I’ve been looking for it all year, but I seem lately to be findingjoy in the unexpected by thinking outside the box. When I first started to write for Joy Let Loose, I think I tethered it to something I believed it ought to be. I’m a believer in Jesus, and I believe our joy is found in God. And I wanted everything I wrote to be a proof text of that.
God = Joy, so I thought that Joy Let Loose must be very specifically tied to Scriptural truth in the form of passages, devotions, prayers etc. I have loved every piece I have written here for you over the last year, and all of these things are GOOD.
Finding Joy in the Unexpected
But God has been nudging at me to open my peripheral vision a bit. I think He’s inviting me to pull my head out of the pages just a little, and to get outside of my mind a bit. I think He is asking me to unwrap the gift of joy that He shares through the tangible world around me, in people, laughter, health, and beauty.
And I’m wrestling with this. In fact, I’ve resisted publishing anything on Joy Let Loose for several weeks because I’m finding joy in the unexpected, and I don’t know how to tell you about it.
So, dear readers, would you please pray? I want to respond well to the Lord, and continue finding joy in the unexpected by looking outside the box. I might be writing about some different kinds of things in the future. But it will be amidst the same kinds of pieces I’ve been writing all along. And this may seem bigger to me than it will for you, but I still would love your prayers moving forward.
My husband and I have known for many years that God was calling us to enlarge our tent and expand our borders.
Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities. (Isaiah 54:2-3)
The Rearview Mirror
We married at ages 22 and 26, and almost as soon as I became a wife, I became a Christian, and then a mother. We had our (fabulous!) children in years 2, 4, and 6 of our marriage. We started child sponsorship with Compassion right away, one per child. My mother-heart wanted to keep growing, and at that point, we fully expected to have more kiddos.
But then we didn’t.
By this time we had moved a few times for our ministry roles, and settled in to one of the most challenging and rewarding seasons of our life and ministry in northern Maine. This was right after our littlest had her first birthday.
But the next 6 years rocked and forever changed us.
The boundary lines of our lives were growing wider and our tent was being stretched further, but somehow I couldn’t see it. God wasn’t working how I expected Him to.
We began to explore what it meant for our family to expand our borders. If it didn’t mean more biological children, then it must mean adoption, right? A quick look into international adoption showed us that our immigration status at the time disqualified us. After all, we had recently entered a different country for my husband’s work. A quick perusal of domestic adoption looked like it held potential, but that door soon shut too.
I was confused and discouraged. Why did I have a desire to expand our family borders if in reality we wouldn’t be able to bring others into it?
Pure and Undefiled Religion
At about the same time, God was pressing in on us what worship looks like:
Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)
With this passage, God was igniting our hearts for orphans and widows even though no adoption doors were opening. We studied it, prayed it, and even wrote a song, “Undefiled Worship”, for our congregation. Then all of a sudden, two of the teens in our youth group were effectively abandoned by their family. Surely this was what God was preparing us for! We invited them into our home.
And they turned us down.
God’s Ways are Higher than Ours
We just couldn’t understand why we felt such a burden to enlarge our tents if God didn’t intend to increase our family borders. I confess I was ready to give up on God’s plans for us in this regard. And instead, we just threw ourselves into our ministries, and started filling our empty bedrooms with interns and missionaries. If God didn’t want to expand our borders, then we would.
But His ways are higher than ours. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. (Is 55:9)
Little did I realize, this was part of His plan all along.
We began what became a years-long arrangement to provide housing for students interning for ministry. And over time, several stayed with us for one year, two years, our home then becoming their home-base when back from the field.
And what started as a favor to a University we supported became a deeply rewarding facet of our family’s life.
We couldn’t have predicted how our hearts would enlarge to love these young adults.
We could not have expected our children to embrace an older “sister” and “brother” in this way. Our borders had expanded indeed.
Nothing is Up to “Chance”
Then a “chance” meeting with a couple from our church kindled the flame for enlarged borders even more. Even though we barely knew them, they came to our house to share with us her story of adoption. She had placed a child up for open adoption while in her late teens, and had been able to have an active role in his life as he had grown. We couldn’t have known that our “chance” meeting to hear about adoption was another part of our own border expansion. Because it was going to look so different than we could have predicted.
We began to grow closer to this couple, and to do ministry together. We celebrated the birth of their second son with them not long afterward.
