I thought I just cleaned up this mess

“Unbelievable,” I muttered under my breath as I shook my head. “I thought I just cleaned up this mess.”

I walked through our kitchen picking up skillets with crusted scrambled eggs, knives caked in dry peanut butter, and coffee mugs with permanent coffee stains. The dishwasher almost croaked in pain as I lowered the door.

“I seriously feel like all I do around here is clean, Rudy!” My Goldendoodle sat right next to me with bugged out brown eyes hoping to lick off the food remnants going into the dishwasher.

As much as I have tried to learn how to keep up with daily household messes before they become one massive cleaning project, I just can never seem to keep the home 100% clean. I think, “Ahh, I know what I’ll do … I’ll put the dishes in the dishwasher right after I use them and that will save me time.” Or, “Meredith, you’re genius: Just make sure there are cleaning supplies in every bathroom so you don’t need to drag them around from room to room when you want to clean.” Or, “Easy, I’ll keep my makeup bag on the counter so I can put everything back in it when I’m done using it.”

Thirty years of life and I haven’t figured out the “perfect” answer. I’ve pinned good helpful articles on Pinterest. I’ve tried cleaning “hacks.” Sure, sometimes they will work … for a few days. But then life happens, and cleaning falls by the wayside.

I found that my house is just like my heart and mind: messy.

Oftentimes I find myself making a concerted effort to keep my heart and mind clean, free of life’s dirt, grime, and mess. I find helpful resources to maintain it — my favorite, of course, Scripture. I get on a “cleaning kick” where I feel awesome at how I’ve cleaned up life’s messes. I think, “Nice! You kept from becoming prideful in this area today.” Or, “Way to go on giving this person grace when they really don’t deserve it.” Or, “Meredith, you’re a serious rockstar for forgiving this person.”

When things are clean, we feel a sense of accomplishment, a sense of peace and order. We see the extra space, the shine, the lack of clutter. We pat ourselves on the back. We feel as though everything is as it should be … perfect.

Clean does not equal perfection, however. Our homes and are hearts are clear examples of this.

Example: “Holy Moses {insert name here} is in the area and is stopping by in 10 minutes!” … Cue the sweat and panic. You laugh because you’ve been there: Don’t deny it! If someone is stopping by when the house is messy, my first instinct is to grab every dirty cup, random sock, and 100 dog toys and fling them in the nearest hiding space. Closet nearby? Don’t mind if I do! Spare bedroom? Yahtzee!

From quick glance the house is clean, but there is dirt and random crap everywhere you can’t see. Our heart and mind are no different.

Sometimes I find myself asking, “Unbelievable. I thought I just cleaned up this mess.” And I’m not talking about my home — I’m talking about my heart and my mind. It seems that when we’re in these moments of a tidy self, we easily find ourselves back where we were. We find sin invading our lives like crusty peanut butter knives and dirty coffee mugs.

When we’re on the path of making a strong effort to keep the clutter out of our lives, it’s easy to let one dirty “dish” here and there take up residence where we normally wouldn’t leave it. We figure, “Whatever, I’ll leave it there now and deal with it later.” Soon, more and more begins to pile up — and we are left with one big mess to tackle at one time. Quickly we become overwhelmed with how we’ve let ourselves get so messy, and we don’t know where to begin.

I want to encourage you today to give yourself a huge wave of grace and let it flow over your heart. Rejoice that you are not the only one responsible for keeping your heart and mind free of junk. Jesus Christ has given us the best tool to help us quickly sweep up the mess — He’s given us His life, His Word, His promise.

Jesus encourages us to not attempt to clean up before him so he won’t see our ick. He invites us to ask him to help. He says, “Come as you are, not as you think you should be.” He desires for us to connect with Him so we can learn how to best avoid life’s messes. What a relief that is!

So on the days when you truly believe you can’t clean up the mess that has piled up — or, if you simply don’t want to because you are tired, weary, or embarrassed — know that it can be wiped clean in the blink of an eye … and that you’ll never go it alone.

