Journey to Joy

by Melissa Heiland

If I’m honest, I’ll tell you, I still cringe a little bit when I hear the phrase, “joy in suffering.” The words just don’t go together in my mind, but I know they are paired in the Bible. And so, I pursue joy in suffering. I have not reached the mark on this. I am no expert, just a fellow-traveler on this journey to joy. I have searched the Bible for truth and guidance on how to experience true joy in the face of deep suffering. I have discovered eight practices that I believe are helpful for the journey.

Slow Down. Trauma has forced me to slow down. I simply cannot work at my former pace. I believe the Lord sometimes allows us to suffer, so that we will run to Him. There is healing in His presence. Spend time with the Lord every day. Allow Him to heal your wounds. You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11 NIV

When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, Lord God Almighty. Jeremiah 15:16 NIV

Surround Yourself with Kind People. When you are suffering, people may say and do things that hurt you more. Ask the Lord to send you a friend who will listen to you and love you without judgment.

Be Kind to Yourself. When we suffer as believers, we often feel guilt for not feeling joyful and brave. Give grace to yourself. God loves you and He understands.

Have Fun. Think back to the things you enjoyed before the grief. Make a list of things that brought you joy in the past. Choose one each week. They can be simple things like reading a book or walking in the park. Make a conscious effort to do something that makes you smile.

Listen to Worship Music. Worship music can change your heart. Find songs and artists whose music touches your soul. Praise can be a sacrifice when your heart is wounded. Let Him heal you through your praise. Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise-the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. Hebrews 13:15 NIV

Be Thankful. When we are in the darkness, it is so difficult to find reasons to be thankful. Discipline your mind to find the good things in your life. Make a gratitude list. Each day, make a list of things for which you are thankful.

Keep Serving. Grief can be all-consuming. We may need to step back from serving for a while, but I encourage you to continue to look for ways to serve the Lord and others, even in your pain. There is healing in this sacrifice, as well.

Look to Heaven. As God’s beloved children, we know that our time on earth is short. We have a promise that joy is coming. Focusing on the future, which is full of joy, helps us to find joy on the journey as well. Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:12-13 NIV

Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours. Isaiah 61:7 NIV

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

Melissa heiland
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About the author: Melissa Heiland is the Founder and President of Beautiful Feet International, a mission organization that plants pregnancy ministries around the world. She is an international speaker and author who is passionate about mommies, babies and sharing the Gospel. She has written devotionals for pregnant moms, new mothers and short-term mission teams, as well as a children’s book based on Psalm 139. She and her husband Ken have 6 children and 5 grandchildren.

Join the conversation: Have you ever found joy in suffering? Please share!

Message-Tagged

by Rhonda Rhea

You reveal the path of life to me; in your presence is abundant joy; at your right hand are eternal pleasures. Psalm 16:11 CSB

Have you ever been tagged—maybe trapped—in a group text? You’re begging your phone. Please, not one more notification. And your phone answers with: zzzzzt.

Even worse, you go to bed early while the other 30 in your group have a night owl session. Get up the next morning, get your coffee, and get comfy. I know it’s your day off, but turn off that show you wanted to watch and don’t even think about reading a book. Because you have four thousand messages.

I’m sorry, but I’ve got news for you. The only way to escape is to change your number. And your name. Maybe your appearance. Also your place of residence. You should probably go ahead and plan your move to France.

Croissants. These are your life now.

Interesting note, if it’s a direct message you’re trapped in, don’t think it’s an easier exit. Because if you dare depart the group conversation, your abandonment is sirened to everyone in there. “____ has left the group.” With, of course, the implied shame, “She no longer cares about any of us. Or our cause. Or the planet or children or love. Probably not even puppies. She’s basically a monster.”

Sometimes, I wonder if it would be easier to just go ahead and plan a big ol’ party and invite everyone over.

I also wonder, but on a much different level, if we often make experiencing the presence of God as complicated as a group message. We start thinking in the back of our minds that to have a conversation with Him, we need to push all the right buttons, type in the exact phrase, hashtag it all just so-so.

Enjoying the presence of God isn’t elusive, complicated, or convoluted. Not unless we make it so. It’s found in the beautiful and oh-so-simple act of recognizing Him—understanding that His presence was already there even before we searched. It can often be as easy as looking up, quieting the input of every other voice or device—even quieting the over-busyness of our own thoughts—and zeroing in on Him. On His nearness. On His desire to meet and chat, and His willingness to influence every thought.

