joy

The joy we find in the broken, the backward and less-than-successful things

I need a show of hands. How many of you out there are deeply entrenched in something that’s quite less-than-successful?

Is your church struggling with leadership, finances, or sharing the gospel with the world?

Does your marriage feel like long-running drudgery, full of low-grade despair or outright hostility?

Is your parenting a loosely cobbled together collection of decisions, aimed at hopefully producing a decent adult one day?

How about your career, your health, or your finances? If one or all of them are a wreck, then you’re reading the right blog post.

I’m right there with you.

It’s becoming more and more apparent to me that I’ve been called to some things that may never be shiny, fancy, or awe-inspiring.

I have recently counted up an offering at church and been somewhat dumbfounded at the low deposit total I saw on the spreadsheet.

Our small group, once a large, bustling, thriving evening each week, suddenly evaporated this month. This place of ministry was near and dear to my heart but, abruptly, it ended.

When friends share stories of churches they attend with special offerings of tens of thousands of dollars, or dozens of baptisms in one night, or the thriving ministries of the church, I get really anxious and teeter on the brink of despair.

What are we doing wrong? Are we not faithful enough for God’s blessing?

I’ve recently had some parenting struggles that I shall keep private, due to the fact that my children are no longer babies and don’t appreciate their junk being spewed all over the internet, but suffice it to say that I had to wonder if I’ve done anything worthwhile with my offspring the last fourteen years. It feels entirely possible that I’m just the tall woman with access to the checking account in the house, and they’re counting down the days until my rule of tyranny is over in their lives.

What am I doing wrong? Have I not prayed enough? Been strict enough? Been too strict?

And even though I’m on the very cusp of releasing my third book, a privilege other writers would eat a sock to experience, my writing career is so less-than-spectacular that I struggle monthly with whether to continue.

Other writers sell more books, get more blog stats, and gain more social media followers in the next twenty minutes than I’ve done in the last eight years.

Am I hearing God wrong? Should I focus on my spectacular career as an administrative assistant and let the writing go?

I tell you all these things not because I’m seeking your pity. I offer them simply to be real, and because I firmly believe that honesty opens up room for others to be honest as well. It’s not all going well. I’ve worked really, really hard for many years, only to realize many of my efforts can basically can basically be filed under “F” for “Failure.”

And maybe you feel the same way?

Here’s some hope for us all. I’ve been reading an old, old book I found in the church library. Forgotten for years, this copy of Humility by Andrew Murray* is now covered in coffee stains and my grubby fingerprints. Sometimes those old writers really have a way of cutting through the popular culture’s madness to really get at the heart of the matter. If something was important and true more than a hundred years ago, maybe we should still be paying attention.

(Just to be clear, the copy I have is a reprint from about fifteen years ago. I’m not spilling coffee on a hundred year old book.)

Murray’s point is simple: Humility is the path to holiness, and directly to God’s heart. Yet we often resist the very things that allow that humility to grow in our hearts. He writes:

Many Christians fear and flee and seek deliverance from all that would humble them. At times they may pray for humility, but in their heart of hearts they pray even more to be kept from the things that would bring them to that place. They have not reached the level of seeing humility as a manifestation of the beauty of the Lamb of God (pg. 91).

We want our churches to be shiny and popular and flush with cash. We want our marriages to be healthy and our parenting to inspire awe in our community. When our efforts are unsuccessful, we either double down with more effort or give up in despair.

But what if there was another way to look at it?

Could we take that lackluster career, that long-running battle in our marriage, or our pathetic book sales and realize that when we bring those things directly to God, we’re growing in humility?

No one’s going to look at our efforts and then be awed by our abilities. But maybe those struggles are making us into kinder, gentler individuals. Maybe we’ll show more grace to others because of this experience. Perhaps our ministries will grow deeper and more heartfelt, with more of the Holy Spirit’s power to show to others.

