Tag: joy

California Life, Faith, Living In Tennessee, Married Life

Pursuing Peace & Joy Inexpressible

I cannot count how many times I have settled down with my journal to pour out my frustrations and dashed dreams, and within a span of a few pages, find my writing shift into something like praise. It’s not because I’m holy or somehow divinely inspired. It’s because God shows up, time and time again, and speaks truth to my heart as I write. I recognize God’s voice by the sense of peace that comes along with it. It’s the sense that I am moving towards joy.

It was October 8, 2016 and our small business was slowly failing. The pressure of constantly meeting payroll, and rent for four commercial spaces, and the $10,000 metal print supply order that we had to place nearly every month, felt increasingly oppressive. I was homeschooling my two children and had a toddler. We were also residential landlords and land owners. The responsibilities were overwhelming.

A babysitter was coming so Rich and I could celebrate our wedding anniversary a day late. Neither of us felt like celebrating, but knew we should. We had limited funds, and decided on our favorite cheap date: a day in Yosemite Valley. We’d have the drive up to Yosemite and back to talk, and in between the drives we knew we could find someplace beautiful to wander.

That morning, I sat on the porch swing on our front porch with my Bible and told God I was sick of the stress of the business. I missed my sisters and extended family. I was tired of not having a church where our kids could learn and grow. I was exhausted from homeschooling, and the idea of continuing into high school felt overwhelming. I prayed an, “I’m at the end of myself, save us now!” kind of prayer…and then got ready to go to Yosemite.

We were exhausted and stressed driving up towards the valley, and as always, our conversation turned towards our business. Rich had ideas on how to downsize and streamline our services. We sat eating sandwiches, somewhat numb to the beautiful vista, and thought up new business plans.

We kept driving, and parked near El Capitan meadow. We walked east, and found ourselves in a part of the meadow where we’d never been, though we’d been walking in that area for 18 years. Suddenly Rich looked at me and said, “I think we’re supposed to sell our house. I think we need to sell our house and move back to our little blue house.”

I agreed. The cost of having a larger home was draining our pocketbook, and it seemed wise to downsize our living expenses so we could shore up our savings.

He continued, “We need to downsize because I think something big is about to happen.” 

My heartbeat picked up in excitement, and I felt like he was speaking truth I already knew, but hadn’t verbalized yet. “I agree!”

“I think God is going to move us. I think he’s going to move us to a city of some sort.”

I nodded, my spirit perking up like a dry plant drinking in fresh rain, as these words poured out of Rich’s mouth and into my ears.

“Suse, I think he’s going to move us to Nashville.”

Nashville? Rich had never been to Nashville. 

“I don’t know about Nashville, but I agree…I think God is about to do something. It’s like we’re on the cusp of a big change.”

October 8, 2016, the night we learned we were moving to Nashville. A candlelit dinner with a view of a pickup truck in the window sets the scene in Mariposa, California.

And just like that, the weight of the business; the worry; the angst that had plagued us for months lifted as God gave us a new vision, and a new dream. We spent the rest of the night feeling giddy and in love with each other, and with life. We had an amazing dinner at a little restaurant in a neighboring small town, wondering at what the future held, and for the first time in a long time, we felt a sense of freedom.

“And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” 1 Peter 1:7

It’s the rush of  inexpressible joy that keeps me coming back to Jesus, time and time again. That’s what we felt that day in Yosemite. 

And the time when we drove home after Rich’s cancer diagnosis, and stopped the car to look at the thousands of stars in the dark mountain sky and suddenly felt full of joy and peace, even though Rich was so sick and the prognosis wasn’t good.

And when our son was in the NICU after being intubated because he stopped breathing for unknown reasons, and Rich came into the hospital room with his face beaming because God had inexpressibly spoken to His heart and given him sudden peace and joy while sitting in the hospital courtyard.

Though I’ve experienced God’s peace in these trying times, one of my favorite places to find God’s joy is in the mundane moments. It’s so unexpected, and such evidence of His constant presence. I recently took walk by myself around our neighborhood. It was twilight and the sun had set. Bunnies were out collecting bites of flowers, and the robins were twittering. I began thinking about my friends far away. I was missing their faces, and praying for them, and my mood shifted from melancholy to being suddenly full of joy…joy inexpressible, as I walked in the middle of a typical suburban subdivision in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

These circumstances; this inexpressible and unexpected peace and joy, is living proof that God is present in all situations. He is constantly working good on our behalf, even when the circumstances are hard. Hard times cause us to lean on Him more fully, and to be more aware of Him and His voice…which refines us. The truth is that sometimes, to be rebuilt, things need to be torn down. Businesses close. Marriages fail. Relationships sever. But God is not done. He is still writing our stories.

