Tag Archives: joy

Remembering the Missing Pieces at Christmastime

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See the missing piece? (Puzzle is an image of a painting by Robert Lyn Nelson.)

For Christmas six years ago, my aunt gave Robby and me a beautiful puzzle. We’ve worked on that thing for years, and we finally completed it this month! I thought I’d be happy to finish it and reclaim my dining table.

But once we were down to the final few pieces, we became nostalgic. We began to think about all our experiences over the past several years and about our loved ones who have passed on

Just as my mood was turning from merry to melancholy, we realized our 1,000-piece puzzle had only 999 pieces.

Suddenly, that one missing piece symbolized all those who are now missing in our lives, from our sweet kitty Sue to my late grandmother. It was like the hidden holes in our hearts were made visible, right there on the dinner table. I started to cry. Then Robby said Sue probably ate the missing piece, and we laughed. It seemed appropriate somehow.

The Interlopers

The emotions of loss and grief seem especially cruel at Christmastime as they settle over our merriment like a blanket of snow. What’s even worse is that we’re taught that it’s inappropriate to feel anything but happiness around the holidays. It’s as if negative emotions aren’t spiritual enough for Christmas.

But where does this idea come from? Why do we feel that sadness and loss are interlopers in the Christmas scene? Perhaps we need a refresher on the real meaning (and cost) of Christmas.

 

Cost of Christmas

Christmas is a celebration of the birth of the Christ, or the Anointed One, whose name is Jesus. Through His life, death, and resurrection, He brought salvation to mankind. That’s why the angel spoke of “great joy” when he announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. (See Luke 2:10-11.)

At Christmas, we recount the story of the birth of Jesus, His parents Mary and Joseph, the heralding angel, the shepherds, and the wise men who came from far away.

But this year I keep wondering, what about God the Father? What was He going through during the miraculous birth of Jesus?

I’m sure the Father was glad to bring salvation near to us. I’m sure that, like any good parent, He was proud of Jesus’ sacrifice. However, I can’t help but think that the Father was also sad.

We know that Jesus was fully God and fully man. Although He spoke to the Father constantly through prayer, this was the first time that He was physically separate from the Him—and not just for a day or a week but for 33 years! This idea is hard to understand mentally, yet our hearts empathize with the feeling of separation, and perhaps even loss, that the Father and Son must have felt toward one another.

One in Heaven. One on Earth.

Our gift of Christmas came at God’s expense.

 

Missing Pieces…Found

When we lose loved ones, we feel like our lives are incomplete. They’re in Heaven, and we’re here on Earth.

But the good news—the great news!—is that God is in the business of restoration. Just as the Son reclaimed His position at the right hand of the Father, so we, the children of God, will claim our rightful place with Him in Heaven. That’s where we’ll find our missing pieces.

 

Encouragement for Christmas

If you’re struggling this season, I encourage you to let go of worldly expectations. Christmas isn’t a time for us to be fake with our loved ones or with God. It’s a time to remember that God is real and holy, and that through His sacrifice, the missing pieces of our Christian family will be restored.

If you need more peace this season, start with a simple prayer like this one:

“Thank you, Father, for all that you have done for me. Help me to remember the miracle of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, and to appreciate what it cost you. Please give me peace and comfort, especially during this season when I miss my loved ones more than ever. I trust that all things happen according to your plan, and that you love me and want good things for me. Thank you, Father. In the name of Jesus, the reason for every season. Amen.”

May you come to know the heart of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—this Christmas season.

“I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).


[Click to Tweet: Our gift of Christmas came at God’s expense. #bigsisterknows #crosslife #christmas2017]

 


I want to hear from you! How is the Lord helping you deal with loss during the Christmas season? Are you helping others who are going through a difficult time?

 

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.

Don’t Weed Out The Good Volunteers

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Don’t Weed Out the Good Volunteers Sometimes, I lovingly refer to my husband as “Farmer Jones.” He comes from a family of farmers and gardeners, so it’s no surprise that he has dirt in his blood. Although we live in the city, Robby started a small raised garden in our yard last year. He loves everything about farming and gardening, from tilling the land to harvesting. So far, we’ve enjoyed our own green beans, kale, broccoli, cabbage, and carrots; and they were all delicious! I told him if he’ll grow it, I’ll cook it. A week ago, Robby mentioned a tall weed that he had allowed to grow in the middle of the garden bed. A few days later, Farmer Jones announced that his weed had bloomed – into a sunflower! I walked out there with him and, sure enough, the sunflower was about 5 feet tall!

