How to Expand Our Borders in 2018: Open Our Arms Up Wide

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)

Expand our Borders in 2018

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.

Family cuteness
(Look at all that cuteness! How could we not want more??)

But the next 6 years rocked and forever changed us. 

Boundary Lines

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.With Laura - enlarge our borders 

We couldn’t have predicted how our hearts would enlarge to love these young adults.With Mike - enlarge our borders

 

 

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.

Tyler's 1st birthday - enlarge our borders

Rhyno Andretta kiddos - - enlarge our borders

The boys - enlarge our borders

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. 

With Scott - enlarge our borders

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.

And Now…

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:

  • One-on-one discipleship
  • Supporting Compassion children
  • 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
  • Friends-giving
  • 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.

For 2018

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.

Our family's chief purpose is to let Jesus' joy loose. Click To Tweet

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.

Amen – may this be so.

Elizabeth Joy

 

 

 

Advent Joy for Sharing this Season

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: Advent Joy

6 Ways to Advent-Adventure this December
  1.  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.

Joy Blessings: Advent Joy Advent Joy, Blessing, Table setting

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.

The Dawning of Indestructible Joy: Advent Joy

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.

I also recently purchased Seedbed’s Reset: Advent Devotions for the Whole Family, which may become the backbone of our family time this year.

Advent Wreath with Candles: Advent Joy

4. Advent Adventures

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?

#GiveJoy 2017 Challenge: Advent Joy

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.

12 Skills of Christmas from Skill Trek: Advent Joy

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 at  Joy Let Loose!

Elizabeth Joy

 

 

 

 

Friday Fun: It’s the Little Things (Sing Your Thanks)

Sing Your Thanks

Not that long ago, I wrote about how Your Joyful Heart is a Weapon to Fight for Your Joy. We can do some serious battle in song. I’m a musician, so this comes naturally to me. But sometimes it is difficult for people to actually connect the dots, to tie their story into the lyrics they are singing. It takes practice to get beyond the melody, and get in to the meat of the words, allowing them to begin to be your own life song. It takes practice to sing your thanks.

So for this week’s edition of Fun Friday, I want to help you sing your thanks. I want to help those of you who have trouble relating real life to the songs you sing on Sunday morning. This weekend, a fun (and valuable) goal for you can be to find your song. And then to sing it. Loudly!

Friday Fun - Sing your thanks

What’s Your Theme?

So what should you sing about? Well, first you need to figure out what your current life theme is. Start by asking yourself some questions, and take time to really answer them.

  • What is going on in my life right now?
  • What are my areas of celebration?
  • Where are my biggest needs?
  • What hurdles am I facing?
What’s His Character?

Now that you’ve asked yourself some probing questions, try these:

  • What do I know is true about God’s character?
  • Where do I need to see Him work in my life?
  • Where have I seen Him work in my life before?
  • Why should I trust Him?

Then start searching out some study materials about the characteristics of God you have seen at work lately, or that you really need to see now. Narrow it down to one or two qualities of God’s character.

Find Your Jam

Then take that theme into a song search. If you want help searching songs by theme, check out Praise Charts. Their detailed list can help you narrow down some songs before searching your music player for them. And whether you want to use SpotifySiriusXMEdit, Apple MusicAmazon MusicEdit, or another method to listen, what you want is to find a song that matches your current life theme. 

Sing Thanks

Now Sing!

Once you’ve found a song or two that fits your current situation, put it on repeat! 🙂 It takes time for songs and stories to harmonize! What do you hear? Is this your song? Pray through the lyrics and allow God’s Spirit to speak to you about how He is moving in you. Study how your life is woven in its storyline. Sing it as a petition, and sing it in dependence. Allow Him to remind you what to thank Him for, and declare it as your own praise. Sing your thanks, and sing it loud!

So if you decide to trust me here at  Joy Let Loose, and to find your jam for Friday Fun, you can spend the whole weekend singing your thanks. Because song is so powerful, I believe you’ll enter next week a little more joyful, and a little more confident in God’s character. Your joyful heart really is a weapon to fight for your joy. And it’s Friday – so fight at the top of your lungs!