I boast of the cross

Good Friday and Easter are much more meaningful and exciting to me than Christmas ever is — from a spiritual perspective.

This weekend signifies the love and sacrifice that God made because He loved the world so much. He desired for all of creation to know Him and to see His love in the flesh. He sent His only Son, God in the flesh, to experience a fallen world alongside the children He loves. He fulfilled all the religious laws of that time to say to us: “It’s not what you do that earns you salvation and my love. All you need to do is know me, know my Son Jesus Christ.”

I notice many stores carry Buddha’s statues. People like to place them in their home or in their garden — not necessarily because they believe in Buddha — but because they like the idea of this “peaceful” face, this symbol of unity, oneness, peace, harmony, serenity.

Do you ever see Jesus’ face in your local home goods stores? No. Why is this? I’ve come up with three reasons.

One: We don’t know what Jesus looked like. Scripture gives no description of the face of Christ.

Two: The face of Jesus and/or the cross is not a popular home décor trend; to the world it is not a symbol of peace, serenity, etc.

Three (and most important): Having Buddha’s face in your home poses no risk to you. It’s just a symbol, and nothing else. You don’t have to stake your life in his name. You don’t have to defend your life decisions to the world based on him. You don’t have to risk your reputation for him. You don’t have to sacrifice anything. You don’t have to change. Seeing Buddha’s smiling face is all you need. You can depend on yourself, your own strength, and have full “control” over your life. It’s easy. The world loves easy and painless.

Us as Believers know and understand what true love in the Christian sense means and depicts. It is pain, suffering, anguish, and ultimately death. Jesus was forced to carry his cross through the streets on top of his back that had just been whipped raw. Jews, Romans, and Gentiles alike thought it would be hilarious to spit on Jesus and make a crown of thorns that was pressed into his head. Sweat, blood, and dirt covered his face. His hands and feet were pierced with thick metal nails, and he was nailed to that wooden cross. The cross was raised up — and in turn — the weight of his body and the force of gravity pulled down on his gentle hands. He became dehydrated in the blazing heat. He even showed His humanity when He pleaded with His own Father when he said, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

And He died. He died surrounded by people who sent Him to that cross. He died surrounded by the very people He came to save. And He did it willingly — and even as they were persecuting Him, He still asked the Father to forgive them. He came so that we — as the notorious doubting humanity we are — could physically see God and change our relationship with Him to one of unity, openness, grace, confidence, and love.

God is love. And love came down from heaven for us — while we were dirty sinners — not when we were perfect — but when we were broken. Christ came to represent us, to go to bat for us, to experience life for us, and to give new life for us in His name.

Jesus and Buddha

As I mentioned in my third point above — having Buddha’s face in your home poses no risk to you. It’s just a symbol, and nothing else. But when you have personally come to know Jesus Christ and follow His truths, your life inevitably changes. You feel accountable for your actions. You are more aware of your brokenness and sin — and others’. You realize that you can’t “do life” on your own; you’re dependent on someone you cannot see or hear. You have to rely on your faith. And that’s a very scary thought to wrap your head around if you don’t have Christ in your life.

Faith is a beautiful thing. You see God work in your life, and yet, you can’t explain it to others who don’t get it. You experience significant pain, heartache, and suffering — but you have joy through it. You know your life here on earth is as bad as it will ever get — even if your life is beautiful. You may have doubts and questions. You’re not perfect, but you’re finally free.

And that freedom came at a cost: a non-smiling, a non-peaceful, a non-serene cost. Our freedom and unity with the Lord came at a bloody, dirty, humiliating, painful, excruciating cost. But the beauty of our faith is that the story of love didn’t end there: Jesus conquered death. His body didn’t decay in the grave. He resurrected into heaven to be with the Father — and someday, so will we. This is our hope. This is our encouragement. This is what gives us joy when our physical bodies are fading. It’s not the end of us, though it may feel that way.

And I thank Christ for that every day. Every day is the story of Easter. My gratitude cannot be put in words nor in actions. But my gratitude starts with boasting of the cross — the most beautiful symbol of love, peace, and harmony there was, is, and will always be.