David got the message. “I have asked one thing from the Lord; it is what I desire: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, gazing on the beauty of the Lord and seeking him in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4 CSB)

Commenting on this psalm, 19th century preacher, Alexander MacLaren, wrote about the “unbroken consciousness of being in God’s presence.” He said, “…there is such a thing as having an undercurrent of consciousness running all through a man’s life and mind; such a thing as having a melody sounding in our ears perpetually, ‘so sweet we know not we are listening to it’ until it stops, and then, by the poverty of the naked and silent atmosphere, we know how musical were the sounds that we scarcely knew that we heard, and yet did hear so well high above all the din of earth’s noises.”

“Undercurrent of consciousness.” I want that. I want the consciousness of God to be louder than any “zzzt” or any other earth-din, and I want to notice loudly when it’s missing.

I think I’ll go so far as to say, I would love to convince my mind to stay in that most glorious undercurrent. Beautifully ever-tagged.

This article is brought to you by the Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA).

rhonda rhea

About the author: Rhonda Rhea is a TV personality for Christian Television Network and an award-winning humor columnist for great magazines such as HomeLifeLeading HeartsThe Pathway and many more. She is the author of 17 books, including the Fix-Her-Upper books, co-authored with Beth Duewel, and the hilarious novels, Turtles in the Road and Off-Script & Over-Caffeinated, both co-authored with her daughter, Kaley Rhea. Rhonda lives near St. Louis with her pastor/hubs and has five grown children. You can read more from Rhonda on her website or Facebook page.

Got baggage? Ever find yourself lugging around messy spiritual baggage like so much purse clutter? Rhonda’s latest release, Messy to Meaningful: My Purse Runneth Over, will help you stop holding on to what you don’t need and start fighting for what you do. Learn to walk out your faith life less weighed down, lighter, and freer that ever!

Join the conversation: How do you keep mindful of the presence of God?

My Christmas Companion

by Janet Perez Eckles 

You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever. Psalm 16:11 NASB

“Christmas?” a friend asked, “Who feels like celebrating anything these days? There may not even be any Christmas this year.” You and I don’t have to share in this pessimism. We don’t, because hope shines bright when we consider this:

The bush that Moses encountered was just an ordinary bush until it burned without consuming it. The staff was just a staff until it turned into a snake. The rock was one of many, until Moses struck and water gushed out. The Red Sea was just a body of water until God parted it for His people to cross on dry land. David’s rocks were simple stones, until he used one to defeat Goliath. Mary was a humble peasant girl, until God touched her with a miracle.

See? That’s how it works. Our life might seem impossible, needy, and desperate for a miracle…until something happens. We encounter the wonder of God’s power. Our future might be a series of unknown tomorrows, until the horizon of His riches appears. Our dreams might seem elusive, until we believe God’s love conquers all.

And this is how His conquering power works: “The virgin will conceive and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel—which means, ‘God with us” (Matthew 1:23 NIV).

He worked it out. Through Jesus, He’s with us. That’s why all worry, fear and stress must go out the window because He’s with us. And because He is, we have His company through the darkness. Because He is with us, we know for tomorrow, victory awaits.

We know it will come. All we have to do is glance back and remember what He has done through the ages: an ordinary bush burned with a message, because God was there. A simple rock produced gushes of water, because God was there. A virgin gave birth, because God was there. A sea of water created a barrier, but it opened up because God was there.

Today is no different. He’ll put something in our path that may burn to get our attention, so we will listen. He will make living water flow to quench the thirsty soul. He will make the impossible possible. And He will give us the stones of courage to defeat the giants we face.

He did the same with Joshua, as he faced a giant too. It was called fear and insecurity. God knew. So, He spoke to Joshua’s fear: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 NIV).

Wherever we go? Yes. That promise came alive for Joshua. And it’s alive for us, too. God ushered he and His people across the Jordan river to the other side, where the promised land waited for them.

As we cross our own river of pain, He will be with us too, ushering us to the other side where His richness awaits.

