Only a Smile

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“Be thou the rainbow in the storms of life. The evening beam that smiles the clouds away, and tints tomorrow with prophetic ray.”
– Lord Byron –

There is a girl I have dreams about. Daydreams, I guess.

She always smiles–not one of those annoying grins with perpetually wrong timing, but a quiet, radiant upturn to her lips that occasionally breaks forth into a full-blown laugh. Even troubles don’t dent the assured joy that lingers through the tears.

She is the one that makes hearts skip a beat because the day was so long and life is just really hard. And then she smiles and it gets a little brighter.

In my dreams, she is known as “the girl who smiles.”

The future days are full of hope to her, possibilities, more lives to give sunshine.

She is the kind of person who has a song that throbs in her heart and she just opens her mouth and sings out a smile.

It’s catchy. It turns heads. Some people think she’s a bit loony. And some want to know what she knows that makes her so happy.

Cause she’s either naive or there’s really something, Someone, who can fill up like that.

Maybe you didn’t guess. That girl is me. Well, not me exactly. She’s who I wish I could be. She’s the girl I want to be when my feet hit the floor and I walk into a world that really needs a joy boost.

But usually I’m just trying to wrestle down my straying heart.

I still think that girl exists. I still long to live like that.

But how?

It starts with laying down self–not an easy thing, I know. Believe me, I know. It seems like every hour I am battling something that swells up like bitter waves. It’s something I hate. But it’s something that I somehow want to hold on to. This self-focus is strangling. And it’s the most joy draining thing we can do.

The only solution I’ve found: knee time. Of course, I don’t usually get on my knees literally. But as Victor Hugo said,

“Certain thoughts are prayers. There are moments when, whatever be the attitude of the body, the soul is on its knees.”

I have this habit of telling God what I’m feeling, how my desires are twisted into knots. Sometimes, often, I have to confess that I don’t even want a better attitude. Sometimes I’m just tired. And my soul falls to its knees. There is no temptation that we cannot bear with His help–He always gives a way of escape, so that we can bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13). Prayer is often that escape–but we must take it!

Another joy-drain–a big smile killer–is worry. Anxiety. Stress. Whatever you call it. You and I–we have to quit fooling ourselves that this worry is okay. It’s not–it’s a sign that we’re not believing in God’s adequacy. Can you trust Him? Can you leave everything in His hands, let Him handle it all? Can I leave behind my cares, cast them at His feet, and live in the release? Why do we torment ourselves with things we can’t fix anyway? One author calls God the “Blessed Controller.” Join me in this joy-journey and give over today’s cares. He is able to make you stand.

But there’s more. Unforgiveness. Ouch. Any bitterness you are holding in your heart will just DECIMATE your joy. Your prayers will be like a bubble bouncing off a wall. Your stomach will churn. Give it up. Give it over. Don’t deceive yourself–whatever is making you angry is a big deal to you. But it is nothing compared to what put Jesus on the cross. You and I, with all our sins, did more to Jesus than anyone could ever do to us. Ever. Because He forgave us, I have complete confidence in His ability to also forgive through us. Will we give it up?

The same thing goes for unconfessed sin. Is there something sucking the joy right out of your bones? Sin that lies putrefying inside you will do that. Confess. In the book of 1 John, He promises that he is faithful and just. Because God is just, He has fully accepted Jesus’ payment. This justice means He will always forgive your sin, if you turn from it and turn toward Him. His faithfulness and justice will always be there (1 John 1:9). In my family, we ask each other’s forgiveness ALL the time. I cannot describe sufficiently what a difference this makes in a home! Be quick to apologize–cultivate a soft spirit. The joy will spring up.

Oh, there’s another thing that drives out joy. Unthankfulness.  And its twin, discontent. Do you really believe God is good? Find out just how good, and praise Him for it. Look for little hints of His goodness all around you. Pause and be still. You just breathed. What a gift! Really–it is a magnificent gift. Let yourself be humbled, because He doesn’t owe you anything. In fact, we all deserve death. But there was Grace. And it’s still overflowing. Thank Him for it, this cascading, rippling, abundant, joy-welling grace.

So, those weights being cast away, there is a gift that you can give today.

You can make a life more full. You can make a heart swell with encouragement. You can give someone the courage to go on.

If you will.

If I will.

