Category: Seeking Satisfaction

A Simple Strategy for Greater Joy

 

The multiflora rose bushes are exploding with white blossoms when it hits me: I’m living on autopilot again. We all have our own versions of autopilot – the thoughtless brushing of teeth and consumption of coffee, the drive to work that’s the same every day, and the daily routines that make up the foundation of our daily lives.  We push through our days with little thought, no margin time to notice beauty, thousands of stressors streaming through our minds, and a lingering lack of simple enjoyment.

I stop along the road and stare at the white roses. Never in my life have I noticed these invasive, injury-causing plants in blossom.  I’ve grimaced as their needle-like thorns penetrated my clothing and pierced my flesh.  I’ve clipped them away from trails and dug them out of the hedgerow.  But I’ve never noticed them in bloom.  I’m astonished that something so beautiful could emerge from something so menacing.

What if there is beauty awaiting me in countless unseen corridors of my life, and I’m too busy solving problems and worrying about thorn bushes to notice?

I smell the white roses. I literally put my face into the thorn bushes I’ve cursed upon and breathe in something beautiful.  I wonder how much joy autopilot has stolen from my life.  I wonder how many sunrises I missed on the way to work because I all I could think about was how to get the progress reports finished by Friday.  I wonder how many conversations I missed because I was too worried about raking leaves or logging miles or hanging curtain rods.

Is this the gateway to the joy and fulfillment I crave? Take my life off autopilot and refuse to slip back into this thoughtless way of living.

Jesus said it like this: “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In him we have peace.  Trouble will come, but he has overcome it.  He wants us to walk in peace.

He also said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).  If autopilot is destroying my days, it is certainly not from the Lord.  His plan is that I will have an abundant kind of life.

The opposite of autopilot is intentionality. When I live with intentionality, I slow down to notice the people in front of me.  I slow to observe beauty in the architecture of my community, the wispy breaths of high cirrus clouds, and the jade buds sprouting from the spruce tree in the yard.  Embracing these things feels like actually living.

Tasting the food I eat, drawing on the sidewalk with chalk beside the kids, and lying in the grass while geese pass overhead are each gateways to joy. And somehow, opening my eyes to what’s around me feels like opening my eyes to God.  When I see the good in it all, I am drawn closer to his beating heart.

Joe Rigney speaks of this kind of observation in his book, The Things of Earth.  He calls it indirect godwardness: “a subconscious focus on God while engaging with the world that God made” (121).  He goes onto explain that indirect godwardness increases our direct focus on God “by creating new mental, emotional, and spiritual categories for our enjoyment of God. It keeps us from being vague and indistinct in our minds” (126).

I meander slowly away from the white roses and gather a bouquet of daisies along the roadside. A barred owl calls from the valley behind, and I’m thankful for having noticed.

 

 

How to be Happy with What We Have

Today I’m welcoming a writing friend as a guest blogger. While welcoming guest bloggers to my site isn’t something I’m regularly pursuing, Daisy and I met long before I ever imagined I’d have a blog, and her words have been an encouragement to me.  We met through Grove City Alliance Church, and Daisy passed her role as the Prayer Shield Coordinator onto me a few years ago.

We reconnected this spring, and it’s an honor to share her words with you today. Daisy is the published author of Homespun Faith, a compilation of devotionals.  She writes on her own blog at homespunfaith.com.

How to be Happy with What We Have

By Daisy Townsend

Recently I became obsessed with finding a rug just the right size for a floor area we wanted to cover in our bedroom. The size rug we needed wasn’t easy to find, not being a standard size. I measured several times and pictured what the different-sized rugs would look like in our bedroom. I hunted at Ollie’s and online.

One day I noticed the carpet remnant on the family room floor left over from when we’d had our upstairs carpeted four years ago. The longer I looked the more sure I became that this carpet remnant was exactly the right size for the area we wanted to cover in our bedroom. (A standard size rug would easily replace the remnant in our family room.)