That’s why this Christmas, with open arms and grateful hearts, we can accept the gift of His constant presence. That gift is wrapped in His love, held with the ribbon of His faithfulness, and adorned with the seal of His promise.

Lord, this Christmas will be different for me because my joy will not come from circumstances, decorations, presents or gatherings. My genuine joy is found in You, and in the reassurance that no matter what surrounds me, you are with me. In Jesus name.

janet perez eckles

About the author: Janet Perez Eckles helps thousands to look beyond circumstances and overcome fear. She is a best-selling author and international speaker. Her writing and virtual  presentations help thousands turn their trials to successful, joy-filled lives. 

Janet’s book,  Hola, Happiness: Finding Joy by Dancing to the Melody of God’s Word is a brief Bible study to nudge you to the next level of triumph and joy. It is packed with deep reflections and answers from God’s Word. No matter what you face–disappointment, fear, heartache, shame, insecurity, sorrow–you will say “Hola” to happiness, peace, and the joy for which God created you.

Join the conversation: How does knowing that God is with you and for you (Romans 8:31) make a difference in your life?

What’s Your Pleasure?

by Karen DeArmond Gardner

How can I describe the glorious smell of coffee in the morning? The scent wafts through the air filling my senses as it brews. Coffee brings me pleasure and comfort whether it’s a cold morning curled up in my blanket or a Texas summer day. Nothing says pleasure like that first sip of coffee from my favorite mug.

I like my coffee rich and black. No foo-foo coffee for me.

I’ll saunter down the coffee isle in my grocery store just to breathe in the scent of coffee. The fragrance of coffee is pure bliss. Some days I can’t wait to go to bed just so I can get up and drink my coffee in the quiet solitude of early morning.

Coffee is also relational. The rise of coffee shops all over the world reveal how we love to sit and chat over coffee. Many a heart has been bared in those moments. Laughter, secrets, tears, love and fights, all shared over a cup of coffee.

A few years ago, as I contemplated what to give up for our church-wide fast, I asked God what He wanted me to give up for three weeks. I suggested, sweets, television, ice cream, food—but only one word dropped into my mind… coffee.  

COFFEE.

Surely You don’t mean coffee? I love my coffee. I need my coffee.

Exactly.

I bargained, I whined, yet He didn’t budge. Either I would be obedient or I wouldn’t. It’s not like I love coffee above God. Or do I? I was about to find out.

I had a slight headache at day three and the brain fog that had been a problem for several months, was now horrible. I was a bit grumpy. Okay, maybe more than just a bit. I was frustrated with God, wondering what His point was in this. I didn’t feel closer to Him.

My daughter wasn’t thrilled when I bit her head off during a conversation. “You should have warned me you were off coffee,” she said.

I begged God to clear my mind. Nothing. Why did You take my one comfort and pleasure away?

Because it brings you pleasure and comfort.

 What? Oh!

Could it be He wanted to be my pleasure and comfort? Grabbing my Bible, I scanned the concordance and noticed most of the verses relating to pleasure were about sin and wrong doing, with the exception for Psalm 16:11 (ESV):

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Whoa.

Now He had my attention. Clarity cleared my foggy brain. I saw the greater purpose of finding my pleasure in Him. Did I look forward to my time with Him as much as I enjoyed my coffee? Did I stop and breathe in His presence? Did I anticipate going to bed so I could wake up to share our morning together? Point taken.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3 (ESV)

Gulp.

Coffee isn’t my comfort. He is.

By time you read this, my fast will be over. I’ll be back to sipping coffee, appreciating what I’ve taken for granted. But I’ll also bask in His presence through my cloudy mind and realize the fast wasn’t about coffee. It was an object lesson on who my source is and where I find my comfort.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.  2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 ESV

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What’s Your Pleasure? – wisdom from Karen DeArmond Gardner on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

karen dearmond gardnerAbout the author: Karen DeArmond Gardner is a 30-year survivor of domestic violence. She has spent 15 years on her own healing journey and nearly that long helping others find freedom, restoration, and redemption.

Karen is a facilitator in Freedom Ministry/Sozo and directs the Women’s Ministry at Catch the Fire DFW Church. She also facilitates Mending the Soul, a group that leads women through the trauma of their past into healing and wholeness. She serves on the Board of Directors for Arukah House, a transitional home for women coming out of sex trafficking and abuse.