It begins with a prayer, something from the heart. Here’s mine:

“Oh God, I lay down my life today. Lead me where You want me to go. Interrupt my plans with Your plan. Replace my dreams with Your dreams. Intercept my attitudes with Your Spirit. Fill me, consecrate me, use me. Thank you, because I know my joy is full when I am poured out for You.”

And with the amen, an adventure begins.

Will you take that adventure with me today?

Today, we are on God’s mission.

Today, we are Sunshine Makers, as Mabel Hale called us in her lovely book Beautiful Girlhood.

Let’s shine!

Let’s go make the world wonder why we smile.

It’s only a smile. But it could make all the difference in the world.

“They might not need me; but they might. I’ll let my head be just in sight; a smile as small as mine might be precisely their necessity.”
– Emily Dickinson –

A big thank you to Atalie Bale Photography for the beautiful photo!

Abundance, a Song Big Enough

“I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.”

~ John 10:10b, emphasis mine ~

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“That He came to us is the most stunning event, most astounding fact in history.

That we can’t get to the cross…so the Cross came to us.”

– Dr. Jeff Meyers, emphasis mine

In a culture and world so desperately sin-sick, I so often lose sight of the “bookends” of God’s story. When I lose the creation context, I forget that God is the Planner, the “Blessed Controller.” The fall sweeps me into the hope-vacuum and it becomes focused on me and my constant failures, my own desperation.

But as a storyteller myself, I finally came back to the Redemption and my personal world rocks with the glory. My heart, my head, can’t quite wrap around the starkness, the blinding, universe-shaking moment that the dragging, imploding darkness flees with the explosion of glorious light. And my heart quiets, somehow wishing for a song big enough to encompass my redemption.

In the world, it seems my personal failures are only mirrored, compounded, and spreading like a virus. What can solve this sin-death, but the One who took on flesh?

And oh, the breathless beauty that He did!

By Jesus taking on humanity, He abundantly sanctified all our normalcy.

“How is such a spiritual, “out-there” thing so earthy? So, here and now?

So Redemption is what we live in, the light that floods us with life.”

– Dr. Jeff Myers, emphasis mine –

There is a life out there that many of us have only begun to taste. An abiding, abundant, peace-radiant, joy-bubbling, Christ-longing life.

Our Father knows what we need before we ask Him (Matthew 6:8).

He knows we need this abundant life. He knows there is a song-gap in every heart, a longing for music with a swell big enough to carry us through a life and into an eternity.

Not only does he know about this song-hunger–He made it. He made souls that serve a Master. But what Master will we follow?

Only one song will quench us. Only One Life will fill us.

My dear teacher Dr. Jeff Myers taught his students about the principle of abundance. That is, we are not to be content with mediocrity. We are not to be content with merely a well-run race of our own.

An abundant life is a life that spreads. It is light that reaches out. It is a singer that teaches the Greatest Song to every longing soul she finds.

And this abundance–it isn’t something you have to find. It is already yours.

It’s why He came.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

– Matthew 7:7-8, NKJV, emphasis mine –

Sisters, just ask. Today, ask. Enter the abundance that the Cross unleashed.

“If God has given you life abundantly, why aren’t you using it?”

~ Luci Swindoll ~

“To the one who is able to protect you from falling, and to present you blameless and rejoicing before his glorious presence,to the only God our savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, belong glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time, now and forever. Amen.”

– Jude 24-25, CEB, emphasis mine-

Special thanks to Atalie Bale at ataliebalephotography.com for her beautiful photo of abundance!

When the Days are Just Hard

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I’ve approached this past week with a writer’s eyes. “What in the world will I write for Monday?”

And, truth be told, I have felt unworthy to pass on anything.

I’m sick of insights that somehow don’t translate into my living.

This week I longed for a victory so I could pass on some special spiritual secret to you.

Instead, I woke up every day to burdens and labors and jobs I didn’t want and attitudes that gripped me. One morning my world seemed to shift over a nothing–a slight departure from my neatly-pressed plans. It was all I could do to keep sharpness out of my clipped answers to my family. Words clanged in my ears and I could hardly breathe, hardly believe the hateful replies that my off-center mind presented. Things I would never want to say.

And I didn’t. But just my ability to think them startled me. It didn’t help my morning any.

So as I ponder what in all my crazy world could speak to yours, perhaps I’ve found it.

Maybe you really don’t need someone who’s conquered a fear or mastered a subject. You need someone who’s deep in the same life-death battle as you.

