Posted in Faith

Joy Comes with the Morning

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Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5).

My grandpa passed away earlier this month. Yesterday I attended a memorial service for a gentleman who was active and well respected in the community. I also learned that one of Life Choices’ long time monthly supporters lost his battle with cancer. In addition, people who are dear to me are struggling with serious trouble in their relationships. My heart has been heavy with loss, grief, and concern.

In the midst of difficulties, I have to remind myself that sorrow will not last forever. This verse in the Book of Psalms keeps me grounded and hopeful In Jesus. It is comforting to know that what is now will not always be forever. There are better days ahead, even when I don’t see them!

In her devotional book, Jesus Always: Embracing Joy, Sarah Young writes “Sadness tends to duplicate itself along the timeline—convincing you that you’ll always be unhappy. But this is a lie! The truth is, all My followers have infinite Joy ahead of them, guaranteed throughout eternity.”

When you think about night, what comes to mind? At night, the darkness is present and it is difficult to see without a source of light. In the Bible, night often represents a time of adversity, despair, and overwhelming confusion.

Thankfully, night is not a forever condition. In Alaska during the December winter solstice, there is as little as two hours of sunlight. That’s a lot of night! But, even there it isn’t dark forever, and families find ways to celebrate the shortest day of the year with lanterns.

As a little girl, I was an early riser. (I wish I were like that now.) My parents’ rule was that I had to stay in bed until the sun came up. I remember sitting at the edge of my bed and looking out the window waiting…waiting…waiting… impatient for the dawn. It was arduous to gaze into the dark. I thought the daylight would never come, but suddenly the sun rose slightly above the horizon. I was free from the restraints of night!

If you are currently in a dark season of life, take heart. It will come to an end. The dawn will arise, and scatter the night. Joy comes in the morning.

Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts (2 Peter 1:19, NLT, emphasis mine).

You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:8-9).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You that You are always near, even when I don’t sense Your presence. Help me during this dark season of life to keep hope alive. As I weep during the night, comfort me with the knowledge that joy comes in the morning. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Faith

The Art of Acceptance

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God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

The Serenity Prayer written by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) is one of the most popular prayers today, and was adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1940s. It has been used as an inspirational saying for wall hangings, posters, and digital images around the world. People are familiar with the first part of the prayer, and may not realize there is a second part.

Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Amen.

The Serenity Prayer communicates beautiful simplicity of faith. It offers hope of a life lived in peace and surrender despite difficulties. Simple truth, but not easy to practice.

One thing I have been learning about myself lately is how important it is for me to be in control. Since childhood, I have developed a pattern. No matter how overwhelmed I feel inside, I do not allow it to stand in the way. Sometimes the internal battle is intense and it requires God’s strength to help me do what needs to be done. This strategy has served me well (although there are also some unhealthy results that I’m working through).

Since experiencing the armed invasion of my home four months ago, I have struggled with anxiety attacks and flashbacks. It is lessening in frequency as time goes on, but when they appear there doesn’t seem to be any trigger, showing up from nowhere. My tendency is to fight. I get frustrated by the interruption, but my ability to push forward doesn’t work. It only makes things worse.

So I am learning the art of acceptance. Rather than resisting, as soon as I feel anxiety I acknowledge its presence. “Oh, here you are again. Something must have triggered you. It’s going to be okay.” I invite the presence of Jesus and practice relaxation techniques. Strangely, acceptance removes the power from anxiety. It removes the power from other hardships, as well.

Acceptance of the hardships we face does not mean we are being complacent, ambivalent, or resigned. It does not mean we ignore, minimize, or pretend. Rather, acceptance is the conscious choice to relinquish control and have faith in the Lord. It is the determination to surrender to His Will.

We do need wisdom to determine whether we should make changes or accept things that cannot be changed. Many situations require a combination of both.

With aging bodies, addiction, disability, chronic illness, and terminal illness, we do what we can to promote health, but we cannot heal ourselves.