And then tragedy struck in the form of a wintery accident, and we had a widow with two tiny boys to love.
Expand Our Borders
Nothing really prepares you for caring for widows and orphans. We just knew we were called to it. God had been whispering to us about it for months…years. And since caring for a young widow in her primary season of bewilderment and grief opens up so many opportunities for withdrawal, misunderstanding, and exhaustion, it is tempting to retreat. But God beckoned us into it, and she welcomed “family”.
We didn’t really know what we were doing, other than loving her and her boys. So we simply made our home their home whenever needed, and tried to listen more than we spoke. We made meals together, changed diapers, cried, and continually offered ourselves to the Lord to be used in their lives. Birthdays, holidays, and regular days were all shared. Our children became like siblings.
Days became weeks, and weeks became months, and months became years. And “Mondays” continued to be a constant for our families to be together.
She emerged from her grief a woman of strength and grace, and her boys triumphed as vivacious and strong bundles of energy and character. And their family ministered to ours over these years every bit as much as we did theirs. Our lives are exponentially richer for this season.
We could not have predicted how God would expand our borders when He began calling. And we would not change this season for the world.
It is ten years since that tragic phone call, and both of our families have moved away from each other. Our hearts remain intertwined, our family borders blurred.
And God is calling us to enlarge our tent even more.
I no longer have a preconceived idea of what that might look like. For us it wasn’t having another child or being able to adopt one. Enlarging our tent has looked like:
Hosting people without family over the Christmas holidays
Bringing large groups of students in our home for meals and games
Loving our kiddos’ friends and bringing them on vacation with us
Sharing our faith
Hosting a life group
Offering our vehicle for others to use
Grieving with those who grieve
Celebrating with those who celebrate
And reaching out to others for help and prayer when we’ve needed it most.
It has looked so different than I could ever have imagined.
At this point, I simply open my hands to receive whatever might come our way. In these early hours of 2018, my prayer is that God would help me to continue to open my arms up wide. I pray He would expand our borders in whatever way brings Him most glory.
We will set extra places at our table, make extra beds, or walk with people through seasons of grief. We will have hard conversations, depend on the Lord to fill us with love, and hold people to accountability.
And we believe that as we expand our borders in this way, we will spread out to the right and left, and our joy will be let loose in the desolate corners of the world.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Joy Let Loose! With 2017 coming to a close, and Christmas celebrations still ringing in my ears, I celebrate what God has done this year.
Emmanuel has certainly been with us.
Just one year ago I felt purposeless, and confused in my new home. But I heard God whispering the word “Joy” to me for 2017. I imagined what that might look like. Of course, things don’t always turn out how we imagine they might, but as I review what has happened, God has still proven to be a Joy-Giver.
A New Start
I dreamt upJoy Let Loose in a season of grief. I wanted to find joy for myself, but I also wanted to spill it out for others to experience. If I had lost my joy, likely others had too. Could God use me to help them find it again?
So I took the plunge and started this blog. I’ve had my ups and downs as it has gotten off the ground. I’ve found some new communities that have helped me to learn, and to recover from disappointments, and I’ve been encouraged by many of your comments here and on my Facebook page. I have seen how much Pinterest impacts readership, and taken a course or two along the way as well. But as I review, there is still much to learn.
And even more, I keep needing to remember WHY.
Joy Let Looseis a thing because God’s JOY is real.
I blog because I want to live a life consistently strengthened by it.
I write because I believe I can impact your life, and encourage you in Joy.
A Year in Review
So as year one of Joy Let Loose winds down, I took a look in the rearview mirror. I’ve posted 44 times, and here were my TOP 10 posts this year:
Joy Let Loose Readers
Joy Let Loose readers come from all across the globe, from the USA to Uganda, Sri Lanka to New Zealand. How amazing to remember that people are seeking God’s joy from one end of the earth to the next. And I pray that the things I write can be a part of how God spreads it.
Can You Help?
So this morning I sent an email to my Joy Let Loose subscribers, asking for their input. How can I best encourage them in 2018? I’d like to ask the same of you, my blog readers. What has encouraged you on this blog in 2017? What topics have I missed?
