What you are going to find on this blog: my thoughts (sometimes raw), my heart (spilling out), my honesty (maybe shocking), my ramblings (sometimes quite rambly!), my Jesus...especially that last one.

What you are not going to find: Platitudes (yuck), quick fixes (they don't exist), someone who acts like she has it all together...because I definitely DON'T!

I started this blog because I know the depths of muck in my own heart and the twistedness of my own thinking...and as I talked through my struggles with others I realized that I am not alone. So I promise to be honest with you, even if I think you aren't going to like me any more if I reveal the "real me." So if you want to keep thinking that I am a "nice" person, don't read my blog because I am not a nice person. But I am a redeemed person, saved by grace, for which I am eternally grateful.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Crying Over Spilled Milk...Because I Can't Cry Over Boston

I haven't even processed the whole Boston thing yet.  I can't.  I can't look at the images.  I can't understand what would bring someone to the point of deciding to kill other people in such a horrible way.  I haven't read the stories of those who were killed or injured.  I have tried not to think a lot about it.  I haven't really prayed much about it.  I haven't cried about it.

I don't cry very often.  But this week I have cried about some plants of mine that died.  I have cried about the huge pile of laundry.  I have cried because the kids' rooms are horribly messy, even though they were just clean 3 days ago.  I cried over the cost of car repairs.  I cried when someone said some careless words to me.  I cried when my son spilled his milk.  I cried while I was making coffee this morning for no reason at all.

Except it isn't for no reason at all.  I am crying over these little things because I haven't allowed myself to cry over the big ones.  I haven't cried for Boston.  Or for West Texas.  Or for a family who was in a horrible car accident.  Or for a friend who is struggling with an incurable degenerative disease.  Or for a friend whose young son is facing serious medical issues.

I think many of you know that I am a deep feeler.  I hurt when people hurt.  I haven't wanted to hurt deeply for all of these big things so I (thought I) shut the doors of my heart to keep the pain at bay.  But it isn't working...it never does.  I am sad.  So deeply, deeply, sad.  I need to cry about the big things.  I need the hurt because it is the intense pain of others that brings me to my knees.  And on my knees is where I need to be.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Selfish Heart of Darkness

There's nothing quite like a nice tax refund to bring out the selfishness in my heart.  The dear husband and I have been counting on being able to spend our refund on a new (for us) car.  So I have been combing Craigslist for months and doing research on which car would be best for our family of 5.  I am not a minivan lover but after having 3 kids in 3 cars seats straight across the back seat for the past 2 years, I was hoping to get something with a few more seatbelts...you know, so the kids can't touch each other while they are in the car.  In my mind, my sanity is worth more than a few miles per gallon.  So after months of internet searching and researching I find the "perfect" family car.  A Kia Rondo.  It is a wagon, NOT a minivan, and the gas mileage is decent.  But it seats 7.  Which means that all of my kids would fit in it with a seat in between them.  And it is pretty cheap.  And it gets good reviews.  And there is one for sale just 20 miles from here.  So I went to test drive it this past Sunday with the promise to my husband that I would not get my heart set on THAT particular car.  I drove it and I liked it.  I started planning which kid would sit where, and how nice it would be to have a little more room in the car.  The hubby and I talked and discussed and talked and discussed.  I showed him all the pictures of the car.  I told him I wasn't going to throw a hissy fit and demand we get this particular car...I've done that in the past and it has never turned out well.  But I was definitely already dreaming of being able to carry on a grown-up conversation in the front seats while the kids sing or hum happily to themselves in the back seats (hey, it's MY fantasy!!).  So I was a bit taken aback last night when the husband tells me that he thinks we should save our money, do some work on our current vehicle and look at getting a car next year.

Disappointment.  Some tears.  Some pretty bitter thoughts.  My laundry-folding took a slightly violent turn as pillowcases were shaken out and angrily folded.  Enter Joy's thoughts, "Here I want just one nice thing in life and  it gets thwarted.  I'm so sick of waiting around for what I really want.  Doesn't God understand that I really NEED this car?"  And then I hear my own thoughts and the ridiculous selfishness there.  This post really has nothing to do with a car.  It has everything to do with the selfish (and utterly ridiculous) state of my heart.  Here I am lamenting over a car and feeling pretty sorry for myself.  Really, Joy?

And then I got mad.  I got mad at myself.  I got mad at myself for lamenting over a car that was never really mine to begin with.  I started counting my blessings...a roof over my head, a soft, warm bed, food in the fridge, a car that works well enough, clothes and shoes...  And I started feeling guilty.  Guilty because I know there are a lot of people in America who don't have those things.  And I know there are people in the world much worse off than the poorest people in America.  And then I think about a mother in Africa who is holding and rocking and singing to her starving child.  And then I think about the child who is starving and dying who doesn't even have a mother to rock her.  And I went to Starbucks last week.  And I bought a new skirt.  And I went out to eat with a friend.  Twice.  And then the tears really come.  Because my selfishness is a huge roaring monster in my room right now.  And I am batting weakly at it with pitiful stick made up of pitiful excuses about not being able to help where I was born.

