Joy’s Nemesis

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As I talked to a group of girls last night–one old friend and two new–one of them started talking about the connection between fear and the lack of joy.

I realized that it is true.

Fear chases away joy, in just a whisper of time.

We, white-knuckled, clench imagined control…and joy evaporates.

There are so many fears that run at us and storm our hearts’ gates. They crunch down the doors with solid bolts of facts, worry, despair.

And you know what…maybe we have good reason to be afraid.

If your goal is to stay safe, untouched by pain, hidden from trouble, tucked away from loss, un-torn by loss of people you love–then yes, you have much to fear indeed.

I have to tell you a story–a story that is very, very true.

As a twelve-year-old girl, I was diagnosed with cancer. Lymphoma.

Yes.

That word that carries a host of terror. Cancer. I had it. Inside my body was a wild thing tearing at my seams.

But that is the short part of this story.

Because, you see, a host of prayers went up, and I went to M.D. Anderson where I clutched an oversized teddy bear named Andy and slipped into a hospital gown. They took out a biopsy from my side.

Weeks later, I was declared cancer-free. Doctors claimed to have made a mistake.

Funny thing was…I was okay, then. A little nervous. But I was young and–by some mercy–did not have to take myself to that dark place. I never considered the worst–that cancer kills, and I could be its next prey.

But I wasn’t.

I moved on with life–cancer-free and largely untroubled by the experience, except for a tiny puckering scar over my rib cage.

It was several years later that the fear stole back to haunt me.

I had been experiencing strange symptoms in the site near my scar, and the terror suddenly loomed over me.

I. Could. Die.

That terrible disease could creep over me again and…this time it could take me.

The reality of death hit me in the chest and sat there a while. I cried in the quiet dark. I feared.

And then I gave in. Gave over.

In that still moment, I surrendered my future–whether life or death–to the Lord. I shrank from the idea of pain, from the thought of wasting away before the eyes of my family. But I gave that to Him. (Of course, it was His already…I just needed to align my will with His!)

Easy?

Not at all. Desperately, terribly hard.

But there was peace…washing, cleansing peace…

And  wide-open gates of joy.

This was only one of my battles–vivid still in my memory. I’ve felt the paralysis of fear. It seeps deep into your bones, freezes your joints, immobilizes you until you think every scrap of bravery is gone.

Fear is being haunted by possibilities.

Fear is to stop living to keep from dying.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” – C.S. Lewis

So…as I was saying above…you might have good reason for fear.

Believing in God doesn’t mean that you’re promised earthly happiness. The pain of this life is inevitable (John 16:33).

How will you handle it?

Because you MUST handle it. Or let it handle you.

You can run out to meet the fear, or let it catch you as you run. But you will meet it, and you will get to know it well.

I’m just telling you this straight: Life is hard.

So what are you going to do about it?

Are you going to keep running? Are you going to let the fear breathe down your neck every minute?

Or will you let go of the fantasy that you can dodge the pain?

The relief does not come when you hide from the bad things–it only comes when you accept the possibility and yet know that even if the worst comes, you will still be standing at the end.

How could you know this? How could this be your stand?

To face coming days in this way is Joy.

I have a vision of this joy. Maybe it was birthed in my imagination, or implanted in me by other tales. I picture a woman lifting her eyes to the dawn, face radiant. It isn’t a care-free face. It is lined with the trails of years and tears and many laughs. But as this woman looks up, her beautiful, worn face is lit with wild sort of joy–so much joy that it seems that a army could not trample it, or an ocean wash it away. It is a holy, unwavering thing–a way to laugh in the face of death. A way to smile as dawn rises on more trouble. A way to keep loving when it seems all that you love dies.

She is fearless.

And there is only one explanation.

Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
    they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
    in the end they will look in triumph on their foes

– Psalm 112:6-8 –

This is the only well of joy.

Truly, “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Fear cripples us–but trusting God’s eternal love breaks its hold.

The question is not whether pain will find you. This world is crying out, waiting for Christ’s final renewal.

The real question is whether you will take refuge in God’s love to carry you safely through the storm. He alone can hold you tight–even giving you faith enough to believe in Him.

I can’t promise you happiness… 

…nor a smooth ride through life…

…nor an emotional high that some call joy..

…but would you really want that, when God’s adventure awaits?

When His pure Joy is just on the other side of your fear?

Nothing is strong enough to part you from Him–not even fear itself.

So…will you run from fear?

Or will you run to your Jesus and together run at the fear?

May you throw back you head and laugh, for your future–however mysterious– is perfectly secure.


 “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

– Romans 8:31-39, NIV –


My dear friend Emily wrote a post about this very thing. How about checking out “Whale-Lines, Foolish Elves, and the Faith of Laugher”?

Sore Afraid

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“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”

– Plato –


In the gray dusk, the little girls skipped at my side next to the wall of the empty school building.

“Look at our shadows!” I pointed out my 5’10” shadow, looking disproportionately squat next to the shorter, equally-thick shadows of my small friends.

The nine-year-old giggled. “When Ingrid was little, she was afraid of her shadow.”

I turned and smiled at her seven-year-old sister.

The older sister continued. “She thought it was a monster chasing her.”