When Donn and I carried the remnant to our bedroom, we found it was a perfect fit! I kept thinking of the irony of how hard we’d tried to find the perfect rug when we already had exactly what we needed. I wondered how often in life we do the same thing─go out searching for what we think we need when we already have it.

One woman I knew had been married many years to a good man but decided she wasn’t happy. Eventually she left her husband and found the man she thought she wanted. Things didn’t turn out well. I asked her gently, “Do you have regrets?” Sobs shook her whole body as she nodded. “So many regrets.”

I read of a similar case of a woman who spent many years complaining to her calm, easy-going accountant husband and her friends about the unexciting life they led. When Tim died of a heart attack in his forties, Diane found the man of her dreams. He was debonair and charming, an exciting date. However, after they married, she discovered he wanted to party every night and cared little about managing finances. Later, Diane told a friend, “I wish I had married someone who was content to stay home and good at managing money.” Her friend looked at her and said, “Someone like Tim?” God had given her exactly what she needed, but she’d been too blind to appreciate him.

This reminds me of two of my favorite children’s books: Old Hat, New Hat and The Best Nest. The moral of each story is the same. In Old Hat, New Hat the bear sets out to buy a new hat. He tries on or looks at 31 different hats, but finds something wrong with each one. (Do you remember? “Too big. Too small. Too flat. Too tall. etc.”) In the end, he puts on his old hat, looks in the mirror and says, “Just right! Just right. Just right. Just right.” He leaves the store wearing his old hat with a smile on his face.

 

In The Best Nest, Mr. Bird loves their nest and sings often, “I love my house. I love my nest. In all the world, my nest is best!” Mrs. Bird has a different opinion but in the end, after looking at many other nests, Mrs. Bird also realizes that the nest they have is, after all, the best nest.

Old Hat, New Hat and The Best Nest have happy endings because the “people” come to appreciate what they already had. However, in the real world, as in the other two stories I shared, the endings aren’t always happy. We may leave a marriage, a job, a house, or any number of places or situations, and later, when we realize the value of what we had, we discover it’s too late.

Charles Stanley recently said many people love to quote Psalm 37:4 (Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart), but fail to understand that the promise has a condition we must fulfill. Psalm 90:14 says, “Satisfy me early with your love that I may delight in you all the day.” As the Lord becomes our delight, He aligns our desires with His.

If we find ourselves unhappy and dissatisfied with our marriage, our job, our church, our home, perhaps the first step shouldn’t be to look for a new man/woman, job, church, home. Perhaps the first step should be to ask God to satisfy us with His love so that we can delight in Him and trust Him to give us the desires of our hearts. In many cases, we may discover that He already has.

Father, forgive us for trying so hard to find what we want that we’re blinded to the fact you’ve often already given us what we need. Amen.

 

–Daisy Townsend

 

 

 

The Morning Invitation

 

A fine white mantle of fog rests on the fields at dawn. I went to the deck to retrieve the coffee cup I left outside overnight, and it seems I’ve encountered God on the journey.  I sink onto the damp patio chair in the corner of the deck, and the chill of the dew on my bare legs feels like an awakening.  An awakening to what is uncomfortable and raw – real and tangible.

Dew on flesh. Fog on young goldenrod chutes.  This earth breathing life and promise and hope.

It’s so exhilarating that I fill my coffee cup inside and return to the chair with a jacket and my Bible. I forget the bookmarked app on my computer – the one that tells me what to read each morning, and I open tattered pages to Psalms:

Let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy Before the Lord, for He is coming, For He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness And the peoples in His faithfulness. (Psalm 96:12-13)

I close my eyes and drink black coffee. I consider what it will look like to live this day as a woman who honors God and lives with the expectancy of a bride, waiting for her groom.

I think of the words of Jesus: ““You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).

His words ring true. Loving God must come first.  Have I kept it first?