Maybe you really have no use for a perfectly cheerful morning person, but instead need to know I’m slogging through attitudes that snag me.

Just like you.

And most of all, maybe you need to know that I don’t have all the answers for you.

I don’t even have all the answers for me.

After a series of days that are spiritually just a bit fuzzy, there are foundations calling me back.

God has given us a Hiding Place to run for refuge. “When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2, NKJV).

But I get so busy and so caught up in a self-constructed world that I keep running through the storms instead of running into the shelter He offers.

“You were reaching through the storm
And walking on the water
Even when I could not see
In the middle of it all
When I thought You were a thousand miles away
Not for a moment did You forsake me
Not for a moment did You forsake me”

– Meredith Andrews, “Not for a Moment”

What are real, gritty-living ways we can hide in Him? How do we keep living in the storms?

– Join me in digging deeper. I’m currently memorizing the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) with an accountability partner. Please, read. Please, dive in. Listen on CD, online, or on your iPod. Post verse cards on your mirrors and desktops and on sticky notes. And dwell there. Fix your heart on them, like anchors that are sure to hold in those gale-force winds of this next week.

– Sisters, pray for everything. It’s work–but so, so, so much joy. Pray for me to abide. I’ll pray for you. It is life-giving.

– Lay aside the dream worlds. I can tell I’ve stepped out too far into mine when reality makes me blink and I feel disconnected. Make sure that you aren’t spending so much time in alternate realities–even beneficial ones–such as TV, books (any kind), schoolwork, daydreaming, and your own plans that you lose touch with your family and the real living that is happening now. Today is our calling, not tomorrow–not even a dream tomorrow. Be here. Now. Rooted. As Jim Elliott said, “Wherever you are, be all there.” Join me in setting aside the music and the screens and the papers to look someone you love in the eye when they speak–is it showing love to keep your gaze rooted on your task and grunt a reply? (Oh, I’m preaching to me too!) Please, join me in a prayer for us to be real.

– Take up the pen and journal and give thanks. Write down 3 gifts that God has given you today. Or 5. Or 50. Thank Him, even when your heart’s not quite in it. Pray for help in the rejoicing. Seek His wonders.

Take a breath.

Say a prayer.

Live real, right here.  Right now.

He will make you stand.

“The only beautiful thing about a Christian is Jesus Christ.”

The Calvary Road, p. 102 –

Dancing With the Daffodils

“And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.”
– William Wordsworth –

Dancing With the Daffodil

I narrowed my eyes at a vase of faded daffodils. Faded, I say, because every petal had grown stiff and the fragrance died away and the youth seemed to pour right out of them.

“I should just throw those away.”

And then I looked more closely. The vibrant yellow still shone on the frail petals. I cradled a single stem in my hand. All the daffodils still had their heads up, embracing the light streaming through the kitchen window.

In the language of flowers, a bouquet of daffodils represents joy. Now, maybe I’m crazy to think about the life-work of daffodils, but when I cradled that crisp happiness-flower, I thought about the joy that it brought my mom when my brother presented her with a bunch of daffodils, their golden heads bobbing in glee. Surely those plucked-up flowers were bouncing with the joy of being ripped from the soil and given away as a gift.

If I dare to go on in my speculations on the personality of a daffodil, I just know that a daffodil loves to smile. How could it not smile? It pushed through half-frozen dirt and slushy ice only to pop its head out and cry, “Spring! Look!” Its canary rays stretch and its little yellow Sunday bonnet quivers in the chilly wind—a wind that can’t quite decide whether to usher in spring or prolong the winter. The daffodil stretches its thin green neck as high as it can and lifts its bright face to the sun, basking in its Creator’s glory. It stands like a lighthouse, lone and erect in the winter’s deadness.

It’s a lot like the joy we are called to, joy in the midst of tribulation. The stand of the daffodil on a frozen hill is our stand. I am memorizing the words of Matthew:

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

– Matthew 5:14-16, NKJV –

The true Light is now shining, sisters. And we “are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power” (Colossians 2:10). Maybe you feel the frozen ground cutting you, so you can’t find the strength to rejoice. What is the secret?

Fix your gaze on the Son of righteousness. Dwell on the One who died that you might live. Remember the Savior that “ever lives and pleads” for you at God’s right hand (from the song “Before the Throne of God Above). For the darkness is past and the true light now shines (1 John 2:8).

Behold the Light and dance on the hill.

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.”

– Helen Keller –