The Healing Presence of Joy

What is joy? The dictionary defines it as “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness”. When I first read those words, I thought the writers of the dictionary – forgive my sidetrack, but have you ever met someone who said, “I’m a writer for Merriam-Webster; you know, the dictionary people?” – that those unknown writers had set a pretty low standard for joy. But then I read on: ‘delight, jubilation, triumph” – and I was ready to stand and cheer…for those unknown dictionary  writers. Yet another dictionary described joy as “to be exhilarated with lively and  pleasurable sensations, to exult”.

“ReJOYcing” is our response to the action of God in his provision of Jesus’ death as the full payment for our sin. And we “reJOYce” in his loving gifts that sustain us hour by hour.

But Scripture goes still deeper: “ReJOYce in the LORD always”. And then, knowing our human frailty, the Apostle Paul adds, “I will say it again: ReJOYce!”  Philippians 4:20)

We bring human strength, skill, attention to detail and so much more to sustain and support the one we care for. But it is the heart that is learning to reJOYce that will lift the spirit of both giver and receiver.

Prayer – LORD, help me to see more clearly the wonder of who you are and what you have done for those who love and follow you. Amen

Serving with Joy

There’s a joy that comes from witnessing a parade. The music of marching bands stirs our souls. And the gentler kind of joy that one feels at the first glimpse of a newborn child or grandchild. But one can’t have a parade a day. And newborns grow up to be a mixture of joys and concerns. As caregivers we’ve learned to cherish any sign of progress…and welcome the feeling C.S. Lewis called being “surprised by joy”.

In fact, “joy…is our strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10). But we can never fill a day (or night) or even an hour or two with enough happy events to fill our tired souls and keep our spirits lifted.

In the previous paragraph… in life itself…and in the demanding day-to-dayness of our caregiving, I/we so easily forget the source of sustaining joy. “The joy of the LORD is our strength. Not good numbers from the lab. Or a doctor’s positive report. (As I’m writing my doctor just called with authorizations for another test)

The “joy of the LORD” comes from the deeper, purer, inexhaustible well of his always-abiding presence. John Piper wrote that “Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul produced by the Holy Spirit as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the Word and in the world”.

Prayer – Forgive me, LORD, from depending on feelings. Teach me to be a channel of the joy of the LORD. Amen

Joy in the Morning

Troubled times seem to go on…and on…and on. As if they were going to last forever. You can almost feel it in the old language of the King James Version of scripture: “Weeping may endure for a season…” (Psalm 39:5) In fact, one of the  meanings of the word “endure” is to take up lodging. In difficult times, we can feel as if an unwelcome guest has moved into our house…to stay. And all the easy  assurances that “this too will pass” sound so unreal.

As caregivers, we know the feeling of troubled times all too well. We’ve faced fear and “wept” quietly and deeply for many a fearful “season”. There’s no escaping. True caring tugs at the heart.

God makes no promise about the length of the “season of weeping”. But he assures us that it is only a temporary guest. It may “stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5 NIV) And that is good, good news: many translations of that verse promise that “a shout of rejoicing” comes.

Whatever stress or strain you are facing, however dark and long the “season”, take strength from God’s assurance that “rejoicing comes in the morning”. Hear it in the depth of your soul: “rejoicing comes”. Hear it when your faith is weak: “rejoicing comes”. Hear it when God’s answer is not what you had hoped: “It’s morning! Rejoice!.

Prayer – LORD, sustain me in the dark times. Teach me to wait in expectation of the “morning of rejoicing” you have prepared. Amen

Multiplied Grace

The last time we were together we talked about addition. Not the 1+1 kind. But adding to our faith. It seems as if caring isn’t just something we do. It’s who we are. And its challenges are meant as gifts to take us beyond our inner limits to a  new and deeper dependency on the wisdom, the power, and the storm-stilling presence of our LORD.

He calls on us to add to our lives – new levels of trust, discipline, patience…and much more…so that his Spirit may flow more completely through us.

Then, while we are adding strengths, our ever-generous LORD is at work,  multiplying his support. “Grace unto you and peace be multiplied.” (I and 2  Peter:1:2) Both the call to add new levels of spiritual growth and our assurance of God’s multiplied ever-enabling grace come to us from Peter – best-intentioned, like us, failed and forgiven, like us, commissioned to serve and care, like us.

Instead of calling great crowds to follow Jesus, we stand or sit by the side of one of God’s beloved. And in the quiet and the busy times, we seek to be the deeply caring presence of our LORD. Giving beyond our human measure. Giving out of our LORD’s multiplied grace and peace.

Prayer – Teach me, LORD, to draw on your multiplied grace and mercy in both the quiet and the crisis of this day. Amen.

“Don’t Lose a Minute”

Talk to me about adding some new responsibility to my busy caretaking schedule…and more than likely I’ll object. “I’m already….” And each of you can complete that sentence. Then our heart responds…and we add that one more responsibility to our day’s (or night’s) busy schedule…because life and health are at stake.

The fact that you read these devotionals says that caregiving – for all of its demands – is an act of love. Love for our LORD that makes caregiving love and concern possible. It’s care-giving, beyond anything you could have imagined when you first began. You sense that the tasks you do are calling you to deepen your spiritual roots. And the demands you face can only be met by a strengthened spirit.

“So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve already been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. (2 Peter 1:5-8 THE MESSAGE)

Prayer – Draw my heart to you, LORD. Teach me to “complement my faith” with the qualities that deepen my living and my caring. Amen

Step Out of the Traffic

A couple of days ago I looked online for a product I needed. Mostly I was comparison shopping. Checking features and, of course, prices. I didn’t buy anything. But one of the vendors simply won’t give up. Every time I turn on my computer…off to the side of the screen is an ad for the product I looked at days ago.

