Tag Archives: Joy

It’s Colder than the Arctic. Oh, the Joy!

I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.
2 Corinthians 7:4b

Note to subscribers: I had a technical glitch publishing this post this morning with some nasty HTML coding issues. My apologies. I trashed the original post and am reposting, so you may have gotten two emails. Sorry. Maybe it’s the cold ūüėČ

I write this post from the depths of winter in Iowa. It’s -13 as I tap out these words, which is a bit warmer than it was yesterday. This morning I woke up to find our hot water heater isn’t working. Lovely.

Just a week or so ago I was sitting in O’Hare airport in Chicago chatting with a wonderfully gregarious transplant from New Zealand. He was complaining about the weather extremes he’s learned to live with here in the midwest of North America. It reminded me of an observation Garrison Keillor once made: Living in the midwest is like spending your summers in Death Valley and your winters in the Arctic. Indeed. Here’s the headline from the Des Moines Register on Tuesday:

 

Article Headline from Des Moines Register, January 29, 2019.

Along the journey we face all kinds of different challenges. While it’s human to grumble and complain, I often find it personally necessary to make myself put things in context. This morning’s chapter provided it for me.

In writing to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, Paul references “all our troubles.” Later in the letter he provides specifics. Let me jump ahead for the sake of today’s thought. Paul writes:

“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received the forty lashes minus one.(Note: 39 lashes¬†with a scourge was the ancient prescription to bring the punished to the point of death without letting them actually slip into the comfort of death).¬†Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones (Note: Paul’s would be executioners actually believed they had successfully stoned him to death. His body was carried and dumped outside the city of Lystra and left for dead.), three times I was shipwrecked (Note: He doesn’t mention the venomous snake bite that should have killed him.), I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move (Note: Scholars say that Paul logged some 10,000 miles during his journeys. That’s roughly 21,120,000 steps without a FitBit) . I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.

As I said: Context can be a good antidote for self-centered misery. It’s cold this morning and my water heater is broken. I am, however, in a warm house, with warm clothes, and a warm wife. The water heater guy will be by in a few hours to deal with the hot water problem. Boo-hoo for me.

What I found even more fascinating as I read Paul’s words today was that while he endured torture, stoning, shipwrecks, snakebites, imprisonment and the rest, he states that his “joy knows no bounds.”

Along this journey Wendy and I have learned a lot about joy (though I will freely confess that I know far less than Paul).¬†Joy¬†always jumps off the page at me, because it is one of those words that holds a lot of meaning for Wendy and me. We’ve learned from our journey together that joy is something deeper than a momentary feeling such as happiness which flits in and out with the ever shifting winds of circumstance. Joy comes from a deep spring. It’s not a surface, run-off emotion. You have to drill through bedrock of suffering to experience the flow of joy. It is a spiritual by-product of the three things that remain when all else is stripped away: faith, hope, and love.

In the quiet (and a blessedly warm home office) I am thankful this morning for the flow of joy that Wendy and I have come to experience, independent of whatever momentary personal circumstances we may be experiencing.

By the way, temperatures here in picturesque Pella, Iowa are forecast to be 57 degrees (above zero) on Sunday.

Context.

Stay warm, my friend. Have a great day.

…and a Time to Return

Set up road markers for yourself,
    make yourself signposts;
consider well the highway,
    the road by which you went.
Jeremiah 31:21 (NRSVCE)

A few years ago I had the privilege of watching as a play I wrote was produced a couple of different times on stage. Having spent most of my life journey in the state of Iowa, I’ve observed a repetitive theme of those who leave our rather quiet, fly-over homeland for more exciting places. Yet, eventually, most every one returns home. The reasons for return are as varied as the individuals who leave, but for most every one who leaves there comes a time to return.

There is a good story there,” I thought to myself. And so, I sat down to write a play and tell the story of a small town Iowa boy who is forced to come home. In his returning he must confront his past and the reasons he left in the first place.

Over the past few chapters in the anthology of Jeremiah’s messages, I’ve mulled over the way the themes of wilderness and exile play into life’s journey. There’s a corollary theme in the return from wilderness and exile. Just as the hero of every epic spends time in the wilderness, so that same hero must return to carry out the purposes for which he/she has been prepared.

In today’s chapter, the theme of Jeremiah’s prophetic letter to the exiles living in Babylon is all about their homecoming. “Drop breadcrumbs along the road to Babylon,” he tells them. “Mark the way because the time will come for your return home.”

Sometimes on this life journey I’ve observed that the return home is long awaited and desired, just as Jeremiah describes in today’s chapter. Other times, like the prodigal son, one’s homecoming is filled with remorse and repentance. Then there are those times when the return home is part of a larger story about the necessary confrontation required in order to progress yet further on life’s road. And, I suppose, there are times when coming home is a cocktail of all these.