I've never really felt comfortable with the "as long as you give some of your time/money it is ok to live comfortably" message.  I enjoy a good Caramel Frappuccino once in a while, but I can't seem to shush the voice that tells me that I could have used that $5 differently.  If I get a new pair of shoes I wonder if I really "needed" them or if I could have used the same ones for a few more months.  Is it wrong to spend $5 on a bottle of shampoo because I like my hair to be shiny when I could just as easily spend $1 for a bottle (and have considerably less shiny hair)?  Should I feel guilty that I can hop in the car and drive 15 minutes to pick up a bottle of vanilla and flavored coffee creamer because I forgot to get it on my regular grocery shopping trip earlier today (you know, the one where my cart was so full there weren't room for my kids to sit in it anymore)?  I suppose you could say that I suffer from "first world guilt."  A friend recommended I read Jen Hatmaker's book 7:  An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.  But I went on Amazon and put it in my shopping cart and there it sits.  I can't even justify spending $10 on a new book that I could probably borrow from someone. And I have to admit that I am afraid to read it.  That maybe she will tell me that I should actually DO something with this "first world guilt" I feel.

And so I go to sleep with these thoughts jostling in my head...in my nice, warm, comfortable bed.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

I wish
I could shield you from this pain
Spread my arms out and take the blows myself

I wish
That this world had more joy
and less sorrow

I wish 
I had an answer
to the questions asked and unasked

I will 
hurt with you
love you
pray for you

I will 
cling fiercely to every joy

I will
probably never stop questioning
but I still have peace in the midst of mystery

I will.

January 19, 2011

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Least of These...

This is such a familiar passage that I'd be insulting your intelligence and Bible knowledge if I quote it, but I'll risk it and go ahead and insult you.  I've got some vinegar in me today :).

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  (Matthew 25:34-40)

Who are "the least of these" anyway?  The obvious answer is right in the passage...it is those who are hungry, those who are thirsty, those who are strangers, those who need clothes, those who are sick or in prison.  It is  easy to see "the least of these" as the people who are marginalized by our society...the homeless, the drug addicts, the prostitutes...those who would be considered the dregs of society.  Yep, these are "the least of these," and we are called to serve them. In serving them, we are serving Jesus.

But we dig a little deeper.  If we are honest, many of us would also include the maid who cleans our hotel room, the chauffeur who takes our keys and parks our car, the people on the "People of Wal Mart" website.  While we might be polite to them to their faces (though sadly, not always), we ridicule and poke fun at them (and take pictures of them with our iPhones and post them online so the whole world can make fun of them too) the second they have their backs turned.  Yep, these are "the least of these" as well, and we are called to serve them.  In serving them, we are serving Jesus.

I consider those above pretty obvious.  But what about the CEO of the big company whose marriage is falling apart because of the long hours he's working?  What about that nice family at church that is struggling to pay their house payment and is in danger of losing their home?  What about the people who confess to struggling with secret sins?  We might be good at hiding our judgmental attitudes, but when it comes down to it we consider ourselves better, more enlightened, good Christian examples.  I think that these fall into the category of "the least of these" as well, and we are called to serve them.  In serving them, we are serving Jesus.

And what about those who are just really good at putting on a cheerful face while they mask the pain and hurt and sin they are struggling with?  What about those who go to church week after week but don't know who Jesus is?  What about those who are truly desiring to serve God and know they don't have it all together?  What about them?  Are they "the least of these" as well?  You know that they are, and we are called to serve them.  In serving them, we are serving Jesus.

What about those who live in developing countries?  Yep.  AIDS orphans?  Yep.  Politicians?  Ummm...yep.  What about ______________?  Yep, them too!  Again, in serving them, we are serving Jesus.

But what about me?  Me?  Well, this me is the one called to go and serve "the least of these," right?  I mean, that makes me something other than "the least of these," right?  Nope.  That puts me smack-dab in the middle of "the least of these."  Why do I think that I somehow am not included when everyone else is?  My best answer is that my own disgusting pride places values on people.  I place people into categories... those who were dealt a raw hand in life, those who made bad choices to get them where they are, those who don't have life figured out yet, those who look different/act different...and I place myself above every single category.  They are the least of these.  I am more than these.  Just seeing these words on the screen make me feel sick to my stomach at my own backward thinking.  But I can't erase them because they are true.

So I have come up with a new definition to "the least of these:  "those whom Jesus has died for."  Did He die for the crack-addict?  Yep.  The prostitute?  Yep.  The "People of Wal Mart?"  An emphatic yep.  The maid?  The CEO?  The cheerful-face people?  Yep, yep, yep.  Me?  Yes, He died for me.   That means that I don't have any right to put myself above anyone else.  I don't have any right to consider ANYONE as lesser than myself.  I don't have any right to make fun of people that Jesus died for, for in making fun of them, I am making fun of Jesus.  And of course, I would never knowingly do that.  But I have.  And I am sorry to say that I still do.  

But I will say it one last time, lest I have been unclear.  My value to Jesus is EXACTLY the same as the value of the crack addict.  EXACTLY the same as the prostitute, the people of Wal Mart. EXACTLY the same.  We are all souls that Jesus died for, loves, and longs to draw to Himself.  