In relationships that are strained or broken, we own our part for the hurt we have caused, change our unhealthy behaviors, and do what we can to promote reconciliation, but we cannot change the other person or make them participate in the reconciliation process.

In the realm of leadership, we must be diligent to prayerfully develop strategic plans, work hard to realize goals, and make adjustments as necessary, but we cannot control external factors that impact outcomes.

We trust the Lord for courage to change the things that can be changed. We trust Him for serenity to accept the things that cannot be changed. As we do that, He helps us enjoy the pathway of peace.

I look up to the mountains—
does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth!
~Psalm 121:1-2

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. ~Philippians 4:6-7

Prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Amen.

Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

Following the Way of Peace

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The other day I overheard one of my volunteers talking about me. “Who wouldn’t get along with Joddi-Jay? Everyone likes her.” I smiled to myself with gratitude that I enjoy good relationships with my paid and volunteer staff members. I also smiled, because while I love people and work hard to foster positive connections, the reality is not everyone likes me. As hard as I try, there are still people who don’t get along with me, and it is deeply painful when my attempts for unity fall short. For some reason I believe that everyone should just get along and play together nicely.

We all know that’s not the way it works in the real world. People don’t always see eye to eye, whether it be with families, churches, or other organizations. So what are we supposed to do?

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

The Lord expects His followers to pursue the way of peace. We are to practice kindness and humility, encourage others, promote understanding, and work toward reconciliation. We are to take the high road, even when it feels self-sacrificial or lonely. We live to please the Lord by being peacemakers.

However, the bottom line is this: You can only control your own actions. You cannot control the actions of others.

Despite your best efforts to live at peace with everyone, not everyone will choose the way of peace. They may continue to be angry and divisive. They may be deceptive and try to sabotage your work. Or, it may not be quite so dramatic. They may decide to cut off the relationship with no further communication. And then what?

One of my friends leads a large pregnancy center ministry in another state. A meeting that was intended to build collaboration among various life-affirming organizations in the area quickly turned nasty. My friend became the target, as one by one the other leaders railed against her. I asked her what she did. Her reply: “I simply sat and listened to what they had to say. And I prayed. Within two years, every one of them was gone — either fired or moved on — and others who truly wanted to work together took their place.”

My friend followed the way of peace and trusted the Lord to work on her behalf.

When your best efforts to live peacefully are rejected by others, there are two things to do.

Keep your eyes on the Lord. As hard as it may be, don’t allow other’s responses to distract you from what He has called you to do. Don’t carry the weight of their choices. Focus on the mission He has placed before you. Trust Him to work mightily in spite of and in the midst of any opposition you face.

Keep an open heart. Forgive, and keep forgiving. This doesn’t mean minimizing or excusing their behaviors. Instead release all your hurts to the Lord. Don’t speak negatively about others, but rather pray for the Lord to work in their lives. Assume the best and not the worst. Believe that, no matter what it looks like, change is possible.

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for being the God of Peace. Help me to follow Your example and be a peacemaker. When others oppose me, empower me to stand strong and continue serving You. By Your Spirit, may my responses be gracious, kind, and loving. May I thrive in the midst of difficult circumstances. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith

Finding God in our Midst

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Good things happen to good people. Bad things happen to bad people. Obviously these statements aren’t true. But do you ever wish life’s situations could be neatly and simply categorized? What if, God only brings blessings to the righteous? What if, the devil only brings curses to those far from God? It would settle, at least in part, the age-old philosophical quest for why there is evil in the world. And living right would guarantee that we experience only good things. Unfortunately there are no such guarantees.

Thankfully it is possible to experience peace that surpasses understanding while in the midst of struggles. Unlike Eastern religion that seeks to eliminate the illusion of suffering, Jesus Christ not only acknowledges suffering, He addresses it head on by giving Himself. He promises to be with us in the midst of suffering, and He is faithful.

