The Good Words, April :: From Grumpmonger to Good Cheer

Funny observation I have about a deviation of the English language from its present state in Great Britain to its present state in the United States: only one side of the pond seems to still use the suffix “monger” for anything of than “fear monger.” In the US, we have “fear mongering” — the act of spreading exaggerated rumors to create fear, however in Great Britain, there are fear mongers, and fishmongers and cheesemongers and I imagine lots of other mongers that I just didn’t have the time to observe from my time in Scotland.

For a good period of my life, I’d like to say I was a bit of a cheer monger. My perpetual mental state was incredibly optimistic and, maybe my parents did a good job of teaching me proper sleeping habits, I tended to wake up like a happy Disney princess on coronation day.

And then parenthood happened.

And while some of the folks who know me in the present might consider me to still be a mostly happy person, I am quite certain it is no longer a consistent state of being. I’m no longer a cheer monger, so much as a hopeful optimist who consistently feels like a let’s-just-survive-today realist.

A few years ago, I met an individual on a few separate occasions that I can only liken to a wet blanket. Our conversations were so heavy and dry and it seemed like there was no space in the world for the possibility of flowers, sunshine, rainbows, or even rainbow colored Skittles candy.

I had been introduced to a grump-monger. An individual consistently prepared to throw a wet blanket on other people’s hopes and dreams, while simultaneously feeling certain that things will work out better for every other person in the room than it will for him or herself. {You won’t find that one in Webster’s friends, but there’s always time for next year.}

In the church, my friends, it just shouldn’t be so.

I’ve recently read the words of Jesus to His disciples just before He made the long and arduous trip to the cross. And these words have stood out to me on every occasion:

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” {John 16:33}

I’m fascinated by this one simple thought: Jesus was telling His disciples to take courage, to be of good cheer… the Greek word translated there is defined as “be bolstered from within.” And this isn’t a stand-alone instance.

In John 15:11, Jesus says “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” And further along in 16:24 “Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

As He finishes His words to them by praying this one last prayer for them before His early ministry will come to an end, Jesus prays, “But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves.” {John 17:13}

At the most sorrowful point in His life on Earth Jesus keeps speaking this same idea: Yes, the road ahead will be hard. Yes. You will have tribulation. But rejoice. Take heart. Be courageous. Be of good cheer.

Is there hope for a society riddled with trendy sarcasm? Is there hope for us to endure what life will throw our way and not just “grin and bear it” but embrace it, and find joy right here, right now?

For the month ahead, I’d very delightedly like to invite you to join me on a journey to ask the question: how do we find a place in ourselves where we can be of good cheer in the midst of the hard?

What if there’s another place: Moving even past the contentment we’re working on embracing into a place where we see what’s ahead and, no matter what, say “Yes” with a smile? A real one!

I’m excited to walk this out, in hopes of finding the road to joy and the soul-satisfying good cheer right here. I’d love to welcome you to join the journey. At the Collie house, we’ll be learning John 16:33 {NKJV}if you’d like to join us… and here’s a beautiful printable by my dear friend Margaret if you’d like a visual reminder to put a smile on your dial in the month to come! {large one | small one}
I welcome your thoughts, comments, smiles — and even wet blankets, friends. Happy Easter. He is risen. Be of good cheer!

xCC

The Good Words: How Good Friday Bought Paul’s Contentment {And Ours!}

On the Christian calendar, yesterday we celebrated the day we call good. Good Friday, the day we remember that an innocent God was pronounced guilty, taken to a cross at the hands of men, and was crucified. It is counter-intuitive to think of such evil and call it good — but when we remember what was accomplished on that day, the punishment that purchased our peace, the death that gave us true life, we know that God pre-ordained it for our good, and good, so good it is.

This month, if you’ve been following along, we’ve pondered the Apostle Paul’s outrageous claim, “…I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” {Phil. 4: 11-13}

Paul basically says “No matter what… I’m okay.” Wow.

One chapter earlier, it seems Paul gives us a clear picture — not a subtle hint or a mysterious clue — but a very clearly spoken explanation for why this kind of contentment is possible. In chapter three of his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes about all the reasons he has to boast if the competition for holiness has anything to do with what he has done in service to God. After a long string of accolades which would have been very impressive to the Jews of his day, Paul writes with a surprising commentary:

“All the things that seemed super-awesome before, all my achievements…” {a modern equivalent might be “my multiple PhDs from Harvard, Stanford and Oxford, my decades on the mission field serving the poorest of the poor in India, my world-renown last name that is proof of status and wealth”} … “all of it is trash. Refuse. Worthless.”