Before anything else, my life is about my relationship with God. It’s about drawing close to him and growing in relationship with him.  I am deeply convicted as I reflect on what my prayer time often looks like.  I’m convicted that I’ve spent too much time asking for things, praying for direction, praying for ministry needs, and praying over priorities.

While all of these things are important, what is most important is that I learn to rest in God’s love. What’s most important is that we grow in relationship through these quiet, set-apart moments.  My life is primarily about this relationship with God.  The way I carry his love to the world is secondary.

A mourning dove coos, and I realize I haven’t kept the first thing first. I’ve put praying for direction above basking in his affection.  Looking at the fields, it’s all so clear: He wants to wrap me in his tender affection like the fog that shrouds the fields at dawn.  He wants to cover me in the warmth of his love and stay together in this place.

Tim Keller says it like this: “Prayer is both conversation and encounter with God. . . . We must know the awe of praising his glory, the intimacy of finding his grace, and the struggle of asking his help, all of which can lead us to know the spiritual reality of his presence.”

This time is first about basking in his presence. The priorities, decisions, and requests will flow from this place.  I sit long on the damp chair and don’t do much at all.  I rest in him.

I think of the words of Mother Teresa in an interview with Dan Rather.

“When you pray, what do you say to God? Rather asked.

“I don’t say anything,” she replied. “I listen.”

“Okay. When God speaks to you, then, what does he say?” Rather tried again.

“He doesn’t say anything. He listens.”

Baffled, Rather didn’t know how to continue.

“And if you don’t understand that, I can’t explain it to you.” Mother Teresa concluded.

And so we sit. In the stillness.  In the newness of an emerging day, we sit in silent communion, and I don’t plan a single part of my day or seek direction over a single priority.  When the coffee is gone and the fog begins to lift with the silent chorus of a rising sun, I rise with it, and I’ve never felt more certain of what matters most.

 

 

 

 

Keller, Timothy. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (New York: Penguin Books, 2014).

Mother Teresa, quoted in Chuck Swindoll, So You Want to Be Like Christ? Eight Essentials to Get You There (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005).

 

 

Fifteen Ways to Find Refreshment

 

I take her to the river on a Saturday. Billowy cumulous clouds make promises about what’s to come, and I lean in for the quiet whisper on the wind.  It seems to be an invitation to refresh our souls.

She’s five, but she’s begged me to take her to the woods with a tent for months, and I finally concede. I want to go too.  I want to tell her about the nights on this river with friends and open Bibles.  I want to tell her how I encountered God on these rocks – how I memorized Psalms and felt like new life poured down through the summer rain showers that always caught us unprepared.

I strap fifty pounds to my back: two sleeping bags, two sleeping pads, the tent, water bottles, snacks, extra clothes, a baby doll, playing cards, and more. I push the rest in a double stroller, and she bounces into the woods for three whole miles, overflowing with the excitement of this novel adventure.

We’re two girls in the middle of the woods, and our cares slip away. After erecting the tent, gathering firewood, and hanging the bear bag, we wander to the river.  The water slips past emerald, and she asks if I have my Bible.  We read Psalm 97 and I tell her about the rainy day when I memorized this very Psalm along this very river.

She smiles, thoughtfully, and asks, “Did you bring communion?” She wants to remember him on the river.

We retrieve a small hotdog bun and the bottle of juice I brought for her breakfast, and I break the bread. We eat it in his memory and give thanks for the new covenant.  We pour the juice into metal camping cups and drink, remembering the blood he shed.  It’s a holy moment.

After a song and prayer, she scampers up the riverbank in search of toads, and I think of the words of Job: “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12).

Something about this place makes me long to open a Bible and recite beautiful words. It apparently stirs something in my child as well.  But I pray that it won’t end here.  I pray that I’ll treasure these words more than my necessary food, even when we return home with the demands and requirements for daily living.  Do I really treasure these words?

“These are more than just idle words; they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47), I read, and I wonder how much I’m really drawing my life from these words. Bekah returns with a snail, and she’s jumping in sheer delight.  We put it into an empty peanut butter jar, and she hurries back to the rock where she found it.

