Always. Pantote.

JUMPING SILHOUETTES

Always be joyful. (1 Thessalonians 5:16)

You know the verse. It’s the first part of a long command to always be thankful…always pray… no matter what happens.

Always be joyful.

A stand-alone sentence is a stand-alone verse blended into a unified command reiterating to always. And I wondered about that word always…because really, it can’t mean a-l-w-a-y-s, right?

Always be joyful.

It can’t mean be joyful during…

…moments when your marriage is struggling.

…days after you’ve received a difficult diagnosis.

…weeks when your child is wayward.

…months when money is tight.

…years that relationships need reconciling.

…decades you’ve lost all dreams about your future.

It can’t mean to be joyful when Life shows up the way Life does – unannounced and uninvited, with fists flying and guns blazing 

Always be joyful.

It certainly can’t mean that. Right?

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I’m honored to be sharing over at Compassion That Compels today! Click over to finish reading!

Compassion That Compels is a ministry showing and sowing God’s love and compassion with Compassion Bags for women battling cancer. I’ve gotten to know Kristianne online, and her heart and desire to serve women battling cancer is the real deal. It’s an absolute honor to be involved in the smallest way with this ministry!

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Beauty in the Brokenness (A Beautiful Life: Week 3)

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WEEK 1 – INTRODUCTION

WEEK 2 – DANCING AMID DISASTER

ALLISON
Say hello to my friend Allison. (Hi, Allison!) I asked her to send me whatever pic she wanted to accompany her introduction, but truth be told, I squealed with delight when she sent this one because it’s my most favorite ever. This picture — this is the picture where there’s hope behind her eyes and a little bit more ease in her smile and if you look closely, it’s almost as if there is a sweet relief of a recent exhale in her expression. I don’t know if taking the picture resembled anything like what I see — but it’s a message, I believe, from God right to her. 
 
Allison & I attended the same church in Atlanta, and while we knew each other, we weren’t close. Then I moved to the mountains and suddenly that changed. I don’t remember how it happened — I just know that it did (thank you Jesus) — and now it feels like I’ve known her forever because I can’t remember what it was like before I called her friend.
 
Allison loves her family and her Jesus and can’t do life without them. She identifies with the weary warriors in life and writes to give others comfort and hope that they are not alone. Her husband suffered a traumatic brain injury over 8 years ago, and she’s chronicled her families’ journey ever since over at www.dannyandallison.com. And she over-shares (her words, not mine) more personally at www.allisonmdiaz.com for her fellow comrades in the battles through life

It is never beautiful to find yourself unexpectedly standing at the end of a hospital bed. Your husband of almost four years lies there comatose and brain injured while his son is kept safely tucked under rib number 3 in your belly.

Yet, this was the beginning of a path, a journey that started with 80 feet and now holds more than eight years of endurance.

Ours is certainly not a path worth choosing, though I imagine the same can be said for many who find themselves living life on the parallel.

Place your trust in the Eternal; rely on Him completely; never depend upon your own ideas and inventions.Give Him the credit for everything you accomplish, and He will smooth out and straighten the road that lies ahead. (Proverbs 3:5-6, Voice)

But, Friends, there is everlasting value in the suffering. There is comfort during the grief and there is a stretching of faith in the grasping of hope.

DANNY&ALLI

He wakes me every night for help.

He leans on me to stand strong.

He calls me to be his hands, his mind, and his memory.

He relies on me to guide him.

He hopes in me for strength.

And, it is often too much for one person to bear.

The pulling, the leaning, the calling, being everything to even but one, is an understatement of challenge.

And, I think of Him, of Jesus, who came to be pulled, to serve, to love, to save, to die, to be everything for all and I am greatly humbled.

As I kneel at my husband’s feet each night to remove his shoes, my Savior postured himself a servant to the ones he loved.

Am I not called to do the same?

Am I not called to be the hands and feet of Jesus? Am I not to love as He loves me?