Karen blogs at Crack the Silence and can be found at her Crack the Silence Facebook page. She continues to be a helpful contact and resource for abused women in her church and community.

Join the conversation: What’s your favorite pleasure? Has God asked you to give it up for a season? How did it change your relationship with Him?

When I Need to Choose Joy

by Cindi McMenamin @CindiMcMenamin

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him. Psalm 28:7 NASB

It’s been one of those weeks.

A week in which it seemed like every time I turned around, there was another unexpected expense, more disappointing news, and what appeared to be another setback. The week culminated with the cancellation of a job I was preparing for…a job that was to result in income my family was depending on.

“Really, God?” I said aloud at the end of the week when I received the devastating news. “Can You give me a break?”

I happened to be putting together teaching material that week for a women’s retreat that was themed “Choose Joy.” Suddenly it became apparent to me that I was not choosing joy in the midst of my circumstances. I was, instead, letting my circumstances control my life and my attitude.

I remembered a passage from Scripture that I’d memorized as a teenager. One that God seemed to be whispering in my ear: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4, NIV).

Consider it joy? “But, God this isn’t joyful. Not in the least,” I responded aloud.

But God, in His goodness, wanted me to choose joy, even if I didn’t feel like it.

God has made it clear to me through the years that joy is not about our circumstances, it’s about our condition. Our circumstances change from day to day. But our condition – as a child of God and the recipient of His eternal blessings – never changes.

Joy is not about what is happening – or not happening – in our lives. Joy is about Whose we are.

“God, help me to respond in a way that pleases You,” I prayed. And He reminded me that not only is the joy of the Lord my stronghold (Nehemiah 8:10) but as I dwell in His presence, recounting my blessings and realizing He is my greatest joy, He will meet me there.

David, the Psalmist, sang: “In your presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11), and in Psalm 4:7, he sang: “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and new wine abound” (ESV).

I have enough in all God has chosen to give me thus far. And He will never take away Himself (Hebrews 13:5). Therefore, I have all I will ever need to choose joy every day.

Lord, help me to please Your heart by remembering that no matter what comes my way today, You have gone before Me, and You remain alongside me, and – as Your Word says – in Your presence is abundant joy.  

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When I Need to Choose Joy – @CindiMcMenamin on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

View More: http://chelseamariephoto.pass.us/cindiAbout the author: Cindi McMenamin is an award-winning writer and national speaker who helps women strengthen their relationship with God and others. She is the author of 17 books including her best-selling When Women Walk Alone (more than 130,000 copies sold), Letting God Meet Your Emotional Needs, When a Woman Overcomes Life’s Hurts, and When God Sees Your Tears. For more on her books and resources to strengthen your soul, marriage, and parenting, or for more information on her coaching services to help you write the book on your heart, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.

Recapture the romance of a relationship with God with When God Pursues a Woman’s HeartWithin the heart of every woman is the desire to be pursued, cherished, and loved. There’s only One who can lavish such love. Join Cindi as she takes you through the Bible to discover how God offers a relationship like no other.

Join the conversation: Have your circumstances ever kept you from joy? What did God teach you about Himself through it?

A Sunrise of Strength

by Katy Kauffman @KatyKauffman28

One morning I couldn’t shake the gloomies. Although I was half-awake, I started focusing on the wrong thing, and I needed God’s help to refocus my attention and strengthen my heart. Even though I wanted more sleep, I opened my Bible, and my eyes fell on the verse I needed.

Awake, awake! Put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city! Isaiah 52:1 NKJV

The “awake, awake!” part got my attention. But more importantly, this verse called on God’s people to put on strength. This passage in Isaiah talks about God restoring His people after they had been in captivity. My own heart had been held in captivity to impatience and restlessness a few years before, and I was still feeling the effects of its bondage even in my freedom.

Is your heart help captive by something? Or are you still feeling the effects of a struggle that exhausted your strength and determination to win? Even when we’re involved in ministry, our hearts can become captive to sorrow, fear, worry, anger, or sin. We can become lulled into despair or apathy. We may think, Things will always be this way, or I just don’t care anymore.

