Grief & Joy Can Coexist

While I suffered the darkest years of chronic pain, I learned a lot about grief, about loss. It was hard to live inside a day experiencing so much physical pain. I hung up my dreams and resigned myself to a short life. I let my broken body rule my emotions. I grieved in the wrong way — without God. I forsook joy though I had every reason to know it. I became bitter and let physical pain wipe out gratitude.

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We have all been there in one way or another. We have lamented without God, and in the long process of heartache, we forget the joy we have in Him. Somewhere along the way, I learned that grief and joy can coexist. I can feel both.

It’s NOT Too Late to Have a Good Day

JoyDo you ever feel discouraged because you spent the entire day in a way you wish you hadn’t? I’ve had more days like that than I care to admit! I come into the day with good intentions only to find myself wallowing in disaster near the end.

I get caught up in this, that, and the other and begin to live my day focused on me and all that’s difficult in my life. And why shouldn’t I? Am I not having a bad day anyway? Can’t a human have just one day that they get upset at every little thing? What about that person who really hurt me? Can’t I stay mad about that? Oh good grief! See how easy it is to get lost in this kind of thinking? It feels good to think this way even though this thought pattern sucks out joy and thankfulness. And let me just tell you that one day of ingratitude and self-pity turns into many, many more!

I’m going to let you in on a secret this morning. Ready? Here it is …

It’s NOT too late to have a good day! Even if it’s 11:55 pm, you can still turn in the right direction. When you ask forgiveness of God and pray for His strength, He never replies with “No! It’s too late. You should have asked 2 hours ago.” He never, ever does that. He grants forgiveness to the contrite heart. He gives strength to the weary. He gives joy to the one having an awful day. It’s not too late.

Last week, we talked about the foundation of joy, which is a relationship with God. I hope you have grasped that and have begun to live it out. But I also know that even as we strive to love God and live a joyful life, we all still have hard days where circumstances seem to pit against us and life  seems so difficult. Having a joyful life doesn’t mean we will never experience hard times. It simply means that when these things come along … we choose to handle them the right way.

So I urge you to:

  1. Wake up and give your day to God.
  2. Cry out to God if you need to. Life is hard! We need His comfort.
  3. Forsake bitterness, no matter how appealing it seems.
  4. Rest in Him. Throw your burdens on Him. He wants them.
  5. Ask God to help you see the good once again.

But, if you get to 11:55 pm and every hour before was full of bad attitudes, hard times, resentment, anger, or ingratitude … remember that it is not too late to turn back to God and finish the day in a good way. God loves you and He desires to restore you. Let Him.

A thankful life full of joy doesn’t mean you smile 24/7 and throw confetti everywhere you go, but it does mean that you seek God with the daily, and often hourly, challenges that you face. It means that you give to God what is hard. It means that you don’t wallow in self-pity. It means that you continuously turn back to God every time you go astray. As you seek God for strength, as you ask Him for joy, as you rely on Him for healing, and give over your days … you’ll find rest and inexplicable joy.

So … good morning!

It’s not too late to turn back to God and finish this day the right way! You can have a good day, even when everything else seems bad.

The Foundation for Joy

Joy and thankfulness are the two easiest things to cast aside when trudging knee deep in the drudgery of daily life. However, seeking joy is the overwhelming trend on Christian social media. This gratitude, living small moments, looking for lovely has come on us in a wave and we don’t always know what to do with it.

Foundation for Joy

So, we like the status, share the post, and go on our way. All too soon, the challenge to find the lovely gets tramped on and swallowed up in all the frustrations, relationship burdens, and inward feelings of failure. Thankfulness is hard and it’s not as hallmark as acknowledging a  moment of precious life. We are fallen humans, living in a sin-cursed world, clinging to God. We all know that gratitude and a heart of joy are no picnic … it’s a battlefield.

Today, I want you to consider something: You will not succeed in a life of thankfulness if you only find your gratitude in this earthly life. You cannot cultivate a true heart of joy only by finding the lovely things or enjoying the small moments. It’s not just about this precious life. Facebook posts and Pinterest quotes are catchy, and they can often persuade you of the shallow things. We make these earthly solutions our foundation, but when the moment of testing arrives a Pinterest quote can’t hold us strong!

