As I listened to her share some advice to a young woman who was hurting, I thought about this verse, and how not too many years ago, I was in a place where I rarely had any enjoyment in my life. I spent most of my days feeling miserable. Either I was ill or I was suffering from guilt, shame, or condemnation. My life was far from enjoyable, and no matter how often I tried to change my mind about my life, I simply couldn’t overcome the pain, the sorrow, and the difficult situation I was in. In hindsight, I can clearly see my life — in toto — and I realize that the circumstances were so constrained, so challenging, and so overwhelming that I honestly was unable to do much of anything except breathe. I was sinking so far beneath the water line that all my energy was reserved for “living,” for keeping my head and my body afloat.
I can remember how I spent my days, how I struggled just to make ends meet, and how my life had little to no real joy in it. The worst part was that I identified as a “Christ Follower.” I mean, I was a believer, and yet, my life was slowly burning out. I was so unhappy, so desperately unhappy, and it seemed that no amount of hard work or physical effort would change my circumstances. In truth, it took a miracle of God to move me from that awful place and to help me recover my sense of dignity and worth, my sense of self, and my purpose in life. Now, I have hope. Now, I am free. Now, I have a future. But, the battle between the old way and the new way was not an easy one. I lost everything I held dear, and in the end, I had to be destroyed (mentally, emotionally, and physically) before I could receive His blessed restoration. He stripped me bare, and as a result, I had to let go of all the dead in my life. I had to walk away and never look back (like Lot was told to do), and with my eyes fixed only on Jesus, I had to walk into an unknown future predicated on trusting the Lord for my very life.
The path through the pain was difficult, yet the result has been transformational. I don’t mean to brag or to bemoan or demean anyone’s life; rather, I hope to offer encouragement because I believe that what the Lord did for me is possible for anyone who sincerely, devotedly seeks Him for help. Yes, the Lord is the lifter of my head. He is the One who saved me. He provided a way for me to go, and as Proverbs 3:5-6 (AMP) says,
Trust in and rely confidently on the Lord with all your heart, And do not rely on your own insight or understanding. In all your ways know and acknowledge and recognize Him, And He will make your paths straight and smooth [removing obstacles that block your way].
I have found that the Lord is generous with His advice. He is always willing to show us the way out of our troubles, to provide guidance on how to deal with difficult people or situations. However, rarely are we willing to do what He says. We “consider” His words, and then we make the choice ONLY IF it suits us to do so. Instead, we should be ready listeners, willing to “heed and obey” the Lord’s counsel. If we did, if we would listen and then follow His leading, He will surely make our paths straight.
I have benefitted from the Lord’s wisdom and counsel. I have learned the hard way what it means to follow after Him, to wholly devote oneself to Him and to His work. Yet, despite what I have lost, the future gained has been (or will be) splendid, amazing, and wonderfully fulfilling. In many ways, I feel like Job. Job lost everything — family, children, home — yet the blessing, when restored was far more than what was ever lost. This is how I feel today. I believe the Lord removed that which was toxic to me, and in return, He gave me freedom, hope, and a plan to follow that pleased Him. Now, I walk in this new way. I follow the Lord, I trust Him completely, and I seek His provision as He leads, guides, and yes, provides, for me. He is my Lord, my Savior, and my King, and I adore Him. I worship Him, and I place my faith, my hope, and my trust in His good, good name.
Making the Most of the Days Ahead
Today is a good day to stop and to reconnoiter. You know, to stop and consider the landscape and terrain all around you. I feel as if I have been walking through very difficult terrain and now I have come to this place of ease. I am on the downslope of the mountain, and I am heading into a very peaceful valley, so to speak. I see more mountains ahead, and praise God, I know I must walk on through this pleasant valley and into more difficult and challenging hills ahead. Yet, for now, the walk is easy, and I thank the Lord for providing this time of transition, this time when I can ease up a bit, rest more, and relax. In truth, I am able to enjoy the process, to think back on the accomplishment, and to really give the Lord praise because of His provision, power, and peace as He enabled me to finish so well, finish so strong.
Thus, as I stand here for the moment, and I reflect back, I am able to see how carefully the Lord orchestrated the details of my days. He made it possible for me to attend graduate school online. I had thought it would never be possible to go back to school to get a masters degree, but the Lord showed me a program online that would suit my needs. I attended Mercy College in New York for two-half years, and in that time, I was able to “prove” to myself that I was a good student. I learned that I could succeed in graduate study. Then, the Lord showed me a option for doctoral work, and after much consideration, weighing the pros and cons, I chose to trust the Lord for Regent University. In doing so, my life was transformed again. I began a program that I had absolutely no experience in at all, and over three years of very difficult course work, I learned all I needed to know about communication. Now, I am a graduate of another school, and this time, I possess the coveted degree of a doctor of philosophy. I cannot believe it is true, but I am a PhD. Praise God, I am a Dr. now.
The Lord opened doors for me. He gave me blessing and favor, and what is more, throughout this process, He helped me see the trauma in my life — from childhood to adulthood — and He gave me the grace I needed to learn how to accept what happened to me and then how to live with the effects of it so that I am no longer a slave to the experience. In this way, my life was transformed, as I often say, where by I came to accept the past, forgive those who hurt me, and move on from the trauma without carrying the baggage with me. I am free from the pain. I still remember the details, but with time, those memories are fading. Now, I am able to focus on the future plans the Lord has for my life rather than always stewing over the past. I am able to let go of the past, to hold to the good memories, but let the sad memories (or the difficult ones) remain dead and buried.
As I move forward into the future, I see that it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for me to embrace the life the Lord has for me so long as I was living in the past. I had to let the past go, to let Him take it, dig a hole, and then bury it for me. Once I did, I experienced such freedom. I am free, I am really, really free.
My desire now is to make the most of each day, to enjoy it to the full, and to experience that overflowing abundance John talks about in His gospel. Yes, I know that spiritually, as a Christ follower, my life is spiritually full to overflowing, but I believe that the spiritual blessing that comes from knowing Christ flows in us and out of us just like a fountain. If you have ever been next to a fountain then you know what I am saying. It is impossible to not feel the splash of the water as it overflows. If the fountain is a big one, like at a park or museum, then the water will splash everywhere, even outside the fountain itself. In a like way, when the Spirit of the Lord is living within us, we become like fountains. His joy is overflowing, and if it is really flowing well, we splash that living water — permeated with His JOY — all over ourselves and anyone standing near us. This is His way of sharing the water that not only brings life, but brings the ENJOYMENT OF LIFE. I want to be that fountain, to splash LIFE out to others, to people I meet or work with or mentor. I want to be a fountain of joy in someone’s life this good, good day!
Today, my prayer is to a joy bringer, as my colleague and peer, Rae, likes to say. We can choose to bring joy with us or we can choose to sap joy out of every situation or event. I want to be a joy bringer, someone who waltzes in with joy, readily shares joy, and encourages joy wherever and whenever possible.
As I close out this blog post, I realize that choosing to be a joy-bringer simply means that we do not stifle the joy of the Spirit. Instead, we allow His joy to percolate up inside of us and splash out all over us. We are not, as my former pastor says, acting like we were “baptized in pickle juice,” rather we are people who love the Lord, sing new songs to the Lord, and share the good news of the Lord with everyone we meet. Yes, we are filled with joy, always seeking enjoyment in our daily life, and always experiencing His joy as we live, work, play, and rest in His awesome plan and purpose.
I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy.
Yes, your joy will overflow!
John 15:11 (NLT)