Tag Archives: Girls with Gusto

Girls with Gusto: A Spirit of Joy

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Photo by Ashley Jones 2016.

It’s human nature to want what we want, to be happy when we get it, and to be unhappy when we don’t. Only a crazy person would be happy when everything is going wrong…right?

 

A Spirit of Joy

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog entitled A Clean Heart, which was about the first of eight major steps in our Christian journey. These steps, and how to navigate them, are the topic of the book I’m writing for young women: Girls with Gusto.

Step Two in our journey is A Spirit of Joy. As I researched this topic, the first thing I learned is that there is a difference between worldly happiness and godly happiness. Worldly happiness is a fickle thing, with its highs and lows determined by our current circumstances.

Godly happiness, or what I call joy, is tied to our relationship with God (see Psalm 43:4). I learned that if we will only anchor ourselves to Him, we can experience the kind of joy that never waivers, regardless of our situation.

 

An Excerpt on Joy

Here’s an excerpt from Girls with Gusto: 

If God is to be the source of our joy, we need to be sure that His direction is as true and straight as the North Star. Otherwise, our joy would be as unpredictable as if it were based on the shifting circumstances of the world. 

Thankfully, the Bible gives us assurance: “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (James 1:17 NAS). The KJV version states there is “no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” 

I love that! There is no variation. No variables. There’s not even a shadow of turning. Not a hint. God doesn’t wake up grumpy or go to bed angry. He doesn’t tell us one thing today and another thing tomorrow. He is more constant than the rising and setting of the sun (see Isaiah 60:19-20).

This surety and steadfastness are extremely important qualities of God. If we are to have a solid foundation we can rely on, it must be immovable.

 

The Crutch of Circumstance

When I went through a rough patch in my early twenties, I realized that the world couldn’t offer me real joy. That’s when I began to truly seek God in my life.

Ten years later, as I was writing about joy, the Lord began to convict me once again. Life has been really good and, while I’ve been thankful to God for my blessings, I haven’t looked to Him as the source of my joy. Instead, I’ve limped around on the crutch of circumstance, accepting the mediocre happiness of the world. The fact that my circumstances were good doesn’t make my reliance on them (instead of God) any less of a sin.

So what did God do? Did He punish me? No, but He sure taught me a lesson! Here’s a short list of things I went through over the course of a few months:

  • Robby began to travel a lot. For a while, we had more days apart than together. I didn’t realize how much I relied on him for emotional support as well as all the work he does around the house.
  • Our sweet kitty, Sue, passed away. She was our fur-baby for over four years, so this was a huge loss for us. [Click here to read more about Sue.]
  • My parents sold the house we moved into when I was 13. I like their new house more, but letting go of the past can be difficult.
  • My grandfather had emergency surgery and, for a while, we weren’t sure if he was going to be all right. Thank God, he did heal completely, but it was a stressful time for all of us.
  • I picked up every bacterium or bug came my way and stayed sick for days on end. These illnesses were putting a strain on my nerves, work, writing, and home life.

It was like everything in life that gave me comfort was being withheld, and every stressor had the volume turned up. Through it all, I felt God tugging me toward Himself, forcing me to look to Him as the source of my joy and comfort. It was a painful process, but I’m glad to be moving ever forward in my spiritual journey.

 

Your Joy

When things don’t go your way, do you feel anxious and depressed? Are you too stressed to seek the Lord?

When life is good, do you grow slack in reading your Bible? Do you get caught up in the day’s activities and forget to pray?

Remember that God is your spiritual food and water (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-5). Whatever the day brings, you have to eat and drink, right? In the same way, you need to seek God’s presence and read His Word. If you can make this a daily habit, regardless of the situation, you can have the joy that comes from God—a true Spirit of Joy.

Girls with Gusto: A Clean Heart

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Photo by Ashley Jones, 2016.

 

I’ve been writing a book for young women called Girls with Gusto. It’s about our mission as Christians and the eight major steps we take on our spiritual journey.

With each chapter, God has been working on me, pulling me closer to Him. It’s a wonderful reminder that I serve a living God who is interested in my well-being and desires an intimate relationship with me. But that kind of growth often brings growing pains.

 

A Clean Heart

Step One in the Christian journey is A Clean Heart. In this step, we learn that we’re sinners in need of saving. We discover God and accept His mercy and the sacrifice of Jesus. Then, God’s Spirit comes into our heart and cleans it out, making us new.

Eventually, we mess up. Like the prodigal son, we seek after the flashy, sexy things of this world, and we lose touch with the deep and meaningful ways of God (see Luke 15). If we’re to hold onto our faith, we have to come back to God and seek forgiveness. Then, He goes to work cleaning out our hearts again.

That’s the raw truth, a summation of Scripture. My own experience is harder to tell.

 

My Story

I always believed in God, even as a small child. I never had a true conversion experience, other than my baptism at age 13. I remember the feeling of a clean heart, white as snow.

At some point in my teens, I started going off-trail, detouring from the path God had outlined for me. When my grandmother passed away when I was 21, I didn’t know how to handle it. I was overcome with grief and depression for years, and I didn’t know how to rely on God. Instead, I got married so I would have someone to lean on. Of course, that didn’t work out, and I found myself divorced at 24 years old.

