Keys to Lasting Joy, Volume 1: Savoring Scripture

I’m hooked on Paula Deen. The reason is a toss up between her southern drawl and the way I can flip her recipes around to fit what my household already eats. There’s one word that comes to my mind every time I get sucked into her show: savory. The food she creates and the atmosphere she fosters are wrapped up in that powerful six letter combination. It’s got me a-thinkin’.

I must confess that the past couple of weeks have been somewhat of a roller coaster. We went on vacation to the beach. That’s always a good time. My husband has shocked the socks off me with his thoughtfulness and sincerity. That’s a bonus. On the flip side, I’ve had moments when I’ve dealt with some very deep and complicated emotions. I won’t get into the why of that since I try to keep these posts under 500 words, but I will tell you what God is doing in the midst of it all. Despite the ups and downs, He’s reminding me of His purposes in and for my life.

Now, what do God’s purposes for my life and Paula Deen have to do with the point of this little confessional? Well, a few weeks back I dropped the hint that I wanted to start revealing keys to lasting joy on my Monday posts. Honestly, ya’ll, I think it might be more for me than for you at this point, but I’m just going to follow through and see what happens. You see, for me, one of the keys to joy is to really sink your teeth into God’s Word, chew on it, and SAVOR it—just like I’d do with one of Paula’s Southern, home-style recipes. I don’t know where you are with your take on Scripture reading, but to effectively experience the fullness of what God has for your life, you really must savor Scripture. You can’t simply read it, and you can’t ignore it.

Savoring means you let the words sink into your soul, just like you’d let the flavors of an incredible filet mignon melt onto through your mouth. Savoring means you remember how it felt to read that part of God’s Word, just like you’d remember an incredible dining experience. My mom is an amazing cook, and I’ve traveled the world some, so I have lots of stories surrounding food. Similarly, I can ramble on and on about times when God’s Word brought tears to my eyes and a shout to my lips.

I’ve been at the lowest of lows. I’ve also been blessed beyond measure. I’ve seen a lot, and, after all of it, I’ve come away convinced that deep, lasting joy is a choice. So, let’s make a choice together over the next few weeks to really sink our teeth into the fullness of flavors that God’s Word has for us. And let’s see what new levels of joy Christ can bring us to. Blessings!

Star Quality

I’m getting a late start to my morning. My usual routine of a quiet cup of coffee drained while soaking in God’s Word was interrupted by the joyful squeals of my boys and my husband’s drive to finish our deck. I don’t mind. I wouldn’t trade this morning for anything in the world. I must confess that, in the midst of one of the hardest couple of weeks I’ve had in awhile, my heart is smiling.

I will spare you the painful details of the “what” and “why” of my recent past. I will, however, share the how.

This morning over the breakfast table my boys requested “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Song requests are the norm in our household. We all love music, and I’m hoping to instill in my kids a sense of passion for a vehicle of tremendous emotion that God uses in a powerful way when we let him. Anyway, whenever that song comes up, I’m always reminded of the passage of scripture in Philippians 2 that talks about our star quality:

“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life….” – Philippians 2:14-16a (NIV)

This passage has been on my mind a lot in the past couple of weeks. I have been constantly reminded that, although God doesn’t cause pain in our life, he will allow things to happen so that he is glorified. My personal test is how I handle the challenges. Do I get bitter and operate out of unresolved anger? Or do I keep a peaceful mindset and allow the Lord to shine his light through me? I prefer the latter and have been striving for that daily, especially recently.

My youngest son sits on my lap as I type this. This is reminiscent of the days when I handled all of the area Fellowship of Christian Athletes administrative duties from my little office in our one bedroom apartment when we first started out. My oldest would do the same thing. It is also a reminder of a large part of my life’s purpose. I’m a mom. I’ll always be a mom. I’ll always have a little one (even if they’re taller than me) looking on at my example. That, my friends, is one of the greatest motivations I have to fulfill the verses stated above.

So the question I pose to you and to myself today is this: “How brightly can we shine?” The brighter we glow, the better.

To check out the story and ministry of a friend of mine whose purpose is help other women shine like stars, click on this link: http://www.oceanstargifts.com/www.christinadimari.com/View_Video.html

Good Mood Food

I’m in a good mood. There’s no big reason why. I just am. I must confess that being in a good mood is a nice change of pace from the busy, frantic, addition-adding mentality I’ve endured recently. Now that our little construction project is pretty much over (as well as the stress that comes with it), I feel like I can finally get back into some kind of regular routine.

Arby’s has recently taken on a new advertising slogan: “Good Mood Food.” Their point is (I think) that their food brings on or adds to a good mood. Well, since I’m in a good mood that has me thinking. No, I’m not headed over to Arby’s for lunch. Being in a good mood has me pondering the things I’ve been consuming for that kind of attitude to be the most prevalent.

