Joy After Brokenness…

sonna1Our pastor is preaching a series on the Beatitudes from Matthew 5, and each week he reminds us that the word ‘blessed’ means ‘happy’. So, happy are the peacemakers, happy are those who mourn, happy are the meek, and the list goes on.

This got me thinking about Tuesday night worship at Celebrate Recovery; a ministry at our church. It is loud, energetic, and people worship with abandon; filled with joy. These worshipers recognize the depths of where they have been, and how far they have come with God, so their love and gratitude are overflowing!

In Luke 7:47 Jesus responds to the criticism of a ‘disreputable’ woman who washes his feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair by telling the haters;

“I tell you, her sins–and they are many–have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”

In my own life I have observed that same kind of worship-effect with brokenness. When circumstances have left me feeling broken, battered and bruised, it was not very fun, but when I chose to walk in obedience to Christ in the midst of that brokenness, a joy that cannot be explained has filled me to overflowing.

Maybe there should be a verse that says something like,

“I tell you, her hurts–and they are many–have been healed, so she has shown me much gratitude. But a person who has not had many hurts to heal from shows only a little gratitude.”

It may sound a bit strange, but I do not regret any of the broken places I have had in my life, because of what has come out of that brokenness. The side effect of walking with Christ in sad, difficult, bitter, and unforeseen circumstances is inexplicable joy. Notice the key is walking with Christ; in obedience. That’s where joy comes from.

We can sit and wallow in our stuff, but that does not bring joy, and it keeps us right where we are. I did that long enough to know that the choice to sit and wallow allows the insanity of continued sorrow when things don’t magically change. It was only when I changed my attitude toward God, myself and my circumstances that I started experiencing the joy of the Lord.

He was patiently waiting for me to reach out to Him in obedience and do things His way. Oh, for the years I spent in agony and defeat. But, what’s past is past, and today there is joy.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6

Hunger and thirst for righteousness! Obey God and do the right thing during struggles, trials, heartbreak, and difficulties, because our Almighty God promises that when you do, you will be satisfied. After years of searching for satisfaction in many different places, now I want only to be filled, (satisfied) with Him, while I’m… just living the thing.

Read more from Sonna at sonnalevans.blogspot.com

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There Is A Thief Among Us…

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”- President Teddy Roosevelt

20151007_073052The past two years have been a season of drought for me. Northern California has had more rain, (hardly any), than I have had joy, (queue dramatic violins). For the record, I am NOT a naturally depressing person.  Normally, I am very excitable; enthusiastically pursuing life, relationships and experiences. But somehow joy has been lost.

Through excessive evaluation, I realize that I have been guilty of comparison and I hate it. Not only has it destroyed my joy, but also my dreams, my ability to believe, and my thankfulness.  Too much has been lost because I compare my life to others.

For example, most people my age are married, have the requisite 2.5 kids, own homes that don’t get attacked by millions of ants daily, have jobs with seniority, cars that are dependable and classy, robustly growing 401Ks, and take vacations…vacations that don’t put them into debt. But not me.

Well…I guess I could go to putt-putt-golf next weekend and I wouldn’t have to take out a loan, but ew, no thanks.  And ladies, don’t we all have that well-meaning girlfriend who talks incessantly about her “amazing” husband who does no wrong and is completely selfless? I just threw up a little.

God already gave us instructions to avoid comparison:

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”(Exodus 20:17)

When we want what isn’t ours, the desire to control takes over. I see the life I want, so I decide to make it happen. Unfortunately, that’s a recipe for disappointment. The illusion of control creates expectations that cannot be satisfied, and only leads to heartache and disappointment, which I learned the hard way this summer.

Thankfully, a “but” saved me.

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy…”  (Ephesians 2:4) stepped in. He created a situation so outside of my control that I could not fix or change it. I HAD to turn to Him for help.

Many tearful hours were spent in prayer and reading His Word. Instead of looking to my peers for hope, I was forced to look to at the One who created hope.  Instead of craving another’s life, I had to look to the One who already gave me what I needed to live (and more!)  I didn’t have the emotion or energy to compare during that time, I could only look to God and beg for help. My eyes were full of Him, instead of those around me.

Have I been completely cured? Well…somebody at work has a job I want, and the prestige should be mine! Clearly I am a work in progress, but that’s the thing. We are all works in progress, but we progress as we steadfastly look to God alone for our identity, and that is what it means to be… just living the thing.

