Lent

I’ve been leading up to this post here and here and now with Lent just a day away I’ll talk about what lent is and how I plan to observe it this year.  I think I finally understand where the word Easter comes from and the history of some of our customs surrounding Easter.

Easter

The name Easter has Germanic and Anglo-Saxon roots and comes from the name given to the goddess of spring named Eoster.  Easter was originally the celebration of spring and fertility, hence eggs and rabbits.

The church Christianized the spring festival and adopted some aspects in the passover or paschal celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection. But the purely Christian and religious part of Easter comes not only in the celebration of Christ’s resurrection but also the 40-46 days preceding Easter.

Lent

Some sources state that the meaning of the word lent goes back to an Anglo-Saxon word meaning spring or the month of March in which the majority of the forty days of lent fall.  Other sources say that Lent comes from the Latin Quadragesima meaning forty as in the forty days before Easter. In the early church it was a time of preparation for baptism or for repentance and fasting. According to this website:

Lent is a special time of prayer, penance, sacrifice and good works in preparation of the celebration of Easter.

The fast in the early church was during the 40 hours before Easter Sunday then later the fast was lengthened to a few weeks then a month, but it wasn’t until the Council of Nicea in 325 AD that the Lenten period became the 40 days, not including Sundays, before Easter. This time was often used to prepare new converts for baptism and a time for all Christians to focus or refocus on Jesus’ death and resurrection and to immerse ourselves in the gospel message.

I will spend these forty days focusing  on the gospel of grace through denial, devotion and discipleship.

Focusing on grace through practicing spiritual disciplines seems at first counter intuitive. After all the definition of grace is unmerited favor; the free gift of salvation not earned but accepted. Yet, I feel this pull to use this time leading up to Easter to purposefully bolster my faith through the working out of my faith.  I expect to experience grace in new ways as I know in and of myself I am powerless to accomplish any of what I intend unless it is truly of God.

I also hope to find some personal answers along the way. Answers to questions I’ve been asking about what direction to take in a number of areas in my life.  If devoting time to prayer(devotions) and fasting (denial) and discipleship yields direction I’ll be very grateful.

Denial 

Fasting is a way to increase our hunger for God.  I want to live the next seven weeks with an awareness of my most basic need. I’ll strip away the outward indulgences that feign satisfaction so I can seek to fulfill the truest longings of my heart.

I’ll be eliminating distractions that take up time and money so I can devote myself to prayer and service. I’ll deactivate my Facebook and Instagram accounts and will unsubscribe from all but a few blogs. I want to live with cash only for the barest necessities and eliminate some of the luxuries I spend money on so I can donate more to good causes.  I’ll give up yoga classes, a month of essential oils, buying new books, and some other items I consider luxuries.  I also will give up my netflix shows and only watch TV if it’s a family event.

I’m not sure exactly how this will play out, but I anticipate a struggle where I’ll need to cry out to God. I have many comfortable habits that distract me from seeking God for direction and help, and many coping mechanisms that divert my attention from my true duty to serve God and others.

Devotion

As I strip away the outer things I’ll have more room to devote myself to prayer and to seeking God above all and before all things.  Through daily devotions I hope to develop ears to hear from God.

I found this resource that looks helpful towards that end:

Journey to the Cross

I’m also reading through the new testament. Reading how the early Christians devoted themselves to God and one another is provoking in me a desire to do the same.

Discipleship

When I first jotted down my 3 d’s of lent I meant to write discipline but disciple came out on the paper. I went with it.  I hope to practice my own discipleship as a student of Christ by sitting at His feet and listening to His word.

I want to grow in humility so I can learn from others. I want to be a student of the cross through devotion and denial for the purpose of living for God in all that I do through lent and onward.

Will you be observing lent?  What practices do you follow?