I nodded, raising my eyebrows. “That’s understandable.” The girls went on. I hopscotched behind them in the parking lot, trailed by the furiously-hopping three-year-old grunting with the effort of keeping up with the “big kids.”

I smiled to myself. “She was afraid of her shadow,” I mused. “Aren’t we all.”


This sin. This sin that so easily besets me. It crouches, lies in wait for me. And it catches me, pins me down, time after time.

For me, it’s unbelief. For another, anger. Or pride. Or jealously. Or fear. Whatever form it takes, sin sinks in its claws and refuses to let go.

And so, we become like little Ingrid–afraid of our shadows. Terrified of the past that trails us. Frightened that we will never get away from the monster chasing us.

We all are followed by a shadow.

But… I have learned a few things about mine.

1. My shadow is not a reflection of who I am

That squat, distorted blackness that follows me is not me.

Sometimes I sin. In fact, often I sin.

But there is a new, free me. I am a redeemed self: upright, and solid, and joyous and more like a reflection of my Savior than my shadow ever was. 

I am not my past. I am not my sin. I am not my regrets. I am a new girl, all washed and alive and real.

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17 –

2. Only light brings shadows

When knowledge of my sin drags me down, I realize something: only a changed heart sees the darkness of sin.

Until the sun dawns, there is no shadow.

Until Christ dawned upon my soul, I did not know how black my heart was. I could not understand how grievous my unbelief, my pride, and my rebellion were until the darkness fled before His light.

“What came into being
through the Word was life, 
    and the life was the light for all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
    and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.”

– John 1:3-5, CEB –

3. Even the shadows can be redeemed

“Redeemed” means bought back, restored, or put to new purpose.

Jesus does not erase the memory of my sin, but He does repurpose that sin.

You see, the Light controls the shadows. Just like the sun’s position puts my shadow in a new perspective, Christ’s coming to me puts my sins in a new context.

No longer do I stand condemned. Now, even my shadow is part of my story.

Even my winding past is part of the journey that led me to my Savior. Even the lessons learned by heartbreak, or the sting of rebellion’s consequences are tools in my Master’s hands. Hateful though my sins are, my God is greater than my mistakes.

Sin is never a good thing.

But a good Savior can make even the crooked things straight.

Even the darkest past. Even the guiltiest mind. Even the worst sin. Even the rawest hurt.

Dear Ingrid: You do not have to fear your shadow. 

Dear Self: You do not have to fear your past.

Because, “if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7, NKJV).

Morning has dawned, and the shadows are nothing to fear.

My shadow is my tutor, teaching me that I have been made new, I have stepped into the light, and nothing will stop my God from turning all to my good and His glory.

If I were in the dark, I could not even see my shadow.

But I am in the Light, and my Jesus leads even my shadow by the hand.


 Thank you Atalie Bale Photography for today’s perfect photo!

Savoring the Gift

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“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
– Dr. Seuss –


It’s easy to want to be wherever I’m not.

It’s easy to miss the moment for the longing.

And it is so, so easy to want to tweak God’s gifts.

I laid on my back on a blanket spread over the cropped green grass. The sky was blue–oh, so blue–and the little ships of clouds scudded along the uncreased waves of air. Sun rained gold down on my skin. A wasp hummed by, in search of a warm place to bask.

But I wanted to add a P.S. on to my letter of thankfulness to God.

Truly, my heart was full as I stared up at a sky with such clear-toned color, I could not describe its blueness. I grinned up at the clouds. And then I wondered.

I wondered if a moment could be so perfect again. And I amended my letter of praise:

Dear Lord, thank you…but is this the only moment like this I will ever have? Will the people I love not ever get to see this with me?

Like a child letting the warm sand slip through its fists, I clasped the moment–wild with the glee of warm, pouring life and desperate to somehow bottle it up and immortalize the perfect instant. I was so afraid of the trickling time pouring warm between my fingers. I was so afraid the breathless moment would be lost for ever.

So fear crept into my glorying, and tainted my joy.

Climbing a mountain, I think about those left at the bottom. Walking along a river, I wonder if I’ll ever return to the perfect moment again.

With each gift, I’ve found that my heart bends the joy into a sort of ache. Instead of just enjoying the gift, I ask questions: Will there be another gift like this one? What if I can’t remember this gift? Why can’t others share this gift with me? How long can I keep this gift?

A glorious dinner of laughing and fun. A breezy neighborhood walk with the acorns crunching under foot. A cup of hot tea. The soft weight of a baby resting in my arms, wiggling her toes in thoughtless glee.

All these things I’ve had. All these things are gifts.

Why, then, do I persist in spoiling the moment? I think of the absent dinner guests. I wonder if tomorrow’s walk will be spoiled by rain. I wish for another cup of tea. I wonder how many baby toes I’ll get to wiggle.

“Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what He gives. We hunger for something more, something other.”
– Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts –

Yes, this is my fall: That I spoil the gift because I fail to trust the Giver.

I bow now, and repent. I give over myself–again, and again, and again. I will trust my God for His gifts. I will trust that He knows just what to give me–each day’s gift perfect for that moment.

Because every day…every breath…is truly a gift.


 “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.”

– James 1:17-18, NKJV –