 

 

The Scent Of Blessing…

FB_IMG_1444172768710    Lately I’ve been reading Genesis 28 and 35, and confess I may be a little jealous of Jacob’s experience of the stairway to heaven, with all those angels ascending and descending.  I too want the glory of heaven on me as I lay on my ‘Perfect Sleeper’ mattress from Costco.  I want assurance my life has a specific purpose.  I want what Jacob got at Bethel; a special word from God.

Bethel is holy ground in Jacob’s life. It is the place where God assures him of future blessing so huge, it was hard to wrap his mind around it. Jacob would become a great nation; his descendants multiplied like the stars. I don’t want that part, as I have enough stretch marks from the two I’ve birthed. However, I do want to hear God’s pronouncement of blessing for me and my family right here in Modesto, California. I’d like my own ladder from heaven.

In my mind, blessing and suffering are mutually exclusive. If God blesses my life, I should live in a state of blissful well-being, exempt from anything not happy. Yet sandwiched between God’s promises of blessings are two sad events. First his wife’s beloved nurse and helper dies, then his wife dies in childbirth.

According to my definition of a blessed life these events should have negated God’s words, sending Jacob into depression and despair. He should have every right to say: “I don’t want to be a great nation. I like my name Jacob. AND, I want my wife and my life back. THAT would bless me.”

But there is no evidence of Jacob questioning God’s words or rebelling against His ways. Instead, he seems fixed on God Himself, confident in His promises. Then, God speaks so clearly that Jacob builds an altar and names this sacred place of prayer Bethel; the place where God speaks.

Even after God speaks to me I often trip over places of heartache as though they discount His words. I want the anointing without the reality; the holy water that keeps me from unpleasantness, and worry, and dealing with anything negative. Ever again. Amen!

If I could only see beyond my tendency to trade my destiny for a bowl of temporary goodness, I could move past my disappointment into the calling of God.

Prayer is the place where God speaks; where I see more than the here and now and catch a glimpse of His eternal plan. I build altars at my Bethels, not so I will stake a claim on the blessing, but so I remember God spoke to me there. He will figure out the blessing. The pain I’m experiencing now in no way diminishes or thwarts His purpose.

Jacob’s prayer life, and his life of obedience after those sacred moments, speak to me. Keep walking forward. Base your hope on the truth, not your circumstances. Keep your focus on the ‘Bless-er’ rather than what you think the blessing should look like, and keep on…just living the thing.

Excerpt from Colleen’s upcoming devotional, “The Scent Of Blessing”.

Loving life…

It’s been too long since I have sat down long enough to indulge my love of writing, particularly about just living what I believe, so here goes…

I love living life in relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  Of all the things I could choose to believe in this world, the truth of God revealed in the Bible just makes sense to me.  So yes, I am all in. Separation is inconceivable and walking away is not an option.

Every day I wake up knowing this is still a pretty sweet deal.  In return for perfect, unconditional love, the constant, guiding presence of God, and the sure promise of eternity in His presence, I hand over my misguided willfulness, my limited vision, and a healthy dose of my own particular brand of crazy!

But I especially love living life in relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, and in community with people who believe like me that we have all been “intricately and curiously wrought [as if embroidered with various colors]”, by our Creator. (Psalm 139:15 Amplified Bible).

For this re-launch of the blog, four women in my community will be joining me as writers about just living the thing.  They each bring a unique, inspiring, been-in-the-trenches, point of view to getting up every day and making every effort to live this truth we believe.

Colleen is a quiet, unassuming, spiritual force.  No one has challenged me more to take giant leaps of faith off cliffs of fear, and out of the ruts of the ordinary and expected.  Authenticity in all her relationships makes this woman a rare and priceless treasure, and her honest, straight-from-the-heart writing will inspire and dare you to trust God with all your heart.

Adrienne makes me laugh!  As the youngest member of our writing group she brings the fresh perspective of youth and an almost inevitable impudence to the challenge of just living the thing.  This woman regularly reminds me that God is not intimidated by our questioning, or turned off by our struggles.  Strap in and hang on because it will be quite a ride.

Sonna’s strength and resilience in the face of difficult trials has been awe-inspiring.  She continually pours into the lives of others out of a wealth of experience and love for people, yet never hides from the reality that sometimes it is just hard to live the thing.  Raw and heartfelt truths coming from a very real place, and full of hope for the future.

Wendy is self-deprecating and genuinely humble. While she bemoans her lack of experience as a writer, the rest of us celebrate her recent “Writings from the Table” in which she shared her thoughts about just living the thing as she was being treated for cancer.  Her simple, steadfast, and enduring faith deeply moved our community of family and friends and we look forward to this budding gift continuing to bloom and flourish.

These are the women who will sharing their truth as together we’re …just living thing!