To have a heart of joy, to fight for a life of thankfulness … you must have a relationship with God.

This is the foundation for joy. To have no relationship with God means you forfeit true joy. It means you will have trouble finding the precious moments in life. It means you will scramble to make small life moments into something great and worthwhile.

However, you can only know joy and live a thankful life when you know God. Having a relationship with God reminds you constantly of His love for you. It provides a way to fellowship with Him wherever you may be and in whatever situation you find yourself.

Daily life is difficult, but God gives you purpose, peace, and strength! He provides for you a sure and steady foundation. God is good and He never changes, so even when life is hard you can experience joy. God, Creator of Life, Savior, and Prince of Peace must first be your foundation. You must diligently pursue Him and know Him, and then these lovely moments, these small things, these bits of happiness in a chaotic life are easier to see and they begin to make sense.

Be wary of the feel-good quotes you see and the flimsy solutions we believe in for a thankful life. We are a people easily persuaded. If you only look for the lovely and the small life moments without knowing God then you will fill up empty every single time.

Seek God.

Know Him.

He is the Giver of Joy.

Still Learning,

Sierra Straightforward

Sharing the Joy of Others

One of the biggest lessons I learned this last year is to share in the joy of others. In November, I took to my blog to write those reflections for my readers. It weighed on my heart. I stayed up until the early morning hours to finish it, eager to share my discoveries.

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In the last month, we have discussed the value of others, the variety of our life stories, and the importance of coming alongside other people on this long, hard, worthwhile journey. Thinking of others doesn’t come easily, we are selfish people — every single one of us. Considering others takes work, especially as we trudge through deep valleys of our own. However, I want to encourage you to not only look at other people, but to see themA task that requires purpose and thought.

Most of us have social media accounts. Whether it be Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest, we have accounts! While participating in these online communities, we often rebel against the perfection that our friends post. We wonder why we don’t have such beautiful lives. We judge our whole person-hood by likes on a photo. But last November, as I started to realize the uniqueness of my story, I also began to see the lives of my friends in a different way.

Our lives are something to be shared, not shown off. I pulled today’s reflections from my November blog post, “It’s Not about My Messy Life.” 

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 What if —

Instead of going against the tidal wave of edited photos and pretty life moments, I purposefully decided to enjoy the lives my friends are living.

What if —

I shared in their joy, took their happiness as my own, commented kindly and sincerely on the beauty, the laughter, the smiles, and the honest highlights of their lives.

What if —

It wasn’t about fixating on the mess, but deeply enjoying the mountaintops. And shouting a CONGRATS to those on the top when I am in the midst of a valley.

What if —

I delighted — relished — absorbed — cherished — held close the wonder and magic in the lives of my friends.

What if —

It’s not about me at all. Not even the stripped divulging of my mess. Not even the promoting of my world. But the sharing, the sharing of each other. Life to life. Bare of comparison, clothed in the joy of each other.

What if —

I threw back their joy double the size they had initially.

Honestly —

I should care less that its edited. That it looks perfect, pristine, and magical. I should care less if the Newsfeed is full of highlights that look nothing like my current life.

By now, I should be mature enough to inwardly, purposefully accept that life is messy and that my friends don’t have perfect lives. I should be mature enough not to compare my life to the edits. I should be well past the proving of my authentic existence.

I should value —

Knowing who to share parts of my mess with (hint: it’s not the whole world).

Knowing when to share the highlights.

Knowing when to share hardship and when to share wonder.

I should remember to hold the private moments — both good & bad — in the corners meant for my heart.

I should remember to live and cherish my own memories, nurture my personal relationships, and deepen the bonds in my life all without an audience.

And maybe —

I am given a daily chance to cherish the lives of others through the edited pictures, strings of happy moments, and special milestones posted on social media. And maybe that’s all OK. It might even be really good, because perhaps this is something I was meant to do: delight in the joy of others. 

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Can I just tell you how sharing in the joy of my friends and family has enriched my life? I am content in my story while sharing in other stories. Social media provides a way for me to be a small part of so many lives. That should not make me jealous, envious, or discontent. Rather, it should fuel joy, gratitude, and sincere relationships!

