The Pursuit of a Joyful Life

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is hard to understand, to fully comprehend: how someone who brought so much joy to other peoples’ lives could himself be eluded by that same joy and wonder. And yet, here we are on a Tuesday night, grieving the loss of a beautiful life- grief those of us who loved his work feel in some form or fashion.

Another light has been extinguished. You are already greatly missed, Robin Williams.

I just came from a funeral home myself an hour ago- a loving father and husband lain to rest, his family sorrowing the loss. As I slip into the restroom to refresh, I overhear a conversation referring back to another deceased, sharing another room in the funeral parlor adjacent to the one I have come to bid adieu.

“I am so sorry for the loss of your father.”
“He would have been 93,” comes the reply. “He lived a good life, though.”
“Yes, but it is still hard,” says the first woman. “One is never ready to lose parent- it is never time.”

So too it is with the family I have come to give my deepest sympathies. It is never easy to say goodbye to those we love. Emotions strain to find the right words, the right sentiments at times like this. Saying goodbye is never easy.

It is never time.

And as thoughts drift again to the recent death of adored actor Robin Williams, comedian extraordinaire- I can’t help but wonder if his greatest legacy was that he lived as a father. His daughter Zelda leaves the following words written by Antoine De Saint-Exupery as a lasting tribute to her father’s legacy:

“You – you alone will have the stars as no one else has them…In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…You – only you – will have stars that can laugh.”

I write often of care- specifically the care of Significant Others in our lives, and particularly as it concerns children and students. But without an understanding of the role that self-care plays as a first step in the process, we cannot truly understand the impact of care in our lives and in society. I often think of the airline rule to first affix one’s own gas mask before attempting to help one’s dependents. Is this not also true of everyday life at times? If we have not given our own bodies and souls attention and replenishing, are we really of much assistance and benefit to others? We must remember that we cannot run ourselves into the ground, depleting our own resources and ignoring our own needs and requirements to the extreme that we are of no earthly good to anyone else around us. Is it worth our while contributing to the world at large at the extreme expense of losing ourselves? These are tough questions to ask and perhaps the answers will differ depending on who is answering. One thing remains- without care given to ourselves, we eventually run down. We diminish. And the cycle of care cannot be continued without more care invested from either without or within.

Since the only dependable source is from within, that is where our greatest efforts must be concentrated.

Nel Noddings writes about caring for self in terms of meeting the physical, spiritual, occupational, recreational, emotional and intellectual needs of all human beings. If I had to pick one to focus on primarily (acknowledging, of course that the basic needs of the body must be met), it is my beleif that the spiritual needs are the most significant. For without an inner purpose and greater meaning to act as our guide, where are we headed? What direction do we choose? And what benefit is everything else going to be? We must decide what truly matters in this life; for me, I have found purpose, meaning and significance in the person of Jesus Christ.

2000 years ago, I believe that very Person willingly chose to lay down His life for me. And it wasn’t a suicide pact or mental illness that compelled Him to the cross. It was love. And because of that Love, I too am free to love. Free to care. Free to give my life in service to the Call. Free to give my love with generous abandon. Free to live- free to really live.

I am free.

And even though I know that death will one day call, I daily make it a priority to care enough for myself to ensure that when that time comes, I am ready to die. No stone unturned. Living my life as if today might even be my very last (we never can know). Living each moment, each day with joy, passion, wonder and care. Living with a healthy appreciation for the fact that Death is part of life. Even as I focus on living my life to the fullest.

Even as I live this brief expanse of time that we call life with a wild and beautiful pursuit- the pursuit of a joyful life.

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It’s Where Grace Finds Me

Grace.
The very word speaks of something sacred. Something holy. Something undeserved.

My children are my loves. My joy. At times, my source of great frustration.

Last night, I was home alone with the two youngest while Husband had the older two siblings at piano lessons. I was trying to clean up a huge meal which I had prepared for the family whilst doing a number of other things at the same time. Typical mother stuff. So, in between peeling carrots, parsnips and preparing potatoes, I had carved out a little time to submit an essay to an online essay contest of sorts.

Realizing that time was of essence, I came back downstairs to find Husband had finished off the remainder of the meal prep and things were ready to go. We ate, and with no time to spare, Husband and the two piano players ran out the door.
Leaving Yours Truly to the meal clean-up.