This river feels like it’s refreshing us in the deepest way, but these words in my hand offer even better promises of life and rest. I cling to these promises and rest in them until the sun sinks low.

When the shadows fall long on the water, we go back to the tent, cook dinner on the fire, and talk about dreams and hopes. She sleeps deeply, and I watch her all night, this protective shield rising within me, keeping watch for bears and raccoons.

I also consider what it might practically look like, in this season of life, to stay in a place of refreshment. I turn on the flashlight and scratch words on waterproof notebook paper:

  1. Treasure the written Word of God more than food (Job 23:12)
  2. Get away to quiet places when I can.
  3. Spend time with people who refresh my soul.
  4. Stop striving.
  5. Stop hurrying.
  6. Count blessings.
  7. Look for toads and snails more often.
  8. Give thanks for the work I get to do.
  9. Stay in community.
  10. Speak words that bring life.
  11. Cast my cares on the Lord.
  12. Turn away from perfectionism.
  13. Stop trying to prove something.
  14. Laugh more.
  15. Live vulnerably.

I close the book and close my eyes. I trust that the One who led us on this journey will protect us from bears and raccoons, and I drift into the deepest sleep I’ve found in months.

~~~

For more thoughts on refreshment and joy, check out this link and receive a free printout: 10 Steps to Greater Joy

 

How to Live Fully

 

The tulip poplar leaves are just beginning to emerge – tiny hands waving at the cobalt sky. I consider their short lives.  For six fleeting months, they greet the dawn with their flapping waves.  When October comes they’ll grow worn and weathered, thick and leathery, and they’ll fall black to the deck, swept away by the autumn winds or the broom that comes to prepare the worn boards for winter.

Six months isn’t long to stand under the sun, to dance wildly in the breeze, to laugh in the rain. Six months feels so fleeting – like a vapor.

You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away, James writes. We’re much the same.  These tiny waving leaves and my oh-so-short life.   Am I really using it well, I wonder as I watch the shadows flitter on the pollen-smeared boards.  Am I wishing away these days that will never come back?  Am I chasing something that’s been right here all along?

How do I live this one life well?

A red-winged black bird glides over the field behind the house, and our caged quail calls for a mate. I turn the pages for words about how to live this day to its fullest, and I find them: This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Could it be so simple?  I ponder the implications of these words and strain to apply them to my life:

I will acknowledge that the Lord has brought this day to pass.  I’ll receive it all as grace and count the blessings and the trials as grace.  Unmerited favor.  His hand working all things for his ultimate glory and my ultimate good.  I’ll give thanks for the muffins baked in the light of early morning, and I’ll give thanks for the little hands that drop all dozen eggs in the middle of the kitchen floor.  I’ll choose to believe that the long line of traffic is all part of some divine plan, and I’ll leave space in my days to talk to strangers.  I’ll hurry less and take photos of flowers in the yard.

I will rejoice. I will rejoice when we hold hands on the way to meet the bus, all three of us linked together in love, and I’ll rejoice when the littlest one falls down on the way back to the house.  I’ll rejoice over the food in the cupboard and the crumbs scattered across the kitchen floor, imitating the line of ants that will soon carry them away.  I will rejoice as I wipe fingerprints from the faucets and smudges from the mirrors.

I will be glad in it. I will be glad in the midst of this actual day.  I will be glad because I’ll see God in it.  I’ll see him in the leaves bursting forth from the poplar tree.  I’ll see him in the eyes of the delivery man when he comes with his tired shoulders and forced smile.  I’ll see him in the tenderness of my child and the frustration of the computer software that refuses to download.  I will know that he loves me in all my imperfections and that he is my great reward.  I will cease from striving and refuse to live in a hurry.  I’ll leave dishes in the sink and dirt on the floor.  I will commit to do whatever I do with my whole heart, as unto the Lord, and I won’t worry about what I can’t do.  I’ll believe the best about other people and refuse to dwell on negative thoughts.  I’ll let go of grudges and let go of what I cannot change.  In all the letting go, I will be glad.

 

