What About My Right to Pursue Happiness?

My husband doesn’t always make me happy. If you’ve been married longer than thirty minutes, chances are yours doesn’t always make you happy either. There are times when my children also do things that make happiness a challenge. Are you a parent of at least one child who has pooped at least one dirty diaper so far? Then you know what I mean. And my job? My job has its moments, too. Even though I have a great job, there are plenty of times when I am not happy about my job.  And I can really get turned sideways when my car won’t start, or I can’t find my phone or my keys, or my cat puts just one more scratch on my leather sofa. (I’ve started calling my sofa distressed. If I’m going to be distressed about it, it should be distressed, too.) I told my husband leather was a bad idea with cats. See?

There are plenty of things that make me not happy. Every day. Moment by moment there is the potential for something or someone to come my way and steal my happiness right out from under me

I should be happy. I have the right to be happy. The forefathers of this great country of ours said so in the Declaration of Independence. Have you read it? I have. Those men were geniuses. According to the men who founded this country, I have the right, the God given right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I can pursue happiness, and no one can tell me I can’t. It’s in the Declaration.

I have the right to pursue things that make me happy. Should those things suddenly stop making me happy, then I have the right to pursue something else. Someone else. Somewhere else.

What the forefathers forgot to mention in the Declaration, is while we can pursue happiness, it is an awfully hard thing to catch. Just when we think we have it in our grasp… it slips through our fingers and it vanishes right before our eyes. We are left standing there staring at something we had pursued, sure it would make us happy, only to find that it doesn’t, somehow, make us happy after all. But not to worry, before too long, we are off pursuing something else with the same promise of happiness.

It’s all so tiring, isn’t it? I’m tired just writing about it. Just like the saying, “time heals all wounds” is a lie from the enemy, so is the pursuit of happiness. Think about it. There is nowhere in the Scriptures that tells us to pursue happiness. Righteousness, now we are told to pursue righteousness. Wisdom. We definitely are told to seek wisdom. Holiness. Yep. Holiness is definitely in there. But happiness? Nope. Not once.

We do not have the right to be happy. We are not encouraged to pursue it. At all. Actually, we are cautioned about pursuing things that are only temporal. We are encouraged to seek things that are eternal. Like righteousness, wisdom, and holiness.

So what about being happy? Doesn’t God want us to be happy? What father doesn’t want his kids to be happy? I mean, when you ask most parents what they want most for their children, nine times out of ten, parents will say they want their kids to be happy. They want their kids to do what makes them happy.

The problem with that is that what makes us happy today, doesn’t always make us happy tomorrow. We are a fickle species.

It’s not Matthew’s job to make me happy. It’s not your husband’s job to make you happy either. Nor is it our children’s job, or our job’s job, or our friend’s, or parent’s or our circumstance’s.

Well meaning people who kind of get it even will say it’s our own job to make ourselves happy.

That’s wrong, too. How can you possibly manufacture your own happiness? Where do those ingredients come from?

What the Bible does say about this matter is this. We are to pursue joy. For the believer, we have a joy factory within us. We have the ability, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to crank out an endless supply of the stuff. And here’s the kicker. Joy is not dependent upon our circumstances. It isn’t dependent on what our husband does or doesn’t do, how our kids behave, what happens on the job, or anything like that.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

God can fill us up with joy. And not only that, with peace! In the midst of things that should make us unhappy, we can, instead, have joy. And peace! And hope! We can be filled with it all.

You can look it up if you want to, but I promise that verse 14 does not go on to say, “if things are going the way you wanted them to go.”

So who do you need to let off the hook today? Who are you blaming for your unhappiness? Who is having to carry that burden for you? Trade in happiness for joy. Happiness is fleeting, but joy can abound. Paul said that no matter his situation, he had learned to be joyful. He wrote that verse from a prison cell. Things were not going well for Paul at that time, and yet he had learned the secret to contentment. It’s Joy.

Joy came to the world. It’s still here. It’s in the hearts of everyone who has the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Let’s stop looking for outward things to make us happy and start tapping into that well. Give up your right to pursue happiness, and instead choose joy. It will change everything.