Pulling on the leash

I firmly believe God blessed me with my puppy as an opportunity to learn more about Him. It may sound silly, but I have many lessons that I’ve learned from my interactions with Rudy than I can write about — and actually — I think I’ll start writing more about them.

Spring is here, and I’ve hit the pavement and trails again walking Rudy. It was a long frigid winter with no walks — and both of us are anxious to get out and enjoy the beauty around us.

Rudy took puppy obedience school when he was 6 months old and “passed.” We never enrolled him in deeper training classes simply because of cost and time. We figured the basics were enough.

Well, the basics weren’t enough. Roo Roo knows all his commands, and does particularly well when a treat is presented to him when we ask him to do something. He never learned to properly “walk” like a “perfect” dog. Rudy pulls on the leash, he zigzags every which way, he doesn’t listen to my commands if a stranger or dog is coming from the other direction.

When we first noticed Rudy was basically choking himself to death with just a collar, we bought him a special walking harness that clips under his belly and armpits. It doesn’t rip out our shoulder out of the socket, and it also is designed to force him back when he begins to pull. But the harness isn’t foolproof. He’s still a puller and a zigzagger!

The past few days as I was walking my little buddy, I decided to reel him in right next to my side with the leash, for I was incredibly annoyed with his pulling and wandering. He had no choice but to walk right next to me. Not only that, but he didn’t resist. The harness and the leash were relaxed, and he walked like a perfect little gentleman pup! I normally just let the leash go in front of me, but that’s where he pulls, gets distracted, and strays.

When he’s right next to me is when he is the most behaved. Sound familiar in your faith?

I know personally that when I’m making an effort to walk right next to the Lord, I have no other desire to look elsewhere, get distracted, and stray away from Him. Now I know full well and trust the Lord when He promises He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). He is always with us. But, I also believe that the Lord tests us as he lets our leash get longer and longer. (It’s important to note and understand that God does not tempt us, however, He will allow it in order to test us and grow us. I learned that in a footnote in my Bible and haven’t forgotten that distinction).

Do you feel the same way sometimes? The farther you step away from God, even though He’s nearby, do you feel more tempted to stray, zigzag through life, and get distracted? Perhaps you aren’t aware of it until after the fact — or perhaps you aren’t aware of it at all.

The point is, God is our guide and our protector. He wants to keep us close on our walk with Him so that we don’t lose heart, become tempted, and wander off. He knows what’s best for us. He knows the path he wants to walk us on. He knows the journey and the right way. I praise Him that He always reels me back close to His side when I wander — just like how I’ve been doing with Rudy.

If you’re not particularly cool with thinking of yourself like a dog, just remember that the Word tells us that Jesus is our Good Shepherd and we are His sheep. Sheep, by nature, have an instinctive tendency to wander. If the shepherd doesn’t go out and seek this lost animal, it will not find its way back on its own. He explains this to us in the Gospel of John, chapter 10:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

What a Savior! He seeks the lost, He knows us, He provides and protects us, and most importantly — laid down His life for us … mere sheep. I can’t think of a greater AMEN!

“She really shouldn’t call herself, like, you know, Paleo.”

I was recently shopping at Target when I overheard some teenagers or young college girls chatting in the next aisle over about their friend.

“So, she tells me that she, like, will eat dairy and stuff. I’ve even seen her eat potatoes … and cereal,” the one girl said.

At first I was grinning because I thought it was just gossip about a friend’s eating habits. But I soon realized where they were headed with this.

“Oh. My. God,” the other girl replied. “That’s just, like … seriously?! What a hypocrite.”

“Right??” the first one said. “I mean, she’s proclaiming herself as Paleo and is always posting about how important it is. She really shouldn’t call herself, like, you know, Paleo. It’s so wrong.”

This conversation was an instant reminder and is a great comparison to the everyday struggle Christians have. Christianity has become the perfect storm of perfection, hypocrisy, judgment, and assumption — both outside the Christian community and inside.