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (I Peter 2:21)

Oh, but, a bounty of joy can escape your view because of the clouds of loss.

I am not Jesus.

I am flawed and imperfect every moment of my wrestling. Yet, in my full blown weakness, I know that His strength is then revealed.

Sometimes the most terrifying test can bring about the most beautiful masterpiece. (click to tweet that)

Oh, Friends, life can be hard. Life can feel like a box of only black Crayolas, but He is oh so present in the darkest of places. He comes like whisper on the breath of your faith and he draws into you, covering and protecting you under his wing. He is the One whose joy, whose assurance of life abundantly comes storming mightily in to your brokenness.

You may find yourself on a path that is bleak and seemingly hopeless. You may find yourself in a wilderness of monotony, but I promise you, He promises you, that He will uphold you in his right hand. He promises to carry you through it. He promises to love, to cherish, and to keep you.

The God of Universe is the God of your circumstances. The same Father that sacrificed his Son for you, will sacrifice your planned path for His glory, to share in His suffering to make His name known to the masses.

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And, as I care for my husband, serving him and meeting his needs, I wonder are we not also called to serve those, to love those who know not of Him? Oh, Friends, understand that the greatest beauty is found in Jesus, the Way and in Jesus, the Life.

Bend then to the Truth and hold fast to the knowledge that one day this possibly tragic path of life will lead to the face of God.

And, it’s there at His feet, we can stand knowing that in all things we kept the faith, we finished the race and have found beauty everlasting.

I have fought the good fight, I have stayed on course and finished the race, and through it all, I have kept believing. (2 Timothy 4:7)

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Additional Resources: Looking for some tools to help? Check these out!

1. Glorifying God Through the Obstacles in Marriage. This is a 2-part broadcast from Focus on the Family with Mike and Renee Bondi, and how they found beauty in the midst of physical tragedy, celebrating 25 years of marriage.

2. BrainLine.org. Wonderful website dedicating to preventing, treating and living with traumatic brain injury.

Watercolor hearts photo ©iStock.com/beastfromeast (modified by Elevate Ideas)

Dancing Amid Disaster (A Beautiful Life: Week 2)

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To read last week’s introduction, click here.

MISSY

I’m so excited to introduce you to Missy! We first became friends through the power of the blogosphere, and when we met in person at Allume this year, it was more than obvious we were sisters from another mister. My goodness, we’re practically the same person — down to realizing we’re even sorority sisters! Laughter is her spiritual gift (one of her many, many gifts) and she blesses me to no end with it. 

Missy writes anonymously at www.missindeedy.com. She longs to get it right, but often gets it wrong (her words, not mine!). The mishaps are a’plenty, but there is grace galore. She’s wife to one, a mama to two, and likes to write words. But above all, she’ll tell you that she’s saved by grace and strives to remember that mishap by mishap. Oh, yes indeedy!

We love to dance in our house. We love to crank up the music really loud and go all dance-crazy! This fun activity has proven to be quite the stress reliever and family bonder. We’ve even discovered that the pace of our dancing has a pattern: the more challenges adventures that our family is experiencing, the slower we like to dance; and the more relaxed our family life is, the wilder our dancing becomes. It’s almost like the calm brings on The Carefree!

Lately, though, we’ve been experiencing a budget crisis in our home. And this stilted our dance parties.

A huge lack was suddenly present when, with little warning, we were forced to work with roughly one-third of the previous monthly budget amounts. I found myself in the middle of a financial disaster as I scrambled to relearn words like “budget” and “delayed gratification”. Readjusting our outgoing to more responsibly match our incoming revealed a lack, alright, but not really in our budget…it was in my heart.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also be.” (Matthew 6:21)

I first realized that my idea of treasure needed some major rethinking while standing right in the milk aisle of the grocery store. Because our cost-cutting measures involved a very tight meal plan with no deviations, we were trying to limit the number of times we visited the grocery store to once a week. The need for a quick stop to pick up what we honestly needed to finish out a week of meals, provided a jolt to my mindset. That few dollars left in my purse for the remainder of the week was a stark reminder that there was no room for frivolous “just because” purchases.  “Is your treasure in the Oreo aisle, Missy? Or is it with the knowledge that I will feed you all you need?”, I heard God whisper to me.