This is Not a Piece About Phil Robertson

This is not a piece about Phil Robertson and the Duck Dynasty debacle with their network. I think enough has been said about that whole thing by both sides. From what I have seen, Mr. Robertson simply spoke his peace and was largely taken out of context. Big surprise. The media in this country loves to do that on both sides of the political and social aisles.

Even when there seems to be no agenda, the media gets quotes wrong or takes statements said out of context in interviews. My husband learned to avoid interviews a long time ago. He was once interviewed as a new minister in town by the local paper. What they said he said was all right, I guess, it just wasn’t anything like what he actually said. Lesson learned.

I think its kind of interesting how we, in this great country of ours, can get our backs up so easily. I’m talking to the Christians here. We immediately come out swinging when one of our own is offended or criticized. Remember the whole, dare I bring it up, Chick Fila thing?

I do believe we are called to meekness, which in no way equals weakness, but I do think we need to think before we speak or act. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, or so the saying goes. Neither Phil Robertson, nor Chick Fila CEO, Dan Cathy, were ever in any real danger for voicing their views on Biblical principles. These are both smart men who likely knew full well what a backlash their comments would bring. They didn’t care. Whatever the truth might cost them, they spoke it anyway.

And if they are the men of God they claim to be, they have probably counted it all joy.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1:2-3

However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” 1 Peter 4:16

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” 1 Peter 3:13-1 

Christians get all riled up in this country when one of our own gets their hand slapped for being so vocal. What I find confusing is how we can be so nonchalant about the Christians who are suffering real persecution around the world. Where is the outcry for them?

–In November of this year a small town near Damascus, Syria called Maaloula suffered the massacre of Christians who were left dead in the streets; buildings where they met left desecrated.

–An Iranian man who converted to Christianity has been imprisoned for ten years for passing out Christian literature in Tehran.

–Assyrian Christians who fled their town in al-Thawrah, Syria have been told by rebels if they want to come home, they must convert to Islam or be killed.

–I once listened to a Middle Eastern pastor talk about how he and his wife were held, interrogated, and persecuted for thirty days for their Christian faith.

As we get ready to celebrate Emmanuel, God with us, in just a few days, can we stop thinking of the church in America, and start looking at the church across the globe?

As we celebrate openly the coming of the King, thousands and thousands of our brothers and sisters across the globe could be killed for doing the same.

This Christmas, can we stop our grandstanding over comments and actions taken against a few wealthy believers here in America, and begin to pray for those who believe and follow Christ under terrible circumstances elsewhere? We are one body, one church. If you want to speak out against injustice, speak for them. Pray for them.

They need our voice. Phil and Dan, and others like them, have a voice of their own.

It’s A Sign

I did a fairly unusual thing for me this week. I took a day off from work, and I wasn’t even sick! I took a day off from work to spend with my mom, and we had a great day. She had some Christmas shopping to finish up, and I thought we’d just have a fun day together.

We did. It was long overdue. But as part of my New Year’s Resolutions, I will be doing more of that sort of thing. The time we invest in the people we love will always pay large dividends.

I had the day with my mom all planned out. We’d finish Christmas shopping, have lunch and then go spend the rest of our day plowing through an antique mall just up the highway in a neighboring town. But tucked in the middle of all that, I had decided to take mom to the local Petsmart to play with the shelter cats there. (Petsmart partners with local shelters, and helps place cats through their stores.) Mom and I have always shared a love of cats.

As it turned out, the store currently only had three cats. Okay. We could love the fur off three cats, no problem. Only, one cat was just too scared to receive our love. Whoever adopted her would have their job cut out for them. We would have tried, but we didn’t have all afternoon. One of the other two had the sniffles, so the attendant said he couldn’t let us play with that one.

But we did get to play with kitty number three. Mom and I had a great time loving on that little shelter kitty. He was about twelve weeks old and had the sweetest face and a loving demeanor. We both fell for his beautiful green eyes.