I had asked the two remaining home with me, to practice piano together- while I attended to the mess in the kitchen. Things did not go well from the start. Youngest was protesting to the snickers of her older sister. I was trying to wash pots and call out (yell) directives from the kitchen. To no avail. So after three meltdowns, I sent youngest wailing to her bedroom. With no short loss of temper on my part either, I might confess.

Peace at last. Relatively speaking. As long as I ignored the far-off wails and calls for help coming from the nether-regions of our farthest upstairs bedroom, I’d have thought I was home alone. You cannot imagine the bliss.
Nevertheless, peace was short-lived, as the calls from up the stairs came loudly, frequently and persistently. I continued to reinforce to the Young Offender that she was there for a reason and that’s where she’d stay.

How long? she asked.
A long time, came the reply.

In my mind, I had almost decided to leave it for as long as it would take: in the hopes that she might exhaust herself and fall limply into a deep and soundless sleep while settled safely on her bed. Clothes and all. Leaving me one less step in my endless to do list.

Alas. This was not to be. She never forgot her situation long enough to fall asleep.

After a while, I calmed down. I had to take a bit of a breather for this to happen, but it did happen. I calmed down. And when I did, I started to think about my daughter’s situation. Her refusal to do what I asked. He complete breakdown in accepting responsibility. Her insistence on doing it her way. And yet, my love for her in spite of it all. For love’s enduring faithfulness still remained. As strong as ever.

Could she ever be deserving of grace, even in something so small as this? Something so insignificant as a meltdown after supper, all while she sat struggling me in a battle of the wills, fought out on a scratched and faded piano bench?

I called her down to the piano. And I told her she was most welcome to come back downstairs again under one condition: that she would do what had been asked of her initially. To practice her piano under the guidance, expertise and experience of her older sister’s watchful eye.

She acquiesced with nary a noise or squibble. For what she had rebelled against was now the ticket to her freedom. She got it. And while this might be a shallow example of grace, it is yet a practical one. For in my love for her, I found within myself, grace to give. And in her struggle, she realized that what she needed so as to gain grace was the very thing she was resisting. That is, there needed to be a laying down of sorts of her own desires and wishes so as to later gain that which she wanted in the first place: her freedom.

But freedom came at a price. It always does. A lost hour of painful agony spent separated from the rest of us. We who knew what she did not from the very start: if she had only spent the five minutes practicing, she would have had the rest of the evening to spend at her leisure. We who knew to look beyond the moment into the foreseeable future. Something she could not do in her limited understanding. For with experience one comes to understand that freedom in grace is always paid for at a cost. We must at times lose that which we hold dear. Our will to fight for what we think best is often the snare. And when we fall into the trap we blame- because something has to be held accountable. Something has to be held up as responsible. But never is it our own selfish ambition.

As for me the mother, in offering grace: I have but a miniscule glimpse into heaven’s grace. A Father’s grace.

A glimpse of Your great grace. And it is in my children’s cries that I most often find grace. That I learn the depths and heights of grace itself. It is there, in those moments of tension that your grace finds me.

Somewhere between joy and frustration, tears and laughter: Your grace finds me.

It’s there in a newborn cry
There in the light of every sunrise
There in the shadows of this life
Your great grace

It’s there on the mountain top
There in the everyday and the mundane
There in the sorrow and the dancing
Your great grace
Oh, such grace

From the creation to the cross
There from the cross into eternity
Your grace finds me
Yes, Your grace finds me

It’s there on the wedding day
There in the weeping by the gravesite
There in the very breath we breathe
Your great grace

It’s the same for the rich and poor
The same for the saint and for the sinner
Enough for this whole wide world
Your great grace
Oh, such grace

Publishing: © 2013 Thankyou Music (admin. worldwide at EMICMGPublishing.com, excluding Europe, which is admin. by Kingswaysongs) (PRS) / sixsteps Music / worshiptogether.com Songs / Said And Done Music (ASCAP) / Shout! Music Publishing (Admin. at CaptiolCMGPublishing.com)

Writer(s): Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin

Living love- it’s harder than it sounds on paper

It is much easier to write about love than to practice it. Much, much easier.
I want to be very real with you tonight. Intimate in my transparency, if possible. I want to talk about what love put into practice looks like in my life. Right now.

But to preface this revelation, I must say at the outset: when we preach the loudest and proclaim the most vocally our thoughts, beliefs and feelings, words that are written down or easily spoken have a funny way of coming back to you and challenging you to live up to what you believe.

Isn’t life funny that way.