Robby and I have been married for five years. I now have the love, friendship, and security I searched for as a young woman. And I know that God is the one who provides us with all things—whether directly or through other people. I thank Him every day for what He’s given me.

Because of that, I tend to forget about my past and just focus on the present and look forward to the future. It sounds healthy, but it’s not always helpful. When I was writing about Step One, A Clean Heart, God showed me that He can use my past for His glory. It can be an important part of my testimony, and I shouldn’t deny it or shy away from it.

 

An Excerpt

So, I rewrote that first section. I still included the meat of Scripture but, this time, I told it from experience. I trust this honesty and transparency will resonate with readers; that it will show them what faith looks like in real life.

Here’s an excerpt from my manuscript:

Because of this situation, I know a few things I wouldn’t know otherwise. For example, I can tell you that the loneliest place on earth is inside a broken marriage. The hardest thing to hear is “I don’t love you,” even when you realize you really don’t love that person, either. And, even in the 21st Century, there is a stigma to divorce that follows you wherever you go, especially church. 

At twenty-four, I was the prodigal daughter. I had to humble myself, crawl back to my Father God, and ask for forgiveness. I had to come back here, to Step One, A Clean Heart…. 

In [Luke 15], we see that the father loves his son because he is compassionate and merciful. In the same way, God loves us because of who He is. It has nothing to do with our own efforts, no matter how domestic or diva they may be. This is great news, because it also means that He loves us even when our efforts fail. Even through grief, mistakes, and divorce. 

Our value, then, is not determined by what we do but by the God who values us.

 

Your Testimony

If you’ve tucked away your past mistakes, I want you to know that God still sees them. If you haven’t asked for forgiveness, then do so today. Start your life anew with a Clean Heart before the Lord.

If you’ve already received forgiveness, then there’s no need to hide what has been forgiven. Let the Lord show you how and when to share your story so that it can bless others and bring Him glory.

I’ll be honest with you: it’s not easy to share something painful. But I can assure you that it’s worth it, to live free of the past and to encourage others to do the same.

Mama Tiger

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The following is an excerpt from Girls with Gusto, a book I am writing for young women. I always think of the image of the mother tiger with the baby piglets around Mother’s Day. I hope you appreciate it, too. Happy Mother’s Day!

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Tiger with her baby piglet. (Photo obtained online, courtesy of the zoo in Thailand.)

Fear

I’ve always struggled with the idea of fear as it’s shown in the Bible. Over and over, Scriptures tell us not to fear, whether it’s the future; an individual; groups of people; or strange, miraculous events. But then the Bible commands us to fear God (see Joshua 24:14 and Proverbs 3:7). In fact, there are warnings throughout the Bible for those who don’t fear God (see Exodus 9:30, Jeremiah 5:22, and Malachi 3:5).

If God is love (see 1 John 4:16), why should we fear Him?

 

Mama Tiger

Strangely enough, I found my answer in a story about a tiger…and a litter of piglets.

I once read of a zoo in Thailand that would coax tigers to suckle piglets. (Don’t ask me why.) I’ve seen the pictures of one of the tigers, all teeth and claws, loving on her adopted babies, oblivious to the fact that they had curly tails and flat snouts and made grunting noises instead of mews. The piglets were also oblivious to the difference, and climbed all over the tiger without a care in the world. To be sure, that tigress was a dangerous creature…but not to the ones she called her own. To them, she was a protector, provider, and source of love and comfort. She was Mama.

 

God

That’s how I envision our relationship with God. When we first come face to face with Him, our sin makes us feel exposed and vulnerable—like a defenseless piglet in the tiger’s den. We’re afraid of God because He is righteous and can execute judgment against us. We have the urge to run the other way, with our curly tails between our legs. Thankfully, the Spirit speaks to us in loving tones, encouraging us to trust in God. If we do, He forgives us and accepts us as His own.

Once we belong to God, we no longer have to be afraid of His judgment. We can rest securely between His teeth and claws and know that He will use them to protect us and provide for us, and nothing can separate us from Him (see Romans 8:38-39). There is no greater safety or calmer peace than in God’s presence.

 

Believe and Obey

But, like any good parent, God has given us rules for our own good. When we fail to be obedient, there are consequences. He still loves us, but we have to learn from Him so we can mature in our faith and take the next step in our journey.

Moses said it this way: “You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him.” (Deuteronomy 13:4) When we fear God, we cling to Him with loving obedience. This is the opposite of being afraid of something and running away from it (like I run from spiders).

The statement, “Fear the Lord your God,” means two things:

  • Believe in God—that He exists and His Word is true (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17); and
  • Obey God—that we should accept Him into our hearts and follow His commands daily (see Deuteronomy 13:4).

This is why the Bible says that we are to fear only God (see Deuteronomy 6:13 and 1 Samuel 12:24). He is the only one worthy of such honor.

If we will believe in God and obey Him, we will have the same peace and security as those little piglets snuggled up warm and safe in the arms of the tiger.

 

Encouragement

Doesn’t God care for you, nurture you, and love on you? Isn’t He every bit as attentive and protective as a new mother? As you celebrate Mother’s Day, I encourage you to think about the “mothering” role God has in your spiritual life.