God calls us to “awake!” and depart from our captivity. To depart from the after effects of our struggles and heartaches. He wants us to leave behind the burdens of guilt and despair (Hebrews 10:22), and to embrace His ways instead, His ways that are good for us and build us up in godliness (Colossians 3:12-14, 3:8-10). He wants us to put on strength and to share life’s journey with Him in the fullness of His joy and power (Nehemiah 8:8-10, 1 John 1:7). When we draw close to God, remember who He is and all He has given us, and step forward into the light of His goodness, the darkness of weakness and helplessness shatters into a sunrise of strength.

After realizing that I had the choice of moving past sadness and adjusting my focus to be on God, my strength returned, and I was able to tackle the day. If a struggle has lulled you into a not-wanting-to-deal-with-it stupor, awake into God’s bright sunshine of joy and strength. He has not left you to handle life on your own. He is always with you. Find strength in His presence with you and in the hope and guidance that’s found in His Word. Put on your strength!

You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11 NKJV

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A sunrise of strength – thoughts on dealing with discouragement from @KatyKauffman28 on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

headshot_katykauffmanAbout the author: Katy Kauffman is a Bible study author and teacher, an editor of Refresh Bible Study Magazine, and a co-founder of Lighthouse Bible Studies. Her writing tends to focus on winning life’s spiritual battles, and she loves connecting with writers and creating compilations such as Breaking the Chains: Strategies for Overcoming Spiritual Bondage, a 2018 Selah Awards finalist. Katy makes her home in a cozy suburb of Atlanta, Georgia.

Her latest book, Heart Renovation: A Construction Guide to Godly Character, is a 2019 Selah finalist. How does God make our character more like Christ’s? What is His part, and what is ours? This Bible study compilation is a construction guide to building godly character and overcoming the hidden problems that sabotage it. It explores how God works in our lives and gives us wisdom to handle such real-life issues as unwanted change, grief, loneliness, financial debt, and difficult people.

Join the conversation: What still holds you captive, sapping your strength?

Why I Think I Have Been Reading the Wrong Scripture at Christmas

by Lori Altebaumer @Lori_Altebaumer

Christmas is over. The tree is down, ornaments stored, presents unwrapped, and the calendar that felt stretched tighter than my waistband breathes a sigh of relief.

Perhaps like me, you too are now analyzing our successes and failures and formulating a strategy for making Christmas 2019 even more spectacular.

But before we get to deep in the planning, I’d like to share with you the most valuable gift I received this year.

The gift was from God—as are all the best gifts. It was a revelation I’ve been starting my holidays by reading from the wrong place in Scripture.  Like me, maybe you took time to read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke this year. And like me, maybe you read it in a hurry because your to-do list was full of the things you believed were important and necessary.

But what if we had started the holidays by reading the story of Jesus visiting the house of Martha and Mary?

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” Luke 10:38-40

I’m not going to criticize Martha. I probably would have done the same. Let’s be honest, it’s exactly what I do. As the calendar moves into the Christmas season, where is my attention? The decorations, the gifts, the baking, the parties, the schedule, and so on.

“’Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.’” Luke 10:41

I can just imagine Jesus looking at me and my frantic list making and scheduling. He shakes His head and with a sad smile says, “Lori, Lori, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.”

Only one thing is needed. Don’t miss the word needed here. He doesn’t say that only one thing is good or important. Jesus and His disciples had to eat, and someone had to prepare the meal. There may be nothing wrong with our holiday hustle and bustle. There is certainly nothing wrong with celebrating the birth of Christ or expressing our love for others through the things we do at Christmas. But only one thing is needed. Only one thing is necessary.

And what is that one thing?

It is Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus. Listening, worshiping, soaking in the presence of her Lord and Savior.

What would my Christmas look like if I focused on the one thing needed this year? What if I refused to be distracted away from sitting at the feet of my Lord and Savior?

What if I lived the entire year this way?

The New Year is here. Resolutions have been made, gym memberships purchased (not by me, but I’m sure someone out there has), and goals set. It invites us to a new beginning. An annual do-over of sorts. I have my pristine new day planner and dates on the calendar to meet with writing friends and set our goals for the coming year. I feel the abounding and buoyant hope of a successful year crowned at the end with a near perfect Christmas. After all, I’ve analyzed what went wrong with the last one and formulated a strategy to do better this time around.

But have I taken into consideration the one thing needed? Or am I trying to wedge that in to the left-over nooks and crannies of my days?