These days when friends ask me how I am doing, I no longer answer, “Fine.” My reply is generally, “Up and down with Jesus in the midst of it all.” It’s honest, and it expresses the truth. I don’t have to hide behind a smile. Whether the circumstances of my life are good, bad, or ugly, the presence of Jesus is with me.

The 23rd Psalm paints a beautiful picture of the Lord’s presence. He is with me when things are running smoothly and I enjoy great blessings.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.

My Shepherd is just as near when things take a turn for the worse.

Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

He is with me when facing the darkest valley of death or the hateful threats of enemies. His presence dispels all fear and surrounds me with comfort. He takes care of me, providing the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

No matter what I encounter, God’s goodness and love are present. He is always with me. Lest I forget, there is more than just this life. I look forward to being with Him forever in His house.

There is absolutely nothing that can thwart the love of Christ. His loving presence continually flows toward us. We forget. We erect barriers. But He is constant. He is with us.

Friend, no matter what difficulties you may encounter, keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and His precious love for you. He is Emmanuel, God with us. Right here. Right now. And always.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your faithfulness. Thank You for being near and walking with me every moment of every day. Strengthen me when I’m weak and can’t see You at work in my life. Help me to trust You and to sense Your presence even in the darkness, knowing that You have defeated the enemy of my soul. Let Your hope and peace arise in my heart, as I acknowledge Your faithfulness. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Servant Leadership

It’s Okay to Be Uncomfortable

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wor·ry
ˈwərē/
verb  1. give way to anxiety or unease; allow one’s mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles.

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? (Matthew 12:25).

Jesus Christ posed an interesting question to his disciples, to challenge their thinking. Worry is so common to human beings that for some people it seems as natural a response as breathing, yet the Master pointed them to a higher way. The obvious answer, although none of them dared to speak up, was “Nobody, Lord. Nobody can add a single hour to their life by worrying.”

Here we are 2000 years later, and how would we answer? I personally would be like the disciples and not say a word. I would try to quietly back out of the room to avoid further conversation. I know the facts. Worry has probably stolen hours from my life. However, my thoughts and actions speak much louder than any words I might produce. Allowing my mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles contributes nothing positive. But when I worry I somehow convince myself that it gives me some control over the situation.

May I just be honest with you? I don’t like feeling that things are outside of my control, because it is uncomfortable. I don’t like being uncomfortable, because it is, at the very least, unsettling, and at the most, terrifying. Some of it is my personality, some of it is the experiences of my past. Regardless of the reasons for why I am the way I am, safety and predictability are what I desire. I know some of you can relate.

The trouble is being a follower of Jesus requires faith. Faith is the opposite of worry. Being a good leader also requires faith. Again, in case you missed it the first time, faith is the opposite of worry.

faith
fāTH/
noun  1. complete trust or confidence in someone or something.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).

Faith means that we have complete trust and confidence in the Lord. It also means we may feel uncomfortable humanly speaking.

I know some leaders that thrive when they embark on an adventure of faith. It is thrilling for them to be in a position to see God work beyond their own abilities. I am like the other leaders that are learning to thrive in the midst of an adventure that requires faith. My flesh still yearns to walk in the territory of the known, but the Lord shows Himself strong on my behalf. I don’t have to love walking by faith and not by sight. However, I do need to learn that it’s okay to be uncomfortable.
Last weekend the non-profit organization I lead had a 5K fundraising event. Last year my Board and I felt that the Lord was directing us to have such an event. Last year was an experiment and it went well for our first run. This year it was hard to get the momentum going. We increased our advertising, but registration was slow. For weeks I struggled with worry. I still believed we were following the Lord’s direction, but the anxiety mounted. I resisted imagining the worst, but the thoughts persisted.

This 5K is going to be a flop.
Nobody is going to sign up.
The weather will be terrible. Nobody will show up to help or participate.
Nobody will give to underwrite our expenses.
We will lose money.
All our donors will quit giving to us and give to another organization.
After 32 years of serving the community, we will close our doors.