You see, I’ve been able to sit down with my keyboard, guitar, or violin and worship God on a regular basis again. When our house was a disaster zone my musical quiet time routine fell by the wayside. The keyboard was in my husband’s workout room, the guitar landed either there or in our bedroom, and the violin case usually landed on the floor of my closet. My Bible floated around the house depending on which couch was cleaned off. Tools were scattered. There was drywall dust everywhere. My worshipful mentality was lost in the midst of the clean-up. Thus, the routine suffered. Honestly, so did my outlook on daily life. In retrospect, I learned a big lesson.

Sometimes this happens in life. We’re too busy cleaning up messes and putting our tools down as we go from one project to another that we begin to lose perspective on what’s really important. Now, if there’s a mess, it does need cleaned up or bugs start to gravitate toward it. However, we can utilize the resources and people that we have to help us. We don’t have to do life alone. The number one resource as far as I’m concerned is the Big Man himself, Jesus Christ. Next would have to be those Godly friends that have proven themselves faithful. After that… heck, I’m not above calling in the cleaners!!!

Now that things are a little more organized around here and my habitual, musical time with God enters a new season, I’m finding that my good mood just comes automatically. There are no less challenges in life. There are still friends that are going through it, kids that stretch me, and crazy circumstances. However, there is peace. There is joy. The dust doesn’t overwhelm me. God is number one as he always should have been. That, my friends, is truly good mood food.

Japan

Today was a carpet laying, concrete pouring, and nose wiping kind of day. Granted, I was only responsible for completing the last task on that list. Our house was inundated with workers of all sorts to complete the others. I think one of them even managed to sell a boat to another in the midst of the cursory chatter. Even though all three of my boys were home sick with a nasty cold, they still managed to get underfoot just enough for me to break down in the middle of the day and cram all of us in one little room away from the work that was going on in the house. Thank goodness for old Chip and Dale videos! 

I must confess I’m exhausted. After months of waiting, the addition on our house is ready for my decorate touch, and all the creative ideas I’ve had bouncing around in my brain are screaming for a rest on the couch instead. It’s got me thinking….

I don’t know if you’re someone who mulls through situations like I do or not. I’ve had more than one person in my lifetime accuse me of thinking too much, and my drive to follow through on my recent interior design whims is only the latest example. Whether it’s where the loveseat will go or how I will connect more with a new friend, I’m often lost in planning mode. Then, when life happens and my plans fly out the window, I find myself wondering why I wasted the time thinking through it all to begin with. The recent devastation in Japan has shed new light on how selfish that aspect of my personality can be. Here I am reveling in all of the bare walls I have to hang stuff on, and thousands of individuals don’t even have a structure to call home. Thousands don’t know where family members are. My boys may be sick, but at least they’re here with me.

The situation in Japan proves to all of us that we will never be able to plan our way through this life. No matter how much we have been blessed, it can be taken away in an instant. There’s a little something in the Bible about the importance of storing up treasures in Heaven. I have been reminded of that so much recently as I have viewed footage of the aftermath of the shocking earthquake and tsunami that has demobilized our Japanese friends. I have no idea how I would respond to something of that magnitude, and I have no idea how the country will rebuild. It is yet another reminder to me that the things we have in this world can easily be washed away, and it is yet another motivation for me to put less importance on material belongings and pray for people I have never met.

We are, after all, in the same proverbial boat. We are born, we live, and we die. We may speak different languages and reside in different places, but we have more in common than we might realize. We have a heavenly Father that loves each and every one of us, whether we choose to build upon that love or not. I have a feeling He’s as saddened by the recent loss of life as many of us are. I have a feeling He cares more about the separated families and homeless, hungry people than we know. In the midst of an angry, unstable world, His love remains forever constant. May you and I both rest in that love today and always, especially as we try to process through events that are unfathomable.

Through the Eyes of a Child

“This was the best day ever, Mommy!” My 6-year-old’s words were balm to my soul. We had, in fact, had a great day. Games were played, puppet shows were conducted, and my kids’ favorite chicken noodle soup accented a perfect dinner for a snowy evening. I must confess that I had way more fun with them than I’ve had with any adult (other than perhaps my husband) in a long time. Is that wrong? I don’t think it is.

I don’t know if I’m just wired to appreciate youth more than the average person, but there’s something about the pure honesty and unbridled compassion that kids emit. From what I’ve seen, it’s a far cry from the adult world, which is often motivated by money, appearance, and status. Not that these things don’t touch the world of a child. They do. They just don’t hold as much weight.

I’m reminded of a story of a little girl whose mother was slightly frustrated with her lack of motivation to clean up her room. In an attempt to spur her toward a solid work ethic, her mom instituted a “tip jar” where she placed ten dollars in change. “Now,” the mom said, “If you clean up your room when I ask, I’ll add more money to the jar each week and you’ll get to do whatever you want with all of it. If you don’t pick up, I’ll have to take a quarter away and keep it myself. You won’t be able to touch what’s left over.” Week after week passed, and there was no change in the girl’s behavior. Quarter after quarter made its way back into Mom’s purse. The woman didn’t know what to do. She was at the end of her rope, and she was tired of cleaning the room herself. In desperation she finally broke down and asked her daughter an obvious question: “Honey, WHY don’t you just pick up your room and earn some extra money to buy whatever you want?!”  

