Pausing to Celebrate the Joys of Life

I am guilty of thinking and worrying so much about the bad things that are happening in the world today that I often fail to think enough about the good things. Yes, I live in a world where meanness, selfishness and dishonesty abound, but I also live in a world full of people who are kind, generous and honest. I want and need to take a break from my worrying and pause to reflect on what is good. I’m going to start with the word joy, an emotion that reminds me of Christmas season, a time of celebration. But joy is an emotion that I can experience everyday, even during troubled times.

What does the word joy mean to me?

Joy can be defined as a feeling of great pleasure or happiness but the word that comes to my mind is delight. I spend most of my time in a state of contentment – not too high or too low. So when I experience joy, it is a special treat, an emotion that fills me with gratitude for the little pleasures of life. Joy is exponential; it is happiness squared.

What brings me joy?

One of the things that brings me joy is nature. I absolutely love wildlife and wildflowers and beautiful landscapes – mountains, rivers, lakes, the sky, moon, sun and stars. I see mountains in the distance every day but I don’t get to see wildlife every day. So when I can escape from the suburbs and I see deer or elk (which doesn’t happen every time), it fills me with joy. I like to photograph the wildflowers I see on the trails and have learned to recognize and name dozens of them. I am always delighted by the blooms, especially if I find a flower I have never seen before.

Another thing that brings me joy is small children, which might be surprising since I never had any of my own. I love their cuteness and innocence and sweetness. I love seeing their personalities develop and seeing how they resemble their parents. I love seeing them discover something for the first time. I also find joy in the love I see in a mother or father or grandparent who thinks that child is the most precious and special thing in the world.

Learning and discovery something new bring me joy. Figuring out something difficult brings me joy. Overcoming obstacles brings me joy. My faith brings me joy because there is nothing better than knowing I am loved and forgiven as imperfect as I am.

How can I celebrate and share joy everyday?

I get a lot of articles in my Facebook news feed. Many of them are dire news stories about things I cannot control. It is tempting to share them because I want people to be aware of what is going on and I want to resist injustice. But when I share these articles, I spread doom and gloom and I risk alienating people that I care about. So controlling the temptation to share negative news is important if I want to spread the joys of life to my friends.

I also get news feeds from  other pages that are not negative – pages that celebrate things I love like nature and pets. I follow a few religious pages that encourage me with uplifting scripture. I follow a page that promotes having a positive outlook. I can share and increase joy by making sure that these kinds of posts outweigh the negative ones.

I can also celebrate joy by being grateful for the good things in my life and by focusing on the good I see in ordinary people every day. I cannot take for granted the people who are kind and merciful and generous. They bring me joy.

Rejoice, rejoice, again I say rejoice! Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!

 

 

 

Going Where Compassion Leads Me

When I graduated high school, my grandma wrote a note on my graduation card. She said we wish you great success and hope you will become famous. The second part of the sentence was a puzzle to me. What kind of life did Grandma C.  envision for me, a smart but shy kid? Why did she think I could or would ever be famous and why did she want that for me? I never asked so I will never know. If grandma were here today, I would tell her that my own dream is to be even half the kind, gentle woman of faith that she was. I don’t need fame, I don’t need a fortune. I just want to love and accept people for who they are just like she did.

My grandpa had been feeling sick the May I graduated and soon found out he had pancreatic cancer. He died just a couple of months later. Grandma saw me graduate from college and start my career in accounting. She was proud of me even though I chose a behind-the-scenes career that fit my introverted personality. I know that she would be proud of all of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, regardless of how big their circle of fame.

A lot has changed since my grandparents’ day. In my second job out of college, I was introduced to the internet for the first time. That would have been in the mid 90’s, somewhere near the end of my grandma’s life. Since then, the internet has revolutionized the way we work, the way we socialize, the way we communicate and for many people, the way to pursue fame and followers.

About five years ago, the internet became a way for me to try out my long-suppressed desire to write. Even though I don’t talk a lot, my mind is full of thoughts that I long to express. I have learned a lot about myself along this blogging journey. I learned why it is so much easier for an introvert to communicate in writing. I learned that I have a strong social conscience. I learned that I have a deep, unshakeable faith. I learned that it is sometimes easier to share myself with people I don’t know. And I found an outlet for sharing my love of nature.

