  joy is a choice. I know, let’s just throw in the towel now, right? If we’re going to believe it’s a choice, and we don’t feel joyful, we didn’t choose joy.

Could it be that simple?

No. Knowing it’s a choice is not simple at all! It means each day, multiple times each day, we have to decide to rise above our circumstances and draw from this internal spring of joy we possess as believers.

Think about it this way. You’re dying of thirst. You walk into the kitchen and God is standing there with a sparkling glass of refreshment and tells you that drinking from it will quench your thirst. You decide the bottle of Coke in the fridge is the better alternative. So, chug, chug, chug, and the Coke is gone and you feel refreshed. For a while. Soon you’re thirsty again. You’re family and friends are all gathered sharing sweet tea in the backyard and you head out there, passing right by God extending His glass. Surely tea shared with friends and loved ones, is going to be just the ticket to quenching your thirst. You definitely enjoy the time together, and the tea. Now you’re refreshed and this time it’s for good! Nope, again it’s fleeting. Now you’re out shopping. You go to the food court at the mall and there is God, again with His glass. Nice, but you see Orange Julius is right behind Him and that’s looking mighty tasty. Now you’re actually paying for something you think will refresh you more than the free drink God offered. The cycle repeats. Will you ever chose the glass from God?

The choice for joy works that way and God is the only source of true, lasting joy.

So how did I get so lost in life, searching for joy, when it’s been right there all along? It’s wasn’t my choice. Daily, and often multiple times each day, we have to reach out for that deep, centering joy from God. In the midst of family feuds, work stress, financial problems, loneliness, etc.; we have to turn to God time and again. He’s the only one that can provide true joy.

In her book Choose Joy, Kay Warren defines it like this…

“Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.”

In Galatians 5:22-23 we read about the fruits of the Spirit; the actual character traits that can be cultivated in our lives as Christians. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

As believers, those fruits are in us as a deep resource to rely upon. Did you notice joy is the second one listed? But did you also notice the word fruit? Have you ever planted a fruit tree? In order to get the most appetizing fruit it takes some work. It takes returning to the tree often to keep the weeds and bugs away. It takes watering and fertilizing. It takes care; repeated care. It’s not a “one-time grow the joy-apple and you’re set for life” thing.

So why am I not choosing joy in my life? Because I’ve looked for other things to give it to me instead of looking to the Lord. I’ve tried changing careers, having toys, relying on family; all which gave a temporary sense of joy but not the true lasting joy I desire.

What am I going to do about it? The same thing I hope you’ll do. Before we try to produce it ourselves, purchase something we think will give it to us, or rely on someone else for it, we need to turn to God; take the glass and feel refreshed. Don’t worry that you’ll ever reach out and He won’t have a full glass. He will. He always will. You just need to reach out and take it. Again and Again.

What do you think?  Are you ready to accept God’s refreshing gift of joy?

Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The “Joy Gene”

Are some people naturally more joyful than others?  Is joy part of our genetic makeup? We all have times in our lives when we feel sad, down, despondent, but can it be that some people were created to be full of joy and others were not?  You’ve met them; the people who can dampen the moods of everyone around them.  Do our circumstances dictate our joy or is it truly similar to a muscle, like I mentioned before?  A muscle some were possibly born without.  Can we decide to build joy in our lives despite our circumstances?  Is it an underused resource??????

I’ll let you in on a little secret here….  I’m not a naturally optimistic person.  In fact, I can be quite cynical.  Today for instance, I was watching a youtube video with my daughter.  She had come across this couple that pulls practical jokes on each other, films them, and then posts them on the internet.  My initial response, “Looks a little staged to me.”  Ok, so it’s not a big deal whether the video is scripted or not, but what is a big deal is that my initial response to things can be quite cynical or negative.

Really thinking lately about how I view my life and having more joy , I even asked my husband if he thought some people are just meant to have unhappy lives.  You know, the poor sad souls of this world; are some chosen to live miserable lives?

So then I happened across this article.  I had my answer!  It stated that a recent study in Germany found that more and more Germans had a harder time having fun and enjoying pleasure due to what seemed to be a broken “joy gene”.  That was it!  I had my answer!!  You see, I have German ancestry.  It was all making sense!  My cynicism, my pessimism – it’s in my blood!

In further review (meaning I actually read the whole article) it seems that 46% feel increasingly unable to enjoy life due to being constantly reachable and being under extreme everyday stress.  Jealousy over life in nearby countries seemed to fuel the discontent as well.  The younger the study participants the worse it became.  55% of those said they seemed to have lost their ability to “feel good.”  Looking for a cause, researchers feel there was a cultural shift that occurred around 2008 that can be linked to the European debt problems and currency crisis.

