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. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
I had one of those great moments with God in church yesterday. It doesn't happen often for me these days. I'm struggling with cynicism--not about God, but about church and people. More on that another time.
But yesterday in church I had a great connection with God. I'm not a "God told me" type of person. But three words came to me as we took communion, and I believe they came from God.
"I choose joy."
The past few months (actually the last few years) have been the most stressful time in my life. We moved, left family and friends, home and comfort, to start a new life on the other side of the country.
I started a new job that is fun and challenging, but brings a lot of pressure.
I am getting used to a new church, trying to make new friends, and learning a new town.
I am trying to help my kids get through the challenges of change and transition.
And in the midst of all this, my wife gets cancer. I have always been very self-aware, but I'm struggling to identify my feelings about all this. I feel for Jamie. Compassion. Sadness. Empathy. I wish this weren't happening to her. I'd rather it were happening to me. I hate being powerless.
I've never been one to worry much about the future (I can worry well enough about the right now.) I don't have anxiety about the future of Jamie's health; I hope and pray that the current course of treatment will take care of everything and that cancer will be only in our past.
Stress has sneaked up on me in recent years. I dealt with very little stress in my 20s and 30s. I was single, very little responsibility; working jobs that I really enjoyed. I had great churches, great friends, and the freedom to do what I wanted.
Life was good, easy, light, simple.
In the last ten years I moved from Texas to Virginia, got married, worked in several fun but challenging jobs, had three children, lost my father, lost a job I loved under difficult circumstances and moved into a season where we struggled financially for several years.
Then we moved and started much of life all over again.
I'm not complaining--I wouldn't change much of what happen. I have lived 46 fun, adventurous, exciting, enjoyable years. I've been able to experience more than most.
I love my wife and my children. I've received a great education, both in the classroom, and in life. I have enjoyed trying different things and working in different jobs and ministries.
I love being a dad more than anything--It brings greater joy than anything I've done, even though it is often challenging and exhausting.
But in the normal flow and change of life, I never realized that my stress level was growing until I hit a point where it was really affecting me--trouble sleeping, worrying like I never had before, making it difficult to stay positive and encouraging.
A recent event has caused my stress to increase again--a situation that has been eating at me, causing me to struggle with anger, envy, disappointment, feeling I've been wronged.
Those feelings had been taking over my thoughts and emotions, until yesterday in church, when those words filled my mind and my heart. "I choose joy."
I choose joy, even when life doesn't seem fair, or just, or make sense. I choose joy, even when there is loss and sadness in my life, or the lives of those around me.
I look back at those years of being single and mostly responsibility-free, and I think part of the reason I was happy and at peace was because I was very much in control of my life. My decisions only affected me for the most part, so I could do what I wanted.
I could choose to do what brought me joy.
Now that I have a wife and three children and house and car and credit card payments and a challenging job, I don't have the freedom to choose everything. I can't control the way my wife or my kids or my co-workers act. I can't control the choices and decisions others make, even when those choices and decisions affect me.
I can't control people's health. I can't control how I feel sometimes.
But I can control how I react to life and to people and to situations. I can choose joy. I can choose to turn my eyes to God. I can choose to be grateful for the good in my life. I can choose to think of my children and the blessing they are.
I can choose to love my family, encourage my co-workers, and do the best I can to help others succeed.
I can choose to ignore the ways others treat me wrongly or disappoint me.
I can choose to hope. Hope that what feels like injustice will be made right. Hope that God uses everything--even decisions that don't make sense now.
I choose joy. Not because I feel happy. Not because my problems are solved. I choose joy because I have seen God work over and over again, and I trust that He still has more to do in and through me. And I believe that as I choose joy, God strengthens my faith, and calms my heart, and uses me to bless others.
Thanks, brother, for continuing a long train of thoughts/musings/communications from various sources meant to strike at the core of my heart.
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