christianity

The Freedom to Choose

The holidays always prove to be a busy season, and this year is no exception thus far. After returning from our river cruise in Europe, I was sick for more than a week. Then we traveled to Indy for Thanksgiving, and I got to enjoy a week-long visit with my family. I came back home feeling well-fed, rested, energized, and ready to work.

Unfortunately, while I was away, I came to an unsettling realization about my current work-in-progress: I had to start over. Yes, all the way over. 

Writing the project had been challenging, more so than I expected, especially the further that I went into the story. While I was away, I realized the problem: my main character was too far removed from the action of the story. My current project is a love letter of sorts to Jim Butcher and The Dresden Files, but I wrote my own main character to be a reporter--not a magician, like Harry Dresden. As a result, the pace felt slow, and I found it difficult to get my heroine believably engaged in the action of the story. 

Reluctantly, I sat down on Tuesday afternoon and made a pros/cons list about starting over. The pro side won overwhelmingly, and I started a draft of a new Chapter 1. Fortunately, the writing has been quick and smooth as a result, and I seem to have accurately identified the problem. But I had to step back and make that decision in order to move forward.

Working from home and being my own boss creates a stream of decisions that I have to make, choices that guide my day, and determine the fruit of my efforts:

When my alarm goes off at 6:20 AM and I technically have no appointments to be up for, will I dismiss the alarm, or get my butt out of bed on time? 

When I do eventually get my butt out of bed, how will I start my day? Will I immediately check the news, which almost always puts my in a sour mood? Will I make myself a hot mug of tea, eat a good breakfast, and do a little morning yoga to wake up my body and mind gently? 

Will I prioritize time with God and the Word so that I am firmly planted in the truth of the gospel, and my identity as a daughter of the King? Or will I rush into my to-do list, frantically trying to tick as many boxes as I can before I have to be in the writing chair at 1:30 PM? 

When I get moving, will I let the dirty dishes, dusty floors, errands, or home improvement projects take priority over my own work? Will I choose to value myself professionally, to value the words that I write, or flee to the immediate gratification of more immediately 'productive' activities?

When I set the new window treatments down in the kitchen, break something, strip the screw for the mounting hardware and subsequently cry all over the clean dishes in the right side of the sink, how will I respond? Will I acknowledge the choices that led me to this moment, and the choices I'm actively making in my response? 

Will I step back, breathe, smile in the knowledge of grace and an eternity in heaven, and thank God that I don't have to have a perfect day, a perfect home, or a perfect manuscript?

When I make the wrong choices and do all the wrong items on my list, will I decide to actively redirect my day and get my butt into the writing chair anyway?

Yesterday was a bad day. It was bad all the way through the kitchen incident where I broke a food storage container, and cried on the clean dishes. It took me all the way until 3:35 PM to take a deep breath, and take a hard look at the day I'd just lived out:

I didn't set myself up for success in the morning.
I made some unfortunate choices about how to spend my time, and ran around like a basket case trying to get things done.
I didn't eat enough food, the rookiest move of all. Hangry people are never happy people.
After several spectacular failures, I still decided to pursue another house project involving power tools and balance, in a storm of raging emotions.

But at 3:35 PM, I made a choice to step back and slow down. I put the power tools away and opened my Bible. I focused my sights on heaven, and got an appropriate and accurate perspective on my life. I reminded myself of the magnificent, mysterious blessing of grace. Because God showed me how, I forgave myself.

I chose to have a better day.

 When life gets frustrating or chaotic, it's so easy to sit back, scream at the heavens, and forget how much control we have in our own circumstances. There is freedom in the decisions that we are able to make for ourselves each day. Even if I make those choices imperfectly, I still have the ability to choose. 

The holidays seem like an ideal time of year to remember that. I can choose to focus on the right messages this season. I can choose family and relationship over busy-ness and material junk. I can choose to do my work, even when it feels like I should be doing a million other items on my list instead. 

And I can choose to have a good day. I invite you to do the same, my friends. 

Cultivating Joy

I wrote the post below almost exactly one year ago. After receiving some surprising and heartbreaking news yesterday, I found myself hunting for these words again this morning. 

Though this post was written for an old blog in a different (and much darker) season of my life, the wisdom and truth that I reflected on are just as relevant today. I hope that these nuggets of hope--one from my grandma, and one from the lyrics of a favorite hymn--will be encouraging to you in the midst of your circumstances today. 


My Mamaw was a strong, vivacious woman. And she loved to dance.