What’s your jam this weekend?

Elizabeth Joy

Your Joyful Heart is a Weapon to Fight for Your Joy

We fight for joy with the weapon of a joyful heart. There’s no question we live in a world that wants to steal our joy. Cynicism, circumstance, doubt, and negative self-talk are on the prowl for the believer’s joyful heart. And the amazing thing is that the joyful heart is the very weapon needed in that fight.

Joyful Heart is a Weapon

A Weapon in the Battle

In February I wrote about 7 things that Scripture tells us about joy. You can see that the final three go hand in hand: 

  • Joy Must Be Fought For
  • Joy is a Weapon
  • The Joy of the Lord is our Strength

More often than not, joy is a choice. Essentially, we can choose to be joyful. We can lay hold of it, or we can discard it and choose to be swallowed by something else. A strong dichotomy? Maybe. But I want to tell you that the weapon of a joyful heart is one that is stronger than most others. To express joy is to win.

To express joy is to win. Click To Tweet
The Song of Joy

I believe one of the chief reasons Scripture instructs and encourages us to sing is that song is a powerful weapon. It is light that pushes back the darkness that wars for our souls. Melody makes aggressive waves against evil forces. After all, what thing could confuse and infuriate the enemy more than the hopeful song of a child of God?

The believer's song is light that pushes back the darkness. Click To Tweet

Music has the power to open us up to things beyond ourselves, and to unlock places inside of us that have been hidden. Because the movement of melody and rhythm help to unearth emotions and cement lyrics in our minds and hearts in a way nothing else can. That’s why we often remember Sunday’s songs better than sermons. Their words of truth swirl around our heads with melody and arm us for defence against lies and discouragement. And as we let the song pour out of our mouths, we wield a weapon of hope against despair.

Please hear me: A joyful heart expressed in song is not just for the singer. Our celebrity culture has convinced so many that singing is only for the elite. But, singing is an absolute necessity for every believer. When you regularly pour yourself out in songs to the Lord, you will not easily give in to sin.

When you regularly pour yourself out in songs to the Lord, you will not easily give in to sin. Click To Tweet

A joyful song will strengthen you against temptation and discouragement,  self-exaltation and hopelessness.

Sing!

If you are happy, sing your  joy.

When you are suffering, sing your  need.

If you are tempted to sin, sing your  dependence.

When you have sinned, sing your  confession.

If you are weak, sing your  strength.

When you are forgiven, sing your freedom.

Unusual Warfare

We see the weapon of a joyful heart winning the battle in the story of King Jehoshaphat, found in 2 Chronicles 20:1-29. A formidable army declared war on his people, and he knew it spelled inevitable disaster. King Jehoshaphat stood before his people and praised the Lord, declaring his hope in God’s protection. And then God gave him some unusual instructions: He said that Jehoshaphat needed to put the singers at the front of his army as they went to battle. Their sole purpose was to sing praises to God and rejoice! With the song in front, God said that Jehoshaphat’s army wouldn’t even need to fight!

Jehoshaphat’s response to God in that moment was to bow low in worship. And all of his people stood and praised God with a loud shout. In that moment, their praise was the voice of their inner joy – their trust in God. And God’s unusual strategy proved victorious! The weapon of joy defeated the oncoming army. The enemy army was confused. They turned against one another and destroyed themselves! King Jehoshaphat’s victory was only attributable to facing opposition and darkness with a joyful heart in joyful song. 

Find it.  Learn it.  Sing it.  Win.

So we need to arm ourselves for battle. If hopeful song from a joyful heart is a weapon against despair and hopelessness, cynicism and self-exaltation, how do we find songs to learn and sing in our everyday lives? Hopefully your arsenal is being filled every weekend in your worship services. I want to give you a great list of songs to download or stream. I’ll help you find them. Then you can learn them, sing them, and WIN with joy!