I commit to embrace the days in a different way, here on the threshold of spring bursting into summer.   I commit to be all here, to live fully, to still myself and know  . . .

The breeze picks up, and the poplar leaves point heavenward – tiny hands, praising their Maker.

 

 

Scriptures: James 4:14, Psalm 118:24 NASB

Four Reasons to Ponder What Is Beautiful

 

A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul. –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The awakening of spring feels like a rebirth of sorts. Something about the sound of geese overhead, the emerging jack-in-the-pulpit rising from black earth, and the pungent scent wafting from the once frozen creekbed stirs a sense of vitality in my soul.  I sense this rebirth speaks of some greater longing within me – a longing for heaven, a longing for the day when all things are made new, a longing for the face-to-face embrace with the One who created me.

Throughout the most stress-filled seasons of my life, pondering beauty has been my greatest source of relief. When college classes weighed on me, I pulled poetry books from the shelves of the library and memorized poems about leaves no step had trodden black.  When my teaching career was straining, I took walks in the bitter December afternoons – towering spruce trees ushering me into a canopy of protection.  When pregnancy rendered me immovable, Mom pulled the old green reclining chair from the porch so I could watch the wrens flutter from their box.

In this season, I can think of lists of reasons to join Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in seeking what is beautiful. Here are four motivations to ponder beauty today:

Magnifying the beautiful magnifies God

In every moment, I have a choice. I can magnify my problems, or I can magnify God.  The mouse pointer disappears on the computer, rendering my day’s plans inoperable.  In this moment, I can magnify my frustrating problem, or I can magnify God.  The kids are literally screaming at one another over who gets to load Lion King into our antiquated VCR.  I can magnify the fact that they’ve now screamed at one another sixteen times in two hours, or I can magnify God by remembering how grateful I am to be a mother.  The daily grind of my life is wearing me down.  I can magnify all the reasons I’m disappointed with my life, or I can magnify the many blessings.

Magnifying God puts my problems in perspective

The benefit of magnifying God in my life is that keeping my eyes on him keeps my problems in perspective. The immovable mouse on my computer changed my plans for the day, but it’s not as big of a deal as it seems.  The yelling kids are unnerving and frustrating, but this is part of learning to cooperate and relate with others.  I’m glad they’re learning to navigate relational frustrations in a safe place.  In the grand scheme of my life, many of my troubles are light and momentary.  Even the heavy burdens will be used for God’s glory.  Keeping my eyes on him reminds me to endure hardships with strength and courage.

We were created to crave beauty

Snow-capped peaks and waves crashing to sandy shores elicit responses of awe because we were created to crave beauty. Ecclesiastes 3:11 reads: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart . . .” We all long for the beauty of encountering God face-to-face. Until then, our hearts are set on fire with passion for him when we see the beautiful works of his hands. Encountering beauty through nature, the arts, architecture, and other people reinvents the awe we were designed to crave.

Gratitude elevates

Gratitude lifts our eyes above ourselves. Thankfulness displaces negativity.  Even the smallest flame dispels a room of darkness.  We’re called to give thanks in everything.  The more we count our blessings, the less we keep track of wrongs.  Gratefulness and grumpiness simply can’t dwell in the same space.

Wherever life finds you today, may you embrace the joy of the journey, find something for which you can give thanks, and keep looking up. The geese are northern-bound.

 

There Are No Small Moments

 

I’m on my knees, camera lens inches from a dwarf ginseng, its tiny snowflake head bobbing in the breeze, when I realize we’re not alone. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” the khaki-clad elderly gentleman greets, and I’m drawn from my small moment with the ginseng.

“Sure is,” I say, somewhat embarrassed by the black dirt on my knees and elbows.

“Did you see the trout lilies?” he asks, and I notice the camera strapped over his neck. I’m less embarrassed.

