Experiencing Joy in the Midst of the Painful Circumstances

hospital4_blogContinued from here.

The quote from Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts Devotional: Reflections on Finding Everyday Graces, that I shared in my last blog entry is a hard truth, but it’s one that will transform your life once you embrace it. We want happiness, which comes from God giving us what we want. However, God wants to give us joy, which is not dependent upon our circumstance. You can experience joy even in the midst of devastating circumstances if you will believe that God has provided you with a well of joy and open your eyes to see it. I know because I have experienced it.

Although my childhood was filled with ongoing, severe childhood abuse, my most painful memory is spending five nights in the hospital with my then-15-year-old son as he recovered from major back surgery. I had three months to prepare for this emotionally-draining experience and had numerous people praying us through the experience. I felt every prayer.

In the midst of watching my son suffer as I muddled my way through trying to support him on limited sleep and precious little alone time with God, I experienced joy. While there was nothing enjoyable in the experience, God provided me with wells of joy to get me through the most painful week of my life. I found joy in the Ronald McDonald room on the floor … in the cards and visits from family and friends … in the beauty of sitting in the shade on a bench surrounded by gorgeous flowers. I would not choose to relive that experience, but I certainly experienced much joy during a season of sorrow and pain. I found joy in the midst of the pain because I found God there. Where we find God, we have access to joy, and God is always … ALWAYS … with us.

[Graphic: Photograph of garden in the hospital. Courtesy Grace Daniels. ]


How Can You Believe God is Close When You Don’t Feel His Presence?

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I shared earlier this week that my answer to how close I feel to God at any given moment is a 10 (with 10 being the closest I have ever felt), not because I FEEL His presence all the time but because I know the REALITY is that He is always close to me, no matter how I am feeling. I no longer allow my feelings to drive my reactions. I have learned that my feelings are a byproduct of how I am thinking. If I want to change how I feel, then I need to change how I think.

The World says that “seeing is believing,” but the message of the Bible is that believing is seeing. Hagar provided a great example of this in Gen. 21:14-19:

[Hagar] went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, ‘I cannot watch the boy die.’ And as she sat there, she began to sob. God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.’ Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.”

God did not have angels rapidly digging a well while speaking with her. Hagar was so distressed and driven by her feelings that she didn’t see the well that was nearby. The reality is that there’s always a well nearby because God is always nearby, but we often don’t see the well because we don’t believe it’s there.

In her book One Thousand Gifts Devotional: Reflections on Finding Everyday Graces, Ann Voskamp words it this way:

Whenever I am blind to joy’s well, isn’t it because I don’t believe in God’s care? That God cares enough about me to always offer me joy’s water, wherever I am, regardless of circumstance. But if I don’t believe God cares, if I don’t want or seek the joy He definitely offers somewhere in this moment—I don’t want God. In His presence is fullness of joy. He is in this moment. The well is always here. God is always here—precisely because he does care…You have to want to see the well before you can drink from it. You have to want to see joy, God in the moment.”

How humbling to realize that when we don’t sense God’s presence in our circumstances, it’s because we are the ones pushing God away.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of One Thousand Gifts Devotional: Reflections on Finding Everyday Graces. Courtesy Amazon.]


Trusting the Rickety Bridge will Hold

Continued from here.

In her book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, Ann Voskamp shares the analogy of the rickety bridge. She talks about how she lives in an area with a rickety bridge that looks scary to cross, but it’s actually very secure. She knows this because she and numerous other people have safely driven over it many times before. She then points out that our life challenges often look like rickety bridges that might give way at any moment. The way we learn to trust that this bridge will hold is by looking in the rearview mirror at all of the other bridges that have already held.

Isn’t our walk with God that way? No matter how many rickety bridges He has held stable in His loving hands, we still question whether THIS is the rickety bridge that will collapse. We forget how unstable our past bridges appeared and assume there’s something much worse about THIS particular bridge. We compare the instability of the bridge in front of us with our own resources and find ourselves lacking. We fear that without God’s intervention, the bridge will collapse, and we question whether we can trust Him. We lose sight of the many bridges He has already held as we focus on the one in front of us. Our faith is measured not in what we say we believe but, instead, in how confidently we step out onto the rickety bridge, trusting that our God is faithful.