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Winter Will Give Way to Spring

As I sit here watching the snow fall lightly on the deadness of winter I wonder if I’ll be able to keep the plans of denying, devoting and discipling during lent. I wonder if, as the winter that seems endless finally does give way to spring if I will experience newness in the same way. Will contemplating Easter restore to me the joy of my salvation?

IMG_4801

What dormant dreams will come to life? Or will all that’s stirring beneath the hard cold exterior never emerge? I hope that what I pour into these next 40 days of lent will bear fruit. I pray God will bless my meager plans.  I hope that what I spend will satisfy. I know though His thoughts are not my own:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

10 As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55

As the rain and snow water the earth will God’s word water my soul and will I recognize His work and purpose in my life?

I want to enter into a deeper communion with God and His word in the days leading up to Easter. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and I’m kicking off the season of lent this year with some grand plans held loosely yet determinedly.

Want to follow along?  You can by clicking the follow button in the side bar.

 

My Portion and My Cup

If you read my last post it was a celebration of 30 years without a drink. Thirty years free from the bondage of addiction.  While that’s a huge burden lifted it certainly doesn’t mean I’ve been free of trouble the last 30 years.  Getting addiction out of the way left life on life’s terms, as they like to say, and that’s a whole ‘nother hurdle.

In the six years after getting sober I had a baby, finished my associates degree got married, had another baby all while moving from Massachusetts to Virginia to West Virginia and back to Virginia.  Phew.  Learning how to be a mother and a wife and sometimes an employee without drinking was not easy.  I prayed a lot, God heard my prayers and led me to Jesus.  My husband and I both became Christians.

I stopped living for myself and began an everyday odyssey in which I  live for Jesus and his glory. I’m still trying to figure out what that means.  I stumble and fall as often as I stand tall.

The adage holds true that the longer I live the less I know or am sure of.  But thankfully, though I’ve wrestled with doubt and have questioned God’s wisdom, have been tempted to step away not only from church but Jesus too I keep coming back, or God keeps showing  up and bringing me back.

I want to run after the things of the world, I want nice things, and amazing experiences, but what if my calling, my purpose is just here just now. What if the next great experience is learning to be content with what’s right in front of me.  I’ve mentioned before that I’m waiting and listening closely for God’s direction.  Psalm 16 is speaking to me teaching me to stay close and trust in God’s wisdom, protection and provision.

Psalm 16

Keep me safe, my God,
for in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing.”
3 I say of the holy people who are in the land,
“They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”
4 Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
or take up their names on my lips.
5 Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.

This coming week Ash Wednesday will kick of the Lenten season, which is the forty weekdays leading up to Easter, or Resurrection Sunday.  I have plans to observe lent this year.  I’ve been reading up on what that means and I’ll be posting what I’m doing.  I plan to spend a lot of time reflecting on what God has done in my life, what He may want me to do and how to move forward after Easter.

Do you observe lent?  How does that make a difference in your life?

 

 

Rememberance of Faithfulness

I didn’t really want to write this post, but I kept feeling a nudge to mark this time and remember the goodness of God in my life.

In Joshua 4 God told Joshua to command the priests of Israel to choose 12 stones from the river Jordan and set them up as memorials to remember God’s faithfulness in delivering them across the Jordan River on dry ground.

“In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. 24 He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”

The hand of the Lord is powerful.  He did deliver me from a desperate past so that I might remember Him and boast in Him and Him alone.

“26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”1 Corinthians

I was the epitome of foolish. Between the ages of 15 and 20  drugs and alcohol were what I lived for.  I was constantly after the next high whatever that may be.  When I drank I drank till I couldn’t remember. I woke up in places I didn’t remember going to. I drove in this condition. When finally I was arrested for drunk driving I was in a black out driving the wrong way on a one way street.  I spent the night in jail.  I was an embarrassment to my family and pitied by what few friends I had.  God surely was protecting me during those years.  I should have been dead.