I acted brave around my Board and staff, but I was miserable inside. Then the Lord in His sweet mercy broke through the internal clamor, and I heard Him speak gently to my heart.

Will you be okay with being uncomfortable? Will you trust Me, no matter what happens?

I again surrendered my desire to be in control, and God’s peace surrounded my heart and mind.

I am called to do my best; the outcome belongs to the Lord.

The organization I lead is ultimately led by Him.

Success looks differently to me than to the Lord.

He will provide what my organization needs, using resources I may not see at the time.

I can rest in assurance that the Lord will accomplish His plans through me for His greater purposes.

By the way, my resolve to trust the Lord was tested when there were only 13 people registered two weeks before the 5K. I held fast to faith in the Lord and chose to be okay with being uncomfortable. I experienced peace during the uncertainty, and the event came together wonderfully in the last few days.

As long as we live on this earth, there will be a battle between worry and faith. We can learn to trust the Lord no matter what happens. Victory comes when we decide it’s okay to be uncomfortable.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take (Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You that Your plans are greater than I can see. Help me to trust You when things don’t go according to my plans. Teach me to banish worry and choose to have faith in You. Accomplish your purposes for my family and ministry through me. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Personal Development

You Are So Much More Than Labels

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Have you noticed all the quizzes on Facebook these days? Take a short test and learn which Disney character you most resemble, or who your literary soulmate is, or what era of history you belong in. We human beings are fascinated with ourselves and how we fit in the world. If we really want to figure ourselves out, there are many professional assessments from which to choose. We can build quite a profile:

~Are you an introvert or extrovert? (Did you know there is even an ambivert?)
~Which one of the four personalities are you in the DISC personality assessment?
~Which one of the 16 personalities are you in the Myers-Briggs personality assessment?
~What are your top five leadership strengths?
~What are your spiritual gifts?
~What is your preferred learning style?
~Which of the nine intelligences do you possess?
~What is your IQ?

And this is just part of a long list.

I’m not minimizing the value of learning about ourselves. It is enlightening and even fun to understand how God made us. It helps us to become more aware and better leaders. However, who we are goes way beyond labels.

The personal assessment mentioned above usually identify positive or neutral characteristics. Sometimes we receive labels from others in our lives.

Outgoing. Shy. Smart. Slow learner. Stupid. Beautiful. Full figured. Fat. Ugly. Athletic. Clumsy. Driven. Lazy. Worthless. Failure…

People can inflict great damage from their use of labels.

Regardless of the labels you have received, you are so much more than labels.

Labels may describe aspects of ourselves. But they are limited. They may or may not be true. They cannot describe everything about us. And they certainly do not define us.

A couple weeks ago at a counseling session, I took an assessment regarding a trauma that occurred earlier this year. As I result I was diagnosed with PTSD. I felt shaken and frustrated that the event continues to affect me, and I reached out to a friend who shared words of wisdom.

“I hear what you are saying, that the diagnosis of PTSD is disappointing. Know it is only a path to healing, not an identity.”

Thank God for this friend and her reminder! This label does not define me. The work of God is working in me.

Being an introvert does not keep me from loving people. Preferring to work alone does not prevent me from working with a team. Being detail-oriented does not mean I cannot develop visionary skills. The diagnosis of PTSD will not cripple me from doing the things the Lord has asked of me. It is a pathway to experience more of Him in my life.

What about you? Do you realize that God is at work in you?

The One who knows your thoughts before you are even aware and has counted every hair on your head is working to transform you into the image of Christ.

The Lover of your soul is teaching you to love. He is working in the midst of your closest relationships.

The Healer is strengthening you by His mighty power. He sees your current diagnosis or health challenge and is closer than you know.

The King of all kings has set you in your current place of leadership. Even when the task seems too large for your experience and abilities, He is equipping you with everything you need to do His will.