I’m not sure how this has happened. The Bible makes it very clear that we are broken, flawed, useless individuals living in a fallen sinful world. Thus, we need to rely on the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Bible encourages us to spread the Good News to others, to go make disciples of all nations, and to love one another deeply. So where did the “Perfect Christian” thing come from?

It came from us. It came from the prideful. It came from the misled. It came from sin. Sadly, so many people have misrepresented the name of Christianity, that it’s truth and power have become muddled. Believers have made themselves “holier than thou,” creating an “I’m right, you’re wrong” judge and jury culture for the world. They are quick to rebuke, judge, and condemn others’ sins, but fail to recognize their own.

The result? When “perfect” Christians stumble and fall, the outside world reacts just like those young women did at Target. A Christian couple gets divorced. A Christian curses. A Christian gets tipsy. You see it in the news: sexual assault at a Christian college, sexual abuse in the church, etc etc. What is the response? “Clearly she’s not so Christian after all.” “Pshhh, and he calls himself a Christian? Yeah right!” “That wasn’t very ‘Christian’ of him.”

Believers do the same thing to one another, which can cut even deeper than many things non-Believers say about Christians. A fellow Christian goes out for a couple glasses of wine. “She really needs to read her Bible. I don’t believe in that.” A Christian misses church one week, two weeks. “Yeah … I know … they weren’t there this week, or last week. Can’t believe they can’t take an hour out of their day.” A Believer doesn’t believe that yoga or Halloween is from the devil. “Can you believe they are leading themselves into the enemy? They’re making it so easy. It’s awful.” A Christian couple is seeking fertility treatments. “They’re playing God. Clearly they’re not seeking Him first.” A Christian becomes trapped in debt. “Oh my gosh, clearly they don’t know what the Bible says about the dangers of loving money.”

Friends, I could go on and on … and on … and on. This is an epidemic. The lies, the deceit, the “if-then” statements, the condemnation, the judgment: it has to stop.

Here’s what I will tell you:

  1. I am PROUD to be a Believer and Follower of Jesus Christ, a Christian.
  2. I am broken, flawed, imperfect in every way. I recognize it. And that’s why I need a Savior. It’s humbling to recognize your weakness and give it to the One who knows you inside and out … the One who created you. He’s the only One who can help you overcome and learn from your mistakes. He’s the only One who can see you at your darkest and still love you.
  3. Christianity was never intended to represent perfection. There is only one perfect being, and that’s Jesus Christ.
  4. We, as Believers, need to fall on our knees and do a much better job of representing Jesus Christ in the way He should be. We confuse traditions, morals, and ethics with what the Bible truly says. We nitpick about negative things and pick and choose what we want from the Bible and twist it out of context to make a point. We are quick to flash a neon sign that says “sinner” but we are slow to step in with love. We cannot tell people what to do. We are not entrusted to be the righteous judge come judgment day. Calling out others’ sinful ways may make you feel more righteous momentarily, but the Lord is going to put you in your place, because that is straight up icky icky pride!
  5. Non-Believers and Believers alike, please hear me on this, too: We all make mistakes. Do not alert the elders and send out a press release when a friend of yours makes choices that don’t align with your “perfect” view of the “perfect Christian.”
    1. Believers: If another Believer friend/family member is living their life so incredibly strayed from the teachings of the Bible, think before you act. Act out of love. Seek Scripture before you condemn — and seek Scripture before any online article, cool author, fellow Believer, or even your spouse. Ask a pastor to help you clarify the situation. You may be projecting your own moral beliefs on someone else’s life instead of what the Bible truly believes about their situation. You could ruin a relationship because your mouth is quick to spit fire and your heart is slow to embrace.
    2. Non-Believers: Don’t let one bad apple — or a bushel of apples — ruin your view of Christianity. I know so many people who have chosen to abandon the Lord simply because their parents, their friends, their teachers and church leaders, were so incredibly disgustingly condemning in the name of Jesus Christ. Our “religion” (oh my gosh, I dislike that word so much … that will be another post) and belief system is based on the beautiful truth of love, mercy, forgiveness, and grace. When you strip the religion of its fancy statues, manmade policies and agendas, and misled followers — you have the Bible — the Word of God. I’m telling you, please read it. It’s the most unbelievably powerful book you’ll ever read — even if you want to call it fiction. Give it a try.