( Can I just say as an aside that remembering my past gives me so much gratitude for the lives my children are living. They know nothing of the heartache of addiction and while they have and will have their own trials of mistakes and hardship I am so very grateful that they have not followed the path I did early in life.)

Eventually, after a few false starts, I was able to achieve sobriety. I accepted I was an alcoholic who could not control herself after the first drink. I believed in God and I started praying daily the alcoholics prayer of step 3:

God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!

It’s a beautiful prayer. I prayed it every morning on my knees and God surely did direct my steps. Difficulties of my own making remained but I was slowly coming to depend on God and He did with me what He willed.

We think we are in control. We think we make decisions and chart the course of our own destiny and whatever happens is our will in action.  The mental wrestling of God’s will and ours is exhausting but I am comforted that He holds my life in His hands and that the past was part of His plan.  Despite my weaknesses and my mistakes and what I may have meant for selfish gain He has used my life for good and the good of others.

While I often look back with regret I strive to turn that regret into stones of remembrance of how God drew me out of despair and set my feet on solid ground.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
    and put their trust in him.

Truly the grace God has poured out on my life is astounding.  I eventually married a man who supported my sobriety and we started a journey that led us to the Christian faith.  Here is where God’s word started to speak into our lives and brought us into a fuller understanding of how Jesus is savior and has dominion over our lives.

I don’t go to AA meetings anymore though I highly recommend them.  They can be a source of much encouragement and support. I don’t talk much about being an alcoholic, though I think I have to remember that I am because I could easily slip.

I talk about it today because today is my anniversary.  It’s been thirty years since the last drink. Thirty years sober. I believe God had His hand on my life from the very beginning, bringing me through many trials, allowing me to make horrible mistakes so I could eventually appreciate not only the salvation of my soul but also the opportunity to live for Him in this world.

I do have “stones of remembrance” I few pieces from my past that help me remember.  A bowl from a pottery shop I worked in one summer in the midst of my drinking years is a remembrance of that time and also a sweet reminder that God is the potter of my life shaping and forming me into what He will.

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I lived near the beach when I quit drinking and I also have shells, beach glass and drift wood I’ve collected and a poem I wrote fairly recently that reminds me I was broken.

Beach Glass
pieces of a drunken night
shattered glass shattered life
never to be whole again
sharpened by the brokenness
tossed about in sand and sea
a fraction of what could be

sharpness dulls over time
edges soften through the grind
of sand and salt and the constant rub
that wears the edges of a life
till landing on the shore
a piece transformed from before

time has smoothed the brokenness
separated from the rest
now a treasure to caress
lonely fingers find a store of
beach glass on the shore

Do you have stones of remembrance of the times God has delivered you? Maybe you weren’t an alcoholic, but surely God’s worked in your life.  Let him have the glory and tell it to your children.

Finding Joy In The Waiting

I’ve had something welling up in me recently that is bubbling to the surface and I feel like I’m going to explode. I want change. I crave excitement and something new. I’m getting tired of the same old routine day in and day out. it doesn’t take long for me to get bored…

I want to move, or travel or start some great project.

My mother used to tell me I was a caged animal. In high school I would pace back and forth until my friend or boy friend would show up and we could go, find fun,excitement, and the next great party.

I’m feeling a little cagey.

caged tiger

I crave routine but once I get it it feels like chains. I know I need discipline but once I start practicing it feels monotonous.

I’m not sure what I need right. Find the next new project or learn to be content, dig in and find Joy in the monotony. Take the next same step again. Find the increasing improvement in practice.

And not forget to Lean in Hard to the one who holds my life in His hands. I’m not sure where I read it recently but when He feels far away He’s really so very close. When I don’t feel I’m getting the answers I need it doesn’t mean He’s abandoned me. It means I need to keep my mind on Him.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3

I’m looking for answers and hoping for direction but I’m having trouble just waiting. That peace is not very tangible or perfect right now.