After all, Jesus was born to inconsequential people (in a stable!), never took the throne in Rome, and then died next to criminals. His best friends were a ragtag group of fishermen, tax collectors, and women. If our Lord chose the simple, humble things, who are we to expect some sort of shiny, glorious life?

I can’t see all the areas you’re struggling today, so maybe none of this helps your exact situation. But I have a feeling that maybe it does. Reframing our humiliations as experiences that bring us closer to Jesus might be the most helpful thing we learn as we mature in our walk with God.

I believe there’s joy to be found in growing more gentle, kind, and reliant on the Holy Spirit. And if it takes twenty failures a day to get me to that place, then I guess I’m all in.

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Because Murray has been dead a loooong time, the book is off copyright and can be read on the internet. Here’s the link if you’re interested– it’s well worth the read! Link to Humility.

*The Amazon link is an affiliate link, and I’ll earn a tiny stipend off sales. The link to the online, off-copyright is not an affiliate link.

Calm on the outside; freaking out on the inside

If you could peek into my house right this minute, you’d find us calmly going about our business in perfectly clean rooms.


I’m not even joking, friends. The house looks like we’re ready for potential buyers to walk in the door because we are, in fact, ready for those potential buyers.

The sinks are shiny, the showers look like no one has ever bathed in them, and the laundry is all done. The oven is clean and someone who shall remain nameless has been forbidden to bake pizzas until the house is sold.

It’s weird and I don’t really like it very much. It feels like we snuck into a show house and are pretending to live there.

It looks like this, but even CLEANER. No stuff stuck to the fridge, an almost empty counter. It’s spooky, folks.

The kids are old enough that they know how to not make messes, so they’re quietly going about their business in a tidy fashion while Eric and I read and write blog posts.

Outward everything is calm. But inside I’m totally freaking out. As evidence, I bring actual thoughts I’ve had since waking this morning:

WHAT HAVE WE DONE? OH, MY WORD, WE JUST BUILT THIS HOUSE FIVE YEARS AGO!! WHY IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS HOLY ARE WE THINKING ABOUT SELLING THIS PERFECTLY GOOD HOUSE AND MOVING TO A NEW ONE WHAT IF WE HATE IT OH MY WORD THIS IS A PERFECT SETUP FOR A SITCOM AND I THINK I NEED A VALIUM!

Notice how my thoughts become run-on sentences as the panic grows.

To counter these negative emotions, I also have perfectly sane and intelligent thoughts at exactly the same time:

This other house we’re interested in will really offer us some great opportunities. It solves a few problems (LIKE THE IDIOT CAT), it opens up financial possibilities, and the decorating decisions will be such a fun challenge. I can’t wait to rip that ghastly wallpaper right off the wall. What a delight this will be!

It’s like my brain is in a blender. All the outcomes will be fine, honestly. We love this house and will be happy to stay here for years, but the other house we have our eye on could really be a great adventure.


We spent a solid two weeks praying about this decision to possibly move, and Eric and I reached the same decision carefully and slowly. Neither of us pushed or shoved the other in either direction; no one whined or wheedled or begged. Those of you who know me in person will find this unlikely, but I promise I put the brakes on my usual personality out of terror I’d drag my family into a nightmare that would scar them for years.

But we finally did it. The sign is in the yard, the kids are actually getting their dirty laundry into the basket each night, and I’m actually getting it all washed the next morning.

Now we wait.

As much as I’d like to demand God hurries up and gets our future all lined up in either direction ASAP, I’ve learned that spending time with him in the midst of the uncertainty is a far better option. That’s where the closeness and trust grows.

We prayed ourselves into this situation, now we can pray right through it. And prayer doesn’t mean demanding evidence. It means we choose to trust that he’s working– even when we can’t see it from here.

It means choosing to be still even when our brains are feeling like blenders. It means scrubbing a tub and being thankful it’s clean whether someone buys the house or not.

I was feeling like a moron the day Caleb took this photo, but it actually illustrates my state of mind today– happy, but also insane a little.