That’s only one small example of the fact that we live in a world of demands. Scores of voices compete for our attention. Many a voice seems to cry out “Urgent! Attend to me!” And caring for another often brings deeply moving demands. Demands of both hands…and heart.

In the midst of these demands, one small but insistent voice calls out “Be still!” And the busier we are, the more demands on our time and energy, the more urgent our heart pleads, “Be still!” Not for the stillness alone. But because the “stillness”…the stepping away from the busy, tangled traffic of life, comes with our Father’s promise: “…and know that I am God”. (Psalm 46:10)

This “stillness” produces a “knowing” …a certainty that God is in control in troubled situations…or uncertain conditions. Take time today to shut out the “noise” of life, and draw deep, renewing strength from our LORD’s renewing voice.

Prayer – Teach me, O LORD, the power of quiet listening for your voice. Amen

Attentiveness

There’s an emotional mile or two – maybe more – between “attend” and  “attentive”. You can attend a concert, but be totally inattentive to the performance. You hear the sounds of the music, but miss the subtle touches that an attentive soul is listening for.

Caregivers can attend to the tasks of the day…and the needs of the one they care for. All of us have days like that. And… we have days and times of attentiveness. We catch subtle attitude changes and respond with extra care. We sense an unasked question and offer a tentative “answer”. You get the picture.

One of the facts that make day-in and day-out caregiving possible is that we have a partner in caring – the Holy Spirit. An always attentive partner who “helps us in our weakness.” (Romans 8:26) And that partnership is more strengthening when we are attentive to his presence.

During the day…and especially at day’s end, ask the Holy Spirit to walk with you through its joys and its stresses. Reflect on your feelings, and what God may be saying to you through them. Be attentive to what you may learn from the day’s small details. God is in the details.

Then let your insights turn to prayer…and draw strength from the Holy Spirit, your partner in attentiveness.

Prayer – LORD, please turn my attendance into a holy attentiveness. Help me draw more deeply on the partnership of your Holy Spirit. Amen

When our “Batteries” are Low

Some days are high energy. You feel as if you could take on the world…and WIN. The day ahead is challenging, but challenges only work to deepen your faith. You’ve a confidence…but not of your own making. It’s one of our LORD’s good gifts, one that makes the day feel like a loving partnership…an energized partnership.

Then there are those other days. Days when even routine caring is a challenge. Days…or maybe just times in your day when “energized” turns to “enervated”. That word may be new, but the feeling isn’t. It means “to be drained of energy or vitality”. Or consider these synonyms: “exhausted”, “tired”, “fatigued”, or “spent emotionally”,

But definitions don’t heal. We need help in coping with that drained feeling. Is it simply sheer exhaustion? Disappointment? Improvement that has hit a snag? Criticism? Help promised…but not fulfilled? These…and scores of other attitudes and actions “drain” our energy and “strain” our spirit.

When our “batteries” are low…it’s time to recharge. Seek our LORD’s help in recognizing and dealing with the situations that drain our spirit. And allow him to re-energize us with a sense of being called to partner with him in caring.

Prayer – LORD, help me to see clearly the attitudes and actions – my own, or those of others – that leave me drained, and fill with your energy. Amen

Strength for the Task

During your day today – in fact, every day – good days and bad, there are things that invigorate you, moments meant to be cherished: a scripture comes to mind with the sense that it was just for you, like a breeze from above you sense the LORD’s quieting presence in the midst of a “storm”, a friend comes by, unexpected, to offer help, you share a special moment with the one you care for – an unexpected smile, a special “thank you”. Or some troubling duty goes “right” – finally. Savor these surprises.

The strengthening power of these surprise moments comes from savoring them. Allow yourself the satisfaction of a deep breath. Be grateful. Take time to contemplate the depth of the gift you’ve been given. Whether small or great…treat it as precious. Treat is as life-giving. It is.

Why not create a “Thank you, LORD” notebook? Write your thoughts about these special moments. Putting the experience into words makes it more meaningful. It helps you see things you didn’t see at first. And it will serve as a source of encouragement and a reminder to be open to our LORD’s intervention in uncertain days ahead.

Approach today, confessing your need for our LORD’s invigorating gifts –

reminders of his loving care – meant to sustain you in all the routines of caring.

Prayer – Open my senses today, LORD, that I may see and draw strength from your supportive gift-moments. Amen

Conquering Storms

Situations often shape our attitude. Disappointments drag us down. Good news can leave us feeling that all’s well with our personal world.

But sometimes there’s a sense of uncertainty in the “ caregiving” part of our world. No matter our experienced-tested skills or best in-tentions – and at-tentions, unexpected “storms” can stir our “Galilee“ and we loose control.

Who can quiet our uncertainties? Or still our voiced or unvoiced feelings of anger and frustration? Or resolve any of the host of feelings that rise, uninvited, to the surface in difficult times.

In times like these, everything in us cries out, “do something!” Or, “keep busy. This will all go away.” But the time-tested counsel of Scripture says , “STOP! Come away – physically and emotionally- from the current demands. Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) The writer seems to be saying that until our bodies, our minds and our hearts are “still” we cannot fully know that God is in control…and the direction he has for us – the way out of the tension.

That same verse in THE MESSAGE translation, offers this compelling, storm-quieting advice: “Step out of the traffic. Take a long, loving look at me, your High God.. (Psa. 46:10

Prayer – Teach me, O LORD, to trust you more fully, so that I can find a quiet place in stormy situations. Amen