I’m not enjoying the wait. The first 40 years or so of my life I was always on the move, I found the next project or adventure or calling or leading of God and I would plunge in with both feet.

But now life is slow and I wait, for the right time, for enough money, for the surety of purpose. For the right nudge in the right direction.

Wait for the LORD and keep his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land; Psalms 37:34

But I’m fighting for Joy, I’m fighting to stay close to the one who holds my life and I’m not going to move till He says move. I”m going to record my gifts, meditate on His word and do the next thing. Joy will come.
What are you waiting for?

Joy in Disappointment

I had the beginnings of a post about submitting for joy that didn’t get saved.  Big sigh. After the initial frustration wore off, I’m accepting that maybe it’s just not the right time for writing about that.  I’ll revisit and re-craft and hopefully will have some insights into the controversial subject of submission to others and to God that will be helpful.

But dealing with disappointment may be a better topic.  How do you keep joy in the midst of disappointment. Whether it be a slight disappoint such as plans for the day going awry or losing a blog post or the deep disappointment in the choices a child makes,  of losing the opportunity to follow a dream or in your own faults and failings.

Whatever disappoints can be a joy stealer.  When whatever it is that has dashed our hopes for the  future happens it can be devastating and can turn a mood from one of cheerful and hopeful expectation to sullenness, moodiness and anger.  Just ask any two year old who doesn’t get the hoped for lollypop at the bank.

While I won’t throw myself on the floor and scream my thoughts can tantrum in my brain. Outwardly I can become discontent, crabby and down right mean.

But there is a better way. It actually has to do with submitting after all. Submitting to God and his good and perfect plan. Believing in the goodness and sovereignty of God amidst our struggles can be the deciding factor in keeping us from despair and disappointment and helping us to embrace joy.

 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.Romans 8:28

 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7

Then you will know that I am the Lord;
    those who hope in me will not be disappointed.” Isaiah 49:23

This is not merely positive thinking or simply putting a positive spin on whatever went wrong. It’s a deep settling in your mind to the will of God.  An acceptance and peace that God is in control.

It takes an act of will to turn our thoughts from those of despair to hopeful expectation amidst the disappointments of life, but with the mere turning He can then work to produce joy, pure unadulterated joy that dispels despair and sinks deep into our hearts and minds.

We are on Verse 3 this week.

Keep me safe, my God,
    for in you I take refuge.

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
    apart from you I have no good thing.”
I say of the holy people who are in the land,
    “They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”
Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
    I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
    or take up their names on my lips.

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
    you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
    even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
    With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
11 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.

 

 

Meditating for Peace and Joy

 

Martha's iphone pictures 444It’s hard to be full of joy when our brains seem to reel uncontrollably from one thought to the next each devolving into more and more negativity. For instance as soon as my eyes opened this the morning my thoughts went something like this: how long do I have until the kids wake up, what am I  going to prepare for breakfast, do I have any appointments to go to, how am I going to teach my daughter. Those were the logistical, then the emotions kicked in and the various worries about each of my five children infiltrated my morning routine. Then while trying to remember the blessings in my life I take some time to  ruminate on the failures of my past and Ebola in Africa, slave trafficking in Sierra Leone, the orphans of the world, the dear neighbor with Lyme disease or the other with cancer.  Wow! All before the first cup of coffee and the world is ending and my peace, if I even had it to begin with, is gone amidst waves of anxiety and fear.

Our brains neural circuitry never stops. How our thoughts jump from one negative thought to the next seems uncontrollable.  Apparently, according to evolutionary thought, our brains are designed for negativity to help us avoid danger.  The default mode is to be looking for threats and to constantly evaluate our surroundings.