Phew! I have much more to say, but I’ll save it. Please don’t treat one another like these girls at Target did with their Paleo friend.

I’ll leave you with these helpful verses!

    • And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness ” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  – 2 Corinthians 12:9
    • As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous–not even one.”  – Romans 3:10
    • For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  – Romans 3:23
    • Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  – Colossians 3:12-14
    • Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  – Ephesians 4:32
    • Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?  – James 4:11-12
    • You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?  – Romans 2:1-4
    • As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.  – Romans 14:1
    • “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”  – Luke 20:46-47
    • Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.  – Matthew 7:1-5

Where did I go?

Alright, people. I’m back!

I hadn’t gone anywhere. There were plenty of days throughout these last months of absence that I was simply lounging on the couch in my sweatpants eating M&Ms. Plenty.

I had blog posts lined up, ready to publish. But I didn’t, and here’s why.

My initial goal when I began blogging was to use my ordinary and complicated, yet beautiful, life to inspire, encourage, and bring hope to those who were struggling with their faith or their anxieties/worries. A blog can serve many purposes, but I never wanted mine to be about self-glorification, to boost my ego, or to validate me. I knew the Lord was using my struggles and triumphs to show His mercy, abounding love, and grace in my life for the better good of His Kingdom.

So I began having thoughts like: Wow, “so and so” has never once mentioned my writing. Hmm, it seems like “so and so” couldn’t care less about my message. What if “so and so” thinks I’m stupid? Maybe I’m wrong. “So and so” doesn’t support me. And on and on I went on that vicious merry-go-round.

And that’s when I said enough. For at that moment, I had been convicted of my selfishness and pride. I was caring about who read and who didn’t read my posts. My feelings were mildly hurt as I desired for specific people in my life to reach out and say Mere, that was great and inspiring. Thank you. I was honored and humbled by the outreach of people I never thought would contact me. So the combination of support from mere acquaintances and long-lost high school/college Facebook friends mixed with the lack of support from those I desired most … well … again … I got completely sidetracked from the true goal of my writing.

Then, I began questioning my writing. That’s a stupid concept. No one cares. Maybe if you had something better to say. You need to structure your writing this way and that way. Remember, people know you were an English and writing major in college and that you specialize in communications as a profession. People are going to be scrutinizing every comma and fragment. Oh friends, it got tiring. REALLY tiring.

So. I took a break. I wasn’t going to write again until I felt cleared of my selfishness, pride, doubts, and frankly — caring about what others thought. (Stupid people-pleasing)

It took a while, but the Lord changed my heart in numerous ways. He sidetracked me to begin writing a separate blog in private (for now), where I didn’t have a choice but to focus privately and not outwardly. Scripture and devotionals have healed my pride and brought my eyes back to center, to focus, to Jesus.

So truly. Take it or leave it. I don’t need validation or confirmation that your eyes ever scanned these words. I don’t need empty compliments or encouragements. What I need is a whole lot of Jesus! And you’ll continue to read why I need Him throughout my blog. The whole point is to be transparent and vulnerable about my weakness, but to show the One and only true Light that’s at the end of the tunnel — a Light that only my Savior can bring — a Light of healing, transformation, joy, beauty, and love.

The giant check on the doorstep is yours!

It feels like a daily task, a daily reminder, a daily burden. Bills. Bills piled up on the counter, the desk, the coffee table. Mortgage, water, electric, gas, cable, insurance, car payments, credit card, and more … doesn’t it feel like a never-ending pain in your side?

When it seems like all the bills have been paid, we open the mailbox and more are ready for us. Sweet.