Few writers these days war with joy as well as Rend Collective. Their essence of sung faith is celebration and hope. Their heart cry is to push back the darkness with joyful song. Check out The Art of Celebration and As Family We Go (Deluxe Edition)

Lyrics like “We cast aside our shadows, trust You with our sorrows,” will be prepare you to push back the dark with joyful hearts! I guarantee your soul will lift. 

Travis Ryan is another artist gifted to bring strong songs of hope. Check out Until My Voice Is Gone is gone to learn lyrics like: “No other hope can make our hearts courageous, No other peace can make us stand up brave;  No other Love has earned our full affection, No other God deserves our highest praise.”

There are SO many awesome songs that we can use to make the soundtrack of our lives as we bring God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven. Paring down a list of recommendations is an incredible challenge! But here is a free printable of some awesome songs for war. I hope these encourage you, lift your soul, and undergird your joyful heart.

Essential Playlist for a Joyful Heart

Download the PDF

What about you? What songs are your weapons of joy? Share in the comments below!

Elizabeth Joy

 

What Joy Looks Like: And Other Places Joy Lives

Joy Language

It has been ten weeks since I launched  Joy Let Loose, and I’m so thankful for reader engagement so far! The journey to the place that joy lives, so it spills out and impacts people around us is one so many of us crave, and it is possible through Jesus Christ. Our God is a joy-giver!

At this ten week point, I re-assessed to make sure I’m on track with my writing to convey what I intend to. I decided to run a word search through Wordle to get a visual representation of what we have been thinking about over the last ten weeks together. I was pleased with the results, and affirmed that I have been remaining in the intended lane for this blog.

 

Visual Joy and Other Places it Lives
The Focus of Joy Let Loose
Other Places Joy Lives

Thankfully,  joy is more than simply the subject of my blog. It is something I am contending for in all areas of my life. I am thankful to have opportunity to write for other venues as well, lending my voice to different aspects of life. At the end of February, one of my articles appeared with Annesley Writers, whose monthly theme was “Beauty”. I found it a challenge to write this article because it sits so close to home, and is something I tend to keep in the shadows.

You see, gains and losses have been a pattern for my whole life as I’ve struggled to be… enough. Malicious, the lie taunts me with forked tongue and tempts me to trust its razor sharp voice as it slices me open again and again. You are fat. You are ugly. You are less than. Tears sting and salt snakes its way down my cheeks and the familiar ache creeps into my jaw.

Head on over to Annesley to read this article, Steel. While you are there, please browse other authors’ writings. Because you will find that joy lives there!

Steel, the Quest for Beauty

 

Teaching Worship

Next week I have the opportunity to teach a three-day intensive course about worship to people currently pursuing ordination. This is another place  joy lives for me. After all, I love the discoveries people make when they dig deep in to the theology and philosophy of corporate worship, and begin to see our patterns of worship inside the larger context of God’s Story. We need to be reminded again and again of God’s faithfulness through all of time. William White says, “We are a forgetful people. We need storytellers. We need someone to lay the drama of God’s love before us. We need to be reminded of the uncommon grace of God.:

We need to be reminded of the uncommon grace of God. Click To Tweet

Please pray for me and for the students I teach. Because I want God to be visible, and celebrated for all of His goodness?

Where Your Joy Lives

Some of you have been faithful readers for the last ten weeks. You’ve taken the Morning Joy Challenge, contributed ideas of Family Traditions, and begun praying the morning prayers, or memorizing Joy Scriptures. Thank you for coming along with me! Others may have stumbled on this post through Pinterest or through a variety of blogging groups I belong to. Regardless how you got here, you are on your own journey, and I’m confident it includes a desire for  joy. God has made us to discover His joy, and let it loose! While I’m busy finalizing my teaching curriculum, and then pouring out to ministry students next week, I would love to hear from you!

Please Let Me Know!
  • What aspects of joy are you focusing on in your life?
  • Are there questions about the joy journey that I can address in upcoming posts?
  • Will you share your living joy testimony with our readers at  Joy Let Loose?

Please add your voice to the comments below. I will be eager to respond!

Elizabeth Joy