It may, in fact, require a Valium in the near future. I’m no saint. I’m due for another round of panic here in about three minutes. Bear with me, and I’ll keep you updated on the situation!

 

 

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Chasing down joy and contentment in a world gone mad.

I jogged last Friday.

But let me explain what precipitated this ridiculous event. It certainly didn’t happen on purpose.

Lulled into a false sense of security by the sunshine, I decided to go for a walk after dropping the kids off at school. I dressed warmly enough for a March morning, but not warmly enough for the sneaky, icy wind I hadn’t noticed. I swear this wind had come straight from the bowels of Canada, ripped right over Lake Michigan, then plunged into our little town as soon as I locked the van and hit the trail.

It blasted me in the face and I thought, “Sheesh. It’s going to be a long walk with this wind. Maybe (this is where things went terribly wrong, dear reader)… I could go faster.

And here’s the thing. I sort of pride myself on my non-competitive, slow forms of health. If a three mile walk takes me an hour and a half, I take that as a badge of honor. That’s ninety minutes¬†I spent tending to my health! If I need to change my diet, I pick one tiny little thing and then master it, like “eat more fruit.” That one decision can take two years to fully implement, and then as a fruit-eating expert, I add one new small thing into my diet.

So going faster on this walk was sort of out of character. But the wind was literally stinging me in the face so I decided that since I was on the trail and no one would likely see me, I would jog.

And then I did, actually, jog.

It wasn’t actually so terrible for the first tenth of a mile. Then I walked for another tenth of a mile to get my breath back. Then I hit an open field, and the wind started howling and I started running out of self-preservation. My eyes involuntarily teared up. I think perhaps snot was running down my face, but my face was frozen so I couldn’t be certain. My legs were completely numb, so the only evidence I had of movement was that I was actually passing things.

If any of you actually saw me in this state, I apologize for not greeting you. I believe my corneas may have been frozen for several minutes.

I jogged for two tenths of a mile that time. Breathing raggedly, like a marathoner who has accidentally run for two solid days, I turned the corner on the trail and was blasted in the face with another round of ice-oxygen.

That was it. I was done. I turned around immediately, putting the wind to my back, and started for the van. My rear was now taking the brunt of the cold but that is far less bothersome than frozen corneas, so onward I went at my usual walking speed.

And because I was walking, taking in the sights, I was able to notice the tiny green leaves just starting to push out from the smallest of the branches. Small shoots of woodland greenery were just beginning to poke tips out of the dirt. A robin shot me a dirty look, like I was somehow responsible for his discomfort.

I couldn’t have seen any of this if I was still jogging. There’s beauty and joy all around us, just waiting to be noticed, but too many of us are missing these small things. We’re chasing contentment and joy, but chasing it is the worst possible way to find it.

We’re running hard after our dreams and our desires, filling up our calendars with more obligations, our carts with more plastic doodads, and homes with more shiny screens. And we wonder why joy and contentment remain elusive.


This world has gone mad. It’s made us a million false promises, enticing us to believe that more stuff, more fun, and more money will eventually lead us to what we seek. We just have to catch it.

This is ridiculous. Joy and contentment are decisions. They’re willful states of mind, choosing to be joy-filled and satisfied right where we are. They come when we slow down enough to notice the people in our home, the new signs of spring, and the pantry with enough food to make dinner.

I’m not saying the world will ever be perfect, or if we slow down enough that perfection will present itself. I don’t think it works like that. I think we find joy and contentment when we decide it’s time to be unreasonably thankful for what we already have, even when there are other things that remain difficult and unchangeable.

Two hours later, I decided to be joyful about the warm blanket around my legs and my home that kept out the wind. Yes, my lungs were revolting from the jogging incident and I coughed for three hours. Yes, my butt stayed¬†frozen until lunch and unwarranted tears kept slipping out of my thawing eye sockets. I’m not saying the situation was ideal.

But it was enough. I chose to slow down and notice that I already had exactly what I needed, and it was enough.