We talk for a long while about trillium and bluebells, and he finally meanders off along the path. Returning to my photo shoot with the ginseng, I remember the way I once looked at thirty-somethings with cameras and wildflower books.  At twenty-two, I kept track of miles logged and elevations reached, not dwarf flora, like violets and ginseng.  At twenty-two, I mostly lived for big moments – summit moments, and the thought of bending low for small moments seemed nothing short of condescending.

We walk farther down the trail, kids running ahead in search of toads and moths, and I consider these changing seasons. When did small moments begin to take on such an authentic kind of glory?  It must have been before I dug the wildflower books out of the dusty boxes in the attic of the garage.

I remember when I started taking pictures of tiny mushrooms and sphagnum moss. I believe that was the moment.  The moment I pulled out the camera and committed to capture the miracles I miss every day, when I brush past in all my hurry, with my large-moment focus and my desire to prove something.

What if we could all live like we have nothing to prove? What if we never again needed to prove our worth through demonstrating our intelligence, beauty, humor, and talent?  What if these things were simply gifts with which we blessed others, and we were fully content to live in the midst of our quiet moments in utter contentment?

Have I really learned the secret of being content in any and every situation?

What if there really are no small moments – just quiet moments . . . And what if the quiet moments are worth every bit as much as the loud moments performed before the multitudes?

I think long on it, while the kids build castles along the sandy creek, and I’m sure of it: These quiet moments of walking with children in the woods, baking cornbread, stirring scrambled eggs with a rubber spatula, folding tiny T-shirts, and wiping down dusty furniture are the moments that will make up the bulk of our lives. There may be loud moments, platform moments, and moments that are broadcast before the world, but these big moments won’t make up the majority of our lives.

So what are we doing with our quiet moments? Because the quiet moments are the ones that seem small, but they’re really the ones that comprise the essence of our lives.

Sitting along the water, I commit to live with more gratitude. I commit to recognize the gifts that surround me and magnify God through naming them: dwarf ginseng, blue phlox, garlic mustard, and wild geranium; sandcastles at the creek, lunch on a hilltop, holding hands along the road; the mounds of dirty laundry that remind me of the gift of my family, the meat simmering in the crock-pot, the green crayon on the living room wall.  I won’t write these things off or roll my eyes.  I’ll embrace them and give thanks.

I commit to speak life. I commit to ask direct questions and bite my tongue when I’m in a bad mood.  I remember to tell the kids that I love them just because they’re mine, that their mistakes will never define them, and that they make my world a better place.

I commit to live intentionally.  We role play the whole way home from the creek, and Bekah thinks of responses to every playground dilemma I can conjure up.  We read Bible stories before Caleb naps, and I pray specific prayers over each of them before he sleeps.  We turn off the TV and dive into imaginary play on the carpet with our assortment of mini characters.  I make some calls and send some cards.

When the sun sinks low that evening, Bekah and I put together a pocket guide of wildflowers from our sanctuary at the Wolf Creek Narrows Natural Area. We find Latin names and study the history of each plant.  It all feels a bit small, but when she looks at me with dancing blue eyes, filled wild with life and passion, I know for sure that none of this day was small at all.

To check out our pamphlet, just click the link below. You’ll be asked to give your email address, and it will come to your inbox.  This is actually a terrific resource for anyone up for an outdoor adventure this month!

Western Pennsylvanian Spring Wildflower Guide

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Secret Path to Fulfillment

My hands clenched the rough granite with the ferocity of a woman who knows one wrong move will result in one of two things: death or serious injury.

I was nearing the summit of a 12,000-foot peak in Wyoming’s Wind River Range—at least ten miles from the nearest sign of human civilization. The shift of my left foot sent a cascade of debris tumbling down the mountain. “I shouldn’t have come here alone,” I whispered. The situation was precarious. I needed to scale a ten-foot long, six-inch wide ledge to get to the next “safe” spot of the climb. . . .To keep reading, join me at Christian Devotions Ministries.