I learned that no matter how many thousands of words I’ve arranged on the screen, no matter how many people have told me they like my writing, no matter how much I learn about myself, I can’t seem to shake my self-doubts. I always hold myself back, afraid to share myself fully and authentically because I expect to be criticized and rejected. Henri Nouwen understood this. He wrote that perhaps “the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection.”

Time and time again, after publishing my thoughts on the great blogosphere, as I think about sharing my latest post with friends and family, I instead listen to that dark voice in my head that says I’m not good enough. Somebody won’t like it. I deserve to be ignored.

I learned a long time ago that the easiest way to avoid being rejected by other people is to reject myself first. I am my greatest spiritual enemy. Henri said, “Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the Beloved.”

Vulnerability comes with a great deal of risk. I will be rejected and cast aside by many people; I take that as a given. But if sharing a bit of myself with other people can make a positive difference to even one person, just as my grandma did for me, it is worth it. I am flawed. I am weak. But I am also beloved by One far stronger than me. His compassion moves me to go where it hurts, to share my brokenness, my fear, my confusion and my anguish with others.

So at the start of a new year, I continue on my spiritual journey, seeking truth in my innermost being, going where Compassion asks me to go, immersing myself in this imperfect condition of being human. On my new Innermost Being blog, I write using my grandma’s maiden name to honor the quiet, gentle woman of faith that I aspire to be. Grandma has been gone for many years, but her compassion lives forever in my heart. I hope that she would be proud me even though I’m not famous and not nearly as nice as she was.

Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human. – Henri Nouwen

Joy Unsinkable

I am a stoic person, not showing a lot of emotion or excitement. I usually keep my emotions to myself. When I do openly express how I feel, I second guess myself or feel self-conscious. Should I have been that upset? Did I look silly when I got so excited? Inside, I experience joy and sorrow and everything in between, but normally maintain an even keel – not too happy, not too sad. When I feel those deeper emotions, something always brings me back to even – a state of contentment and acceptance. How is it that I can be in the depths of despair one week and back to normal the next?

A few weeks ago, I was so shell-shocked by the results of the presidential election that it felt like someone I love had died. I lost trust in my fellow-man, even in the people I should have so much in common with – fellow Christians. I mourned for those who have much to fear from the president-elect because of his intolerance – immigrants, Muslims, people of color. I lost something precious – hope in my country’s future. I lost confidence that the moral arc of the universe, though long, bends towards justice. It’s clearly bending the wrong way now.

I still mourn. My world is becoming meaner and more divided before my eyes. I still can’t bear to watch the yellow-haired braggart on television. Everything about him repulses me. I still can’t stomach political news. But I will guard my heart against bitterness. That means shutting out the ugliness that I can do nothing about and focusing on what I can do – act justly, love mercy, and see to it that no one misses out on the grace of God.

In my innermost being, I am still joyful. My joy in the Lord is unsinkable. No matter what happens, the Lord is my rock and refuge. He walks with me through hardship and adversity. He comforts me when I mourn. I remain in Jesus and his love remains in me, just has he promised. Jesus is still the light of the world. Those who follow him will never walk in darkness (John 8:12). No matter what happens, my Father’s glory and love will be magnified.

You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Psalm 16:11 (NIV)

We are  now in the season of joy, a time when people are more generous and kind. I sing Joy to the World and Tidings of Comfort and Joy. No matter who resides in the White House, God rules the world with truth and grace. Come Lord Jesus, come!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth deface.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

 

 

The Power of Perspective

This is a post I wrote at the beginning of 2016 on Blogger. Perspective is truly powerful. I find that I often have to change my perspective when things do not work out the way I hope they will. And sometimes, I have to dig deep and find the courage to change the things I can.

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Last year I struggled with job dissatisfaction. I found myself see-sawing between hope and despair, complacency and desperation. The year began with anxiety about upcoming layoffs and the reorganization of our department. My boss and a few other people were laid off. Within months several other people resigned and we struggled to fill the voids. I also struggled to adapt to new management styles. My department was reorganized a second time at the end of the year and I was assigned to a new manager – my third within a one-year period.