Would you do me a favor and discuss in the comments below:
Where you are from
How you found Joy Let Loose
What has encouraged you here
and what you’d like to read about in 2018
I’d love to continue building the Joy Let Loose community, and hearing how God is impacting your lives with His joy in 2018. If you’d like to hear from me in your inbox on occasion, and receive 5 Prayer Prompts to restore your JOY over the next 5 days, please clickhere!
Merriest of Christmas & New Year celebrations to you and to your families.
As we round the bend of November and Thanksgiving, I love that we immediately head towards December, with its Advent Joy for sharing this season. Our family looks forward to Christmas, but we have to be careful to slow down and lean in to the Advent season first, even as Christmas trappings swirl all around us. Our cultural Christmas screams that the holiday is already here in music, parties, and lights, but the Christian story of waiting is still unfolding in the quiet places.
Even in Christian circles, prioritizing Advent has become counter-cultural. As a worship leader, I can run headlong into aaallllll the stuff that is Christmas in church ministry, OR I can continually remind myself that my congregation needs the Advent wait too, just like my family does.
So, what is Advent?
Advent is actually the beginning of the Christian calendar year. It is the “reset” button for those who pattern their lives around the Story of Christ. And it is a time to reflect on what the anticipation for the Messiah was like 2000 years ago, and how much they needed God to send the Light of Life into a world of darkness. It also helps us to consider how our dark world still needs the breaking-in of Jesus, and to look forward to His return. Check out Seedbed for some helpful Advent history.
So, how does a family, or a church family, lean into Advent Joy in the middle of a Christmas-crazed culture?
Today I’m sharing 6 ways we can engage in the season of Advent this year.
6 Ways to Advent-Adventure this December
Share Joyful Blessings:
I actually started this one early. Beginning at Thanksgiving, I wanted to begin to look ahead to what Advent Joy there would be. Our church Life Group was hosting a “Friendsgiving” on the Saturday prior to Thanksgiving. (If you’ve never done a Friendsgiving, it is wellI worth your time and effort!)
Our Life Group (15 adult members in all) invited family, friends and neighbors to a huge pot luck Thanksgiving dinner at our home. These could be people who already know Jesus, or people who don’t. All are welcome. Each LG member brought a portion of the meal, and were able to seat all 42 people who came! At one point, several of us shared why we are grateful, including how Christ had transformed us.
My mother-in-law had given me 101 Blessings of Joy Cards – A Box of Blessings back in August, as an encouragement on my joy-journey.This seemed like a perfect time to bring them out. Each card holds 2 blessings, quotes, or Scripture verses (one on each side), to encourage others in their joy.
So, I decided to use these joy blessings in my table settings, drawing attention to them as we prayed for our meal. We encouraged people to read them and even use them as conversation starters. I know for me, this helped me begin to focus on the upcoming Advent Joy season. And these will also serve nicely at table settings all throughout the month of December.
2. Daily Advent Joy Readings
I love to shift my focus in the month of December. I try to be purposeful about what I read that helps me to engage with Advent Joy. This year, I picked up John Piper’s The Dawning of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings for Advent, an inexpensive little paperback that I sense is loaded with power. Piper’s reason for writing it was that He was praying for an experience of Christ’s fullness. Wow, do I ever want that too!!
That is my prayer for you this Christmas–that you would experience the fullness of Christ; that you would know in your heart the outpouring of grace upon grace; that the glory of the only Son from the Father would shine into your heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ; that you would be amazed that Christ can be so real to you. – J. Piper
Though I haven’t yet started the readings–I’ll begin on December 3rd, the first Sunday of Advent–I anticipate that the Lord will use these in my life.
3. Advent Wreath
As our family grows, we find it increasingly important (and difficult!) to make space for family meals around the table. Throughout the month of December, we will use our mealtime together to light Advent candles in our wreath. The Dawning of Indestructible Joy may serve us well for readings in the evenings, to focus us all together. But there are other valuable resources as well.
Last year, we used Kaylene yoder’s Names of Jesus Advent Pack on as many evenings as we could be together, and found them very helpful. I wrote about it here. We would accompany the readings with the lighting of candles, adding one more each week of Advent.
This morning, I posted the first of 4 blog posts I am doing for Waterline Church, where I am the Director of Relational Arts. We are calling these our Advent Adventures.