What?  If I’m reading this clearly it seems that this life view and attitude are completely based on circumstances and things.  Money, connectability brought on by physical things like cell phones, jealousy, state of the economy; these are all circumstantial things.  The whole point of joy is that it remains consistent regardless of the circumstance.  In Philippians chapter 4 the apostle Paul says he’s learned in whatever circumstance to be content. The whole book of Philippians is noted as having a theme of JOY.  So this kind of contentment despite circumstance must be a critical step toward joy.

They didn’t come up with an actual joy gene.  They were able to pinpoint circumstances that brought down the average “happiness” of individuals.  So that leaves me with what I’ve already learned about joy.  It’s a life view that is rooted down deep in our souls; one that I am trying to unlock completely so that it overtakes my being.

So far I’ve learned that to increase joy you have to begin living a life of gratitude and remain content no matter the circumstances.  Building up my joy muscle!  What things do you focus on to remain joyful?  I’d love to hear!  Next week we’ll start exercising the joy muscle!joy workout 

I DO WISH THIS ON MY WORST ENEMY – I EVEN WISH THIS ON YOU!

Call me evil – that’s ok because I DO wish this on my worst enemy and I even wish this on those I love the most – I wish it for you and I don’t even know you!

I dare you to read past what you’ll feel is a self-pity trip, through the depressing impressions and read this whole post to figure out just what it has to do with joy.

Sorry if it offends you but sometimes I do.  Sometimes I do wish that the people that say Fibromyalgia or Chronic Fatigue are not real illnesses can live a few days in my body.  I even wish my wonderfully loving husband and kids would spend a few hours in this skin.  At some point and time I’ve wished this on everyone except my beautiful 14 month old grandson…. So far.

I wish you could wake up with your legs and back so stiff that it is agonizing at times to get out of bed.  I wish you could feel the humiliation of having to yell out to your 19 year old son because you need help walking to the bathroom.  I wish your thoughts would be so clouded and jumbled that you can’t understand the words spoken to you or the words you want to speak.  I wish you could sit perfectly still while stabbing pain rages randomly throughout your body like exploding fireworks, each blast in a different place.

I wish you could walk your sweet baby through the mall and have people laugh or point and comment because he was born without eyes or a sealed palate.  I wish you could sit in your high school English class while the other students make fun of you, slap you, or call you embarrassing names until you slump into total humiliation.  I wish you could sit in your closet, door closed tight, while you listen to your dad scream at your mom in a drunken rage and all the while praying he doesn’t come through your door again.  I wish you could drive your minivan to a grocery store fifteen miles away so your kids aren’t embarrassed as you hand the cashier food stamps.

I wish you could look at that filthy glass of dirty water that you have no choice but to give your child to drink, knowing full well it might kill them.  I wish you could pack your kids up and what few belongings you can carry and walk miles on end in search of safety and freedom that you’ll take, even though it means living under a single tarp held up with four poles.  I wish you could gather with others in a dark basement with only a few cherished pages left of your bible and quietly pray and worship for fear you’ll be caught and beat and imprisoned.

I wish you could live under any circumstance that you’ve failed to open your eyes and see.  Put your feet in the shoes of another who can’t even lift their face up because life has smacked it one too many times.

Why?  Because there is always someone worse than you.  Run with me on this thought for a second – there has to be that one person on this earth who is actually worse off than any other human.  Isn’t that true?  It has to be.  There is one meager soul who sits at the bottom.  But guess what; it ain’t you!  I know that for a fact because you’re reading this, you’ve been blessed with the ability to read and understand print.  In one way or another you have access to the internet when some haven’t even had the fortune to hit the power button on a computer.  Yep, it ain’t you!

I think a lot of people are running pretty low on the compassion meter in general.  Go ahead and say you’re not like the others.  But you are.  At times.  We all are.  Me included, among the worst offenders at times.

I’m on a year long study of joy right now and I’ve come to realize that joy increases right alongside with your increase in compassion.  Compassion isn’t pity; it isn’t feeling sorry for someone and offering a smile as you walk by.  Compassion is acknowledging someone else’s difficult or even horrific situation, and seeing if you can help even if the help comes in the form of your heartfelt prayers.

Compassion is a forerunner of gratitude.  How can you not be thankful after seeing the plight of the less fortunate?  Gratitude leading right to joy.