Don’t put too much authority on the labels in your life. Use them as tools and discard the ones that are damaging. You are so much more than labels. You are a cherished child of our Heavenly Father who has a special plan for your life and is working in you to fulfill it.

May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think (Ephesians 3:19-20, NLT).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your perfect love. Help me to remember that the labels in life do not define me. I am who You say I am, and You are working in me to become more than I could ask or imagine. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Faith, Servant Leadership

Love…No Matter What

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On my flight to Chicago last week, I sat next to a young woman and her boyfriend. We introduced ourselves and exchanged some social niceties. Then she turned toward her boyfriend and the two of them engaged in conversation, while I began to read a book. Within a few minutes the couple’s discussion became quite robust. The noise in the cabin drowned out their words, but their body language spoke loudly. I prayed under my breath for the Lord to help them, and wondered if I should intervened.

The young man’s arms made exaggerated gestured. The young woman wiped tears from her cheeks and her body quaked as she tried to stifle her cries. I could hold back no longer.

“Is everything okay?” I asked. “I can’t hear what you’re talking about, but you’re clearly involved in an intense discussion.”

They looked at me in surprise, sheepish expressions on their faces. The young man explained.

“We just spent the weekend with some really good friends. We’re from Chicago and are very liberal. Our friends are very conservative. We had some arguments with them. Now my girlfriend and I are talking about what happened. It’s really hard.”

Now it was my turn to be surprised. I had imagined several scenarios, but I hadn’t imagined this.

My heart went out to them. A dear friendship was threatened by differences in political ideology. Sadly in our nation, this is becoming increasingly common. Belief in a cause or the adherence to a particular faith takes precedence over decency, even when those closest to us are involved. This great divide can be excruciating.

Too many people are choosing their beliefs over kindness, respect, and love. This shouldn’t be, especially for Christ followers.

We can believe wholeheartedly in the teachings of Jesus and still treat unbelievers with kindness. Cruel and rude words must have no place in our lives.

We can adhere to moral standards and still respect those with whom we don’t see eye to eye. Caring for them does not equal moral compromise.

Followers of Jesus are called to love people. Period. In fact, Jesus instructed us to love our enemies, those who stand in opposition to our beliefs or wish for our demise. Lest we forget what love looks like, take a stroll through 1 Corinthians 13 or Matthew 5 where our Lord teaches us to turn the other cheek, give your shirt to someone demanding your coat, and bless those who curse you.

Think about the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). A man looked beyond religious and racial differences, and treated an injured human being with compassion. He tended to the victim’s wounds, brought him to an inn, paid for his room and board, and offered to provide for other expenses if needed. The Samaritan was a neighbor to one who was culturally an enemy. Shouldn’t we do the same? It may not be as dramatic as saving someone’s life but we can certainly treat others with decency and respect.

And what about those who are closest to us? If love transcends political affiliation and religious beliefs (and it does) and if every human being is priceless because they are created in God’s image (and they are), how much more should we love our family and friends without strings attached? Differences must not be divisive. We can take a stand for our beliefs and do what we know to be right without rejecting others for thinking differently. We can hold tightly to our faith and convictions, while still holding tightly to our loved ones.

I have recently adopted a phrase from my granddaughters’ story book:

“I love you, because I love you.”

I try to say and show that often.

As I got ready to exit the plane, I offered encouragement to the young woman and her boyfriend. “Don’t let go of your friendship. Listen to what your friends say. Try to understand where they are coming from. Make it a learning opportunity. And hopefully they will do the same.”

Will we do the same? Let’s approach our relationships with grace, committed to extend kindness, respect, and love no matter what. Let’s love them simply because we love them. After all, isn’t that what our Heavenly Father does with us?

God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other (1 John 4:9-11).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You for loving me when I struggle and do not honor You with my choices. Thank You for walking with me, as I live imperfectly and try to figure things out. Help me to treat others with the same grace You give me. Teach me how to balance my zeal for You and Your ways with loving others who believe differently than myself. Empower me to love others unconditionally. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.