We were looking for a way to help our church family engage with the Advent Joy of the season. So I am creating this series with the twofold purpose. They will teach more about Advent. And they will give people (of all ages) tangible “adventures” to take. We pray that we will all slow down and experience the joy and hope of the season. Especially if we do these simple activities with our families and friends. I’d invite you to head over here to see if they might be activities you could incorporate into your December family activities.
5. #GiveJoy Challenge
A friend and Joy Let Loose reader recently shared a great resource with me that I’d like to pass along to you today. It is called the #GiveJoy Challenge 2017 from Amy Pike. I love it because it is designed for families. I think it will help parents and children alike to look beyond themselves this Christmas, and to look for ways to let joy loose this Christmas. That is something I can definitely get behind!!
Amy’s #GiveJoy challenge 2017 offers families 28 challenges, complete with instructions for each day. Obviously, you can pick and choose to go at your family’s pace. But there is something for every day of Advent if you are up for it. And you’ll find opportunities to share joy with friends & family, community members, and service professionals. Why not join Amy and spread a little joy this Advent?
6. Life Skills
Practically speaking, the Advent Joy season is a preparation time for Christmas. And we all know we generally have a lot to do to get ready! One group I’ve chosen to come alongside here at Joy Let Loose is Skill Trek.
I love their taglines! There is “Lifeproofing the next generation like nothing else”. And “Making ’em ready for anything”. Skill Trek has been designed for parents, to assist in learning important life skills that generally aren’t taught in schools. They have fun adventures for kids of all ages in everything from hygiene and cooking, to financial literacy and emergency preparedness. And they offer varying levels of digital curriculum for families of different budgets.
One thing I recently learned about from Skill Trek is The 12 Skills of Christmas, a seasonal curriculum they offer. Since Christmas prep is so busy, why not pull everyone into the festivities? We can help them learn to prepare holiday menus (including turkey!). Or organize a neighborhood cookie exchange, or create their own Advent calendar? It’s on sale right now, so it’s a great time to pick up this fun curriculum to help you organize and teach your kiddos this season.
I hope that this post inspires you to actively engage in the Advent season with your family. There are many ways, even beyond the regular holiday festivities. I’d love to hear from you in the comments below if you do try any of these ideas, or if you have some great family Advent traditions we should know about here atJoy Let Loose!
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, where many people are speaking up #MeToo. Some people “go purple” to bring awareness to the horrific silence inside of which many women, men and children suffer, where memories are dark and homes unsafe. One in three women, and one in four men have been the victims of some form of violence by someone close to them during their lifetime. Numerous among them were small children when the abuse began, and they remained in abusive situations for years.
This shocking reality is the sad cause of the #MeToo campaign we have seen on our social media feeds recently. My heart breaks for each person who bravely shares this hashtag, knowing thousands still remain silenced and scarred from abuse, at no fault of their own.
Our Father made us for relationship with Him and with one another. We were created to share our lives openly, to vulnerably know and trust one another. We are supposed to learn God’s love for us inside relationships. But for many who say #MeToo, trust has been stolen, and the possibility of vulnerable relationships has been robbed.
The enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy. But Jesus gives lifeto the full. (John 10:10)
My heart breaks for those whose social media sites bravely declare #MeToo, and yet they have not yet found true healing. Some of these are my friends, and yours.
Maybe one of them is you.
Jesus Christ is the only one who offers true healing and abundant life. He is the Light of the World, and those who follow Him will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of LIFE. (John 8:12). He has come to set people free who are slaves to sin, or enslaved by the effects of sin. And those who Jesus sets free are free indeed. (John 8:36).
For today’s #JoySighting I want to introduce you to my friend, Christina. Largely through the help of Prevail Inc., she has found the LIFE that exists on the other side of domestic violence. And in that life, she has found true joy. Christina displays true gratitude for What God has done in her. Her life overflows, and she lets her joy loose by sharing the realities of her story.When I first heard it, I wanted to help spread it. Because stories are powerful weapons against the darkness.
We overcome the enemy by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony. (Revelation 12:11).
Even though Christina can say #MeToo, she can also declare that she has been healed, and she is alive in the abundant life of Christ. And in her story-telling, she is overcoming. She is saying #HealedToo.
What if everyone who says #MeToo could also say #HealedToo?
Do you know someone who needs to hear Christina’s story? Let’s see how far we can spread it! Please let her joy loose by sharing on your social media outlets.