(The order of these suggestions has no bearing on their individual values, it's just that the teacher within had to have SOME type of organization, so these suggestions are in alphabetical order.)
- Belonging. This is one joy-giver AND taker that I've struggled with a TON. Before we got pregnant (and thought we might not be able to get pregnant at all), I felt "left out" among all my friends with kids. They seemed to have their own little bond and I was sad that I hadn't been able to keep up with them during their season of life. However, they say the grass is always greener on the other side.... Becoming a mom (stay at home, work at home, or work outside of the home), means losing a bit of yourself so that you can BECOME something better. It's easy to want to go back to the familiar identity, but no matter where you are, YOU BELONG. You have a specific purpose to accomplish that only YOU can accomplish. The sense of belonging is a warm-fuzzy --- a comfort that we often take for granted until it's missing. The transition of identities occurs more frequently than we think, sometimes causing us to change jobs, churches, friendships, grocery stores, even allegiances to sports teams. But never let that "feeling" of belonging be your sole-focus. It's only a feeling, and sometimes feelings aren't very accurate (...ahem). We need to evaluate our current "employment" and realize that God has us there for a purpose, even if we can't identify what that purpose is. God knows and everything He does, because of His steadfast love for us, is for OUR GOOD and HIS GLORY. (....even if I do miss being able to go out with friends, stay up late, take random trips to the outlet mall that's 45 minutes away, secure the attention of a dozen elementary students, or simply sit at a desk and answer a phone.)
- Compassion. A quick way to reap HEAPS of joy is to serve others. Some days, I feel I am serving a very tired, whiney toddler who never says "thanks." I'm sure there are days with teens and adults that give off that same vibe, and those days don't make it any easier on the doer/giver (i.e., you). But compassion isn't about serving because of what we've received (i.e., gratitude from the receiver). Compassion is about loving others despite their feelings or actions towards you. It's feeling pity and empathy toward their current circumstance and wanting to get your hands dirty because you LOVE them. Your love is motivated by the perfect love which God has loved you by sending His PERFECT (never-sinned, always compassionate) Son to pay the penalty for all of OUR sin so that we wouldn't have to. That's unconditional love right there: we had NOTHING to offer, no good within ourselves by which to secure a relationship to the God who created and sustains all things, and yet He died in our place. So why is it so hard to demonstrate unconditional, compassionate love to others? Clearly, we aren't perfect like Christ, so there's some resistance in our hearts, but we must press beyond that resistance to experience the joy it brings to all parties involved. I must strive to serve in order to build up the family God has called me to be a part of. If I quit.....well, let's not go there. It's amazing how many cheerios can end up around the house in an hour, so giving up on account of "I don't feel like serving" isn't an option.
- Fearing God. What does it mean to fear God? I'm still working this one out :) But from what I understand so far, it's having a reverence for who God is and what He has done/is capable of doing. Even if this is just the tip of the iceberg, that means that all of the aspects of my current trial can be weighed against the person of God. No pain, exhaustion, desperation, or sadness could ever outweigh God's love for me, or you. Sometimes "bad things happen to good people," but then we must reconsider those "bad things" in relation to God's greater plan. THIS IS SO HARD FOR ME in the midst, but it's a necessary exercise of the mind and heart in order to grow in faith.
- Gratitude. I've been working on my 1,000 Gifts list, inspired by Ann Voskamp. Some days are much more lucrative in the listing department than others, but that's okay. A friend shared with me that she and her sister email each other 3 gifts a day --- what a fantastic goal! Here are some 3-a-day ideas from Ann to get you started. In the midst of ugliness, pain, and trials we must STRIVE (and sometimes that takes work) to see the blessings that God is giving to us, to recognize and name those small gifts in order that we would remember that God is caring for our souls, even when the answers we seek through prayer are delayed or never come. His love is in the sunbeam that glides through the blinds in your bedroom, or fresh dew on the ground; it's the smile of a child, and sometimes the aroma of a fresh pot of coffee. Here are a few of mine from this week.