My eyes were opened, yet again, in the middle of the mundane of my typical daily errands. Driving through town became painful, as I passed shop upon store upon restaurant that I used to frequent without thought to “what was in MY wallet”. Once I began sorting through my emotions relating to the “treasure” I missed having the freedom to buy, I realized that my daily routines demonstrated a complete disregard for The One who provided it all. And I began to see that I was counting on what was in those stores to fill an emptiness that was in me.

And then, there were my pants.  Our budget wasn’t the only thing that was tightening! My pants were getting tighter, too. Those pants of mine seemed to be trying to tell me that I’ve been feeding the wrong hunger.  With less money to carelessly throw on a muffin “to go with that coffee”, I miraculously found extra room in the budget and in my pants! They became a literal reminder that being bound up in debt can result in other, physical and mental, kinds of binding, too.

But, the turning point came when I was on the verge of lying. I found myself engaged in a discussion with other parents at the bus stop about the coming school vacation. Everyone was sharing the exotic locales they’d be visiting or the hot-chocolate laden snow-skiing trips they would be on. The conversation left me waffling between trying to make our pending “staycation” sound glamorous and fudging the truth. “Do you treasure the opinion of these people so much that you would lie?” I heard God pointedly asking me.

It was then, that I began to grasp that what I really needed wasn’t another trip to this or that place, a meal from such-and-such restaurant, or even a new pair of pants to match “that shirt” for that special event. My need wasn’t in the threading that covered my heart, but within my very heart, itself.

At that point, I looked into the eyes of The One who gives me All Things tearfully asked His forgiveness.  I laid my head on His shoulder and entered into a slow dance of rediscovering the treasure, from Him, that I desperately needed to begin storing up in my heart again.

Treasure like:

His promise to place a new song in my mouth. (Psalm 40:3)

His reminder that He will provide “pleasures never-ending” if we will but walk (and I’d add, dance) with Him. (Psalm 16:11)

His reassurance that He is aware of my every earthly need. (Matthew 6:31,32)

I wanted my heart to rest, again, in the truth that God will provide all that I need. And that realization brought on a desire to turn that slow dance, with Him, into a jig.

Not only because my heart began to sing for the newfound understanding of what had been missing, but because joy had been restored. The joy that comes from knowing that Jehovah Jireh, who knows everything I need and considers me far more valuable than the sparrows in the sky, will indeed provide.

In fact, as I began to consider this Truth more and more, and desire what was inside one of those stores less and less, I realized that He already has. God truly has uncovered my lack and filled it with His best, just as He promised. (Click to tweet that)

“You did it: You turned my deepest pains into joyful dancing; You stripped off my dark clothing and covered me with joyful light.” (Psalm 30:11)

That calls for some dancing.

Don’t you think?

Additional Resources: Looking for some tools to help? Check these out!

1. Who is Jehovah Jirah? A deeper look into this name of God meaning “God is my provider.”

2. Tools for Getting Financially Fit. Resources from the infamous Dave Ramsey on getting yourself financially healthy.

3. The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. One of the greatest ways to intensely get out of debt!

4. Cheaper, Better, Faster: Over 2,000 Tips and Tricks to Save You Time and Money Every Day by Mary Hunt. Come on, who doesn’t need this??

Watercolor hearts photo ©iStock.com/beastfromeast (modified by Elevate Ideas)

A Beautiful Life (New Series: Introduction)

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“You direct me on a path that leads to A BEAUTIFUL LIFE. As I walk with you, the pleasures are never-ending, and I know true joy and contentment.” (Psalm 16:11, Voice)

There has been pain.