You see where this is going, don’t you?

When the attendant referred to that cat’s name as, “Jello”, my mother gasped and looked at me. “It’s a sign! His name is Jello!” What my mom was referring to was the fact that my husband and I name all of our cats after snack foods. It’s just a little silly thing we do with our cats. So far, we’ve had Donut, Brownie, Oreo, and Butterscotch.

Having only just had to say goodbye to Brownie last week after sixteen years, I wasn’t really in the market to add another third cat to the house.

But it was a sign.

We look for those, don’t we? As we walk this life, we Christians look for signs. Just like Gideon, we need to know we are making the right choices and doing the right things. Signs. We just need a little sign from God. A nod. A nudge. Anything.

Those signs can be tricky. They are tricky because they don’t particularly always lead us into the life of utopia that we think they will. Then we begin to wonder if we misread the signs. Wasn’t that a sign?

That has certainly happened to my family and me. We once followed signs that took us down a very dark road for a while. It can make you question your sign reading ability, and it can even make you question God’s ability to make signs.

Presently, my little Butterscotch cat is questioning my ability to read signs. He is not happy that I have brought Jello into his life. But in this instance, I have knowledge he does not currently have. I can see that while there may be some pain for Butterscotch now, in time, bringing Jello into our home will bless him.

The same thing happened with my family awhile back. We followed the signs. Each one. And those signs took us to a very dark place. But we need to know that sometimes we have to go to those places. It’s part of our journey. We learn in those dark places, and when we come out on the other side, we see that utopian place we thought we were headed for all along. Only it’s quite different from what we imagined. Thank goodness.

It’s not hard to follow God’s will for our lives. It’s not a game He doesn’t want us to win. God wants us to live a victorious life, and He does speak to us along the way to guide us and lead us. Of course, it is possible to manufacture signs to substantiate something we really want. Yet if we are careful, if we are prayerful, and if we are honestly seeking His will and not our own, those signs are there.

Follow them.

I’m going to go spend the day helping Butterscotch see the Jello sign, too.

“Here, kitty, kitty!”

Are These Kids Listening to Me?

As parents of kids who are getting older, Matthew and I begin to count the days we have left with them in our care. Partly because those days become precious, and partly because you begin to plan the celebration! Just kidding, sort of. The reality is that we are given these kids for only so long and if we do our jobs correctly, they will fly away from the nest and never look back. Except at Thanksgiving and Christmas. And Mother’s Day. They better not forget Mother’s Day.

I’m kidding again. As a parent you hope to always be a small part of your children’s lives, but a lot of that depends on how you raise them. I tell my husband we want to raise our kids in a family they want to be a part of for the rest of their lives. I want them bound to us as their parents and bound to each other. We’ve always told them, “Friends come and go, but your siblings are forever… So treat them better than you treat other people.” This has been an ongoing lesson for our daughter who tends to treat our youngest child more like a pet than a brother.

We’re working on it.

Here are some other things we are working on with our kids.

“It’s only awkward if you let it be.” If you have teens, you know they avoid awkward situations at all costs. Even situations that are not really all that awkward, like me singing in the grocery store, or talking to a complete stranger in the check out line about what they are buying and what they are going to make with all that. Sometimes uncomfortable situations may truly arise, but they are only awkward if you let them be. We face those tight spots with people with as much grace as possible, and move on.

“Say thank you and show gratitude.” Our kids are like most these days and have so much. They get to do so many things. We want our kids to always be thankful and to show their appreciation to those who are generous. Ultimately, we want them to remember that every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of heavenly lights…” (James 1:17), and we want them to be thankful to their heavenly Father for all they have.

On that note, remember “If you never ask, the answer is always no.” Sometimes our kids have gone without something simply because they were too afraid to ask for it, or they assumed the answer would be no. As the saying goes, “A closed mouth never gets fed.”

“Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.” This was a principle we adopted a while ago, and we have been pleased to see it reinforced by other influences in our kid’s lives. This is a good principle for when they are applying for a job, and trying to keep a job, too. But it reaches much farther than that. It shows that you will do what you say you will do, and that you are honoring the other people to whom you have committed your time. Now, we all run late sometimes, but if we are honest, we run late because we didn’t prepare to not run late. If you do all you can to honor your commitment, and still cannot, then of course, we hope grace will be offered. But running late should be the exception, not their habit.

“Be thrifty, not cheap.” I guess this one should be pretty self-explanatory. Living a life in full time ministry means we were not going to live a life of luxury. But there is a difference between thrifty and cheap, and we have tried to teach our kids that difference.

“Find your passion, and serve God with it.” Whatever gifting and talent we have is only given to us to serve our God and to make him famous. We have tried to help our kids find their passion, each one, and have hopefully shown them how to glorify the Lord through it.

“Don’t be afraid to commit.” We have been heavy on the relationship issues in our house. So many young men these days are afraid of commitment. So many marriage relationships fall apart because there is no real commitment there. Our two older boys have had only a few dating relationships. Our daughter, sixteen, has not yet even had her first date (Her choice). And Evan is still patiently waiting in the wings. Why? It would sound as though they are afraid to commit, when the reality is just the opposite. When our kids start a relationship, it involves our whole family. We all commit to it together. When our kids enter into a dating relationship, we have repeated conversations about where the relationship is going, and how it is going. This level of commitment has surprised a few girls, even scared a few off. But that’s okay, too

Matthew and I hope to send these kids of ours off one day ready to face all kinds of life situations. We are doing all we can to ensure there is no failure to launch among them. Life lessons are important, and we know our time is running short. We are working like a one armed paperhanger to get these lessons, and others, across.

Parents… don’t retire too early. There is still much to do even though our kids think they have it all together. It’s an act. It’s our job to hang in there till the game is over. A lot of us are in that seventh inning stretch, but we’re not quite done yet. You wonder if anything you are teaching them is sticking. You wonder, “Are these kids listening to me?”

Yes. They are.

It’s Silly to Cry Over a Cat…

Isn’t it funny how pets can work their way into our hearts? I once had a dog named Tag. I was small when Tag was my dog, but I can remember him so clearly. What I cannot remember is the day Tag followed me into the woods behind my house. I was just a preschooler when I slipped past my mom and went on this little adventure. It wasn’t too long before my mom discovered I was missing and sounded the alarm that brought neighbors out to help look for me. When they found me out in the woods, my loyal friend, Tag, was right there watching over me.

Tag was my first pet. I have had many more pets over my lifetime; each one special in their own right; each one making their mark upon my heart. Each one making my life just a little bit brighter for being in it.

Matthew and I have had lots of pets together over the years. The first house we bought came with a pregnant cat. I was amazed by all the arms and legs I could feel as she would stretch out for a belly rub. When the kittens were born, I was right there to be her midwife. She didn’t need me, but I wasn’t going to miss that for the world. Five kittens were born in my laundry room. Each of them different except for two, who looked like twins. I asked the vet how this could be… and he broke the news to me that she likely had more than one suitor for that pregnancy. Great, my cat was a floozy. I loved her anyway.

We’ve had several cats, birds, a rabbit, a hamster, and various fish and two hermit crabs since that day in my laundry room.

I will never forget the day Brownie came into our lives. Tucked inside my husband’s bomber jacket, Matthew brought him home. He was so cute.  Matthew was always partial to Siamese, while I loved longhaired cats. Brownie was a kitten with the best of both. He had Siamese markings and long lush hair; he was the perfect compromise. Except that the last thing I needed at that time was another baby. I had only just given birth to our daughter a few weeks prior. I was not happy about the timing.

Truth be told, I didn’t love Brownie from the start. Aside from the terrible timing, he was annoying. He had the loud, obnoxious meow of a Siamese, and he was very vocal. He constantly jumped up onto the kitchen counter, and tried running out the door at every opportunity. He was always underfoot and demanded a lot of attention.

But he stuck with us and I managed not to make ear muffs out of him. Eventually he calmed down, and did that pet magic, working his way into my heart. We grew older together. We made a lot of moves together. Both my daughter and Brownie celebrated sixteen years this year. That’s not so much for her, but for Brownie it was like one hundred and twenty years.

A couple of months ago we noticed that Brownie could no longer see. It was a sad day, but only after a few days, Brownie had adapted and was doing really well. He paced our house until he had the lay of the land and made his way around like a pro.

But as the days turned into weeks, Brownie wasn’t fairing so well, and we had to make the hard decision to let him go. If you have ever loved a pet and had to let them go, you know how we felt. Saying good-bye to a furry friend is never easy. Truthfully, it’s heart breaking. Pets love us no matter what. Pets think we are great even when we know we are wretched. Pets listen to us when we cry and join us at every pity party. They play with us, nap with us, and love us. They do these things to ensure we over look the times they poop on the rug.

No, they do these things because they don’t know how to not do these things. Animals have a distinct advantage over us. They can only be what God created them to be. They were created for our pleasure and they do their jobs superbly. Unconditionally, they stand by us.

We could learn a lot from our furry friends. Brownie never gave up on me. Even in the early days when he got on my last nerve. As I held him in my arms yesterday, and said my good-byes, I was thankful he didn’t give up. We had a lot of great years with Brownie, and on days when I was the saddest, he was always there to jump up in my lap and sit. He didn’t require anything of me, other than a scratch under the chin. It was a pretty sweet deal, really.

I will miss that cat. I had had him longer than most other things in my life. Most people, too. It’s silly to cry over a cat, I guess. But I do. I am. Eventually I won’t, but he will always be special to me.

Here’s to our pets. Pure unadulterated joy with fur on.

Just Another Lie From the Enemy of Your Soul

“Time heals all wounds.” 

Doesn’t that sound just great? Doesn’t it have wonderful promise, and isn’t it packed with just all kinds of hope? You are hurting now, but just give it some time.

Everything will be better in time. 

Except that it won’t. You see, that phrase, “time heals all wounds”, is a myth. It is a lie from the enemy of your soul.

The only way that our hurts ever get healed is by the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. When we open up those dark, hurting places in our hearts and minds and allow the light of the Spirit of God to come in and repair those broken places, then and only then are those issues put to rest for good.

But that’s not what the enemy wants us to think. He wants us to just sit on our hurts and disappointments. He wants us to wait. He wants us to wait on time. How in the world did we ever fall for that one? How did we ever come to think that anything so elusive as “time” could have the power over our pain to heal us of it?

No. When we buy into that silly mindset, here’s what happens. Slowly, over time, our enemy will pack away those things that grieve us; all the disappointments, loss, regret, betrayal, sadness. All those things, he packs away for us until we believe they are gone. But here is the truth. They are only one unopened box in our hearts and minds away. And just when we think we have put those things to rest for good, he opens a box. Just when we think we are able to move on with our lives and find joy again, he opens the lid and lets us look inside all over again.

I love the Christmas season, but for many people it is a really hard time. Memories of good things long gone, or bad things still too close, step closer to many people during the holiday season. Sometimes those things we long since thought we had dealt with, rear their heads during this time of year. But how does that happen to us again and again if time healed it?

It didn’t. Our hurts were just packed away for our enemy to use against us. I am here to tell you, today, that you can empty those boxes for good. But you have to stop believing the myth. You have to stop misplacing your trust and start allowing the Holy Spirit to do his work in your life. The enemy wants you to shut it down, pack it away for his safe keeping, but the God who loves you wants to rid you of that hurt forever.

Revelation 21:5 says, “Behold, I am making all things new!”

In Isaiah 61, we are promised,

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy  instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. 

He will replace your mourning with joy, your despair with praise. He is making all things new. This holiday season, let go of the myth. Allow the Spirit of the Lord to make all things new within you, and truly let it be a Merry Christmas. Wouldn’t it feel wonderful to walk in the freedom that only He can give? I can tell you… it feels great!