It is easy to let my planning become a distraction, pulling me away from the one thing needed. But this year I’m going to use my plan making and goal setting to form a hedge of protection around the only thing that is needed.

In fact, I think I’ll read the story of Martha and Mary, not just first next Christmas, but often throughout the year to make me mindful of choosing what is better.

Move over Mary. I’m coming to join you.

You reveal the path of life to me; in your presence is abundant joy; at your right hand are eternal pleasures. Psalm 16:11 CSB

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Why I Think I Have Been Reading the Wrong Scripture at Christmas – @Lori_Altebaumer on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

Lori AltebaumerAbout the author: Lori Altebaumer is a writer and editor who only half-jokingly tells others she lives with one foot in a parallel universe. She is a wandering soul with a home-keeping heart and a love of words and story. Lori loves sharing the joys of living a Christ-centered life with others through her writing. Now that her nest is empty, Lori enjoys traveling with her husband and visiting her adult children where she can rummage through their refrigerators and food pantries while complaining there’s nothing good to eat here (payback!). She blogs regularly from her website at www.lorialtebaumer.com, and can also be reached on her Facebook page @lorialtebaumerwrites.

Join the conversation: Can you remember when a time of instability or change resulted in something beautiful?

Don’t I Wish – the True Gifts of Christmas

by Rhonda Rhea @RhondaRhea

Ah, Christmas shopping. When you can find yourself completely enveloped in the smell of evergreen. And sometimes pepper spray.

When my five kids were little, I remember sometimes feeling my children thought my Christmas list was some sort of magic lamp. Make a wish, rub my list and POOF! It was under the tree. I might even remember one of them wishing for three more wishes.

Every year I would resolve not to be manipulated. I would be very determined…as I wrote all their “wishes” down on my long shopping list and headed out to the stores. As I headed out, mind you, to get everything on the list. All of it. Like a bit of a mom-chump. Incidentally, just to attempt to be somewhat responsible, I would try to limit myself to five or six hours of shopping per trip, but it usually took about that long to find a parking spot.

It was the most frazzling time of the year. I have to tell you, I had a few wishes of my own. Then sometimes I’d be almost finished with the shopping when somebody would come up with a new wish. What? I wonder how many times I heard myself saying, “How ‘bout we have a little less wishing, a little more cleaning your bathroom.”

Yeah…less wishy. More washy.

Then again, who was I to talk about wishy-washy? After all, I was the adult who waffled under the pressure to grant all the desires of all the littles.

In Psalm 27, David wrote about his number one wish. He said, “I have asked one thing from the Lord; it is what I desire.” Okay, David. First of all, you’re doing it wrong. One thing? That’s not how we do it.

Then he tells us the one thing: “to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, gazing on the beauty of the Lord and seeking Him in His temple” (Psalm 27:4, HCSB).

The presence of the Lord. That’s the one gift that will actually change us. Toys and clothes and treats and “things” will come and go. But the presence of the Lord will make a difference all the way to the soul. It changes a family from the inside out.

It’s downright embarrassing that I can so easily get wrapped up in lists and wants, the busyness and the noise, and forget who we’re celebrating. God coming as a human, knowing He was destined for the cross—it’s the most beautiful redemption story. Celebrating His birth in His presence. That makes so much frazzle-free sense. Presence. Not presents. It’s a real gift to our children when we get this in the right order—and when we don’t waffle.

You might be interested to know that I eventually got a better handle on my wishy-washy-“wishy” ways. More presence. Fewer presents. We implemented a three-gift rule. Jesus got gold, frankincense and myrrh. Even the kids agreed they shouldn’t get more gifts than Jesus. We pared back (though I should probably confess here that I totally rocked out the stockings). Most of the time, I shopped, spent and stressed less. Would you believe the kids did NOT feel less loved?

And it might encourage you to know that this year I did my Christmas shopping early and didn’t even need a list. Grown kids and gift cards, thank you very much. Because nothing says “love” and “this is how much I’m willing to spend on you” like a gift card.