“So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable even though tested by fire; may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:6’

I’m 3.5 years past that prayer on my porch swing. We never moved back into our little blue house, but God did move us to Nashville, where I have a fulfilling job working at a ministry. My kids are in excellent public schools. We found a church that has stretched us and grown us, with the teaching perfectly coming alongside us as we began to rebuild our lives. Rich is pursuing his dreams in new ways that are inspiring both of us. It’s a good new life.

Are things perfect? No. There is a lot that is hard about this time. It’s possible to see blessings as curses sometimes…which leads me back to my journal, so He can transform the feelings in my heart into joy inexpressible, once again.

 

Faith

Following A Sense of Peace

I woke up in the middle of the night, and as I rolled over, I marveled over something unusual. For the past several years, it became common for me to jolt awake at some odd hour, and have adrenaline begin to course through me as I thought about the day before; or the day behind; or the never-ending list of tasks I needed to do.

But that night, I realized that I wasn’t feeling the adrenaline surge. Instead, I felt something much more pleasant…a sense of contentment, and a place of peace. Somehow, waking up in the middle of the night really became about simply rolling to a new position, and not about trying to steal unmarked time to fix all the undone things in my life.

As I’ve navigated through the last year, I’ve had many opportunities to choose peace in my heart, or complete and utter panic and worry. It’s not the sort of thing you choose once, and you’re all set and off the worry train. It’s a constant choice, again and again and again.

My mind woke up a bit more as I snuggled back into bed, and I began to feel the worries begin to nag at me. There are so many details that are open in our lives right now; so much opportunity to freak out…most people’s lives are like this, and I know we are no exception.

I felt like my mind was telling me, “Peace? Seriously? Look at all that is COMPLETELY NUTS right now! How can you have peace? That’s lazy, and a cop-out, and unless you spend tonight worrying about it, you won’t figure it out! Maybe you were woken up so you could FIGURE IT OUT!”

And the quieter voice said, “No…no….it’s time to sleep. Peace. God has this under control. I can trust God. He’s going to give me what I need during my waking hours. The night time is for sleeping and rest. I will rest.”

It’s a constant struggle to listen to the quieter voice. But after a year of watching some of my worst-case life scenarios play out, I can say…worry did NOTHING to help me navigate it. It was God’s still, calm voice that provided EVERY SINGLE STEP we were supposed to take. And I needed plenty of rest to complete each of those steps.

I’m learning to walk according to a feeling in my heart that aligns with that sense of God’s peace, and to pursue things that make that sense of peace grow stronger. As I work to find a job here in Nashville, when I read the job descriptions, I ask…does the idea of doing this job give me peace? Or does it make me freak out with anxiety, even though I’m fully qualified to do it? I’m applying to the places that seem to offer peace to my soul. The over-achiever in me would apply to the position with the most responsibility, or the most pay. Places of power and high positions don’t motivate me. It’s places of peace that I crave.

As I was thinking about this new and steady singing in my heart, I found myself reading Psalm 28, and was struck by versus 6-8:

Praise be to the LORD, for he has heard my cry for mercy. 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. 

Here’s what I noticed:

God has heard me, and He hears my cries for mercy. My prayers are not in vain. He knows exactly what is going on, and is fully capable of solving our problems in a moment’s time. If we’re still stuck in the problem, He knows it, and is using it to lead us where He wants us to be, in our mind, body and spirit.

God is my strength and my shield. It’s not my great ideas or workaholic tendencies that will save me. It’s God himself. He provides the ideas; He provides the strength; He provides the protection…which is good, because He is so much better at it than I am!

My heart trusts in him. It’s a choice whether to trust God, or not. When my heart trusts in God, often my mind is saying, “Are you crazy? This makes no sense! You need to fix what’s broken! That’s irresponsible! You can do better than that!” But my heart is saying, “Trust. God is faithful. Rest in Him. Simply take the next step He shows you.”

When I decide to trust him…HE HELPS ME! So, the prayers and cries for mercy are answered with HIS HELP…it’s a cycle: Trust leads to help, which leads to trust, which leads to help, which leads to deeper trust…I play an active role in the growth of my faith, or the withering of it.