I just finished reading the book The Last Best Cure by Donna Nakazawa in the chapter on So How Did We Get This Way? she relies heavily on Rick Hanson PhD.’s book; Buddha’s Brain: the Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom.  He explains the evolution of the brain and how we still are wired for negativity.  Nakazawa put it this way:

Everyday, we all face an inner battle to try to balance our brains’ natural, deeply ingrained evolutionary-based tendency to see what Hanson refers to as “paper-tigers” everywhere.  We have evolved to mistakenly assume, he explains, that there is a tiger in the bushes ten thousand times for every time there may be one- in order to avoid making a life or death mistake even once.

She goes on to explain how naturally this tendency is affected by our personal history. With a troubled childhood an adult might have an increased tendency to perceive “paper-tigers”.

Physiologically when we are in a constant state of fight or flight the hormones released whenever we perceive a “paper-tiger” causes a flood of inflammatory cytokines that “whip up the body’s immune response”. When there really is danger this is a good thing; we combat the threat using the means hormones provide and then return to a balanced state. Whipping up the immune system for paper-tigers however causes damage to the tissues of our body. It’s not hard to see how this can also lead to constant emotional stress and negativity.

So how do we combat this tendency?  Nakazawa reports on how meditation and mindfulness help our bodies maintain a state of homeostasis so our brains  can turn from negative hyper-arousal to peace and calm. Mindfulness based stress reduction, MBSR, is being used to help lessen physical and emotional pain in patients in a study at John’s Hopkins and the University of Maryland.

Mindfulness meditation. There it is. Being present to the moment, fully present. Letting the worries of the rest of life fall to the sides and focusing on the here and now leads to not just peace of  mind now but health and well being and a longer life.

It may even be that meditation triggers what researchers refer to as “pathways of restoration and enhancement.” not only boosting the parasympathetic nervous system, which down-throttles the fight-or-fight response, but actually stimulation the production of growth hormones linked to the preservation and maintenance of each cell.

In simplest terms: the way in which we mentally perceive the stress we face and how we rehearse it in our mind may have a more profound affect on the health of our cells than the amount of stress we’re actually under.  And the more we move our state of mind away from negative spinning thoughts about our life situation by focusing on our breath and mindfully bringing ourselves back to the quiet again and again the longer our telomeres [ an essential part of human cells that affect how our cells age] may become-and the greater our longevity. pg 73 The Last Best Cure

Teaching our wandering minds to focus on the here and  now takes practice.  Mindfulness meditation teaches how to focus on the breath to keep us in the now. It is a turning away from the stress of the world and emptying our minds to focus on one thing, breath or a phrase or a mantra. If this sounds too New Age for your Christian sensibilities consider that Christianity has been practicing meditation for centuries.  It’s an ancient tradition that deserves another look.

Finally – but also primarily – we meditate to take the attention off ourselves. In the Christian tradition it is seen as a work of love. Not surprising then if we find we become more loving people as a result of meditating and this will express itself in all our relationships, our work and our sense of service especially to those in any kind of need.

Christianity teaches us to focus on God, exhorts us to meditate on His Word, to not worry about tomorrow, and to remember His goodness.

The Psalmist mediated on God’s word to bring him from a state of (justified) anxiety and fear to a state of peace and trust.

6 when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; 7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.  8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
Psalms 63:6-8

I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. Psalms 77:12

On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. Psalms 145:5

This is instructive as we can turn our thoughts to God’s thoughts.  Apprehend the mind of God by the Holy Spirit’s help.

Paul, knowing our tendency to worry, exhorts us to pray and turn our minds towards Jesus:

6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me-practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:6-9

Taking our thoughts captive, learning to meditate on the truth of God’s word is a remedy for anxiety and a path to peace and joy and perhaps even long life that is backed up by science. But you don’t have to understand the science to get to the joy.  As we turn away from anxiousness and think on truth, justice, honor, excellence, purity and anything worthy of praise, God promises He will guard our minds and that His peace will be with us.

Martha's iphone pictures 431Are you memorizing Psalm 16 with me. I’m on verse two this week.