As this morning dawns, the little town where Wendy and I live is preparing for our annual Tulip Time festival. As happens each year there will be hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of individuals who will return home to participate in the festivities (we’ll have some of them staying in our house!). I’m thinking about their respective life journeys, the varied stories they represent, and all of the emotions (and perhaps confrontations) that these homecomings will entail. There is a time to leave home, and a time for those living in exile to return.

I’m whispering a prayer in the quiet this morning for each of them, and for God’s goodness and mercy in each of their respective stories.

The Fragrance of Presence

 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.
2 Corinthians 2:15 (NIV)

I’m on the road on business this week. I’ll be coaching three different teams of people over the next two days. I meet with these individuals every 2-3 months. In my job I often have the opportunity to be around people whom I only see on occasion. I come into their offices for a day or two, work with their team, and then I am gone for months at a time.

Early in my career I learned the importance of making the most of my visits. I don’t want clients to think, [rolling their eyes] “Oh great, it’s him again.”¬†I want people to be happy to see me. While there will always be those who don’t like me (or perhaps they don’t like the process of being coached), the truth of the matter is that I have a lot of¬†control over how people react to me with my dress, my demeanor, my facial expressions, my enthusiasm, my words, my conversations, and my actions.

This is not something that I take lightly. In fact, it’s motivated by more than good business. It is truly a spiritual motivation for me. I know that our jobs and working in our offices can so often be places where people feel like they get the life sucked out of them. I’ve literally had people tell me in coaching sessions that they feel like they’ve slowly been “dying” day-by-day in their jobs. Ugh!

When I’m working with clients I often think about the word picture Paul gave to the followers of Jesus in Corinth. I want my presence to be the fragrance of life for the people I work with. Many already experience the stench of death every day. I want my presence to bring something different to their environment. I want their spirits to sense the fragrance of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and gentleness. I want them to feel better when they leave our session than they did when they walked in.

I ¬†know I’m not always be successful. I have my days like everyone else. But I always think about it on days like today when I’m preparing to go on-site. I don’t want to stink up the place. I want to have the opposite effect.

Hope and Disappointment

Surely it was for my benefit
    that I suffered such anguish.
Isaiah 38:17a

Sunday was an emotional day for Wendy and me. I had the privilege of sharing the morning message among our local gathering of Jesus followers. The topic came from Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth; One of the most well-known chapters in all of God’s Message. “The Love Chapter” is what it’s commonly called and I had been asked to speak to the phrase “Love hopes all things.”

As soon as I realized that I had been assigned that phrase, I knew in my heart that it was time for Wendy and me to share openly about a particularly difficult ¬†stretch of our own journey. I have touched on it from time to time on my blog, but we’ve never really spoken about it openly and publicly.

For many years Wendy and I eagerly attempted to conceive and bring a baby into this world.  We started with high hopes, each of us endured surgeries, and we repeatedly travelled down the path of virtually every medical procedure and homeopathic suggestion available to us in our hope of having a child.

As hope waned for this desperate desire, Wendy and I experienced¬†all of the stages of disappointment and grief. We felt doubt, anger, envy, despair and rage. We cried. We screamed. We fought. We wrestled with all of the hard questions. If God loves us, then why…? Why her? Why them? Why not us?

It has now been a handful of years since we surrendered our hopes of conceiving. To this day the grief still surprises us. It’s amazing how the sadness and tears well up unexpectedly in the oddest of moments. Nevertheless, Wendy and I recognized in the depths of the valley of infertility that we had come to a spiritual fork in the road. One path led in rapid descent into hopelessness, anger, brokenness and despair. It was an easy path to follow as are most paths of descent. The other path was a much longer road of ascent. It would still traverse hopelessness, anger, and despair, but the long slog eventually climbed toward trust in a larger narrative God was writing into our stories.

In my message this past Sunday I tried hard not to make it about our infertility as much as speaking to the myriad of hopes and disappointments each of us experience along this journey. In today’s chapter King Hezekiah’s hopes were for a long life and a prosperous reign. Those hopes are dashed with a terminal diagnosis, yet Hezzy comes to the same spiritual fork in the road that Wendy and I faced. He chooses the faith slog, and comes to recognize that there was purpose in his pain. There was benefit in the anguish.

Wendy and I can relate to that. Just was we are sometimes surprised by the grief that appears in unexpected moments, so are we often surprised by joy in the midst of our grief. It has taken years, but we can honestly say we experience a deep sense of thankfulness for having to traverse that valley. Our faith journey through infertility has led us further up, and further in. We have experienced facets of life and love that we didn’t know existed with clarity we didn’t know was possible. From our current position on life’s road we now look back and affirm the lyric of Hezekiah’s song.