 

In the photo above, Mamaw is dancing with Papaw at my brother’s wedding. If you’ve seen this image before, you probably know why it’s so special.

Mamaw and Papaw stood up for the song she requested (“I Hope You Dance”) and they made their way to the dance floor. Despite her health condition and the difficulty she had standing up and walking, she was not about to sit this dance out; it was the song she requested after all. And if I have my dates right, in this moment, she got one last slow dance with her husband before he passed away.

Mamaw seized every moment. She was present, and loved her family fiercely. I admired that about her.

The last time I saw her, she was in the hospital, and I went with my dad and brother to visit her. We were fairly certain that it could be our very last visit with her — Mamaw knew it too. Nobody wanted to waste that time. So we prayed over her, and she shared some of her life lessons with us as a parting gift:

“Spend time with your family and loved ones, as often as you can.”

“You can’t always find happiness, but you can always have joy.”

Now, I’m going to be completely honest. That last one has been kind of irritating for the last 6-7 months. There isn't a lot of joy in the mess we’ve been walking through, or at least it doesn't feel particularly joyful. But that is only true if I am measuring and mourning an absence of happiness. Joy, on the other hand… joy is much more resilient.

For this icky season of life, I have been absolutely obsessed with a hymn that I don’t hear very often in church. And I think that’s a real shame, because it speaks so much hope into seasons of darkness. I have played it on the guitar over and over and over again and cried out to God in some of my most desperate moments. The entirety of the lyrics are below, or for the music people, you can check out the Indelible Grace version at this link (fair warning — you will feel all the feels if you listen to it):

Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken

Jesus, I my cross have taken,
all to leave and follow Thee.
Destitute, despised, forsaken,
Thou from hence my all shall be.
Perish every fond ambition,
all I’ve sought or hoped or known.
Yet how rich is my condition!
God and heaven are still my own.

Let the world despise and leave me,
They have left my Savior, too.
Human hearts and looks deceive me;
Thou art not, like them, untrue.
O while Thou dost smile upon me,
God of wisdom, love, and might,
foes may hate and friends disown me;
Show Thy face and all is bright.

Man may trouble and distress me;
’twill but drive me to Thy breast.
Life with trials hard may press me;
Heaven will be bring me sweeter rest.
Oh, ’tis not in grief to harm me
while Thy love is left to me;
Oh, ’twere not in joy to charm me,
were that joy unmixed with Thee.

Go, then, earthly fame and treasure,
come disaster, scorn and pain.
In Thy service, pain is pleasure;
With Thy favor, loss is gain.
I have called thee Abba Father,
I have stayed my heart on Thee.
Storms may howl and clouds may gather;
all must work for good to me.

Soul, then know thy full salvation.
Rise o’er sin and fear and care.
Joy to find in every station,
something still to do or bear.
Think what Spirit dwells within thee,
think what Father’s smiles are thine,
think that Jesus died to win thee,
child of heaven, canst thou repine?

Haste thee on from grace to glory,
armed by faith and winged by prayer,
heaven’s eternal days before thee;
God’s own hand shall guide us there!
Soon shall close thy earthly mission,
soon shall pass thy pilgrim days!
Hope shall change to glad fruition,
faith to sight, and prayer to praise.

Jesus, I my cross have taken,
all to leave and follow Thee.
Destitute, despised, forsaken,
Thou from hence my all shall be.
Perish every fond ambition,
all I’ve sought or hoped or known.
Yet how rich is my condition!
God and heaven are still my own.

I’ve known the joy of Christ before. With certainty, I can say that I lost sight of that joy in this season. It’s so easy to get bogged down in the “now”, the discomfort and needs and pains of today. But even on those worst, awful days, and also on the increasing number of light days, I live for the 5th and 6th stanzas, and seek to saturate my soul with these truths:

The Spirit of Christ dwells in me.
My incredible Father smiles upon me, even when I suck. Or when the world sucks. Or when absolutely everything seems to suck. 
Jesus died so that I could know His love and draw near to God.
Someday, everything else will melt away, and I will finally be in my true home.
And NOTHING that ever happens in this life is going to change any of that. At all.

That is the joy that Mamaw wanted me to know, daily. She had a deep understanding of this gospel truth, that the love of God is resilient, and that the good news of the gospel can warm my heart, even when everything else is falling apart. Maybe she even knew that I really needed to hear her say those words, right at that moment, in the middle of a storm.

“You can’t always find happiness, but you can always have joy.” Always. No matter what.