Today was a challenging one in terms of love for me. I really had a hard time living up to the standard of love of which I preach. Of which I write. For I write often about love- it seems so easy to say it. But living it? That’s another story. But I press on. I continue to seek love, in spite of myself. And all because- although I aspire to love, I am still an amateur. I am a work in progress (as are we all). When I say I believe in love- I truly do. When I say it is the reason for everything, I really mean that this is my life conviction. But would I go so far as to say I have arrived? That I personify love?

Heavens, no. Hardly.

I had a headache all day today. I knew from the get-go, it was going to be a tough one. Pressure seemed to be rising from the minute I placed my cold feet on the bare boards of our bedroom floor.

I felt that pressure- that responsibility: to live out what I believe. I am accountable for my words.

There were so many times today that I just wanted to pack it all in. To say, ‘look, it ain’t worth it.’ To curl up and say, ‘its too hard- too demanding to love.’ Love is too hard. It is. There were so many times today that I just wanted to do what I naturally feel. My nature is one that is not naturally prone to love. I would rather criticize. Would rather find fault. I would rather complain or point fingers. Or take offence and protest.

By nature, I am prone to rigidity. To exactness. I am a perfectionist. I am not naturally loving and patient and kind. I was not born empathic. Not born to be understanding. Those qualities have come to me through supernatural intervention. And I do mean that. Anything I am or hope to be is through the grace of God. The work of Jesus- His love and light shining out through cracks and crevices in my broken life. And I promise you that if there is any evidence in my life of love, it is the love of God shining through me. I am not naturally this way.

Baby, I really wasn’t born this way. And I would never have you to believe otherwise: that I have this all wrapped up. This handle on the power of love. I am love in progress, as evidenced in a broken life.

Yes, today- I was faced with challenge after challenge. I wanted to react to each of these challenges- retaliate with words that were cutting. Because that is naturally who I am. I am not kind by nature. Not caring by birth. I am actually critical, if I were to be really honest. Judgemental. I am no saint.

But I have felt compelled toward love of late. I have felt drawn. And although my nature is one that would lead away from love, I have felt the power of transforming love in my life to such a degree that I have chosen love over what comes naturally.

And the fact that I am so drawn by Love is enabling it to become more natural as the days go by.

When I feel pulled toward a critical spirit, what I am faced with is a choice. And I am learning- as hard as it might be, that love is a choice. Love is one of an array of options that I am faced with daily. I can choose criticality, or I can choose kindness. I can choose impatience, or I can choose tolerance. I can choose frustration or understanding. Anger or empathy and gentleness. And although it is not my natural bent to do such, to choose the latter of that array of choices, it is who I want to be. It is who I am becoming, this person who loves. A lover: of people. Of imperfect, broken people, just as I am. So I choose love, over and over and over again.

I willingly choose love.

I chose love today when all I really felt was frustration. Frustration with circumstances. With people. With the ways in which I am interpreted. Frustration with not being heard. Frustration with not being listened to- I chose love as a response . And rather than react to those things in my life that get my ire up- that work against me, causing me to feel annoyed or inconvenienced, with the grace of God, I chose love. I continue to do so.
It is only by the grace of God that I can.

I do not share this intimate look into my inner self so as to self-denigrate my being or to paint a pitiful picture of myself for good wishes. To disparage the person I was born to. I love this person I am. She is me- I am her. I am coming to love the person I have been and hope for the person I will be in the process of my becoming loving.

No, I don’t write all this so as to garner support and accolades. I tell you all this so as to say: it is through weakness that we are humbled. Through loss that we experience gratitude. Through pain that we overcome, so as to know the heights of joy. It is through self-denial that at times we come to understand the power of love.

So when I feel frustrated that my students aren’t listening as best they should. When my own four children fight and argue. When my spouse takes an opposing view. When I run into a professional obstacle or hurdle . When I find myself disagreeing with another human being. When people just plain rub me the wrong way. This I know- I am a person too: and I am humbly both the irritator and the irritated at one and the same time. Imperfect as I may be.

I am so very aware of my imperfection- of my own personal need of grace. As are we all. Every single one of the human beings we encounter in this life are needing of grace. So, there is no other choice but to love. It is truly the best option.

Nevertheless, I am faced with a choice. Love or intolerance. It’s mine for the choosing. And with the grace enabled me through transforming Love Himself, I choose love. By the grace of which I stand complete, I choose love. Because Love chose me, I make the effort to choose love as well. Because it is the better way, I choose love.

Because it is the only way in which I can transform the person I am into the person I want to be, I choose love.

And through the power of love, I continue to make that choice.

