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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Surprised by JOY!

Back in late October when I first began praying and asking the Holy Spirit to speak a word over my life for 2017, my heart was gravitating towards words like "Simple" and "Slow", and "Rest", all the things I desperately long for deep in my soul. So in December when the word JOY started popping up everywhere I looked, which is almost always the way this process works, (I've done this for the past 6 years now), I was a little taken back.

OK, so maybe I do get overwhelmed at times and that makes me grumpy, maybe there are days when I'm a little down and blue, but JOY? When I thought about JOY all I could envision was one of those sappy, happy to the point of being sticky drenched with JOY, oozing gooey JOY kind of people. You know the ones, with the big toothy smiles that seem molded to their face. They never stop smiling, the entire time they are talking to you it's through that smile. Don't they realize you can't speak clearly when your mouth is stretched across your face from ear to ear? No! I thought, I absolutely will not be one of those JOYful people! But the Holy Spirit was persistent, it continued to show up, again, and again and again until it was unavoidable, this was my word, JOY was my word for 2017!

In all the years I'd done this all of the other words has made sense. In 2011 my word was Good. Up until that year I had never trusted God, I viewed Him as a distant, uncaring being whose presence I only felt when I'd done something wrong. In 2011 God wanted to show me that He was good, and He did. In 2012 the word was Surrender, which in the end was the most meaningful as this was the year that on November 26, I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. In 2013 it was Free. which made perfect sense following surrender.  In the beginning I thought freedom meant that by accepting Jesus Christ as my Savior I was completely, 100% free! No more struggles, no more worries, no more pain. And don't get me wrong, as much as it depends on Him, and it is ALL about Him, we are washed clean, our sins are forgiven, and in that moment we are free! But let's be real people, we are also human, and so many of us, myself included, return so quickly to our old ways and to the sin that is engrained in us. Because of Christ the freedom is still there, but we have to continue to choose it. I had no idea how much more the Lord had for me, or of the freedom that was still to come. That was the year that I learned that freedom is ongoing and that every day and with every choice, we choose to either walk in freedom or remain in sin and bondage. In 2014 it was Change, which I hated from the beginning but was eerily not surprised by. Looking back I realize it was the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit, preparing me not only for all of the changes that would come in that year, but over the next few years as well. In 2015 my word was Still, as in "Be still and know that I am God". 2015 was a hard year, but of course now I know it was just the precursor of what was to come. In 2015 I began to learn how to be still and quiet my spirit in the face of hurt and pain and to take refuge under God's loving and protective wing. Something I would rely heavily upon in the coming year. Then came 2016 when my word was Trust, and looking back I'm not sure I would have survived the year without it. With trust foremost on my mind, as life crumbled beneath my feet and I faced my worst fears I found that I was still standing, held and supported by the mighty hand of God. As if He even needed to the Holy Spirit had reminded me of His faithfulness, had shown me that He could be trusted with this task. He not only knew the words for my life, but that He was in very close communion with their author, God, my Father.  And with that, I embraced JOY!

Most of you probably don't know this about me, but I've always been a bit of a pessimist, a "the glass is half empty" kind of girl. In fact, "a bit" is probably allowing myself too much grace, I may very well be the poster child for pessimism. And you only have to look back to 2011 and reflect upon my view of God to gain an understanding of perhaps why I am this way. I hate to say that my life has always been hard, because I am all too aware that by comparison with the rest of the world it has been anything but. There's never been a day when I wasn't warm and clothed.  I've never had to worry where my next meal was coming from, or where I would sleep that night.  But in 2011 I didn't think about those things. The hurt and pain from events in my life from years before consumed me, and I believed that only an unloving, uncaring, cold and distant God would allow that. That was why the first step in my story of redemption had to be to believe that He was good, because without that, if I didn't believe in His goodness, if I didn't know that He loved me and was for me, then nothing else was even possible. This is why good was followed by surrender, and surrender was followed by free, and so on and so on until by the time I reached 2016 and my word was trust, do you see it? I'm tearing up just writing about it, His faithfulness to me, how He carefully chose and grafted each word into my heart and my life. In 2011 it had to be good so that in 2016, I could firmly, confidently, and assuredly TRUST! And now, it is JOY, which true to my personal history, is so much more than I imagined.