That’s where I find myself in this particular area of my life that God is working on – AGAIN. I was terrified the first time I crossed this bridge … and the second … and the third. And each time I made it across by the skin of my teeth, I prayed I would never have to cross another such bridge again. Yet, here I am, with the most rickety-looking bridge I have ever seen, crossing the widest chasm I have ever encountered in the area of my greatest brokenness and deepest fears. Many people call me fearless, but I know fear very well – particularly whenever I face this particular chasm. It’s not fearlessness that drives me to take that first step. It’s courage.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. Courtesy Amazon.]

Writing Down 1,000 Reasons You are Grateful in Your Life

many_thanks2Continued from here.

When I took Ann Voskamp up on her challenge in One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are to write down 1,000 things in my life that I am grateful for, I started in the same place that most people do: my family and friends. Easy enough. Then, I moved on to “creature comforts,” beginning with everything in the bathroom. I can honestly say that no matter what is blowing up in my life or how badly I am hurting, I am always grateful not to have to walk in the cold or rain to an outhouse to tend to bathroom business. In fact, whenever I find myself tempted to feel sorry for myself and develop a bad attitude, I immediately start thanking God for running water, indoor toilets, hot showers, etc. because I always have an appreciation for those items. This jump starts me back toward a perspective of gratitude instead of self-pity.

As Christians, we have many blessings to thank God for, such as that we aren’t going to hell when we die. We can thank God for sending Jesus to save us … that whatever we are dealing with is temporary, but our time with God is eternal … that God still loves us even when we are having a pity party … I like to thank God that although my sorrow may last for the night, joy comes in the morning. I also thank him that his compassions never fail and are new every morning. Sometimes when I have a rough day, I thank God for the grace that I can turn off my brain as I sleep and start fresh in the morning.

As you progress through recording 1,000 reasons to be grateful, the task gets harder. Voskamp’s book explains her own journey through learning to express gratitude, even in the “ugly” things of life. For example, when my son had major back surgery last year, I looked for things to be grateful for, such as multiple people driving two-hours round trip to visit him in the children’s hospital, being flooded with get well cards, and a friendly nursing staff. That season of my life was extremely difficult, but I found much beauty to thank God for during that ugly season.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace standing in a large pile of the words “thanks” below the words, “Many thanks!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]


How to Choose a Good Attitude

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Now that you know that you can choose a good attitude despite difficult circumstances, how can you actually do it? The key is thanksgiving, which is why God tells us to give thanks in all circumstances.

Gratitude does not come naturally to me. I am a complainer by nature and used to grumble continually: if my lips were moving, I was complaining about something! Because I was always focused on the circumstances I did not like, I felt unhappy, and because I felt unhappy, I was grouchy with the people around me. I thought that if only things would go my way, I could be happy. Because my circumstances rarely aligned with how I thought they should be, I experienced very little happiness in my life.

Choosing gratitude was the key to changing my outlook. God has blessed each of us in many ways. As we choose to focus on those blessings, our perspective changes, resulting in joy instead of grumbling.

Back in my grumbling days, I would have responded that I did not have anything to be grateful for. I would then give you many reasons for why I was unhappy. However, the truth is that God had already blessed me in so many ways, but like a petulant child, I wasn’t thanking Him for any of those blessings – I was too focused on what else I wanted.

If you don’t believe you have much to be thankful for, I invite you to take Ann Voskamp up on her challenge in One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are to write down 1,000 things in your life for which you are thankful. I took up this challenge and found both joy and a better attitude on the other side of it.

In my next blog entry, I’ll get you going with your list.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cover of One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. Courtesy Amazon.


Stop Complaining

many_thanksContinued from here.

I’m not proud of it, but in my flesh, I’m a big-time complainer. Years ago, if my lips were moving, I was grumbling about something. Gratitude was a foreign concept to me.

Thankfully, I have come a long way since then, in large part thanks to Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, from which I learned to focus intentionally on counting my blessings. No matter what’s going on in my life, I have many things to be grateful for.

When I’m in a bad place emotionally, I start by thanking God for the elements of the bathroom – having the luxury of hot water for a shower, being able to use a toilet rather than an outhouse, having toilet paper rather than leaves (or whatever they used in Biblical times) … you get the point. When we’re suffering, it can be easy to let our pain overshadow our blessings, so focusing on something simple like the bathroom is a good way for me to begin the process of shifting my perspective back to one of gratitude.