- Sophia hugging my leg (first time)
- Hearing Baby 2's heart beat (first time)
- Babysitters at the last minute
- Menu planned and grocery list prepared for the month by a friend
- Adult conversation
- Blue hydrangeas blooming
- Smooth cup of coffee
- Backyard slide
- Emails from moms like me
- Milkshake and curly fries with Sophia
- Sophia finding the bag of dog bones in the pantry and giving treats to Fritz (6x in a row)
- Music. Sometimes it's the words and sometimes it's the sweet melody, but both can be a great encouragement! Playing music in the background of the "messiness of life" is a quick and easy task. Some of my favorites are: Praise You in this Storm by Casting Crowns and Blessings by Laura Story. (Sorry that the youtube videos are a bit cheesy, but I wanted to get the song to play and have lyrics, so this seemed like the best solution.) Another song that was just emailed to me this morning (....in the WEE hours of the middle of the night by a weary momma taking care of her sick kiddo) is Worn by 10th Avenue North. During the first few months after Sophia's birth, through her colic and middle of the night cry-fests, I would sing Before the Throne of God by Charitie Lees Bancroft/Vikki Cook , Beneath the Cross of Jesus by Keith/Kristyn Getty (lyrics), In Christ Alone by Keith Getty/Stuart Townend, and A Debtor to Mercy Alone by Augustus Toplady/Bob Kauflin. The words of those songs were more for me than her and often I would get stuck on a stanza and just keep repeating it.
- Poetry. Like music, poetry is a great outlet for stress that brings joy. Some find that writing their own is a blessing, while others love the words of others when they can't take another breath to utter their own. Lean Hard has been suggested over and over by a sweet mom who has been through one of the hardest trials I could ever imagine!
- Present-Tense. This can be a real shot of joy! Sometimes in the midst of difficulty, the best thing we can do is go through the motions, live in the now. Sometimes I set a timer --- just 5 minutes --- and do all I can to fully LIVE in those 5 minutes. Living in the past, even 5 minutes ago, can re-open wounds that simply need to heal. I'm not saying that we shouldn't revisit past trials, but it can be damaging to dig through the mire of them instead of looking up to the grace we received through them. Our eyes must look to the greater plan that God has: Our good, His glory. We can only see a tiny portion of the plan at any given moment, so we must trust that God has the rest worked out. That's difficult for me. I often want to mull over the what-if's of the future and the past, and then I get stuck with a self-focus instead of a God-focus. Fully live. Today. This minute. God's grace is sufficient for today!
- Relationships. Be selective of who you surround yourself with. There are some folks who really love to dig through the mire because they believe that at some point they'll find a solution, an answer, something that MIGHT be helpful. These folks are typically sweet and completely well-meaning, but they can cause us to stumble. Instead, find folks who will encourage you to simply "lean hard" on God. Job's friends had good intentions, but they came to wildly WRONG conclusions. Only God knows the REAL reason for any trial or difficulty. Friends can offer ideas, but in the end it's best not to mull over the "why" (although I don't think it's a bad idea to ask......just be careful not to get stuck there).
- Scenery. Surround yourself with beauty, get out of the house! There are several expensive options that we could use as excuses to NOT pursue a change in scenery, but there are many FREE options too. While on a trip to the store, we like to stop by the free, climate-controlled zoo called Petsmart. Sophia prefers the locations with doggy daycare :) Going for walks around the neighborhood or even the garden center at a local home store is worth the beauty! We try to bring some of that beauty into our home by picking flowers and lighting candles.
- Sin. "Ok, Lauren, this is actually a depressing thought." Yes, I agree, but our right view of it can be an encouragement. Without Christ as our Savior, we have no Helper (the Holy Spirit). We have no way to CHOOSE to honor God with our actions. Sometimes it's a good exercise for me to remember that Sophia is a sinner, adorable, but a sinner nonetheless. When she screams like crazy to get my attention and throws a tantrum because we can't do what she wants to do right now, I have to remember that she has no Helper. Sometimes I literally say, "It's hard without Jesus." I can't expect her to act as Jesus did when He was a baby/toddler/teen ---- he was PERFECT, SINLESS, and needed no Helper because He was the Helper. Instead, we must simply pray for our children's salvation, show them Christ, and LOVE them AS THEY ARE.
- THE Word. This is the most valuable. Even in the midst of struggles (i.e., in the middle of an all-out-brawl you need to break up) you can recall the words of God that you've stored up in the past. This is why daily reading is so important: we must equip ourselves for battle. Life isn't easy, but the Word is life-giving! It is energizing, comforting, convicting; it reminds us of how far God has brought us and that we'll never truly be alone no matter how lonely we feel. (Oh, there are those feelings getting in the way again! Don't let them have the final say.)
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Romans 8:28-29 (ESV)