Anguish has¬†it’s benefits.

Faith, hope, and love have led us through disappointments, but they have not disappointed us.

Here are the audio and video of the message (used with permission of Third Church, who holds all rights) in case you’re interested.

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Consider it Joy

“My brothers and sisters,¬†whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy….”
James 1:2

Sometimes a verse becomes more than a verse. You take it in. You ingest it as a morsel to one who is starving. It is not about sweetness or delectability. It is about survival. The words are¬†broken down within you. The truth of their meaning courses through your veins and brings essential spiritual nourishment to unseen corners within. The experience is not a random, unexpected inspirational event. Rather, it is the practical choosing of life. As Jesus said to our enemy in a moment of battle between flesh and spirit: “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word the proceeds from the mouth of God.”

James 1:2 is one of these verses for Wendy and me. It is a waypoint of our journey, when in the depths of the valley of death we ingested the truth of it. It was not an inspired mountaintop moment, but a desperate hanging on. We learned in that valley that joy is not the by-product of affluent blessing, but a choice amidst suffering.

Consider it…”

Consideration is a choice. It is a willful task. It requires time and mental effort. Joy comes out of our deliberate consideration amidst difficult circumstances, when hope and faith are on life support. We consider, again and again…

If God is good, and we believe He is.
If God knows what is best for us, and we believe He does.
Then we can be joyful, even as the tears stream down our cheeks.
Out of our consideration, again and again, we choose into joy.

Eventually there follows endurance, maturity, and a whole-ness we had not known before.

The internal lesson was important enough for Wendy to indelibly print a reminder on her forearm.

The Latest 05-29-2016

Wendy and I typically spend a long weekend or two each March or April getting the Lake House cleaned and ready for the busy summer season. With our involvement in Almost, Maine taking precedent in March and April, followed quickly by our responsibilities at Pella’s Tulip Time in early May, we haven’t spent nearly as much time in the Ozarks as we would have liked. This week we made up for lost time.

Last weekend, after Chad and JP had facilitated replacing the decking on our swim dock and gangway, our two faithful friends headed home late Sunday morning. Wendy, meanwhile, made her way to the lake. She stopped in Osage for supplies and then joined me on a gorgeous Sunday evening. We celebrated our reunion by heading to Captain Ron’s for pizza, and to watch the Cubs.

Boat cleaned up and purring a long.
Boat cleaned up and purring a long.

The weather forecast for the week made it clear that Monday was the only day we would get by without rain. After taking care of a few work related responsibilities, we proceeded to make the most of a good day to work on the Playhouse. First Boat Ride of SummerI mowed and trimmed the lawn, then proceeded to power wash the entire exterior of the house and windows, the entire deck (top and bottom) the lower patio, the sidewalk to the dock, and the entire dock. I also cleaned up the boat and the Waverunner.
Wendy, meanwhile, busied herself giving the interior of the house a more thorough cleaning than it’s perhaps ever had. By the end of the day we were really tired, but we still made a point of jumping in the boat in our grubby clothes for our first boat ride of the summer together.

Playhouse Rain
Rain was a common sight this week.

The rest of the week was, indeed, rainy. We certainly had periods of sun, but every day was punctuated by showers. In many cases, we got some pretty strong thunder showers. At one point we lost power for a couple of hours.

We continued to work remotely each day, but then took the opportunity to continue cleaning and organizing. I cleaned out the store-room and shed. We checked all of the air beds to make sure they still held their air (2 of 3 did). We went through boxes and tubs and did a general purging of things we no longer wanted or needed. We also made our annual seasonal run to Walmart to stock up on supplies for the summer. It felt really good!

Playhouse Puzzle

With the rain dampening our opportunities to get on the water a lot, we worked on a jigsaw puzzle and listened to the Cubs each afternoon/evening. On Wednesday evening we were surprised with a visit from old friends. Jim and Judy Halvorsen were parents of two wonderful friends from¬†my high school youth group days back in the early 1980s. They happened to be nearby visiting Judy’s mother and made contact with me on Facebook. Wendy and I invited them over for burgers on the grill and we enjoyed a really nice evening of conversation on the deck. It was so good to catch up.

On Thursday morning we treated ourselves to a huge breakfast at ChancesR, a local greasy spoon. That afternoon we had a window of glorious sunshine and made the most of it. We jumped in the boat and enjoyed a leisurely ride to a quiet cove. We anchored and then read in the sun, enjoying the cool breeze and a cold beverage while getting our first sunburn of the season.

Tom Wendy Fun in the Sun

We were glad we got out in the sun. Very heavy rain descended late in the afternoon and continued all evening. On Friday morning we picked up, cleaned up and were on the road for home by noon. Our lawn at home had become a jungle in the 10 days I’d been away, and my first duty upon arriving back at VW Manor was to break the mower out. Afterward we cleaned up and headed to Mat and Anne’s for drinks and dessert. Keven McQ joined in the festivities and we enjoyed conversation late into the evening.