Despite my progress, there’s one area of my life that has been bothering me for a while. It’s gotten gradually worse and worse to the point that I have been ready to remove it from my life since the end of last year, but God still has me in the situation. I have learned from past experience that until God gives me the green light to leave, I need to stay … but I don’t want to stay, and that’s invited my Flesh to start grumbling again.

It’s disturbing how easily we can fall back into old patterns like complaining. I just make one simple negative comment … no big deal. That makes it easier to make the second negative comment … and then the third … and so on. Before I know it, I can’t seem to be able to talk about this area of my life without grumbling.

So, I’m now holding myself accountable for what comes out of my mouth. The Bible says that I should only be saying things that are beneficial to others and builds them up. Complaining doesn’t do that, so it’s time to stop. God help me because this is very difficult for me in my flesh, but nothing is impossible with God.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of a greeting card with Grace smiling and the words, “Many thanks.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Perseverance: Breaking Self-Sufficiency

helpContinued from here.

A friend who is under heavy spiritual attack for doing the right thing asked why God allows spiritual attack when doing His will. After all, if God wants this done, then why not remove all of the obstacles and make it easier?

The short answer is that God has more in mind than the end goal, and He is a multi-tasker. While God is interested in the “job” He assigned us to do, He is even more interested in changing our character. As our character changes to become more like Christ, then the spiritual attacks lose the power to bother us so much. Put another way, the tests leads to perseverance, which leads to maturity and completeness. If God removed the obstacles, we would never become mature and complete.

One aspect of our character that must be broken is self-sufficiency. The only way to do this is to allow situations to come into our lives that we don’t have the resources to navigate. For example, when my then-15-year-old son had back surgery, I did not have the physical or emotional resources to take care of him. I am not a nurturer by nature, and his level of need after coming home from the hospital far surpassed the limited resources I had to take care of him. Nevertheless, I did it because God was my sufficiency.

Paul tells us that…

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. ~ Phil. 4:11-13

As Ann Voskamp pointed out in her book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, note the repetition of the phrase “I have learned.” Contentment wasn’t some gift that God magically dropped out of the sky onto Paul. Paul had to learn contentment. And how did he do that? By letting go of self-sufficiency in trials and finding his sufficiency in God:

I can do all this through him who gives me strength. ~ Phil. 4:13

In my next blog entry, I’ll talk about what letting go of self-sufficiency looks like in my life.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace sinking in quicksand below the word, “Help!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Grace’s Journey: Learning Gratitude

Continued from here.

As my marriage improved through my obedience to God, the next area of sanctification came. My friend gave me Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts, as a Christmas present in 2014. I found her writings to be powerful because of her authenticity. I had never read a Christian author who mentioned self-injury, which is something I once struggled with, and I could relate to the deep emotional pain that drives that behavior. (Note that this was something she mentioned in passing and is certainly not the focus of the book.)

The book is about Voskamp’s challenge to write down 1,000 things that she is thankful for and the transformation process that took place inside of her by doing this. As someone who did not even have the word gratitude in her vocabulary, this was a novel concept to me, and I took her up on her challenge. Voskamp said that sowing the seeds of thanksgiving reaps a harvest of joy, and she was right!

I soon realized that I was using what I had learned in Alex Kendrick’s and Stephen Kendrick’s book, The Love Dare, but going broader. As I shared here, the Love Dare taught me that the information I had stored about my husband in the “appreciation room” and the “depreciation room” of my heart was equally true. Voskamp challenged me to take this concept farther by applying it to every area of my life. By doing this, I experienced joy!

For example, when I sprained my thumb, my natural inclination was to complain about the pain and inconvenience of having a sprained thumb. However, it was equally true that I had nine perfectly functional fingers that did not hurt. It was my choice which to focus on – grumbling about the sprained thumb or thanksgiving about the other nine uninjured fingers. My choice determined whether I felt joyful or irritable.

I also learned through Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling that I could reframe annoying situations as opportunities to practice Christlikeness. For example, when I encounter technical issues with my computer, rather than grumbling about it, I can thank God for this opportunity to trust Him even more.

I used to be a very critical person. If everything didn’t go my way, I got frustrated and angry about it. I was a control freak, so even little deviations from the plan could ruin my day. However, as I have chosen to look for reasons to be thankful rather than focus on the reasons to be upset, I have experienced joy. This has been the key for me learning how to “rejoice always.”

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cover of Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts]