Friday, April 22, 2011


Sunday is a banner day for Christians.  Sunday we celebrate Easter.  We celebrate the fact that Jesus is risen from the dead. We celebrate a faith that centers around life and hope rather than death and despair.

Let's not get caught up in the pagan easter bunny/easter egg/Ishtar stuff.  Let's not get caught up in a discussion about the evidences pointing the truth of the resurrection.

Rather, let's just celebrate that we serve a risen savior.  Can we do that?

I believe that Jesus is alive.  I believe that He died on a cross to not only pay the price for sin but to become sin so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  I believe that He arose from the dead victoriously with power over death, Hell, and the grave. I believe that because He is alive we have hope.

Sometimes it's the only thing that keeps a person going - the hope of something better, something greater.  Sometimes it's the only reason to keep moving forward - the hope that there's actually something worth hoping for.
Sometimes it's the only reason to keep your head up - the hope that this valley will open up into wide open spaces.

Without the resurrection there is no hope.  Without the resurrection there is only a man who taught some things worth living by.  Without the resurrection the death on the cross is just another death. Without the resurrection we have nothing to look forward to beyond this present world.

I have to believe that Jesus is alive.  I have to believe that He is sitting even now at the right hand of the father making intercession for me.  I have to believe that in the midst of personal heartache, He is alive and well and cares for me.

This is why I celebrate Easter.  

From the time that Jesus was arrested until the morning when the stone was rolled away must have been a dark, hopeless time for His disciples.  Imagine the hope that must have swelled in their hearts as they began to hear reports of that He lived again.  Thomas doubted, surely a defense mechanism to keep from being disappointed again.  Peter and John ran to the tomb to see for themselves.  Imagine the joy that must have filled their hearts as Jesus stood among them and said simply, "Peace."  Imagine the rapture of Mary's heart as she heard Him speak her name in the garden.

How does scripture put it? "Weeping endures for the night, but joy comes in the morning." (Psalm 30:5)

The resurrection morning was a morning filled with joy, hope, and the washing away of the pain of the days leading up to it.

We all need a resurrection morning sometimes.  We all need to come to the end of weeping and experience joy.  This is why I celebrate Easter.  Because even if I have nothing else to rejoice in....even if I am blinded to anything else worthy of rejoicing in by pain, heartbreak, or circumstances...the fact remains Jesus is alive if my rejoicing can only begin at an empty tomb, then let it begin and grow from there.

He is risen...He is risen indeed!.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Disclaimer: I am not feeling like this today, rather I am claiming what I know to be true even though I don't feel it at all. Sometimes we have to claim His promises to make them real in our lives.  I have to claim and believe this today, even though I don't feel it.

We've all heard the phrase "alone in a crowd."  That phrase carries no greater meaning for me than when I am  experiencing hurt, fear, frustration, or I am  just confused by things that life may throw at me.  

Pain and heartache have a way of doing that to everyone.  (If I use "we" or "us" please understand that I mean ME as much as anyone else - probably moreso.)  We feel isolated in whatever we are facing even if we are facing similar circumstances to others around us.  

God tells us through Paul though, "That no temptation has befallen us except that which is common to man..."  I understand that temptation is different from trials and tribulation, but the principal is the same.  The common thread among humanity is that we have all at one time or another experienced loss, heartbreak, pain, or confusion.  The other common thread among us is that we normally feel like no one in this world can understand how we feel, or in my case, doesn't want to have to put up with us when we are down.  

It's easy to feel alone, and in feeling alone it's easy to get stuck in feeling forsaken by everyone...even God.  

One of the first commentaries that God made about humanity is that it is "not good that man should be alone."  God didn't create us to be creatures of complete solitude.  He made us with a need for companionship, family, and friendship.  As sin blasted its way into creation, everything got broken.  Humanity was broken, creation was broken, and our relationship with God was broken.  

In His infinite love and mercy though, God declared to us that He would NEVER leave us or forsake us.  

I am a child of God.  He is my Heavenly Father, and I can approach the throne of grace boldly.  He has told us time and time again throughout His word that He loves us and cares about us. He also promises to provide for our every need.  

So many times we limit our needs to the physical things of this world.  We need food, shelter, clothing, and we may very well to trust God with those things.  What about the emotional and spiritual side of our being?  Don't we have real needs to be met in those areas as well?  If we trust God for food and shelter, why not trust Him for peace and comfort?  Why not trust God for fulfillment and to truly bind up a broken heart?  

Maybe it's because we want to be ok RIGHT NOW.  Maybe it's because I want to be ok RIGHT NOW.  Pain hurts.  It's not fun.  A broken heart will suck the life out of a person.  Confusion will stop us in our tracks and fill us with fear on what step to take next.  

But pain helps us grow, broken hearts teach us how to love others, confusion causes us to seek the right answers and from them become all the wiser.   

So while the pain and heartbreak and confusion may not be immediately taken away from us by God, He promises to be right there in the midst of it with us. 

Consider Elijah the prophet.  Here's a guy who called fire down from Heaven, killed the prophets of Baal, by his word the skies refused to rain, and by his word rain fell again.  In a moment of fear, he ran for his life.   Even while he was on the run God did not forsake him.  He sent a meal in the wilderness and spoke softly in the mountain.  

Then there's Peter.  Peter who denied having any association with Jesus while Jesus was going through the hardest time in his life.  After Jesus rose from the dead he stood on a beach with Peter and confirmed that he wasn't done with Peter.  He hadn't forsaken Peter. 

What an amazing truth that even when we aren't faithful to God, He is still so faithful to us! 

Jesus cried from the cross, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"  Jesus, in agony, experienced God turning away from Him so that we would never have to experience the hopeless despair of loneliness apart from God.  Christ was forsaken so that we would never be.  

I don't always feel it.  I don't always walk in it. But I have to always believe that I am unforsaken.  God has not forgotten me.  God has not abandoned me.  God has not finished with me.  

I am unforsaken. I am never alone.  I have a friend that sticks closer than a brother.  I have a father who holds me in His arms when I am wounded and weary.  

Alone in a crowd? I know what that feels like.  Completely alone?  I will never have to experience that because God will never leave me nor forsake me.  

Thursday, March 24, 2011


In Genesis, God provided Adam and Eve with a more perfect covering than they could provide for themselves.
Then, He provided safety and deliverance for Noah and his family.
Later, He provided Himself a lamb for Abraham to sacrifice.
In Exodus, He provided for the children of Israel manna from Heaven, water from a rock, and shoes that didn't wear out.
He provided David with victory over the giant.
He provided Solomon with wisdom to rule.
He provided Elijah the sustenance the go on, and a remnant that hadn't bowed to Baal for encouragement.
He provided Nehemiah a vision.
He provided Jonah a big fish, and shade.
He provided Job restoration.
He provided Mary and Joseph a stable.
He provided the fishermen a great catch.
He provided thousands a meal.
He provided Peter forgiveness.
At the cross, He provided perfect atonement for sin.
At the tomb, He provided victory of Death and Hell.
In the Upper Room He provided the promised Holy Spirit.
To countless saints He has provided the courage to stand in the midst of great persecution.
He provides peace to the troubled heart, love to the lonely, peace to the troubled, comfort to the hurting, joy to the sorrowful, grace to the unworthy, mercy to the sinner, wisdom to the unwise, understanding to the simple, and more and more and more.

He is Jehovah Jireh (the Lord provides).

In the midst of trouble, sorrow, trials, or pain, it's hard to see God as our provider.  So often we give credit to God only for allowing things in life to go the way we DON'T want them to go.  It is so easy to allow the flesh to focus on what we feel is not being provided.

Let me rephrase:

It is so easy FOR ME to allow MY flesh to focus on what I feel is not being provided. It is so easy to for me to feel overwhelmed.  It is so easy to slip into despair over all the weight of ministry to kids that I truly love.  It is so easy to feel helpless when they are hurting.  It is so easy to want to the throw the towel in.

We live in a broken world.  When sin entered the world, man turned his right of dominion over to the enemy.  Sin affected creation as much as it has affected humanity.  So there is suffering, brokeness, and hard times.  When these things come upon us, the temptation is to drop our head in defeat and give in to the pressures of life.

I don't mind admitting that halfway through this week things have felt pretty overwhelming from a ministry standpoint.  Two different families.  Two very similar tragedies.  And in the midst of it all kids who look to those of us who minister for answers.

I am ashamed to admit that, as I heard about the second tragedy today, I felt so overwhelmed and completely not up to the task of ministry before me that I considered, for the first time in over a decade of ministry, dropping out.  What can I do?  How can I help?  I am unable to be effective in these times.

In the darkness He provides light.
In despair He provides hope.

"...afflicted in every way, BUT NOT CRUSHED, perplexed, BUT NO DESPAIRING, persecuted, BUT NOT FORSAKEN, struck down, BUT NOT DESTROYED..."

Jehovah Jireh.  The Lord is my provider.

Once again, the enemy went to far.  He attempted to deceive me beyond what I was willing to believe.  Give up ministry?  Not on your life.  I don't do ministry out of a sense of duty.  I don't do ministry because there's nothing else I can do.  I don't even minister based on a calling.  I minister to students because I love them.

The Lord provided me determination.  Determination to stand against the pain, to stand against the confusion, to stand for my kids and the kids of my community.

If the Lord Himself will encourage me in the midst of discouragement, how much more will He provide what I need.

I confess in recent weeks my focus shifted in the wrong direction. In dealing not only spiritually, but I truly believe psychologically with different things that I chose to ignore or put to the side, my heart was once again burdened with the weight of despair.

BUT MY GOD PROVIDES FOR HIS CHILDREN. He has not forsaken me, He has not dismissed me, He has not finished with me.  Jesus Christ is my advocate.

While I must still be willing to properly deal with things that I never truly dealt with, I must start with casting my cares on God, because He cares for me, and He will provide ALL that I need.

He has proven Himself faithful time and time again, and as the song says, "He'll do it again."

When situations, circumstances, failures, and mistakes seem to overwhelm....He will provide.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


How did I get back to this spot?  How have I wound up back to a place where I started?  I was winning. I was experiencing victory over my past, my self, and the schemes of the enemy.


Attrition is the constant wearing away at something. In war, to win by attrition means that while it may appear the battle is won, and that you are superior to your adversary, your adversary was persistent enough and did enough damage that in the aftermath of the battle it is hard to recover if you can recover at all due to all the damage.

Our enemy, Satan, has been around for a long time, and will be here after we are gone from this Earth. He is skilled at the art of winning by attrition.  I never really considered this.

James tells us, "Submit, therefore, to God.  Resist the Devil and he will flee from you."

Have I relied too much on my self?  Have I forgotten so quickly that God's grace is sufficient?  Have I forgotten just how much I need to daily rely on God?  Am I really that...gullible?  Am I really that fleshly?  Am I really that human?

One of the unexpected things about the journey I've taken over the past few months is the psychological side of things. There's a lot that I never dealt with in my life.  I look back through the years and rather than deal with problems, failures, mistakes, or hurts, I kind of swept them over to the side and kept moving forward...that's what you're supposed to do right?  In a way, I guess you are.  But truly moving forward means dealing with things as they happen. Letting yourself grieve a broken heart properly, stopping to deal with a sin problem, evaluating failure and learning from it properly, even celebrating success and putting it in the right context, all need to be done in the right way.  Otherwise, it all comes back to you when you're at your weakest.

There's a lot of things in my life that I never properly dealt with.  Where there was failure I ran or made excuses.  Where there was hurt, I shrugged it off and pretended nto to be bothered...and even convinced myself I was ok.  Where there was success, I shined it up real nice and held it up for everyone to see and tell me how great I am.  Where there was sin...I swept it under the rug and acted like it didn't exist...ignore it and it will go away.  Right?

So, in the aftermath of my chaotic experience with grace, in the joy that came with a pretty substantial spiritual victory, with the openess and honesty that came with finally trusting my family in Christ to bear my burdens as I helped bear theirs, came an unexpected flood of things that I had never properly dealt with.


Coupled with my current state of mind, I feel like I am worn down to (as we say in the south) a nub.  If it's not my current situation of my own doing, I'm reminded of all that I haven't accomplished.  If it's not being reminded of all I haven't accomplished, I find myself focusing on a deep cut that I never really let myself deal with before.  If it's not that, it's church stuff.  If it's not that, it's my current situation.

Then, as if out of nowhere, I suddenly know what Paul meant when he said (and I paraphrase from Romans) "the things I want to do I don't do, and the things I don't want to do I do."

He goes on to exclaim:

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

The answer is the same as it has been all along.  Jesus.  His grace is sufficient.  When the enemy comes in like a flood...God's grace is sufficient.   When the enemy stalks like a lion ready for the kill...God's grace is sufficient.  When the enemy chips away at our joy, our spirit, and steadily wears us down...God's grace is sufficient.

So, yeah, I'm still trying to find my smile and leave it firmly in place.  I know where I need to look..."I lift my eyes up to the hills, and where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord which made the Heavens and the Earth."  

I was suprised when the dust began to settle and the smoke cleared and I was a little more battered than I thought.  But, I also know that when, in God's timing, I stand to fight, it is truly His joy that will be my strength.  It is His grace that will sustain me.  

So my prayer is that He helps me to daily understand this.  

Monday, November 29, 2010


It seems that whenever we have a bad day, it starts with something kinda of inconvenient and just snowballs from there.  Things seem to get out of control, and by the time you crawl into bed at night all you can do is just pray that the next day will be a little better.  Then, if you wake up with the negative events of the previous day fimrly entrenched in your mind, you find that the present day ends up being a little rough as well. Before you know it you've had a bad week.  

One of the things I've had to learn throughout recent months is the importance of what my focus is on any given day.  

As God has worked in my life recently, there has been one situation that hasn't quite been resolved the way I wanted it to be.  ONE situation. God is doing incredible things in my heart and life and there is one situation that isn't turning out the way I wanted it to.  Now, truthfully, it is (to me) a pretty big deal.  But still, it's one situation.  So, instead of focusing on what God is doing and how He is working in all other areas of my life, what do I do? I focus on the hurt and pain of one area of my life and carry that with me on a daily basis.  

So it is, that the rest of my life is colored by my reaction to the one situation on which I choose to focus. 

I guess at the end of the day, I can choose the defeated feeling of things that hurt not working out the way I want or I can look over at all God is doing and be genuinely encouraged by it.  

I don't want to discount any hurt or pain I've felt over the past few months, and I definitely don't want to be calloused towards the truth that sometimes life hits us with stuff for which we are not and could never really be prepared for.  However, more often than not we have a choice.  We have a choice how long we will let hurt and pain control us.  

It's the same way with those of us who struggle with pasts that we are ashamed of.  If we constantly focus on our mistakes and failures of the past, we get stuck there, never truly moving forward in our lives.  

There's a hymn that says "Turn your eyes upon Jesus...and the things of this world will grow strangely dim."  I find that as I focus on Christ and His work in me that the weight of the guilt of my past and the shame of mistakes fades away.  I find that the bad days are bearable.  I find that my smile is in reach because the things of this world have grown strangely dim and what really matters is Christ and His work.  

It seems almost too simple. It seems almost un-Christian.  It seems unbelieveable, but the journey is more bearable, pain is less potent, mistakes are less crippling, all because I choose not focus on the pain or mistakes.  

If you're hurting, if you're struggling with the shame and guilt of a past you can't seem to shake, then shift your focus. The enemy will try to disctract you any way he can, but as you learn to focus on Christ and "look full into His wonderful face," you will find that the things of this world truly do "grow dim in the light of His glory and GRACE." 

There's that word again.  How marvelous the grace of God!  He is at work in us even when the enemy is trying to work us over.  He is at His best on our worst days.  He is comfort in the midst of pain.  He declares us innocent even though we plead guilty.

So I choose to focus on God and His work in my life.  Do I have a past?  Yes.  There are things in my past of which I am very much ashamed.  Do I have pain?  Yes.  There are things that hurt me daily.  How do I feel about life?  God is so good.  Because I serve such a good God, I can't walk in sorrow and depression.  As I focus on Him, I find His joy is truly my strength and His peace, though it passes my understanding, gives me the ability to smile.  

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Matthew 14:23 - After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.

Luke 6:12 - It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.

John 6:15 - So Jesus, perceiving that they were [fn] intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king,withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.

I find it interesting that there are several times when Jesus felt it was necessary to withdraw Himself from the masses and from His followers to be alone.  

When I was in college one of our campus pastors preached a sermon on the importance of times of solitude.  For some reason, that sermon really resonated with me that evening and it stuck with me for a while.  However, like many things that should have been used in a healthy manner, I began to take the principles of a person's need for solitude and twist it into a life mantra.  

Here's truth, I enjoy entertaining people.  I really do like being in front of a group of people and knowing that they enjoy my stories, jokes, or other silly antics I may pull off.  In fact, I feed off of their enjoyment and enjoy myself.  

I enjoy teaching my students.  There is no greater thrill to me than when my students begin to grasp the truths from the Word of God.  As my kids come to a greater understanding of who God is and how big His grace is in their lives, I get more and more pumped to teach them. 

Honestly though, I pour a lot of myself into my teaching...and in the past, I've poured a lot into my entertaining.  So it is that a lot of times when I'm finished teaching or preaching, I tend to feel a bit drained.  I need to recharge my batteries.  

Unfortunately, for a long time in my life, I poured so much of myself into so many things that didn't really matter in the scope of eternity that I stayed drained.  Never really relying on the strength of the Spirit to recharge me.  Instead relying on my own selfish solitude and wrapping my desire to be alone in a spiritual kind of excuse that said, "I give so much to everyone, I just need my 'me' time."  

It's interesting though, that in the aftermath of my chaotic experience with God's grace that I crave fellowship with my friends and family.  I genuinely have come to the point that I enjoy people, and I genuinely enjoy the times I spend with friends.  In stepping away from the "center of attention" role that I used to play and letting myself naturally enjoy good company I find that what Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 4 is so true. Two are indeed better than one.  

I still need a little time with myself and God.  But that's the difference in my time alone now and my time alone in the past.  Now, my time alone is usually spent in genuine reflection and prayer.  I don't say that to sound holy or pious, I say that to illustrate that God is teaching me how to be alone in a healthy way.  

I think that all people need some solitude in their days.  I think that everyone needs a place to retreat where they can just escape the masses and spend time "recharging."  However, what is not healthy, is to in a attitude of distrust or fear or arrogance to retreat from the world and expect the world to readily accept whatever emerges from your times of solitude. 

Isaiah tells us that when we "wait on the Lord" that we "renew our strength."  I think that waiting on the Lord takes place when we rest in His presence, trusting Him to move us when we need to move, to lead us where we need to go, and to energize us in our weakness.  

Friendship, real, true friendship is a source of energy renewal for the Believer.  We are called to "bear one another's burdens."  So, when we actually do that, we find that our load isn't as heavy as it normally would be when we try to go at things alone.  So, we can walk with our heads up and our steps a little more sure because we are being supported by one another.

We are after all the body of Christ.  Why would I try to amputate myself from the rest of the body?  What good is an amputated appendage?  It is powerless.  

The greatest struggle I have with this is that I'm in ministry.  (I'm a "professional Christian")  There's a certain image of those of us in ministry that we're supposed to have it all together, that we have all the answers, and that when problems or pain comes our way that we automatically know how to deal with it.  Even we ministers buy into that deceptive image at times. So it becomes hard for us to let others bear our burdens, because we are supposed to be the counselors...not the counseled.  We are supposed to console...not be consoled.  We are supposed to be encouragers...not need encouragement.  

The truth that I've had to learn about myself is this though, I'm a human being.  I get tired. I get discouraged. I get weak.  Even in waiting on the Lord, I find myself antsy and impatient, needing the encouragement to just be still and know that He is God.  I need people.  I need friends and family.  And that's ok.  In fact, it's a great thing.  It's great to know that I am incapable of simply wandering the Earth alone.  

As I look around at friends who have been there for me, as I see family that has reached out in love to lift me up, and as I find myself strengthened enough to help bear the burdens of and rejoice with my friends, I have to smile, because I'm not walking this journey alone.  I have brothers and sisters in a bond stronger than any earthly familial bonds.  I am truly a part of the family of God, and we walk together, holding one another up, enjoying one another's company, praying together, laughing together, crying together, and eating together (can I get an amen on that one?).

Solitude is necessary, I think, for the Believer sometimes.  Just as necessary, and maybe even more so, are the friends that god has placed in our lives to journey with.  As I learn to spend my time alone in a healthy way I have to smile because I know that I have friends and family who I genuinely love and who genuinely love me and I don't have to walk this journey alone. 

Monday, November 15, 2010


We have a lot of words in our Christian faith that we throw around kind of flippantly without ever thinking about what they really are and what they really mean to us.  One of those words is joy.

The truth is I've taught about joy.  I've sung about joy.  I've even thought about exactly what joy is and what it means.  At the end of the day, though, I don't know that I've ever really bought in to the fullness of what joy is or can be in my life.  I don't know if I've ever fully understood just how important it is for us as Believers to really grab on to the joy that God offers us through the Holy Spirit.

Joy is tricky.  It's tricky to talk about, to teach about, and it's kind of tricky to understand.  I'm not saying that God is trying to trick us with joy, but our language causes the concepts of joy and happiness to be almost interchangeable.  I guess that's ok until you consider the fact that we get sad sometimes.  Then, we have to ask the question, if joy is a fruit of the spirit (according to Galatians) and joy and happiness are pretty much the same thing, then when I'm sad am I not be being spiritual? simple terms, if joy and happiness are the same thing, is it a sin when I'm not happy?  IF joy and happiness are the same thing,the the answer would be yes I suppose.

Now, I KNOW that joy and happiness aren't the same thing.  I realize that happiness is my emotional response to a positive situation and that joy is something deeper and more spiritual than a simple emotional response.  I also recognize that joy is a spiritual thing that is not only supposed to be a product of what the Holy Spirit is doing in my life, but also a source of strength within me that comes from God.  I know all of that...but what I have found myself struggling with is how to tap into the joy that I'm supposed to have when I'm really sad.

In fact, it's a lot easier to talk about joy and sing about joy and sometimes be happy and call it joy than it is to actually grasp what joy is and how it works in my life.

In the aftermath of my chaotic experience with God's grace and love, I began to learn a few things about myself...maybe I should say that I began to admit a few things about myself.  One of the things involved a situation I found myself in that absolutely broke my heart.  I found myself incredibly sad at the damage I had done.  I found myself frustrated at my inability to fix the damage I caused.  I found myself depressed because I didn't understand how I could feel so spiritually free and emotionally torn up.  I found myself praying that God would fix the situation. I had literally never dealt with the emotions that were now welling up inside of me, and they began to overtake me.  I had times when I would reach out to God and seek His strength and seek His joy and for moments at a time I would begin to find it only to let it go and sink back into a place of sorrow.

Stopping for a moment to tell you what I've learned about sadness and despair.  It's comfortable.  As much as it hurts, it can be really comfortable to be sad and depressed.  In fact, if you're in a situation where you're holding on to something that has made you sad then the sadness and despair can feel almost necessary.  It sounds twisted, but when you're sad about someone you've lost, or a situation that you want to change, getting over the sadness and despair may feel like giving up or letting go or even forgetting.  So it is that sometimes we hold on to sadness or depression because we think it's all we have left of a situation and it becomes so easy to continue to be sad because we know what that feels like. If we get over the situation that has hurt us, if we are no longer sad, then we really don't know what's coming.  We really have to move forward and that is scary because that means we are letting go and we have no idea what the future holds.  At least that's what has been true in my life.  I came to a point in which I would have rather been sad and despairing than to move past that in my life because to move past it was losing any little bit of control I may have had in the situation.

There's nothing wrong with being sad.  Sadness is a legitimate emotion that we experience when we go through things in life that hurt us.  Jesus was sad.  Not all the time, but we have instances in scripture of Jesus being sad.  He was there are times when it's ok to be sad.   In fact, I'm convinced more than ever that it's never wrong to be sad until we let sadness and the situations that make us sad become what we focus on.

I'm not sure that sadness is the opposite joy.  In fact, I think that joy can be a powerful thing in the midst of sadness.  I've experienced it.

This is where it gets weird.

It wasn't long ago that in my attempts to try to make my situation stop hurting me that I was crushed.  Emotionally crushed I mean.  I had done all that I knew to do.  I had so desperately tried to set this one thing in my life right and nothing seemed to set it right.  Then, with one statement, I found myself literally crushed under the weight of the realization that the real truth is that unless God steps in to change things, this situation may never be set to what I consider to be right.  I couldn't breathe.  Literally, I found myself struggling to breathe and gather myself up for the tasks that I had ahead of me that day.  For the rest of the day, every step felt like I was walking hip deep in wet concrete that was swiftly drying.  I went to bed that night with tears in my eyes and desperate prayer on my lips.  The next day I woke up to the phone call of a friend checking in on me.  I started the day with tears in my eyes and the situation on my mind.  Trudging through the day, I just couldn't seem to function.   Then, that evening, I was sitting at home...and got tired of just sitting there.

I went for a drive.  As I was driving, I found myself losing it.  Again, tears sprang to my eyes.  The reality of my situation hit my heart and mind yet again like huge weight pressing down on me.  Through the noise of my sadness and despair, I heard a stirring in my soul, "This has to stop."