They can also feel like a constant reminder that our hard work and energy is going towards the bare necessities in life. The simplest things we have come at a price. And let’s face it: it’s frustrating, it’s annoying, and at times can be scary. Not sure if you’re aware of this, but Matt and I don’t have the income of Bill Gates, so we know that these bills will never stop for as long as we live. It can be disheartening for us and for many people.

As I was walking Rudy today, my mind started going to that “ohhh ish” feeling regarding our monthly bills. I thought: “Ughhh, Mere. This is ‘famine season’ for you in your career. What are you going to do to contribute to those bills on the counter?” I thought of how grand it would be to win the lottery. I imagined someone showing up on our doorstep from the Publisher’s Clearing House with a tacky giant check, flowers and balloons announcing that we’ve won a lifetime of paid bills.

Sigh. But that’s not realistic.

And as I was thinking of the never-ending costs, the never-ending worries, the never-ending price — I thought of our Savior and our Father.

You see, those piles of bills on our desk represent our sin. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year — those bills are going to be there in our face — just like our sins. In our fallen world and as a broken human being, we will be reminded of our sins and failures and mistakes. And as hard as we try, we will continue to fail. It can be easy to think that God would add extra fines, overdraft fees, and late charges to these bills after all we do. But we need to be reminded of one very important thing:

Christ is the ultimate Bill Payer! Jesus is the one who shows up on our doorstep every day with a giant check that says: “PAID IN FULL!” No good works brought us to this life-changing gift. Nothing we did earned us this freedom. No religious church leader can cleanse us from our wrongs or force us to repeat multiple phrases to make us right with God. Only one can do that for us, and that is our Savior Jesus Christ. When Jesus was nailed to the cross, his body broken, bleeding, and dying, he was basically saying: “I’ll pay the cost for [insert your name!]. I love him/her so much that I will give my life and clear him/her of all debts.” And He will continue to remind us that His mercies are new every morning.

What greater gift than to have our debts and our lives paid by the Son of God?!

Always remember: nothing you can do can separate you from His love. Jesus sees you beyond the poor choices you have made. You are so much more than any mistake you’ve ever made. And when you are in Him, you are new, you are remade! Take heart in knowing that your “bills” have gone through the shredder because of Christ — and take a moment today to praise and thank Him for that precious gift.

“God can do what He says He can do precisely because He is who He says He is. His many titles describe His ability. As Savior, He saves; as Deliverer, He delivers; as Redeemer, He redeems; as Master, He assumes authority; as Bread of Life, He provides; and as Almighty, He exerts divine strength.”  — Beth Moore

The risks of seeking happiness instead of joy

It’s coming up. Nearly two years of being diagnosed with a syndrome that has drastically changed my life, my dreams, and my plans for my and my husband’s future. (Someday when the Lord leads me, I will share more with you!)

The first few months after finding out about this struggle filled me with anger, fear, confusion, doubt, regret, anxiety, and sadness — to name a few. Everything I had dreamed and planned for my life was suddenly tangled, clouded, black. If I had made a syllabus outlining my life before this doctor’s appointment, I may as well have put it through the shredder when I left.

But over time, I have realized and accepted that this situation in my life is a blessing. Why? Because I have little to no control over this. A self-confessed control-freak now has no access to the steering wheel. I don’t have the ability to shrink down like Ms. Frizzle from “The Magic Schoolbus,” go inside my body, and rearrange all the mess that needs fixing. No control.

No control. Yep, probably the two most-feared words I can think of. Having no control of situations is a severe cause of my anxiety disorder. In essence, having and craving control controls me! It’s a vicious cycle that sometimes we laugh at, but in reality, can be very damaging.

I know God is now using my situation to (1) humble me; (2) strengthen me; (3) help be a voice for others; and (4) give me peace, comfort, and joy in knowing that nothing is truly in my control anyways.

In speaking with close friends and family, I give them updates on the status of my condition and how I am feeling. “It’s crazy,” I’d say. “But I am actually filled with so much joy.”