Pain when two boys we used to care for in our home were killed. Pain when a fellow student in high school died. Pain when my family shifted and changed unexpectedly after college, and the foundation of everything I thought that was suddenly wasn’t, and everything I thought I had vanished and a series of heart-bursting earthquakes left me shaking, empty and broken.

Yes, there has been pain. But there’s also been beauty.

There was beauty when I was a teenager and would sneak in the back of church on Sunday nights — when I had done something I knew I shouldn’t, or was feeling something bigger than I knew how to express, or was confused or sad or lost. I’d sneak in the side door on the far right-hand side of the sanctuary and sit right there, on the second to last row under the balcony, where the lights were dim and I felt unnoticed.

And every time — every single stinking time — God would have gotten there first, and sat there so quietly and invisible that it wasn’t until I felt His huge arms wrap around my body tightly that I realized I actually had sat on His lap, not just the pew. And for the entire service, He would just hold me tight and I would cry until there was nothing left.

There was beauty when as a young adult I reached the end of my rope — when the path of pain and shock and tears all converged right there at God — and my options were simply Will You? or Won’t You? and out of sheer desperation I fell to the side of my bed and whispered, I will. 

And it wasn’t until I felt His huge arms wrap around my body tightly that I realized He had gotten there first and I had actually fell into His lap, not just the floor. And He held me tightly and I cried until there was nothing left.

And there was beauty when I a real grown-up and faced tragedy and loss and shook my fist at God asking, Why me? and He gently…oh so gently…whispered back,

Why not you?

and my pride vaporized and I again found myself in His lap, arms tightly holding me as tears fell until there were no more.

There has been pain. But there has been even more beauty.

We all know suffering. We know the question-raising, faith-doubting, back-turning pain this life brings — whether we’re affected by it, or it’s our own personal story to tell — we know it. We see it throughout the Bible, in our communities and in our world. The consequences of a fallen world mean we will have pain.

“I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. BUT TAKE HEART! I’ve conquered the world.” (John 16:33)

And the secret to not just surviving the suffering but thriving in it is tucked right there in the end of the verse. The take heart, or be of good cheer as it’s sometimes translated. The original Greek of that phrase is wrapped up in one word — THARSEO — literally meaning ‘be of good cheer’ or ‘be of good courage.’

And that phrase — THARSEO — is either spoken by Jesus or in direct relation to Him each of the eight times used in the Bible.

THARSEO – Your sins are forgiven. (Matt 9:2)

THARSEO – Your faith has healed you. (Matt 9:22)

THARSEO – It is I. You have nothing to fear. (Matt 14:27)

THARSEO – Do you see? It is I. (Mark 6:50)

THARSEO – He calls for you. Get up and go to Him. (Mark 10:49)

THARSEO – Your faith has made you well again, daughter. Go in peace. (Luke 8:48)

THARSEO – I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

THARSEO – You have successfully told your story about Me in Jerusalem, and soon you will do the same in Rome. (Acts 23:11)

Our defining moments — the moments that lead us to a life of beauty or a life of ashes — come when we’re standing facing that fork in the road deciding between the Why Me? path or the Why Not Me? path. As we stand there we hear Him call THARSEO! and we either choose to be of good cheer or we don’t.

 And it’s choosing the Tharseo path — the Why Not Me? path — that leads to a beautiful life. (tweet that) 

“Protect me, God, for the only safety I know is found in the moments I seek You.” (Psalm 16:1)

This series is called A Beautiful Life not because it’s about how to avoid suffering, or agonizing over our pain, or asking why me. It’s named A Beautiful Life because choosing God and the joy and contentment He alone brings — regardless of our circumstances — is what makes life beautiful. Because God is in the business of making beauty out of ashes, if we first choose to Tharseo. 

“God has sent me to give them a beautiful crown in exchange for ashes.” (Isaiah 61:3a)

He’s in the business of abundant futures and eternal riches, if we first choose to Tharseo.

“You, Eternal One, are my sustenance and my life-giving cup. In that cup, You hold my future and my eternal riches.” (Psalm 16:5)

He’s in the business of making glad hearts and joyful souls if we first choose to Tharseo.