"I don't know how." I said within myself.  "I don't know how to let go.  I don't know how to not be sad.  I don't know how to deal with this."  I realized that I was praying now.  (I know it sound overly dramatic, but this is what happened that evening.  It still makes me feel a little strange.)

"You can't be controlled by this sadness."  I felt The Spirit say.

"I don't want to be. But," Then I got a little defensive. "You've taken so much else of me, why do I have to let this go?"

"You've got stuff to do.  Let's fight this."

"Ok"  I answered.  (I know...really spiritual way of talking to God...but it was all I could say.)

In the past, I have found myself quoting scripture out loud and listening to some praise and worship music to move past sadness in order to get into a place where I could at least minister to my kids.  That evening, I knew that scripture was the place to start.

None came to mind.  I couldn't believe it. I've never had a problem remembering encouraging scripture.  Then I felt something welling up inside of me.  Everything that pertained to the situation that was hurting me so much seemed to come together like a wave.  (Looking back, this is the image I have in my head of what seemed to be happening in my spirit)  As all of this stuff gathered, I suddenly remembered part of one verse and even that ended up being a paraphrase.

"The joy of the Lord is my strength." I began to say over and over through gritted teeth. I was literally waging war in my spirit.  As I drove my hands gripped the steering wheel tighter and tears began to spring to my eyes.  I could feel the swelling sorrow of my situation begin to come crashing down on me.  "The joy of the Lord is my strength." I said again and again.  Then I remembered. "His mercies are new every morning." "His love endures forever." "I will look unto the hills, and where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord who made the Heavens and the Earth."

As the source of my sorrow continued to crash down on me like a wave I said these things out loud.  And was over...the wave had passed...and I was still standing.

"You can't keep going in sadness and despair.  Let's fight this. My joy is your strength."  That's what the Spirit seemed to say to me in that moment.

And in that moment, I began to find joy again.

I don't know if I can fully describe joy.  I don't know if I fully have my head around it yet, but what I've learned is this.

Joy is not happiness.  Joy is strength in any situation because joy is a spiritual understanding of what is good and glorious.  Joy is more than optimism.  Joy is more than an emotional response to a circumstance.  Joy comes from the part of our spirit that refuses to focus on what is negative and hurtful.  Joy grabs our attention and places it on the goodness of a God who loves us.   Joy energizes us when we're weary, strengthens us when we're weak, and encourages us when we're sad.

I truly believe that the source of joy is found in the heart of God's grace.  Grace that says "No matter what I love you.  No matter how far you think you have fallen, you are not out of My reach.  No matter how bleak the situation I am in control.  No matter how ugly things seem, I make all things beautiful in its time."  That is the heart of joy.

I truly believe we tap in to the strength of joy when we shift our focus from that which hurts to what God has for us.  If it seems like God is doing nothing, then we go back to what God has done or said.  For me, it's the scriptures of His grace and love that I find myself clinging to, because even if in the moment I don't trust what He is doing in a situation, I know that at my core I trust what He has said in His word.

Joy helps us keep going when we don't think we can take another step.  Joy helps us keep breathing when the weight of the world seems to press the life out of us.  Joy encourages us when we feel nothing but defeat.  Joy helps us find a smile when all we can muster are tears.

I am learning that the enemy hates for me to tap into the Joy of the Lord. Because when I do, I find  the motivation, creativity, and confidence that seemed to be gone for good.  I find the ability to laugh, and as I laugh it does my heart good like a medicine. The enemy wants me to sit in the apparent comfort of sadness and despair and miss opportunities to impact people's lives.  The enemy wants me to sit in the apparent comfort of sadness and miss what God is doing in my life.  So the enemy is going to fight to steal my joy, but I have decided...I'm fighting for my joy.

I find myself at yet another place in my life where I've never really been.  My heart still feels a certain weight of sadness, and I think that's ok.  Rather than cover it up, I will be honest about it.  Rather than embrace it, I will process it.  Rather than, be defeated by it, I will tap in to the joy of the Lord that is truly my strength.

Thank God that He has given us joy.  This amazing thing that goes far beyond an emotional response.  God, through His grace, has given His children the means to walk through any situation.  The simple yet hard to explain truth of joy.

There's tons more to say about joy.  But right now, I just have to smile, because I God is so good, and His joy is truly my strength.