Step one in living a life of joy; live gratitude.  This may seem too trivial and you may be thinking I’m nuts by now; but if you can’t see the many things in your life that are gifts, blessings, treasures around you, I don’t see how you can live out a joy-filled life.  If your eyes are closed to the apparent good a deep-seated joy can’t begin to grow.  Going further; if you think about it, there should also be gratitude in our hearts because of things we don’t have or haven’t experienced.  I haven’t had to experience the loss of a child or our home burning down – I personally know others that have – I am grateful for those that I haven’t had as well.

Gratitude Journal

Gratitude Journal

If you need a little help getting started as you search for bits of your day for which to be grateful I had previous mentioned author by Ann Voskamp; on her web site she offers pages you can print with daily prompts of things to look for and see the little things you normally might miss in your busy life; things that are worth a moment of heartfelt gratitude.

So go ahead and enjoy your day – search for the things you are truly grateful for – and enJOY your day!

JOY – What it is and what it isn’t

I thought as I embark on this one year study of JOY I should begin by defining exactly what I think joy is and what I think it isn’t.

Joy is not simply happiness.

Last week I mentioned that by joy I did “not mean “happiness”.  Joy and happiness are two very different things.  Happiness is external and momentary – it can come about from events, activities, moments shared with others; but joy is internal, accompanied by peace and contentment that remains solid even in the dark, troubling times of life.”   Happiness is an emotion and emotions are fleeting and can turn on a dime based on our circumstances and daily events.  Joy is something more.  Deeper.  It’s a state of being, a belief, a worldview of sorts.

Joy remains constant.

I think of joy in relation to the vows I said on my wedding day.  For better or worse, for richer or poorer, through sickness and in health, to have and to hold, till death do us part.  It’s something we have through all stages of life; good and bad.  We hold on to it in some respects, and desperately at times, to help us through those bad times in life.

I’m not there consistently.  Yet.  I tend to be circumstance driven.  If something really bad happens in my life I can be seen at the bottom of the pit thinking I’ll never dig my way back out of this.  As time passes I regain my normal moods and begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel and look back at the bottom of the pit and tell myself I’ll never fall that low again.  Until the next bad event hits.

Joy can be developed.

Joy has to be like a muscle.  I’m sure it can grow as we exercise use of it.  But figuring out how to do that is what lead me to this year long study to begin with.

In her book “One Thousand Gifts” writer Ann Voskamp shares how a friend dared her to search for and record one thousand gifts she’s been given.  As she goes along she begins to see how very mundane things we often take for granted are actual gifts we’ve been given.  We just have to open our eyes to see them.  Exercising the joy muscle.

Joy comes from the Lord.

The more we learn about the Lord the more our joy will increase.  Deepening our knowledge of the one who orchestrates and allows every event or situation in our lives will lead us to an increase of joy; even during times that aren’t pleasant or times we are downright brokenhearted.  (Remember is not an emotion!)

Not only does it come from the Lord but He commands it of us.  Rejoice in the Lord.  Philippians 3:1 – it’s a command.  Be joyful always.  1 Thess. 5:16 – command.  So, since it’s a command I figured I better get a good handle on it!

Joy is a choice.

So much of life is out of our control; but one thing we can always control is our reactions and behaviors.  As much as I’d like to use the excuses that maybe my pain level that day or how tired I am or how stressful things are control my reactions – they don’t.  I do.  I have the choice to look beyond the event of the moment to the bigger picture and chose to lean on the constant arm of joy.  There are times we won’t be able to see the bigger picture, after all, some things will happen to us and around us that just don’t make sense.  But still, we have the ability to place the event in its proper place and not let an off the cuff reaction at a time of anger and vulnerability be the thing that people remember us for or mark as our personality.

Joy is not based on our circumstance or other people.

Events in our life come and go, circumstances change.  Joy is something with you regardless of where you are in your life.  It’s what gives you the ability to rise above and out of painful situations.  We cannot base our joy on other people or expect them to be responsible for the level of joy in our hearts.  That’s placing too much responsibility on the shoulders of someone who will eventually let you down or possibly hurt you along the way.  After all, they’re human and imperfect just like you and me.  Couldn’t that lead to you eventually losing your joy?  That’s not what joy is about.  It’s not external – it’s internal.  So it’s with you no matter who is in your life.

 I want that!  I want to be able to rely on the joy to get me through the mess that makes up our lives.  I want consistency to my reactions that are no longer based on simple emotion.  Fleeting emotion.  I’m jumping in and going deeper!  Join me each Wednesday and we’ll dive in together!!