I am ashamed to say that in spite of His faithfulness to me, in spite of His goodness, I'm still a pessimist.  It never occurred me until I began to embrace JOY, that I had another choice. It seemed that no matter what I touched, be it a simple task like trying to get my Texas driver's license, which took me months and involved more paperwork than any other life event in my personal history, was wrought with angst and hardship. Nothing was or let's be honest, even now is easy. Going back to school to get my degree, good thing, right?  Noble pursuit, made harder for me because of a choice I made way back in 1993 when I first embarked on this dream and withdrew due to a divorce. Old ghosts linger, the enemy persists daily whispering his lies, and I listen. I thought JOY meant being happy at all times, no matter what the circumstances and how was that even humanly possible? I didn't even want to be that person, it didn't seem honest or authentic. But the truth is, happiness and JOY are two entirely different things. Happiness is a fleeting emotion that is brought on by events and circumstances outside of ourselves and over which we have no control.  When things are good, when something pleasant happens to us, then we are happy, and when it doesn't, when it is hurtful and hard, then we are not. It's hard to be happy when you're hurting, when things are hard, but to be JOYful, I'm here to tell you, JOY is possible!

As I mentioned above, so many things in my life, from simple tasks to major life events have been a struggle. I am sure you can all relate to that on some level. And in my longing for "simple" and "slow" what I also desired was for life to stop being so hard, such a struggle. But what I didn't realize, is that my outlook was part of the problem. Rather than seeing life into my hardships, I just defaulted to my familiar position of, "Well of course this isn't going to be easy, of course there's a problem, because this is me, this is my life, why would I expect anything else?" And that question answers itself precisely, because I wasn't expecting anything else! I expected hard, I envisioned hard, and by expecting the worst from every situation, I had become my own self fulfilling prophecy. And so I struggled, day to day, crisis to crisis, bruised and battered by circumstances never realizing that I had any other choice, that at any moment I could choose JOY!

But then, just last week, when I opened up an email that at the moment felt as though it was nailing closed the coffin filled with my dreams, it finally happened. In that moment, when I realized that I had lost my financial aid, been dropped from the spring semester, and all because of a choice I made 23 years ago the Holy Spirit whispered JOY! The choice wasn't immediate and it was so uncharacteristic of me, but I made it and I let go and trusted that in spite of my circumstances that this was the path for me and that everything was going to be alright. I trusted the goodness of God that I learned all those years before, and I expected the best instead of the worst from this outcome.  For the first time in my life I embraced a happy ending!

Most of you know the outcome of that story, because I've already shared it. My request for reinstatement was fast tracked and by the end of week I was re-enrolled and on my way and I began the Spring semester this week. I credit all of that to God's divine plan and to the work of the Holy Spirit, but also to JOY!  I embraced JOY, spoke JOY into a dark, seemingly impossible situation in my life and believed that whatever the outcome it would be good.  And because of JOY, I can tell you that I would have been at peace with either outcome. In fact, in some ways not being a full time college student would have been easier, but I'm ok with it being hard because of what I am learning about JOY!

Unlike happiness, JOY is not dependent upon outside events and circumstance, but is rather a choice you make in the midst of them. Change and setbacks, they happen to all of us. Life can be hard and things make us sad sometimes, and it's OK to be sad for a little while.  But don't allow yourself to stay there for long. In the midst of hard, in the midst of sad, choose JOY, choose to believe that even if this is not the path you would have chosen, or even if the hardship you are experiencing is precisely because you made the wrong choice, see life in it, speak life into it and not death.  Choose JOY, choose to believe in a happy ending, and then stand back and watch your life transform before your very eyes!  I'm not promising wealth and riches here, just the fulness and richness with which you will view life, and that is priceless! And don't worry, you won't be one of those sappy happy people with a fake smile plastered across your face.  JOY isn't about the smile on your face, it radiates from a place deep in your soul!  JOY is looking up and seeing God smiling back at you! :)

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