Robby with his volunteer sunflower. (Photo by Ashley Jones, 2015)

Robby with his volunteer sunflower. (Photo by Ashley Jones, 2015)

He was so proud – and I was amazed! It’s one thing to grow what you planted, but it’s something entirely different to grow something you didn’t plant! I knew that Farmer Jones tends his garden daily, and he couldn’t have known it was a sunflower at first. So, I asked him why he hadn’t weeded it. “I thought I’d leave it alone until I knew what it was,” he said. “Really?” He smiled, thinking back to his childhood. “Mom always says that: ‘Let’s leave it alone until we know what it is.’” I’ve loved Mrs. Jones since the first time I met her, but she went up another notch in my book when Robby said that. Mrs. Jones is a wonderful woman who has worked hard for her family for many years, both inside and outside of the home. She learned gardening from her parents, and her mother is still passionate about her garden (at 94!). They all passed on their knowledge to Robby. But more than that, they instilled in him a love for it, and an appreciation that it is really God who produces the harvest. (1 Corinthians 3:6) Mrs. Jones’ garden won’t be found on Pinterest, though. It’s not laid out in a perfect design, tortuously weeded and pruned. No, her garden has a comfortable, welcoming feel to it. If a wayward flower or vegetable is found – which they refer to lovingly as a “volunteer” – it is kept and given room to grow. Family and friends rejoice in even the smallest of harvests. (“I put up 10 quarts of beans this year!”) But it’s those “volunteer” flowers and vegetables that are most precious, as if they are little gifts planted by God. (“But let me tell about our volunteer squash! It just popped up!”) I realized that Robby’s garden is the same. Yes, it had started with a square raised bed, but now the squash vines are pouring over the ground, and the beans have jumped their boundaries. It’s lovingly kept, but it’s allowed to grow as God wills, surprises and all. I’ve learned that volunteer plants make their way to us in different ways: 1. Hitchhikers – Seeds hidden in soil or compost that grow when planted, like our squash that was buried in the soil we transplanted from elsewhere; 2. Leftovers – Seeds or plants that are planted one year and then pop up unexpectedly later on, like the bulbs planted by our home’s previous owners that still bloom for us every spring; 3. Paratroopers – Seeds that fall from above or float on the breeze, like our sunflower that was probably dropped by a bird that had lunched on our bird feeder. In our lives, we often get comfortable with God and begin to assume that we know more than we do…like what God wants to do, what He is doing, what His plan is for us. We build a pretty box around our lives and try to put Him in it. Then, when something unexpected comes along, something that doesn’t seem to belong, we pluck it out, cut it down, or poison it to death. We never realize the joy of the unexpected thing God wanted to show us or do through us. It’s true that, as Christians, we need to be careful to guard our hearts and minds, for not every weed is a good one. However, we should never guard ourselves against God. Are there weeds of opportunity in our life? Are there hidden talents in you that need tending? Have others sowed into your community, leaving you to reap the harvest and see the reward? (John 4:38) Are new opportunities dropping in your lap that you need to take seriously? Are there people around you who need your care? Seek the Lord, and ask Him if you’ve disregarded one of His treasures as a “weed.” If so, seek forgiveness and broaden your view of who God is and how He wants to move in your life. Just as the gardener must wait to see what the weed really is – and may even have to learn how to care for the strange flower or vegetable – seek the Lord and wait for His Spirit to give you knowledge and wisdom on what to do.

Our volunteer sunflower. (Photo by Ashley Jones, 2015)

Our volunteer sunflower. (Photo by Ashley Jones, 2015)

Remember, the sunflower likes to follow the light of the sun. So, too, must we follow the light of the Son, Jesus Christ.


1 Corinthians 3:5-9, NAS What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. John 4:35-38, NAS “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest ‘? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. Already he who reaps is receiving wages, and is gathering fruit for life eternal; that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this case the saying is true, ‘One sows, and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”