The NKJV translates Paul’s word choice “rubbish” — scholars seem to think a worse word might be appropriate — but why is everything he could boast in rubbish?

This is the explanation:

“Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith…”

And this is the clue that unlocks the mystery. The plain truth made manifest on a Good Friday two thousand years ago:

Christ is where we can find our contentment. Our hope. Our joy. Our peace. Our everything. And if we truly understand what He accomplished — how His perfection paid for our foolish, selfish sin — then we know that we truly do know a God who has already supplied all that we need for life and godliness. Paid for by His death on the cross.

This is the hope that we have, the hope that is found when we recognize the glorious goodness of Jesus dying for us–the gift that is the one thing we need most and have no chance of finding any other way.

This was my thought at the start of all this pondering:

Paul looks to Christ to find contentment — so that whatever life brings his way, he is able to trust, to survive, and even thrive because Christ is his sustainer, and makes contentment possible in any circumstance.

And it seems that Good Friday cross is the place where the Truth became a crucified reality. His death purchased our life. And this is what it means for us:

Once we realize we have everything we truly need in Him, we can find contentment anywhere, anytime, in every circumstance. Abasing or in abundance… when Christ is our all, when we embrace the idea that He is able to work all things together for our good and His glory, our trust leads to greater contentment. 

Our Good Friday was marked by a guest missing from the table, a broken window at the back door and a trip to Urgent Care for stitches. Every day is an opportunity to suffer under the struggle of wishing things had happened differently. And every day is an opportunity to choose to say “Yes” to God instead, as Mother Teresa said, to “give whatever He takes and take whatever He gives with a smile.”

Next month (tomorrow!) we’ll dive into thinking about that “with a smile” idea, but in the meantime I hope you’ll take a deep breath, open your eyes to the circumstances around you and know that no matter what they are, contentment is yours for the choosing.

Because of Good Friday… and because of the Good Sunday around the bend.

xCC

P.S. If you want a sneak peek of April’s Good Words, you can click here to view and print a small version, or click here to view and print a large version!

How To Crush Contentment in Every Relationship

Has anybody else been focusing on contentment and finding themselves in a holy wrestling match just to feel like they are keeping their head above water? Anyone? Well, I can raise my hand with an emphatic yes in response to that question — and I have some stories to share that will hopefully encourage you to fight for the contentment that will make your life a better space. More on that next week, but in the meantime…

Did you read this blog post title and think I was talking about “crushing” contentment in the gnarly, surfer-dude hanging ten good kind of crushing, or were you leaning towards thinking contentment was getting squashed like a beach ball under a school bus?

Turns out it can go either way. Seriously, one word can help you find a fantastic sense of peace and contentment inside your relationships. And that same word can be the death of all things happy in those exact same relationships.

So what’s the one word?

Expectations.

Years ago, when the Hubs and I were in the midst of soaking up the wisdom of some of our pastors in premarital counseling, we discussed the power of expectations. I tried to put a mental bookmark on that word, to look for it and think about it, and from time to time it has come to the forefront of my mind again: the issue here is expectations.

But a recent explanation in a sermon by Andy Stanley brought my understanding of expectations in relationships to a new level of insight.

Stanley pointed out the very simple idea that we come into any relationship (especially marriage) with often unexpressed, but still very real, expectations of the other person. We might expect our husband to take out the trash. We might expect our wife to have a hot meal on the table at six pm sharp. That’s what your Dad did. This is what your Mom did. Simply put, things we’ve seen and experienced have created expectations.

In our nature as fallen human beings, there is always going to be a gap between our expectations and our actual lived experience. You were expecting him to naturally remember and always notice that the trash needed to be taken out without you having to ask. But in your experience, he never takes the trash out without you asking, and it makes you feel like a nag to ask. So instead you take out the trash yourself while feeling frustrated and disappointed that he didn’t notice and take it out for you.

In that gap between expectations and experience lies the area that you have control over. And here are your options:

Option A is to assume that your expectations are completely realistic, and assume the worst. He sees the trash and doesn’t want to do it. The jerk.

Option B is to choose to carefully manage your expectations and believe the best. He is very busy and things are weighing on him at work. He probably hasn’t thrown anything away and didn’t even notice the trash at all.