“Well, Mom,” the astute seven-year-old responded, “The way I see it, you’re the cheapest maid I’m ever gonna find.”

Ah, the mind of a child.—humorous, brilliant, and always entertaining. It makes me glad that I have decided to spend these weary years of constant laundry and endless peanut butter sandwiches at home. My kids are quickly growing up before my very eyes. It will only be an instant before I’ll be looking up to my oldest son instead of down at his frazzled brown frock. I am blessed to see their story unfolding before my eyes, and I am grateful to have had these years. So, I think I will keep on providing my boys with days that make them glad to be a kid… and I think I will personally bask in the wonderment of it as much as possible.

Boot Camp Blowout

I enlisted in boot camp this weekend. On Saturday evening I went AWOL. The attack came out of nowhere. A barrage of gunfire rang all around me. Suddenly I couldn’t control my emotions, and any training I was hoping to complete seemed unattainable. I had to run. A dam had burst, and I had no way of stopping it. If I could have blamed it on PMS I would have. A fellow soldier made an astute observation that I DID give birth not too long ago. It had to be the hormones. She should have been promoted for that assessment. As God worked on me over the weekend, however, He revealed the true nature of what was going on. In the midst of the onslaught, a word of advice from a good friend who is an amazing Christian counselor popped into my head.

“You won’t really know when it will hit you. Sometimes there will be an obvious trigger. Sometimes it will just come out of nowhere. Don’t fight it. Just work through the grief. You WILL be okay.”

I’m glad I have friends who speak wisdom and truth into my life, even when they’re not on duty. She was right. I was mourning. I just didn’t expect to have to apply her advice 550 miles away from home in a place I had never been before with people I didn’t know very well. Who knew I’d have to bunker down in my room and blast Hillsong YouTube videos just to make it through the leftover grief of losing four close friends and family members last year? I must confess to you, dear reader, that I was totally and completely undone in the hills of Black Mountain, North Carolina.

For those who know me and the events of the past year, thank you for your prayers. You probably helped prevent a massacre. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, just browse back through my confessions. For the most part, it’s all there. Anyway, there’s nothing like a good night’s sleep to help with an emotional readjustment. I did dive back in at the Ridgecrest “Writers Advance Bootcamp” for some great conversation over breakfast before I drove the 550 miles back home yesterday. While in the car, I experienced an onslaught of ideas. (I missed the brainstorming session when I was holed up in my room. I guess God was making up for it.) Anyway, I have decided that I’m not going to give up. God will plug the dam like He always does. I pray He will use what happened for His glory and that He will work it all together for his good purposes in my life. I do love Him.

“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 (NIV)

Christmas Confessions, Vol. 3

Once again, snow is falling in Western Pennsylvania. The day when we celebrate the biggest birthday bash of the year is almost upon us, presents are wrapped (mostly), and all is right with the world (mostly).

I can’t help thinking of two kinds of people as the big day quickly approaches: (1) those who have lost close loved ones; (2) those who don’t have anything to give or anywhere to stay this Christmas season. Unfortunately, as most of you faithful readers know, I am in the first group. As far as the second group is concerned, I’ve seen enough to be completely compassionate toward those included in it. Honestly, I usually fall into another group at this time of year. You know who I mean. Picture THAT person who seems too hyped up on coffee and peppermint to notice the volume at which they’re humming Christmas carols. I would call that a normally accurate description of yours truly from well before Thanksgiving to a little after New Year’s. This year, however, I’ve mellowed out some. In fact, as I frequented the local candy store today to purchase some last minute gifts, I ran into someone that reminded me of the energy I often carry this time of year.

“Hi there sweetie! If you’ll just excuse me a minute, I’ll dart right around you.” An overly cheerful tone of voice belonging to a package-bearing brunette greeted me as I tried to lug my two toddlers out of the van and into the local Mids™ candy mania. She maneuvered from her car to mine and lugged the brown boxes around me into the massage parlor that I longed to frequent myself.

“And a Merry Christmas to ya, hon!” She turned and gave me one of the biggest smiles you can imagine. I was not annoyed. I was just reminded of who I usually am. I was reminded that, as someone who has made a commitment to be a friend of the highest magnitude to that babe we celebrate so energetically this time of year, I usually carry that irrepressible energy level with me. I must confess that I realized I was not where I needed to be. I was worn out. And, in that moment, I was rushing around without a purpose.

As we enter the last week before the day that marks the birth of our Savior, I want to encourage all of us, including yours truly, to slow down and really savor the peace that is represented by this time of year. If we can take enough time to savor a coffee truffle and some cookies, we can certainly take a few extra moments to relish in the peace we are given through a personal encounter with One who gave His life for us. Let’s take an extra breath, look the people we come in contact with in the eyes, and give them a great big smile. After all, God gave us the biggest smile He could manage when He sent His son so many years ago to sacrifice His life for ours. He smiled through the pain of watching part of Himself experience this world and delivered a package that brought far more joy than you or I could ever imagine. Let’s embrace the hope of that. And let’s make it happen every day of the year!