Towards the end of the year, my pastor encouraged me with a sermon about Jesus being with us in the storms of life. He asked the congregation to share our prayer requests. I am not comfortable speaking in public so I kept my struggles to myself. But in listening to the concerns that were shared that day, it put my own struggle in perspective. Being unhappy with a job pales in comparison to worries about cancer or the illness of a child.

After the year-end reorganization, I was offered another position in our department. Again, my perspective changed. I felt hopeful. Even though not much has changed, I decided to see this as a fresh beginning.

Perspective is powerful. If you change your perspective, you can completely change your attitude. Here are just a few quotes on perspective that I found on Google Images:

  • What you see depends not only on what you look at, but also on where you look from.
  • If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. – Dr. Wayne Dyer
  • Perspective is the way we see things when we look at them from a certain distance and it allows us to appreciate their true value. – Rafael E. Pino
  • Some see a weed, some see a wish.
  • A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. – Winston Churchill
  • We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses. – Abraham Lincoln
  • When life gets blurry, adjust your focus.
  • Life is like a camera – focus on what’s important, capture the good times, develop from the negative and if things don’t work out, take another shot!

Perspective is often thought of as a choice between optimism and pessimism. I think of the image of a glass half filled with water with the message: Optimists see a glass that is half full. Pessimists see a glass that is half empty. Pessimists see a weed; optimists see a wish. Pessimists see the thorns; optimists see the roses. Pessimists see the difficulty; optimists see the opportunity.

Although I see the wisdom in choosing an optimistic attitude, I have to admit that I am not naturally an optimist. I would like to be optimistic but my natural inclination is to worry about what can go wrong. It is not that I always expect things to go wrong, but I am realistic. Things do go wrong. There are thorns. There are obstacles. I’ve learned to expect the unexpected.

Perspective is not just an attitude; it is a point of view, a way of looking at life. That point of view is influenced by our personalities. According to David Keirsey, author of Please Understand Me II, people with my temperament, Guardians, are the pessimists. My type tends to be “fatalistic” in looking back, believing that “pain and suffering are unavoidable.” Guardians are also more likely to think that events are part of a divine plan. On a day to day basis, we are stoical, enduring pain and hardship without complaining or showing emotion.

It is humbling to see my personality type described in such dark terms. Galen, a Roman physician, thought that the balance of the four humors or bodily fluids determined behavior. No doubt, I would have been deemed “melancholic” – prudent, cautious, realistic.

Given my natural tendencies, in my search for the right perspective, a more positive perspective, I have to make a conscious decision to reframe my point of view. I have to intentionally adjust my focus when life gets blurry, as it did for me last year. I have to focus on what is important, develop from the negatives and take another shot!

As I look around me, I see so much to be grateful for – my faith, my health, friends and family, and even my job. I see that other people are struggling with issues that are much more challenging. My heart goes out to them. I am learning to see the world with grace-filled eyes.

As I look behind me, I see the lesson learned from my struggle. From a certain distance, I see that I let myself become bitter about the corporate layoffs, so much so that it colored my outlook for the future in a bad way. I was more irritable and less kind. Things weren’t the way I wanted them to be so I made a mountain out of a molehill. It is time to let it go. It’s time to focus on what’s important.

As I look ahead, I don’t expect to see nothing but roses. I expect that there will be thorns. I do not find strength and inspiration in imagining a glass that is half full. Instead, I think about the lessons I’ve learned in running. Don’t think about how far you have to go. Run as far as that tree up ahead. Then focus on the next tree. If you need to take a break and walk awhile, that’s okay. Every step gets you closer to your goal.

I envision the steps of the Challenge Hill at Philip S. Miller Park in Castle Rock, CO – two hundred steps that climb 178 feet in elevation. From the bottom, the hill looks steep. But if you see the stairs as individual steps and keep your eyes on the steps in front of you, the challenge is not so daunting. Step, breathe, exhale. Step, breathe, exhale (gasp). 50, 100, 150, 200. You did it! And the view is much better from the top.