Daily, I choose love.

If God is FOR us…who can be against.

I preach caring as the underlying, fundamental reason for why I teach. It is what drew me into teaching. It is why I stay.

It’s always interesting to know why a person feels strongly for or against something they believe. And the reason I am FOR caring- FOR seeing people as potential, FOR believing that people are possibility, FOR seeing the best in people is, in a large part, because I have known over my lifetime what it feels like to both receive that wonderful caring. And to not.

Every one of us could identify with this I am sure. You are living your life, doing whatever it is you do. And along comes a person- a family member, a friend, a colleague, a community member- or whoever: who sees what it is you are doing at that particular moment- and they make a judgment call about it. Sometimes those judgment calls are positive and affirming, helping us to carry on with our goal of living our lives to the best of our abilities. But at times, those judgement calls are blows to our self-esteem. Chipping away at whatever good we might feel about ourselves as unique, extraordinary human beings. Somehow, it is quite often those one or two judgement calls that we focus on the most. I know I do. Things could be going along tickedy-boo- and I might be starting to embrace myself as a unique child of God- which I am. When along comes a person who sees in me the worst parts of who I am, causing me to fall flat on my face. Barely able to stand.

Those blows are hard to sustain when they come. It takes time to get back up again.

Something we need to recognize about people- all people is this: we don’t truly know everything that there is to know about that person’s heart, feelings and soul. We can look on superficially and even at times, we can gaze deeper- but we are not God. We don’t know the hearts of people. We don’t know who is struggling with self-esteem issues, we don’t know who is hurting inside. We don’t know what has happened in their mind a moment ago- let alone what might happen next. We are not privy to all their thoughts and intentions. We don’t know all there is to know about a person’s heart.

Sometimes, that same phrase- We Don’t Know The Hearts Of People- has been used in certain contexts to diminish or put down people, assuming that there is so much bad within a person that we could never expect a whole lot from them. In church contexts, that phrase has been used to downplay a person’s spiritual interest, although at times it has been used to see the best in a person spiritually speaking.

We often assume the worst when speaking of hearts- as if to say that the heart of a person is where their darkest secrets are kept- and those secrets must be bad. Because how could they be good?

But.

What if those secrets are ones based on pain? On difficulty? On hurt and betrayal? What if the secrets we keep are what keep us from seeing the best in ourselves? What if we don’t show the best of ourselves to other people because we truly don’t believe the best about ourselves internally? What if others believed the best in us- could we then see the best in ourselves too?

We often recognize that a person is more than meets the eye- but how often do we recognize that there is more good, more positive, more beautiful to people than meets the eye? How often do we say ‘we don’t know the heart’ and really mean- “that person’s heart has so much good within it- I must know more!” In fact, I think the opposite sometimes happens, because more often than not, we think to ourselves, “that person is_______ (fill in the blank with a negative attribute)” leading us away from thinking the best about them. And rather leaving us to feel the worst.

All this is based on feelings we have- ideas and thoughts. Beliefs we form about people without knowing the whole story. But have we ever stopped to know truth about a person? Have we ever taken the time to see their best? Do we believe that each one of us is capable of being the best? That we are potential and possibility at the heart of our unique person?

Truly? Do we see people truly the way God sees us? As His friends? As His children: His sons and daughters? As His beloved? As the object of His love? As forgiven? As cherished? As the ones He gave His life for? No greater love is there in heaven or on earth than this: that One would lay down His life for His friends.

If we are friends of God, than that should be stamp of approval enough for any man or woman here on earth.

Friends, we need to care for one another. We need to love like God loves us. We need to see the best in one another. We need to build one another up. We need to pray unfailingly for one another. Pretty hard to pray continuously for someone we can’t see the best in. We need to care enough about each other to resist the urge to tear one another apart with gossip. We need to help each other. We need to see each other as God does- as reflections of His one and only Son. Just think of the love God has for His own Child. We too are His precious earthly children also. We need to love each other as such.

I want this caring to be part of my teaching- this ability to see the best in people. But more than that- I want it to be a part of my life. This life I am living in the here and now. I don’t want to write something and not live it: I want the very words that I put to paper to become the life that I live. If I say I want to see the best in people, then that is what I want to live.

And it would be just amazing if that possibility was reciprocated the world over. From person to person. That we would see the best in each other. Just as God sees within all of us our possibility. Our potential.

That we would see this in each other: a reflection of His love. A relfection of how truly great His care extends.

If God is FOR us, who can be against?