You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. Psalm 16:11 NASB

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Don’t I Wish – the True Gifts of Christmas – @RhondaRhea on @AriseDailyDevo (Click to Tweet)

rhonda rheaAbout the author: Rhonda Rhea is a TV personality for Christian Television Network and a humor columnist for great magazines such as HomeLife, Leading Hearts, The Pathway and many more. She is the author of 12 books, including Fix-Her-Upperco-authored with Beth Duewel, and a hilarious novel, Turtles in the Roadco-authored with her daughter, Kaley Rhea. Rhonda and Kaley are also excited to be teaming up with Bridges TV host, Monica Schmelter, for a new book and TV series titled, Messy to Meaningful—Lessons from the Junk Drawer. Rhonda enjoys speaking at conferences and events from coast to coast and serves as a consultant for Bold Vision Books. She lives near St. Louis with her pastor/hubs and has five grown, mostly-coffee-drinking children. You can read more from Rhonda on her website or Facebook page.

Join the conversation: How do you keep from having a frazzled Christmas?

A Lighthouse of Hope and Joy

by Pam Farrel

The commandments of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are clear, giving insight for living. Psalm 19:8 NLT 

Lighthouses are special to our family. Our youngest son proposed to his wife at a lighthouse. We have our home on a live-aboard boat so lighthouses are a beacon of hope to us in the fog or squalling sea. God’s word is that same kind of lighthouse, a beacon of hope to guide us into a safe harbor in the storms of life.

During a media tour for my new book, my husband Bill wasn’t feeling well, so we went to the ER where a doctor informed him that he had high blood pressure. Since a history of early strokes ran in his family, this caught Bill’s attention. God soon made it clear that he should resign from his role as lead pastor. This decision was both emotionally and financially difficult. In this same season, our youngest son, Caleb, was hit in a football game and rushed to the hospital where he needed a blood transfusion to save his life. Eight days later, we received calls about my other two sons who had both also experienced serious injuries. Then I got a call that my younger brother was hospitalized after a heart attack and needed me to help with his kids.

My stress was welling up like a tidal wave.

When friends would ask, “How are you?” I didn’t know how to answer. So, I went to the Word and read Psalm 30:5 (ESV), “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” JOY! That’s what I needed. But how does one choose joy when it feels like your life is being tossed about in life’s storms?

I discovered four directions in which I needed to set my sights.

Look UP: I read Nehemiah 8:10 (ESV), “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” I decided to keep following the well-lit path to joy with other verses. I printed them, studied them, memorized them, and hung them around my home.  Verses like:

“You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.” Psalm 16:11 NLT

“You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy.” Psalm 30:11 NLT

Look BACK: I retraced God’s faithfulness in my life. I keep a JOY JOURNAL, a scrapbook of sorts that records my praise requests and praises as God answers. During this particularly tough season, I invited the women of our church to a scrapbook party where we each made a photobook with pictures of the people and prayer requests heavy on our heart. Using colorful pens, we wrote verses of peace, hope, love and joy around each photo—leaving space to record the answer when it came. Praying verses of joy can be a life preserver, something to cling to when you feel life is drowning you with sorrow.

Look OUT: We are not meant to go through tough times alone. I found it helpful to prayer walk with friends several times a week. As we walked we PRAYED scripture, PRAISED God for His faithful character, and left with more hope and joy!

Look AHEAD: On her 89th birthday, I asked a cheery mentor who had overcome illness and created a path of hope after the death of her spouse, “How do you hold on to joy?”

She replied, “I always plan something to look forward to.” For me, planning activities to redeem, restore or renew the hope and joy of others brings me joy. Keeping an “other-centered” life lifts my spirits!

Joy became my lighthouse of hope, an anchor in a storm that lasted three years. Since the day I found hope in the Psalms, I answer the “How are you?” with “Choosin’ joy!” That’s the power of the Word. Its joy will not only be your lighthouse, but a lighthouse to all in your world as God shines the light to others through your hope and praise.

pam ferrelAbout the author: Pam Farrel is an international speaker and author of 45 books, including her newest, an innovative Bible study co-authored with Jean E Jones and Karla Dornacher:  Discovering Hope in the Psalms.   Pam and Her husband Bill are Co-Directors of Love-Wise, a ministry to enrich, educate and encourage people’s most vital relationships. When not traveling for speaking, the Farrells enjoy kayaking, paddle boarding, walking the beach and hosting guests on their floating home on the ocean.

Join the conversation: What brings you joy?