When we experience God’s divine intervention in our lives, and the help arrives; or when we are still praying and waiting and have so many unanswered questions, but still choose to have peace…our hearts leap for joy! I’ve felt my heart leap for joy in the past, when my babies were born, or when I walked down the aisle towards Rich, the day we married. But to feel your heart leap for joy, in the middle of the night, when you roll over in bed? When your heart is full of a sense of effervescent wonder at Him, and His love, and how He has carried you, against all odds? That He has done the impossible, and will continue to do the impossible? And the humble realization that there is no end to His help and protection and peace? When your heart KNOWS that in a new way, and you catch yourself LIVING that truth on a subconscious level, in the middle of the night, there is only one response:

With my song I praise Him.
I can’t sing well, but I can write. So this post, my friends, is my song of praise, offered to all of you!

May God’s peace be with you!

John 14:27  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Faith, Joy

Learning To Choose Joy

I am waiting for the certainty. I am longing for the guarantee.

It’s been well over a year since we’ve had a predictable paycheck, and in that time, we watched the business we spent 19 years building, be systematically disassembled.

In the face of starting over mid-life, we moved across the country. We placed our homeschooled children into public school. With more changes on the horizon, I continue to wait for some semblance of normal to return to my life. Instead, all I see is the open space of time…and the frustration of not being able to see beyond the very next step.

As a natural-born planner, it’s been a struggle to live this life of daily faith God has called me to, time and time again. Owning a business, we didn’t have the luxury of planning many aspects of our lives…there was almost always an unexpected need, or expense; some fire that required our full attention. We learned to grab pieces of time and last-minute trips, whenever the opportunity presented itself.

As I examine the lives around me, I see that for all people, life is uncertain. Most just don’t realize it until it sneaks up on them, unexpectedly.

I didn’t expect my son to be born with a birth defect requiring a childhood speckled with surgeries.

I didn’t expect my 37-year-old husband to present with Stage 3 Testicular Cancer, requiring aggressive chemotherapy.

When I was a little girl, I didn’t expect to live in California…and I certainly didn’t expect God to move us to Tennessee midlife…

All of these life surprises tend to initially fill me with a feeling like panic; like my body is full of soda or a million ants marching…then the breathless and torturous waiting until the uncertain becomes known, and then finally a part of my past.

It’s easy to declare God’s faithfulness after the trial…but why is that feeling so illusive when I’m in the midst of it? How can I grasp the freedom of KNOWING I can rest in Him, and trust in Him, even when I don’t know the final outcome? I’m realizing it requires a deeper level of faith than I knew before.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for” (Hebrews 11:1-2 )

I’ve been hoping for a guarantee. Something tangible. I’ve been waiting for my husband to go to work, and come home, and have a “normal life” with normal stresses. The truth is that we are starting a new business, so we are a long, long way from that happening. I need to become comfortable living in this new form of uncertainty, once again. I need to let go of my concept of what constitutes a “normal” life, and instead embrace my actual life.

Instead of focusing on the things going wrong…the problems, the unresolved issues, the troubles, the struggles…God wants me to focus on Him, and His promises.

He is good. He is faithful. He holds me by my right hand. He is always with me. He started something good, and will finish it. He has not finished writing my story yet.

Several months ago as I was praying, I saw the shambles of my life like the ashes left over after a house fire. You could recognize some key pieces of the home…the chimney; the brick facade; random pieces of pottery that were fire resistant…but the rest was gone. Completely and utterly ruined. Unrecognizable. My life.

“How long do I need to live amongst these ashes?” I asked God.

I felt him draw my eyes up from the ashes to the top of a wall. Beautiful, lush ivy was growing there, full of life and health and vibrancy. It’s the new life God is building out of these ashes, and it had already begun to grow. I felt His spirit ask…will you focus on the ashes, and all you must leave behind, or on this new thing? It’s up to you…

Do I cling to this impossible goal of certainty, or learn a new way to walk out these days I’ve been given? It’s up to me.

Trusting God is hard, but I know that NOT trusting leads only to fret and despair. So for now, one minute at a time, I will lay down chasing this god of certainty, and embrace God and the wildness of His Holy Spirit…the God who allowed our business to thrive for 19 years, then suddenly fall apart. The God who established my boundaries in pleasant places in California, then ripped up the tent stakes and moved us to Tennessee. The God who has plans for me…good plans…if I choose to follow them, instead of choosing to follow fear, one step at a time. It’s up to me.

So, today, I will choose His path.

Today, I choose joy.


Habakkuk 3:17-18
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LordI will be joyful in God my Savior.

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