Congratulations Emma!
Congratulations Emma!

Yesterday was a busy day in Des Moines. Wendy made five cheesecake’s for our niece, Emma’s, graduation party. We headed into town about 9:00 a.m. and dropped the cheesecakes off with Lydia and Sam, who would then transport them to the event. Wendy and I then ran (too many, for my liking) errands. By 2:00 we were in Adel at Emma’s party.

It was great to celebrate Emma’s graduation. She’s the last of the nieces and nephews on the Vander Well side to graduate from high school. My folks were at the open house and we got to chat about what it was like to watch all your grandkids graduate. So fun to share with them in that blessing. Taylor joined us later in the party and we got to catch up briefly.

Taylor is headed back to Scotland in a month to go through her own graduation ceremony for¬†her master’s program. She plans to work at Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival in August, and is applying for a job there. ¬†We’re excited that she has an opportunity to go back to Scotland, perhaps long-term, but not excited about the prospect of not seeing her again for a long time.

Our friends Kev and Beck enjoyed a weekend visit from Becky’s sister, Joy, and Joy’s boyfriend, Eddie. We met them at Emma’s graduation party. While Kev and Beck went on to two other parties, Wendy and I played host to Joy and Eddie back at Kev and Beck’s house. We spent the evening on Kev and Beck’s deck. Kev smoked some ribs for a scrumptious dinner, and we really enjoyed getting to know Joy and Eddie. It was very late by the time Wendy and I made it back to Pella last night.

Coffee VW Manor W Life is Good

Today marks the first full day I’ve spent in Pella in almost two weeks. A gorgeous Sunday began on the front porch with a cup of hot coffee watching the “W” flag¬†wafting in the breeze and enjoying the peaceful quiet of Utrecht Laan.

On a Roll

 So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses; and Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.
Joshua 11:23 (NRSV)

Joshua was on a roll. After the unexpected defeat against Ai a few chapters back, Josh and the Israelites were racking up the victories left and right. Five kings of the Amorites: defeated. Libnah and Lachis: defeated. Horam king of Gezer: defeated. Elon: defeated. It goes on an on: Hebron, Debir, Negev, Kadesh Barnea, Gaza, Goshen, Gibeon. Seemingly everything is going Joshua’s way.

Along life’s journey I’ve been blessed to experience particular stretches in which I was on a roll. Things fell into place. Good things just seemed to happen. What I attempted I succeeded. I have felt what it’s like to be on a roll. It’s a good feeling if and when it happens. ¬†But, there are a few important lessons I’ve learned through these periods of time:

It never lasts. Solomon reminds us that there’s a time for everything under the sun. There is a time for victory and a time for defeat. Here on this terrestrial ball in the land east of Eden, there is no one who stays on a roll all the time. We are fallen people living in a fallen world. Shit happens. Enjoy the moment, Villanova fans. It’s sweet when your team rolls through March Madness and wins on a buzzer beater. No feeling quite like it, I imagine (Iowans have not experienced this). Trust me. Enjoy this moment.

It leads to distorted thinking. When you’re on a roll and everything seems to be going your way, there are all sorts of silly notions that begin to creep into your soul. “I deserve this,” for example. You may have planned well and worked hard, but life is full of examples of those who planned well and worked hard and things still didn’t work out. “I can’t lose,” is another tempting lie. Yes, you can. You will. Read the previous paragraph again. Being on a roll does not typically teach or produce humility in us.

It’s neither the purpose, ¬†nor the goal.¬†As tempting as it is to place all our eggs in that basket, perpetual victory was never God’s prescription for those of us on this life journey. Read through God’s Message and you will not find God telling us “win at all costs,” “make your aim to succeed at everything,” “reach for the American dream,” or “be rich and successful in the eyes of the world.” You will, however, find: “Consider it joy when you encounter various trials,” “Rejoice in your suffering,” and “godliness with contentment is the means of great gain.”

Today, I’m thinking about the times in life when things seemed to be on a roll. It was a good feeling. But, I can’t say that it made me a better human being. In fact, the opposite might be more apt. It is the times of struggle that are the most fruitful from a character perspective.

Last night before retiring for the night Wendy and I stood in our garage with the door open and watched the lightning and the thunderous spring storm. We discussed the storms of life in which we find ourselves in this moment. Things are definitely NOT on a roll right now, but that’s par for the course. I’ve found being on a roll is an elusive experience in this journey. This morning I am, once again, “Considering it joy” amidst life’s little tempests.

 

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featured image: marleahjoy via flickr