We Are All On a Journey

We are all on a journey. Well, we are all supposed to be on a journey. Some of us are taking an extended timeout from our journey and sitting back, resting on our laurels. Maybe we are tired, or think we are through with our journey. Matthew and I once had a friend, who in his fifties, was still a mover and a shaker. When asked when he rested, he told me, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” This guy still had much to do. He was still moving along on his own journey. I kind of like that philosophy.

Our family recently took a little journey of our own. Not a philosophical one, like I have been talking about, but a real get on a plane and fly off somewhere journey. We were supposed to travel to Cancun, Mexico to help my in-laws celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Eventually we did, but our trip took a couple of unexpected turns.

We arrived at the Birmingham airport for our 6:30am flight to Charlotte, North Carolina where we would meet up with my husband’s sister and her family, get on another plane with them, and fly to Cancun. We planned to rock that plane all the way to Mexico.  We don’t get to see them often, so when we do, the twelve of us can get a little rowdy. (Yes, twelve.)

Except a dense fog had settled into Charlotte and nothing was flying into that airport. We lived in Charlotte for twelve years and I had never heard of such a thing, but that day, that day fog decided to settle over the Queen City. Our flight was delayed for thirty minutes.

Then an hour.

Then another hour.

We were going to miss our connecting flight. I began to pray that the plane in Charlotte would be delayed. I was sorry for the other people who would be delayed, but we needed to catch that plane. There was no other plane to Cancun from Charlotte that day.

Finally, we got on our plane. Twenty minutes later, we got off that plane. US Airways had cancelled our flight. We would not meet our family in Charlotte, we would not rock the plane, and we would not get to Cancun that day.

Instead, we went to Philadelphia. That’s right. In order to get to Cancun the next day, we first had to fly almost nine hundred miles north and spend the night. We were not dressed for Philadelphia. We were dressed for Cancun. Our family would not be there to greet us in Philadelphia. They were in Mexico.

We were tired, and disappointed. We would miss one of our days in beautiful Cancun, and we would miss a whole day with our extended family. But… we were on a journey. Our journey took a turn we didn’t expect, but then, don’t they do that sometimes? And hasn’t it been said that life is in the journey, not the destination? So Philly it was.

It was the first time any of us had ever been to Philly. And no offense to you Philadelphians, but you can keep it. Brrr. We didn’t even leave the airport; instead we chose to stay right there in a hotel. However, we did have an authentic Philly Cheese steak sandwich. YUM! There truly is no substitute for the real thing.

In the bigger picture, I still have no idea why our journey took that unexpected turn. I don’t think it was so we could taste a real steak sandwich… although, God can be pretty whimsical like that. Still, I trust in a God who decided to cancel our flight. I trust in a God who made sure we arrived to Cancun on His timetable and right on schedule.

When I look at my philosophical life’s journey, I have ended up in a place I never planned to be. I have taken some roads that felt very much like detours and pig trails. Nothing anyone would intentionally travel. Maybe you look at your own journey and think similarly.

Joseph of the Old Testament certainly ended up in a different place than he expected to be. Sold into slavery by his own flesh and blood, and sold again. Wrongly accused and imprisoned. Forgotten… for years… only then to be raised up to serve his true purpose. He was to save his people. God had a plan in Joseph’s journey. The destination never changed. Joseph’s dreams were proof of that. He was always to lead his family, but he never knew truly what that meant. Not until he saw it come to pass did he really get it; did he see the plan, the purpose in it all.

I’ve written recently about having a different mindset about life in general. I may not know where my life’s journey will take me, but I do know my eternal destination. In the meantime, as I traverse this life, I will do it with a sense of adventure for the twists and turns, ups and downs that will come. Why? Because the great Navigator is in control, and he is planning some great and wonderful surprises… if I will only say yes… and eagerly chase after him anyway. If I will only follow him. Am I tired? Yes, I am. Most of the time, I am drop dead tired by the end of my day. But, like my friend, I can sleep when I’m dead. Until then, I am ready for the journey. Bring it on!