 “I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.” Psalm 16:2

Here are printable memory helps:

Psalm 16

Psalm 16-1-11

 

 

Hiding the Word to Apprehend Joy

This year I want the Word of God to penetrate my heart and mind. I want to hide the Word in such a way that it wouldn’t actually be hidden but be accessible. I want to be able to recall Truth so that I can apply it.

I’ve never been great at memorizing. But over the next few months I hope to memorize Psalm 16. Just a verse a week.

Psalm 16

Keep me safe, my God,
for in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing.”
3 I say of the holy people who are in the land,
“They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”
4 Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
or take up their names on my lips.
5 Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
7 I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
8 I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
11 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.

This Psalm is a go to Psalm for me.  I have always especially liked the part where the Psalmist declares that the boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places.  This is something I ponder often especially when I am tempted to discontent. I want to know deep down that what I sometimes see as blockades to getting what I want are actually boundaries God has placed in my life to keep me in His will.

Joy is the goal. Entering into the presence of God to know that He is my refuge, that no good thing comes apart from him, that He holds my lot and He will counsel me and that I will be filled with joy in His presence and eternal pleasures are mine.  That makes for joyful living.

Here are some helps in memorizing if you’d like to join along.

Psalm 16 Psalm 16-1-11

 

See the Gift, Record the Gift, Apprehend the Gift of Joy

We started a new tradition this year during our Thanksgiving gathering.  My niece made these beautiful little cards:

IMG_4587Everyone, all 27 of us, scratched out what we were thankful for. We then put them in a hat and reached in and took out someone’s thanks and read it.  We guessed who they belonged to. It was a wonderfully fun thing to do and truly made us reflect on the good in our lives.

IMG_4588 IMG_4590 IMG_4591

As part of my  joy journey to joy I want to practice thankfulness and gratitude on a daily basis.

The book 1000 Gifts a Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are introduced me to the idea that thanksgiving is transformational. Perhaps I knew that already but Ann Voscamp’s chronicled journey into counting gifts was convicting and inspirational. But, somehow I’ve hesitated to jump in fully. It felt contrived and not from the heart, to just look at things and write them down.  The heart didn’t feel particularly grateful. I think it needs to be more than just a list.

Somehow in making the list you have to be present to what you are giving thanks for.  Be fully present to the gift. 

(Mindfulness, being present, is another topic I’ll explore in the quest for joy.)

Robert Emmons has devoted his life work to studying gratitude and the effect it has on our well being. He’s written books and speaks on how to become and practice gratitude. Here is a post about 10 ways to become more grateful.

I don’t think, as Christians, we need to shy away from secular teachers. I find it fascinating that science confirms that giving thanks actually leads to happier, healthier people.  Dr. Emmons is clear that gratitude is recognition for gifts received that are not necessarily merited.

The basis of the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that our salvation is an unmerited gift. That is our ultimate gift and the one we look forward to. 

But there are gifts right now in this life all around us. Unmerited gifts waiting to be recognized and given thanks for.

In looking for things to be grateful for it can be tempting to be grateful for our personal accomplishments or to simply make comparisons about how we have more, stuff, success, money, than others. But this is not true gratitude.

In a study done by Emmons and McCullough the distinction was made that gratitude is not a comparison to others and what we have that they don’t. From a Psychology Today blog post:

Realizing that other people are worse off than you is not gratitude. Gratitude requires an appreciation of the positive aspects of your situation. It is not a comparison. Sometimes noticing what other people don’t have may help you see what you can be grateful for, but you have to take that next step. You actually have to show appreciation for what you have, for it to have an effect.  ~Alex Korb

There are psychological and physiological affects from the practice of Gratitude. From the same article:

feelings of gratitude directly activated brain regions associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine.

So once you start seeing things to be grateful for, your brain starts looking for more things to be grateful for. That’s how the virtuous cycle gets created.

