Taking Joy--the choice that makes all the difference

“How do we make the commitment to give the area of motherhood over to God as a sacrifice of worship to him? We yield our personal rights into his hands. We give up our time and expectations to him-and also our fears and worries about how we will manage. We trust him to take care of us and our family. We let him redirect our thinking and expectations and adjust our dreams. And we wait in faith to see the fruit of our hard labor in the lives of our children, knowing that he will be faithful to honor our commitment to him.”The Mission of Motherhood, p. 54

Buzzing around the main floor of my house, I lit the candles in each room, picked up the last few minutes of mess--a stranded book and magazine, two pairs of shoes, a mug and tea cup, and made put out some lemonade and ice water, and paper cups, napkins and desert plates. Just as I was finishing, the door bell began to ring and I could hear chatter and laughter bubbling over at the front door. This marked the beginning of my mom's Bible study, which meets monthly at my house. Over the next half hour, my dining table filled with goodies to share and my home filled up as around 35 women came and began to catch up with friends or meet newcomers. I so enjoy my times with kindred spirits like these moms. Old and young, different cultures and backgrounds and family make up create a real pool of comments and ideas shared. This evening, I had decided to have each of the moms introduce themselves and use three adjectives to describe how they were feeling. Now, the interesting thing was that they all looked perky and upbeat and combed and groomed. Nothing belied that any of these women were troubled. Yet, as we went around the room, probably the most common adjectives used were terms like, "exhausted, weary, overwhelmed, tired, inadequate." With the responsibility of children--feeding, clothing and caring for their physical needs as well as training and disciplining them, inspiring them and teaching them comes an endless pathway of work. Though I didn't take lightly any of the feelings that these precious moms were experiencing, I did see a funny sort of comfort that they all felt in the fact that they weren't alone in their feelings!

This particular evening stimulated more thoughts that I have been having of late about the whole concept of joy. Seems most of the people I know understand from their own life circumstances that, "in this world you have tribulation," as Jesus said the night before he was crucified. I found out that a more contemporary meaning to the word, "tribulation" is great stress. No matter what country you live in, there is great stress--the tension that comes from living in a fallen world: war, corrupt governments, famines and natural disasters, etc.

Yet day to day issues also drain us, making enough money to provide for basic needs; trying to build a legacy of righteousness, or to love in a marriage where the two partners have a sinful---selfish nature, or to take care of a gaggle of children and attempt to educate them in a culture that diminishes the meaning of family or children, or to try to live for righteousness in a communist culture where there is no value for God, etc.

All mothers called by God in whatever culture, have such significance in determining what will happen the next generation by what they choose to do with their lives and by how they invest their lives in their children and other people. Moms are the strategic warriors in this battle for the souls.

If an officer quits his post in the battle because of weariness, then those left under his charge will flounder. If the officers model strength, good attitudes, courage, leadership, then the soldiers will more likely perform heroically. We all benefit from moms--(soldiers) who are strong and committed in their positions. When another woman chooses to live with a thankful heart before God and does her work with joy and accepts the limitations of her life with faith and courage, it causes me to draw upon the inner strength that is available to me in my own heart, and then shows my children to bear up under their own loads in life. A chain effect falls into place.

Jesus's anecdote to having stress in this world was, "Take courage! (which requires a heart choice.) I have overcome the world." Our courage, our hope, our lack of fear comes from understanding that the consequences of this world and the choices we make will have significance in the next world. I have had a saying with my children that is about this issue of stepping up to the bat. "Buck up, bucco!" It is a line we heard in a movie and seems to apply to so many of our situations in life. It basically means, "You can do this. You have the resources within. You need to gird your mind and heart and determine to make it!"

Gwen is my dear, cherished friend from my days as a single missionary in Poland. We committed to becoming Jonathon and David friends when we were single women living in a Communist country. Gwen always wanted to get married as she is the picture of a supportive, loyal friend who creates an incredible artistic and lovley home environment.She spent 28 years as a missionary working in Eastern Europe serving, loving and making so many feel the love of God as she served them through her apartment. During her time there, her two brothers, her father and all the relatives close to her, except for her mother, died.  Now, after living in Vienna, Warsaw, and Krakow, and traveling the world and meeting with all sorts of interesting people on a daily basis, she has moved back home. Gwen lives in a small coal mining town in Kentucky in the 60 year old home in which she grew up. She is daily caring for her mom who has Alzheimer's, and has been doing so for the past 4 years. When her sweet mom, who is 92 this fall, passes to be with the Lord, Gwen will have no more relatives alive from her immediate family.