Are these words from 1 Corinthians 13 familiar to you? Perhaps if you’ve ever attended a wedding…

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

When we choose the most generous explanation possible for the difference between our expectations and our actual experience, we choose to give life to our own souls, and to the souls of the people we are in a relationships with. 

And that life-giving choice paves the way for a road contentment can travel on. When we are not suspecting, assuming and waiting for those we care about to fail us and mess up, we naturally behave differently toward them. And we feel differently about them, and about our relationships with them.

Whether you’re wondering why that friend didn’t invite you to that thing at that place, or you’re still wondering why that husband didn’t take out the trash again (Y’all this really is not a problem at the Collie house… it’s just such a great example! Hero Hubs is on it!) you will find life and joy and peace when you choose to “believe all things” — to believe the best possible explanation.

Keep your heart with all diligence,
For out of it spring the issues of life. {Prov. 4:23}

What’s amazing about this principle is that it absolutely applies to our relationship with God. When you start guarding your heart and thinking about what you are choosing to believe, what thoughts you are allowing to become expectations, everything changes. What do you believe when things happen to you that are different from your expectations? Are you generous toward God in your heart?

When you pray and it doesn’t work out how you asked, or when you hoped and things happened differently, or when you were just trying to get through the morning and it felt like the world had gone mad because someone forgot to flush the toilet and someone else dropped a beloved toy into that non-flushed toilet and you got the toy out and put it in an empty yogurt tub of hot soapy water and the baby walked by and decided to pull that tub of water down for an early baptism while two other kids fought over who sat in your lap while you read a devotional to them on the couch? Not that I speak from personal experience about such things. What will you choose to believe?

Remember again what Paul wrote:

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. {Phil 4:11-12}

Paul could be content whether abased or abounding because He believed in a God — as He wrote to the Romans — who could cause all things to work together for the good of those who love Him.

If we believe that Truth — if it is our realest and truest expectation of God — our perception of every single circumstance, from car accidents to potty training incidents, from a careless word here to a cancer diagnosis there, all of it can become an opportunity for us to trust that we will see His goodness and be a part of extending His glory.

This Truth does not belittle the very hard things that we walk through in this world. Rather, it dignifies them — saying that they are not the hapless and careless change of a cosmic Big Bang or a god sitting on Olympus and toying with mankind. This Truth says God is very near, and we believe the very best about Him: He is real, and He is good. And in His all-powerful goodness, He can work all things out for our good and His glory.

For better or for worse, my friends, expectations will crush contentment. Guard them. Ponder them. Carefully choose what will you believe. And on a hope and a prayer, you will learn to crush contentment. In the hang-ten, gnarly kind of way, of course.

xCC

What Makes Contentment Possible in the Fire?

Picture this. You’re living life as a refugee, completely under the authority of a self-worshiping totalitarian dictator. He’s completely certain he deserves all the honor and worship all of his subjects can muster and…

you’re completely certain he doesn’t.

You and a few of your fellow captives in this totalitarian regime blatantly refuse to even put yourselves in a posture where it would appear that you will give any glory to this despot. He knows. And he’s not happy.

Does this story sound familiar?

Enter the guards, stage left, who will escort you to a ridiculously hot furnace and… you guessed it… toss you in to certain doom.

You’re with me now, right? The Hebrew dudes with the crazy names — Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego — were tossed into a fire for refusing to worship the Babylonian King.

And we all know the part we get really excited about — the part where the king looks in and sees four guys walking around in the furnace, instead of just three, and “one of them looks like the Son of God.” We read this, or we hear the story, and we take joy and comfort in the fact that we know, love and serve a God that comes to us in places of utter despair, the God that joins us in the furnace, the God that comes near no matter the trial.

And yes!! Yes! That is good, good news — absolutely worth celebrating!

But it is not the end of the story.  {Read the story here if you’d like to enjoy it more fully!}

Do you know what happens next? Nebuchadnezzar does this complete 180 and suddenly you hear these words coming out of the mouth of the guy that seemed like an insane totalitarian despot just moments ago:

“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God! Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this.”

One minute those guys are trusting, willing to die, perhaps praying God will save the day and they will not be thrown in the furnace. Moments later, they’ve endured the trial and an entire empire — one of the largest empires known to have ever existed on our planet — is about to hear the story of the One True God who can deliver His people from furnaces and deserves the worship of all of mankind.

Let’s step away from this amazing story for just a moment to ask a question. Why did God create us? Surely He is perfectly wise and good and holy and all-knowing and all-powerful and all-present — so what was the big idea when it came to creating some people in His own image?

Over the centuries theologians have pondered this question and basically come to just a couple of simple conclusions. With no intention of oversimplifying the gloriously complex and amazing possibilities of a Creator who infinitely exceeds our capabilities for understanding, the conclusions we’ve drawn are these two:

Man was created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. (As the Westminster Catechism puts it.) Others might say we were created to enjoy His grace and extend His glory. (David Platt, Radical)

What if that is the case? And what does it mean for us to find our way through this world full of joys and storms and sunsets and fiery furnaces — clinging to a belief that we are not only here to enjoy the Grace, but also to extend the Glory?

One of my favorite verses a dear college roommate introduced me to was this one:

“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” {2 Peter 3:9}

How does it feel when you’re clinging to God, hoping He will make something possible, or heal something or open some door or fulfill something that truly seems like a promise straight out of His Word and into your heart — and it just doesn’t happen?

Kind of like the Lord is slack, right? Like when Mary saw Jesus after her brother Lazarus died and she just lays it all out there honest and upset, “If you had been here, he would not have died.” She knows God’s power and she says — I counted on You to show up. I called for You to show up. You knew this was going to happen. Not awesome.

Do you remember what Jesus said when He heard Lazarus was sick — just a few verses before all this shook out? “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” {see John 11} The Scripture goes on to explain: “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.”

He loved them — and so He stayed away two more days. And we look at that and it’s easy — without knowing the whole story to say, “Slack. That just seems kinda slack.”

But when the story unfolds? It is so incredibly glorious. How much more joy do you think Mary and Martha experienced in life with their brother every day for the rest of their lives after those four days without him? And how much joy would they have had in being part of the story of one of the most miraculous experiences to happen to all of mankind? Through this, they enjoyed the Grace and extended the Glory.

Crazy amazing stuff. In the modern version of this story, everyone is tweeting #LazarusRises and taking selfies at his house and by the tomb where he lay dead for four days. Mary starts a blog and has billions of followers as she testifies continuously about the glorious goodness of Jesus who showed up — in His perfect timing.

Now here’s where all this ties together with a nice little bow that could be hard to tie for some of us: Contentment can only happen when we trust that there is more to life than just enjoying God’s grace and goodness. There has to be the part where we are a part of extending His glory.

Because if we think God’s only job is to make us happy? We will not be happy.

But what if we believe that He is not slack concerning His promises? That He works and wills and moves in mysterious ways because He is not willing for anyone to die without Him, He is longing for everyone to find Him and join the joy of enjoying His grace and extending His glory?

That means your pain and mine, our fiery furnaces and uphill battles and incredible struggles — can have a purpose so far beyond our capacity for understanding that we will just have to put up our hands and say, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him!”

“I have tasted His goodness and I know that even if I never taste it again this side of heaven, still — I am confident that He is good and unfathomably wise and deserving of glory.”

It’s that one word we talked about last week, that sums up all of contentment: Trust.

Dr. Seuss might say:
I can be content here, or there,
I can be content anywhere.
I can live on trust and prayer
God is on the throne up there.

I can be content in June,
up a tree or on the moon.
Mine is not a story of doom,
God is on the throne up there.

In the fire’s burning glare
Through the waters lacking air,
Threatened in a Lion’s layer,
God is on the throne up there.

I can be content, it’s true!
I can be and so can you!
Trust, it’s what we have to do:
God is on the throne up there.

This is the hope we have, friends, that we are part of a double-purposed story.

We can trust He will allow us to enjoy His grace. We can trust we will have the privilege of being part of extending the glory. Whether it’s the baby peeing on the bathroom floor or the Doctor’s Report that makes it seem like the world just starting crashing in around you — know that there is always more to the story than what you see.

It can still be good. And it can still be glorious.

xCC

 

More encouragement for the journey of enjoying the Grace and extending the Glory… {Recent Favorites}

Radical by David Platt

Daring to Hope by Katie Davis Majors

Come Be My Light (the writings of Mother Teresa)

The Good Words :: This One Word Makes Contentment Possible

Passing by the local playground down by the River last week, I noticed an unusual sight. In our sleepy wee town, the playground might have a half dozen cars at any given time, and typically only has an overflow when people are putting their boats in at the ramp across the road, but on this particular afternoon cars were packed in every space, and additional cars were circling the parking lot, just waiting to snag a much-coveted spot to park.

What was all the raucous about? Well, for the better part of a couple of days last week, the winds were reminiscent of a place I lived years ago in South Africa. The locals say “The wind was born in Gordon’s Bay.” The days of “Gordon’s Bay winds” resulted in an unusual phenomenon in our neck of the woods. The water in the river blew out towards the sound, leaving a mucky riverbed bare for all to see. Long buried driftwood scattered the landscape, and even remnants of a ship sunk in the 1860s were said to have been identified.

And all those cars clamoring in the parking lot? They wanted a chance to look out across the mucky riverbed, and maybe snag a few photos to share on social media.

Looking out at that dry(ish) ground and wondering if the water had blown out far enough to cross to the other side, I immediately began pondering the parting of the Red Sea, when God had a steady wind blowing all night that created a path right through the midst of the sea to allow the Israelites to cross to the other side.

I was reading the story again last week — how the Israelites cried out to the Lord to deliver them and He heard their cries and called Moses to return to Egypt and deliver His people. While all this deliverance was taking place, it was easy to very quickly get frustrated with the Israelites, reading their story and thinking about how they handled the situations they encountered.

Moses speaks to Pharaoh and Pharaoh increases the burdens they need to shoulder, the “bricks with no straw” situation. The plagues begin and God begins to differentiate between His people and the Egyptians — the Egyptians’ livestock are diseased while the Israelites’ are spared. Darkness covers Egypt, except in the dwellings of the Israelites. The Egyptians lose their firstborn sons while the Israelites are spared.

Finally Pharaoh agrees to let God’s people go, and with heaps of parting gifts from their Egyptian neighbors, the Israelites set out on a long walk to freedom.

They arrive at the Red Sea and, looking back, realize Pharaoh has had a change of heart (again) and has decided to chase them down. What’s their response?

“So were there not enough graves in Egypt? Is that why you’ve taken us here — to die in the wilderness?”

Fear shouts louder than faith — and the people who have JUST seen miracles are scared to death.

This part might be familiar — they wait by the Red Sea all night, the wind blows the waters back, and (a little bit more impressive than our situation) they walk through the sea with walls of water on either side and a furious Egyptian army chasing after them.

God delivers them, the Egyptians are swept away when Red Sea Boulevard closes up, and there they are — delivered from slavery, free — a people able to steer their own destiny.

But before the Egyptian chariots have settled on the sea floor, the Israelites — who by the way have just sung all these delightful songs and danced and given thanks to the Lord for their deliverance — now begin to complain again, because they’ve been traveling for three days and they have no water to drink.

And you know — I kind of get it. Needing water is totally valid. But it doesn’t say anybody prayed for water. It doesn’t say anybody turned to the Lord and asked for it. It just says they arrived at some water that was bitter and complained against Moses:

“How’s anybody supposed to drink anything around here?”

Moses cries out to God, God shows him how to make the bitter waters sweet and … you’d think from this point they’d live happily ever after, right?

But fast forward some fifteen verses into the next chapter and…

“The whole congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron. […] ‘Oh that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of mean and when we ate bread to the full!'”

Again — food is a totally valid need — but it never says anyone prayed or cried out to the Lord. It just keeps using one verb to talk about the Israelites are doing: complained.

We could go on and on but I think you’re picking up on the pattern I’m putting down: fear gets the better of the Israelites, and instead of leaning into faith, they complain.

And goodness gracious, let’s be honest. Am I kinda sorta sometimes the same way? Have I seen His hand make molehills out of mountains — but do I still fall short and get scared and lose hope?

This is the difference between their attitude toward the God who delivered them and Paul’s. Remember those verses about contentment?

“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
{Phil. 4:11-13}

The big difference between Paul’s faith and the Israelites who left Egypt can be summed up in one word. Are you ready for it?

Trust.

It is so easy to get scared. When it seems like provision isn’t coming. When it seems like the worst possible outcome is the one that is going to happen — or maybe even has already happened.

But what if we trust that God can use anything — anything — for our good and His glory?

Next week will mark the five year anniversary of me losing my Dad. At the time of his death, it absolutely seemed like the worst possible outcome — the thing that we were praying so fervently for didn’t happen. The miracle we begged God for never became a reality.

But somehow, in the days and weeks and months and years that followed, I have seen God’s hand in it. I experienced the presence of God in that time of grief like I never have before. I drew near to God and discovered more and more of His deep and rich and full-to-overflowing love for me. That week in the hospital and the very difficult experiences that followed it were perhaps the most difficult moments I’ve navigated in my life so far — but on the other side of that, I saw God’s glory. I saw His hand when over a hundred thousand dollars of medical bills were paid for. When my new baby girl helped me overcome the sorrow and see that life could still go on, and life could still be beautiful.

His hand is near in a million little ways — but only he who sees takes off his shoes.

And this is the question we will all have to answer, when the wind blows hard and the river is gone and the problems and difficulties of a challenging season of life seem laid bare: Can we trust God here in this place? Do we think He is big enough to handle this? Can He provide manna, even in this desert?

A heart that trusts is a heart that says “Yes, Lord, even this. Even this can work out for my good and Your glory. I will wait, I will find peace because I will find You. I trust You.

Contentment is worth fighting for, friends. Join me in trusting an unknown future to a God who knows, sees and cares enough to part the waters just for you.

xCC

 

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The Good Word for March :: Your Invitation to Contentment

“They say money can’t buy happiness. But it can buy jet skis… And have you ever seen an unhappy person on a jet ski?”

A decade ago the Hubs and I cracked up at a comedian making this observation. I can’t remember the comedian or the context, but I remember repeatedly joking about it with the Hubs, and maybe just ever so slightly pondering the possible truth in the statement.

Months later, we found ourselves sitting upstairs in our apartment, overlooking the harbor of Gordon’s Bay and enjoying a deep conversation and an afternoon coffee. This was our tradition when we had just the one kiddo and he was down for his afternoon snooze.

Our peaceful afternoon was interrupted by a family in one of the large homes adjacent to our apartment building on the harbor. This was a “second home” for these folks, occasionally making the trip from Johannesburg down to Cape Town for a relaxing weekend near the sea, however their relaxing weekend by the sea seemed anything but.

An argument broke out about the fact that the husband had gone to great efforts to get the jet ski into the water, and now no one was interested in riding it. While the missionary couple watching from the balcony would’ve loved to volunteer to take on the hardship of driving their jet ski around the bay for an afternoon, we decided to continue to quietly sip our coffee and hope things settled down quickly.

When they did settle down we had to laugh, remembering the words of that comedian we’d heard before — no, even money that can buy jet skis can’t buy happiness.

If you’ve been following along around this writing corner of the woods lately, you know I’ve been focusing in on just one simple word, one simple concept, and unpacking it slowly week by week, to see how it can apply to our lives, and how we can honor God in the process.

And this month’s word comes with a new set of verses that I think are very worth taking to heart — and although it is three verses this month, I think you’ll already find one of them very familiar and therefore should not consider memorizing them a particularly daunting task, should you choose to undertake it:

11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. {Phil. 4:11-13}

We often pull that last verse out and want it to serve as a spiritual trump card for life, most especially in the sports world — like Evander Holyfield walking into a boxing match against Mike Tyson with Philippians 4:13 inscribed on his robe and shorts — we like the idea that God can enable us to win the battles we want to fight and do the things we want to do. But with an extra sort of spiritual genie in our back pocket to give us an edge.

But what is Paul referring to when he speaks about finding strength in Christ? It’s less about climbing mountains and more about living at peace right here on the ground. Right? It’s less about knocking out competition and more about finding a sense of peace whether we’re lifted on the shoulders, or knocked out and lying on the mat.

Paul looks to Christ to find contentment — so that whatever life brings his way, he is able to trust, to survive, and even thrive because Christ is his sustainer, and makes contentment possible in any circumstance.

We’ll unpack the concept of contentment this month, but I want to start with a simple question for you to ponder.

Close your eyes and ask yourself: Are you content?

Do you immediately want to open your eyes to see what’s around you? Does it help to look at the walls of your home? Pictures that remind you of your favorite people? Furnishings that remind you of comfort? Maybe you want to look at your pantry or your fridge and see that you have plenty?

What if the thing our souls need to know most is that contentment has nothing to do with anything on that list?

What if God’s invitation to contentment is for you, right now, whether you feel abased or your life feels abundant? 

I believe that it is. And that’s the conversation we’ll jump into this month. I’m very excited!

And once again, my beautiful friend Margaret has made a beautiful printable for you to hang and enjoy that will help you remember contentment this month!! {Happy squeal!} Click here to download it. And here’s a smaller version if you need a lower-res file. I’m thinking of you precious friends who pay for data!!

I hope you’ll scroll back up and read Paul’s words through a few more times today, and throughout this month. (They’re the most important part.) And I hope you’ll join me in accepting the invitation to find contentment right where you are this month!
xCC

P.S. Facebook will not show you all my posts!! I’d love for you to subscribe so you’ll never miss a post… and invite a friend to join you in accepting the contentment invitation! You and your peeps can subscribe right here to receive every post in your inbox for free!

The God Who Is Kinder Than Necessary

There are two things that seem to get under the skin of the average human being like nothing else:

Bad stuff happening to “good people” and
Good stuff happening to “bad people”

Whether you’re flipping through the pages of the trials of Job or flipping through a magazine published last month, you’re likely to find a story that seems to fall into one of those two categories, and it can be downright frustrating.

If we’re mostly honest, we perhaps mostly feel that we’re the good people that bad things shouldn’t happen to. And even if we’re not particularly sure how we feel about ourselves, we at least have preferences toward certain people — we feel so sorry when death knocks on the door of “that really sweet family” or cancer looms in the background for that person who’s always serving everybody else.

At the same time, without delving into ideas about Original Sin and human fallibility, I think we know deep down (if we’re honest) none of us are really “good people” but we probably still feel like “better people” than [insert some other group] people.

So we don’t like it when bad things happen to people that seem to be mostly alright.

Especially when it’s us.

But what else can we see if we really start looking? Are there gifts we completely forget when the big and glaring bad start looming around the corner?

The truth is, there is always His glorious goodness: if we step back and take off our shoes we begin to see it. Even when we fall short and mess up and say we won’t and then do, or say we will and then don’t, He is there.

He is there and He is holding all things together.

He is there, allowing and enabling every breath we take.

He could cut off the air supply of every wicked soul on the face of this planet.

One word from his mouth could’ve put any of the guys responsible for these mass murders into the grave before they’d fired a single round.

Do any of us honestly deserve to keep breathing? Isn’t every breath a gift we forget to say thank you for?

Although we may not understand the whys behind the good stuff happening to bad people or the bad stuff happening to good people, we have to acknowledge the truth that the Creator of the Universe is clearly (based on our fallible human judgment) kinder than necessary.

So what does that mean for us? How do we face evil? How do we handle hurt? What do we do with the seemingly unfair badness and —  maybe worse — the seemingly unfair goodness of God?

We have to conclude that if that God of the universe is kind to even those we feel “don’t deserve it” (including us, thank you, precious Jesus) — we also have to be kind, even to the people who are spiteful, hurtful and hateful. Didn’t Jesus tell us to turn the other cheek? To pray for those who persecute us?

Sounds like a hard thing to put into practice. But.

I think I might’ve identified a secret method for acting with big kindness in the face of big meanness:

Small kindness in the face of everything.

Last week we shared some big news with our small people, that we’ll very likely be moving house in a couple of months. While the ins and outs of this God-breathed story are a wonderful treat I’ll save for another day, suffice it to say that our excitement was not paralleled in the heart of our eldest, who is not sure he wants to let go of our current domicile.

While I think we expected some sadness and maybe some tears, I was blown away by just how upset our eldest was when we first shared the news. He was never unkind or disrespectful toward us, but he was very honest with his emotions, expressing his disappointment at leaving our home, leaving behind all the precious memories of this place, even leaving the place he had once known as “Gpa’s house.” He eventually decided to climb up to his top bunk in his bedroom and cry for a good while.

As I pondered the situation and thought about his heartache, part of me leaned toward the “He’ll get over it” way of thinking, complemented nicely by ideas about “tough love” — but another part of me felt there was a better way to handle this, and wanted to turn to Jesus to figure out just what that was.

A few minutes later, I found myself right up there on that top bunk with that crying boy, crying with him. I expressed my own sadness about leaving “Gpa’s house” and my own fears about the change in situation. I shared some of the things I was excited about and was looking forward to, and talked about some of the very great possibilities that this change could bring about.

By the end of the conversation, it felt like we’d experienced a major shift: it wasn’t Hero Hubs and me, laying down the plans and telling the kids “this is the deal, like it or not.” Suddenly, it felt like we were on the same team, facing this change together, trusting the God who works everything together for good to do exactly that.

I wouldn’t say I’d failed as a parent if I let that kid cry on the top bunk alone. But I will say what seemed like a small act of kindness for me proved itself a big bridge between my heart and the heart of the child who will probably need a little extra love and a little extra kindness throughout this transition.