A cycle of gratitude. I’m hoping this will be true as I start the practice of finding gifts. Everyday listing gifts, the small the big, inside, out side, people, nature. All is a gift and I want to appreciate them and be present to them, and be fully present to the greatest gift; God.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11 

Would you like to start giving thanks and practicing gratitude?  Here are a number of resources to help you.

Gratitude Prompts:

Joy Dare

iPhone apps:

1000 gifts app

Gratitude app

track n share tracks more than just gratitude, health, food, pain and  more

Tips to giving thanks:

A Practical Guide to Gratitude

Help Conquering Want of Stuff

And the beginnings of my list:

 

Beautiful Colors of a Nourishing Breakfast
Beautiful Colors of a Nourishing Breakfast
First Snow of the Year
First Snow of the Year

 

Pretty Mugs to Hold Warm Drinks
Pretty Mugs to Hold Warm Drinks

See the Gift, Record the Gift, Apprehend the Gift of Joy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joy, Unspeakable Joy

There’s an empty place now where the tree stood all decorated, waiting for Christmas day. The decorations are put away, the presents incorporated into our regular stuff, the newness of those presents already wearing off.  I’m trying to decide what to put in that place by the window where the tree was.

There’s an empty place in my heart and my life waiting to be filled with the new; the new year, new ideas, new opportunities, and newness I can’t even imagine.

I turned 50 this past year. In the old testament every 50th year was a year of Jubilee, a year of the Lord’s favor. A year to set the captives free, and to forgive the debts of those who owe. To restore families and end oppression. I’m seeking freedom from a variety of things in my life; debt, illness, ugly attitudes.  Mostly though I’m seeking Joy for this year of jubilee.

One Word is the new resolution; choosing a theme rather than a list.  Though I ‘ll still have my list of things to do, accomplish, put on, put off, and get better at, I hope to do it with the under-girding theme of Joy.

Martha Mason One Word Large
Thanks to Traci Little for my Joy graphic.

It came to me last week. Before the joy of Christmas morn, before the fun of presents and dinners and family. How to make those fleeting moments turn into a lasting attitude.  I was reading Isaiah through December and came upon the chapter titled The Year of the Lord’s Favor.

“Instead of their shame my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance; and so they will inherit a double portion in their land and everlasting joy will be theirs.” Isaiah 61:7

Everlasting Joy. A double portion would be nice too.

Joy is one of those things (what is it anyway? an emotion, a feeling, a mind set?) that has been hard for me to wrap my brain around.  It’s elusive, intangible so much more than happiness which is contingent on happenstance.

Experienced best while enJOYing the moment and mindful of the moment.  When I am all there. But what if the moment is not pleasurable? Joy is also a looking forward in anticipation.

Websters 1828 Dictionary

JOY, noun

1. The passion or emotion excited by the acquisition or expectation of good; that excitement of pleasurable feelings which is caused by success, good fortune, the gratification of desire or some good possessed, or by a rational prospect of possessing what we love or desire; gladness; exultation; exhilaration of spirits.

JOY is a delight of the mind, from the consideration of the present or assured approaching possession of a good.

…an approaching possession of a good. I can always turn my mind, settle my thoughts on the approach of good. And what could be better than the promise of everlasting joy. But it will take a transformation and I can’t do it on my own. It’s a revolution to those resolutions that often depend on the power of our will. 

You want to be transformed? Here’s where it happens: Abide in Him, He will abide in you, and there will be radical, real-life change in your life in the year ahead. ~Wendy Speake

I’ll explore the meaning of joy this year and will seek to put on joy by abiding in Him and putting God’s Word in my heart with the hope of transformation.

Will you  join me?

I will be memorizing Psalm 16 for the first 12 weeks of the year.  One verse a week starting Monday. I’m working on printouts to aid us each week.  If you’d like to join in sign up for email notifications and the reminders will drop right in your inbox.

Here’s to Joy, Unspeakable Joy all the year long.

“Keep me safe O God, For in you I take refuge”  Psalm 16:1

Keep me safe O God