Living within your own story means hard work, but it is so worth it. As you live within your own story, don’t forget to look out and share in the lives of your friends and family. Don’t forget to see their joy and celebrate alongside them. When sharing, and not showing off, becomes the goal, the social media community becomes a joy, not a burden.

In Christ,

Sierra Straightforward

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re•joice al•ways – BIBLE WEEK PT 1

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV – 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances: for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

bibleweek1of7In honor of Bible Week, we’re going to take a closer look at the above Bible verse. I love breaking the word down into bite sized pieces to chew on and digest! LOL!

Lord, I pray that You would allow a divine revelation of Your word! Bless each of us to extract from it what You want each of us to learn. Help us to apply what we learn to our lives in such a way that will glorify You alone, for there is no us without You.

Now ladies…let’s do this – in Jesus name!

The word rejoice, what exactly does it mean? The prefix re is defined as “again” or “again and again” to indicate repetition, or with the definition “back” or “backward” to indicate withdrawal or backward motion according to www.dictionary.com. (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/re-)

We all have a pretty good understanding of what the word joy means. However, I’d like to explain (if I may) what it does not mean. Joy does not mean happy. The word happy is a derivative from the word happens. In other words, you are happy because of what happens – it’s circumstantial, based off your current situation. Joy is not dependent upon situations but it is rooted in God. You can have joy regardless of what’s taking place around you (we’ll get back to that later). *Joy is also one of the fruits of the Spirit. See Galatians 5:22-23*

When we add the prefix re to the word joy we get the word rejoice, which means to have joy over and over again, repeat it as often as necessary. But wait, the Lord in His infinite wisdom didn’t not stop there because of His children like Takiela (LOL) who is sometime in need of a back-up plan in case I miss it the first time. The second part to that definition is back, backward, or backward motion – go back to joy! No matter what difficult times you are facing currently, go back to the place where you had joy and duplicate this action… frequently. That is how you can have joy regardless of what’s taking place around you. Your joy isn’t based on what’s happening but it is based on God. Are there times you’ll be sorrowful? Absolutely, but even in those times, if you choose to backtrack to the moments of joy in God you draw strength from it.

Philippians 4:4 NIV – Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Nehemiah 8:10 NIV – for the joy of the Lord is your strength.

May you always fall back on the joy of the Lord, over and over again,
Takiela

Stay Tuned: Next we’ll be discussing “pray continually” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 NIV (the second portion of this passage Scripture in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV)

Out Of the Blue

tearsDepression is an unchecked sadness with a murderous intent. It will take possession of the mind and will destroy the life of anyone. It does not matter if you are involved directly or indirectly with depression, if you are in its path you will feel its fury. Depression has no regard of social, economic, or religious status. It sees no race, gender, or creed. It renders its victims helpless. It’s the executioner of hope, and where there is no hope (vision) the people perish. Proverbs 29:18 KJV Without mercy, depression will devour you, like a predator ravaging its prey. It’s violent and gruesome.

The remedy for depression is the praising of God. The Bible instructs us to clothe ourselves with the garment of praise when we have a spirit of heaviness (depression). Isaiah 61:3 In that passage of scripture, a lot of exchanges take place, beauty for ashes, praise for heaviness, and joy for mourning. I refer to this as the Lord’s Exchange Program. What sets this program apart from any other exchange program (aside from the fact that it’s from God) is that it has free will terms. Normally, exchange programs are temporary with predetermined time restraints. However, our God has a flawless way of doing things and His exchange program allows you the option of permanently swapping the bad for the good, a sacred unveiling of light that has been shrouded in darkness.

I am not by any means implying that this exchange will be easy but with faith (in God) and a willing heart it can be accomplished. If it’s not easily given will not be easily obtained, in other words you have to fight for your freedom (whether it be depression, drugs, or destructive attitude, etc.). It’s a daily battle. After you obtain it, you must maintain it as well, which requires more work.

Although you may not be strong enough to fight depression on your own, you know the One who is…God. In your weakness God’s strength is perfect. When you are weak, it is then that you become strong (in Christ).