Someone replied: “Oh my gosh, Meredith. I don’t know how you can be so happy going through this. I know I couldn’t be!”

I laughed. “No no … I’m not beaming with happiness and skipping through the streets throwing confetti,” I said. “But I am full of joy in my heart, mind, and spirit. Not happiness.”

Looks of confusion? Yes. Many looks of confusion. But once I was able to discern the difference between happiness and joy, I was empowered to speak truth to others and help them understand the difference and join me on my journey. I felt in my heart the spiritual difference between joy and happiness, but I couldn’t begin to explain it in proper writing for this blog entry. I decided to Google it, and found a chart that describes it perfectly. Pay close attention to one clear difference that keeps presenting itself.

                     HAPPINESS                                JOY

Meaning Happiness is an emotion in which one experiences feelings ranging from contentment and satisfaction to bliss and intense pleasure. Joy is a stronger, less common feeling than happiness. Witnessing or achieving selflessness to the point of personal sacrifice frequently triggers this emotion. Being connected to God or to others in a great cause and synergistic result.
Causes earthly experiences, material objects Spiritual experiences, caring for others, gratitude, thankfulness
Emotion outward expression of elation inward peace and contentment
Time frame temporary, based on outward circumstances lasting, based on inward circumstances
Example In the midst of life’s ups and downs happiness is still present. Serving others, sometimes through sacrifice with no possible personal gain. Witnessing justice for the less fortunate. Experiencing God’s mercy and grace and feeling His love. All can result in joy.

 

The difference is clear: happiness is outward; joy is inward. Happiness is temporary and based on outward circumstances; joy is lasting and based on our inward experiences with the Lord. (By the way, the information where I gathered this information is a secular website. I find it interesting that “joy” is described through God!)

Isn’t it interesting that this site says that joy is a “stronger, less common feeling than happiness”? Why is this? Well, if you haven’t noticed, we are a world that worships ourselves, others, and possessions. We are a world that enjoys temporary pleasure. Our country is devoted to “the pursuit of happiness.” And that’s where the downward spiral begins towards bitterness, resentment, jealousy, comparison, and anger.

When we don’t have instant happiness, and it’s not to our liking, we fight for it. We walk over others to obtain it. We risk our relationships and finances for it. Happiness is our world’s idol. Happiness is disposable. Once we get rid of momentary happiness, we try to replace it with something else. At some point, what we have isn’t good enough to make us happy. God’s word even warns that self-indulgent pleasure-seeking won’t lead to happiness and fulfillment. Seeking it oftentimes leaves us empty and disillusioned. Proverbs 14:13 warns of this lifestyle: “Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful.” According to 1 Timothy 5:6, a self-indulgent person is dead while seeming still to be alive. Praise God that we only need one thing to have pure joy: Jesus! (Come on, can I get an ‘Amen’!?)

If we live confidently with the Lord, we don’t need to pursue happiness. In fact, He really doesn’t tell us to! Depending on your Biblical translation, the word “happy” is only mentioned between 10 and 28 times in the Bible. “Joy” is mentioned anywhere from 122 to 200 times! Think about it: what is God telling us to seek? What is more beneficial to our lives?

Take heart in knowing that you serve a God who desires for you and encourages you to have joy in your life. Does it mean you will always be happy? No. In fact, perhaps very little. Remember, as Believers, we know we are subject to live a life of greater suffering than those who don’t put their faith in the Lord. But joy in the Lord means we are enabled to enjoy every good thing God has given us. We can rejoice, even when trouble comes. I love this quote from Robert J. Dean:

Many people think that God is the great Kill-Joy. Nothing could be a bigger lie. God Himself knows joy, and He wants His people to know joy. Psalm 104:31 speaks of God Himself rejoicing in His creative works. Isaiah 65:18 speaks of God rejoicing over His redeemed people who will be to Him “a joy.”  — Robert J. Dean

But the joy of the Lord is our strength! Happiness is not. Walk today with the God of all comfort and peace, who promises joy even in our weakest moments.

Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.  — Nehemiah 8:10