These moments aren’t just training ground for some big, distant, looming kindness test where we will be challenged to forgive or look past or extend when we want to withdraw. The moments we are given each day are truly the battleground where the war for who we are going to serve take place.

I puzzled for a while this morning, hard-hearted Pharaoh in Egypt, the Lord hardening his heart and bringing on destruction before glory. And I’m still struggling to wrap my head around the why’s of that hardening… but I hear the word whisper back:

As for you child, you go out in the world “And be kind to one another, and tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Kindness is for every day. Kindness is for every situation. Kindness is one of the ways we say yes to God, and tell Him that He can sit on the throne of our hearts, instead of our own judgments.

Tomorrow we will jump into a new word, and a new focus for the month of March. I hope you’ll join me in asking how contentment can be a game-changer for our lives and our souls. I’m VERY excited, and hope you are too!

I’ve failed a bunch at kindness this month, but I’ve also learned and grown and had some victories. I am praying the same for you! Keep pressing in with a tender heart toward the world around you. Don’t be afraid to be kind, friends. God is near.

xCC

P.S. I can’t thank you enough for your feedback this month — I read every email and LOOOOOVE hearing that these words are an encouragement to you. Thank you for your incredible kindness toward me!

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The Good Words :: Kindness Has a Thousand Flavors

“Years ago I began to pray over all those God brought into our home a prayer I had often
whispered to Him in regard to my daughters: ‘Father, give me Your eyes for them.
Give me your eyes for this man, this woman, this child. Show me how You see each one.‘”
***

Katie Davis Majors — the Katie of Kisses from Katie who moved to Uganda at 18, adopted thirteen daughters and founded a ministry in an extremely impoverished community — wrote those words in her new book, Daring to Hope. Her bravery inspires me, her heart inspires me, and she is certainly a living, breathing example of kindness.

The beauty of Katie’s story, as she continually shares it, is that she walks with Jesus, listens to His voice, and does her best to do what He says. And maybe that is kindness broken down into its simplest form?

Asking God to help us how He sees each person. To give us His eyes for them.

If I remember those thoughts — oh heavens how might it change my communication with my children?

How might it change my attitude toward strangers and friends and neighbors alike?

If under my breath, I whispered, “Father, give me your eyes for them.”

While I might initially look at incorporating a word like kindness into my life more fully and think it means big things — the truth it is really about doing the next small thing, like Mother Teresa said — doing the small thing with the great love. And the smaller the thing, the greater the love.

Our country is grieving this week, frustrated and sad and hurting — because one kid who maybe didn’t find the world a particularly kind place decided to drive to his old school and open fire with a semi-automatic weapon.

Do you ever wonder what it was? Was there one big thing — or were there a hundred small things — that made the difference between “I’m okay” and “I’ll show them?” Could kindness have been the thing that made the difference? And why did he tell one kid to get out of there before things got messy? Where did that kindness come from?

We will probably never know what made the difference, what set him over the edge, what set his course in the direction he chose to take it.

But could we change this — could we prevent this from happening again — if we chose kindness as a rule? If we asked for God’s eyes for one another and treated each other accordingly?

How do we become a kinder, gentler society?

I can only think of one way to start — as Michael Jackson so eloquently put it, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror… I’m asking him to change his ways.”

We cannot overestimate the importance that our small acts of kindness can have for those around us.

There’s an old proverb that says:

“For want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost; for want of a horse the rider was lost; for want of a rider the message was lost; for want of the message the battle was lost; for want of the battle the war was lost; for want of the war the kingdom was lost; and all for the want of a horseshoe nail.” 

We will never fully know what our small acts of kindness could mean to the world around us, the world of difference they could make for the person who receives them. But we have every reason to assume that even the smallest acts have the possibility of meaning the biggest things.

There are more ways to be kind than we can count… a thousand tiny opportunities to be generous with our souls every day. Ask for the eyes to see. Kindness has a thousand flavors and our world needs every one of them.

Keep smiling and keep loving and keep giving and keep letting me know how it’s going – I have loved hearing from some of you about your acts of kindness. This! The world needs this right now!

And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. {Ephesians 4:32}

xCC

P.S. I highly recommend putting BOTH of those books from Katie on your reading list! 😉 View them on Amazon:

Kisses from Katie    :::        Daring to Hope

In case you missed it: I shared a bit about my experience with the Instant Pot and my ten favorite things to do with it on the blog this week!