Recently, I planned a speaking engagement around a visit with Gwen on my birthday, because I knew she would spoil me. (Best friends do that for each other.) She drove with me from her house on a swelteringly hot day the 2 hours to Louisville and stood on her feet all day working at my book table. We packed up from the small conference and finally had lunch at a tiny cafe at 2:45 in the afternoon, before traveling home in time to put her mom to bed and to relieve the worker who was staying with her.

I asked her as we were lingering over our last bit of lunch, "How are you really doing?" Her almost immediate answer was, "My heart is joyful." Immediately the verse, "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones," came to my mind. "What do you mean?" I queried.

"I feel like all of us have so many choices to look at life from the perspective of a glass of water half-empty or a glass of water half-full. I have made a concerted effort over the years to look at my life in light of all that God has provided me and have willed myself to find joy in each day, thankfulness in every situation. It is better for me to find joy every day and to cultivate contentment so that I can have the strength and courage I need to face every day. If I allow myself to wallow in my dark thoughts, I just go downhill."

Being in Gwen's home, is such a picture of living joy. Though her home is tiny and in a community that has seen better days, Gwen has brought light and redemption. She has painted and restored one old, outdated room at a time, making it a place of beauty. Planting flowers and trees and restoring her yard to becoming a place of beauty has become a long term goal. Studying cook books and learning to fix gourmet meals for all who come into her home has kept her creative juices going. There is no one in her home to encourage her, to tell her that the table setting was pretty or the food delicious. Her mom, like mine, is in the blank stare phase of life, so is unable to appreciate the beauty that Gwen has created. But she is a wonderfully sweet, gentle mom who has always loved Gwennie as a child. So Gwen lives with this memory and keeps it alive as she serves her mother each day.

I always know that when I visit her, Gwen will have a verse or insight to share from the quiet times she has faithfully been having for the past 40 years. She will give me a new idea to ponder a challenging book to read--(one of several birthday presents she bestowed--Simply Christian by N.T. Wright).

When I am with Gwen, she gives me courage. If she can resist the feelings of loneliness, the questions about her long and short term future--with no assurances about what is ahead, and live graciously to serve the needs of her mother and friends, I know that I can make those choices, too, because she has modeled it for me. When she chooses to lovingly clean up her mom's various sorts of messes, thanking God for one more day with her, even though her mom doesn't always know who Gwen is, I have more strength to come home to clean up my children's messes and be grateful that I can enjoy the companionship of my children. I know that Gwennie has faced all sorts of "demons" over the years-whys? that will never be answered, lonely nights and weeks, disappointments, rejections, but it is the choices that she has made in each of these situations that has made her one of the most life-giving, encouraging people I know. It is why I am committed to visiting her and sending my children to visit her as often as possible, because I love to expose all of us to her spirit.

I prayed and pondered for quite a while before I named my personal blog, "I take joy!" Having lived through so many years and seasons of life as a mom and wife, I am very familiar with these feelings of being somewhat overwhelmed. As a matter of fact, I can tend, at times, toward sad and dark thoughts and feelings. However, I have slowly learned over the years, that as I have acquired the ability to maneuver and guide my life toward the Lord, in the midst of these feelings, I have discovered some "secrets" that I want to focus on until I die. Satan would just love for me to become overwhelmed with the darkness and sadness of life. But learning to "walk in the light, as He is in the light," has become a way of making choices that have determined a more lasting and productive outcome for both me and my sweet family.

I decided some years ago, that one of the greatest gifts I could give to my children would be the gift of a happy mother. When I am happy and singing through the day and loving them and giving words of life, I am building strength and courage and faith into them--not because our lives have been easy, but because my children know the heavy loads of work, the lack of support systems we have had, the passive and sometimes hostile rejection from many close to us and the constant work of our home and ministry---and yet, hopefully still see the choices I have made to be joyful--it is not a feeling, but an obedience out of gratefulness and love to the Lord. And interestingly, usually, my feelings will eventually follow the choices I make. When I practice thankfulness and contentment and praise, my heart follows my will. Interestinly, I see my oldest children have already been in very difficult situations which require faithfulness and a choice of faith and joy, yet I see that they are making these choices and I am so proud of their character as I see it being forged in their own challenges of life.

I do not always succeed at this way of living. I had a momentary meltdown even this weekend. Yet, I have cherished the idea of dancing with joy as a goal of my life. I want to create light in a dark world, because the "light of life" lives in me. It is a commitment I have made, a flag planted in the ground, to finish well--to finish in the light, to finish practicing the true dance of life with my Partner who I will soon see face to face. In His graciousness and patience and longsuffering and creativity and beauty, I have found the resources I need. So again, today, as I start another school year, I am determined to Take Joy, to live in it, nurture it, dwell in it, because the hearts of all who look to me will be better fed when I dwell in that place.