Joy, get over yourself:  I am the least of the least of these.  


I suppose I've always felt a mixture of excitement and trepidation at that number, because it is historically believed that Jesus went to the cross at age thirty-three. I don't make a big deal out of numbers, but for some reason I've always felt like this age should mean something. After all, by this age Jesus had fed tens of thousands of people, healed hundreds (if not thousands), preached to massive crowds, and brought many, many people to repentance. I feel like something significant should happen in my life during this year. But this year has been a year shaped by struggle, defined by discontent. My own heart has been in a bad place. I have been anything but Jesus-like.

Today in the shower I was mulling this past year over. I have two days left of being 33. And while I haven't had any Elijah-and-the-prophets-of-Baal moments this year, nor any Moses-seeing-God's-glory moments, I have just begun to grasp something completely fresh and new during this year. This one thing has amazingly rejuvenated (and continues to rejuvenate) my stony heart. It has brought about (and continues to bring about) a new hunger and desire for more of God. It has single-handedly destroyed (and continues to destroy) all of the smug self-righteousness that has made me “feel good” about myself for as long as I can remember. And it is awakening in me (and continues to awaken in me) the beginnings of a soft contentment.

What is this miraculous new revelation that is bringing about so many changes in me? Two words. The Gospel. The Gospel? You mean, the same Gospel that saved me as a young child? You mean the same Gospel that drew me to Christ in college? The same Gospel I profess to share with others? You mean the same Gospel that I have taught about numerous times? That Gospel? Yes, that Gospel.

Does this surprise you at all? Because it sure surprised me. In my usual self-righteous, know-it-all way, I have always understood the Gospel. The Gospel, in a nutshell, is that God created man to be perfect and to be in perfect relationship with Him. Man messed up and sinned and broke that perfect relationship. In order to restore that perfect relationship God sent His perfect son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins, MY sins. After three days He rose from the dead to prove His power over Satan and death. If I believe in all of this, I will be saved and live for all eternity in the presence of God!

I've always understood this. I've believed it. I still do believe it. But I've always left the Gospel right there, at the moment of my salvation. That is what the Gospel is for, right? The Gospel just sort-of “happens” to you and you get saved and then you live the Christian life. The good Christian life. The sort of Christian life that means that you are involved in a good church, you read the Bible, you pray, you tell others about the Gospel. But the Gospel has always been past-tense to me. It is something that happened before. I just figured I had it down and I could move on with just continuing to pass it on to others.

I have been, to borrow a line from Paul, a Pharisee. If I were to write Philippians 3:4-6 about my own life, it would go something like this; “If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh—I myself have more: Born into a Christian home, to zealous Christian parents, memorized hundreds of verses, went to church religiously, a Christian of Christians; as for zeal, leading many mission trips, working with kids, doing anything asked of me within the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” I've been a good influence. I've doled out lots of “good,” Christian advice. I have prayed for people. I have prayed with people. I have shared my faith often. I have had the label of “missionary.” And I have been self-righteous about it all, but I have always tempered that self-righteousness with a healthy dose of wannabe humility. I have served. I have done menial jobs. I have sacrificed. Yet even in my “humility” I have seen pride's ugly face. I have taught about the Gospel so often that I had reduced it to a formula.

This is NOT what the Gospel is. Yes, the Gospel happens at the moment of salvation. But it also happens before the moment of salvation, when God is drawing us to Himself. In fact, it happens before the foundations of the world. And it doesn't just reach backward into time, it reaches forward into time. The Gospel doesn't just save me, the Gospel defines me. It is who I am. The Gospel crushes my self-righteousness and my pitiful attempts to please God by my works. The Gospel annihilates my silly idea that the measure of grace that I need is somehow less than the measure of grace that someone else needs. I am shocked at the realization of just how dirty and disgusting my heart really is, and how good I have become at disguising its true state. I have put so much cover-up on my heart that even I truly didn't know how gross it was (is) under all the layers of “prettiness” I have caked on there. The Gospel is tearing all of that away from me and I am seeing for the first time that the measure of grace I need is enormous...exactly the same measure that you need. The same measure that the drug-abuser needs. The same measure that the child-abuser needs. Wow.

I am reminded of the scene in C.S. Lewis's beloved The Voyage of the Dawn Treader where Eustace has turned into a dragon because of his greed. Aslan comes to Eustace and tells him to tear off his own skin. Eustace claws at himself and tears off a layer of skin. And another. And another. After realizing that his own attempts to remove the dragon skin from himself are going to fail, Eustace allows Aslan to do it. Eustace retells it later: "The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know -- if you've ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy -- oh but it is such fun to see it coming away."

I am in this process right now, and God is tearing away so much ugliness from my heart right now. It is an uncomfortable process...actually, it is downright painful. But I am learning about what the Gospel really means. I am learning what it means that I am a daughter of the King. I am learning what it means that I am covered by Christ. I have not “arrived” and I will NEVER again make the mistake of thinking that I have. God is not done with me yet, so you had better believe that this story will be continued...