“This is a good life—my heart is glad, my soul is full of joy, and my body is at rest. Who could want for more?” (Psalm 16:9)

He’s in the business of giving us victory in life, not making victims, if we first choose to Tharseo.

“To anoint them with gladness instead of sorrow, to wrap them in victory, joy, and praise instead of depression and sadness.” (Isaiah 61:3b)

This series has been on my heart a long, long time. It is my prayer and belief that through this series God is going to raise up Victors. That He is going to bring freedom to those that have been enslaved to their circumstances for too long. That He is going to show you how beautiful life truly is and empower you to choose the Tharseo path — to give you a heart of courage and good cheer.

And the best part about this series is that I’m not doing it alone.

“The beauty of faith-filled people encompasses me. They are true, and my heart is thrilled beyond measure.” (Psalm 16:3)

I’m beyond honored that some of my favorite writers are partnering with me in this series, and starting next week you’ll hear from them each Tuesday. You are going to be so blessed by their insights and wisdom and how choosing THARSEO — even as the smallest and faintest whisper — has brought beauty to their lives. We’ll hear from Missy, Katie, Allison, Sara and possibly one or two others as the Lord is leading. It’s going to be incredible. I pray you’ll pop back next Tuesday.

THARSEO! He calls for you. GET UP AND GO TO HIM. Here’s to a beautiful life, my friends. 

Watercolor hearts photo ©iStock.com/beastfromeast (modified by Elevate Ideas)

25 Things to Be Happy About (Part Three)

Apples

When I was in college I picked up a little book called 14,000 Things to Be Happy About. It’s simply hundreds of pages of stream-of-consciousness lists of things that make you happy. When life was stressful or I was feeling blue, I would just pull out that book and smile like crazy. And I would take a red pen and make marks next to the things I really loved and different marks next to the things I really liked and other marks next to things I hoped to experience.

Things like:

  • mason jars
  • the cool underside of a pillow
  • hearty stew in white bowls
  • late Sunday brunches
  • dandelions and buttercups

See? It’s the perfect little book to let your mind wander and help you to exhale, even just a little bit.

Even now, every once and again my mind starts keeping a running tally of things that make me smile — silly things like the first few chews of bubble gum and the names of Northeastern towns like Kennebunkport and Montauk, and finding one last chocolate-covered caramel in your Sea Salt Caramel gelato. And after a while that tally in my head gets too long and I’m reminded again of that sweet little book.

Because while I give thanks and express gratitude to God all the time for most things, sometimes I forget to just appreciate the little things that bring a smile. You know, the small, seemingly insignificant things that help you enjoy life.

So I decided it was time to write part three in this very inconsistent series. (You can read the first post here and the second one here.) And in no order of importance whatsoever, here are 25 things that make me happy:

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  1. kids singing the Veggie Tales version of “9-to-5” at the top of their lungs in the car
  2. singing along with them
  3. pink lady apples crisp and cold from the fridge
  4. the smell an empty coffee bag leaves in the kitchen
  5. gray and yellow anything
  6. a full water bottle with ice and fresh-squeezed lemon
  7. school lunches made the night before
  8. new batteries in your wireless mouse
  9. accidental snort-laughing
  10. accidental snort-laughing in public
  11. accidental snort-laughing alone in public
  12. your husband’s smooth dance moves
  13. a new phone case
  14. liquid laundry softener
  15. warming hands on a hot mug of tea
  16. peanut butter granola
  17. thinking about someone and they suddenly call you
  18. freshly manicured short, red nails
  19. finding a favorite item at the grocery store is buy-one-get-one free
  20. exquisite candle jars with exotic scent names like elysian garden and saijo persimmon
  21. white, coral and turquoise in the spring
  22. the voice translation Bible
  23. pinterest
  24. singing along to music while running when you’re sure no one is around
  25. being totally alone in your house, even for just a little bit

What would be on your list?

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