Celebrating God’s Goodness

Jesus Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed!

Today we celebrate Easter, the resurrection of Jesus Christ which conquered death and gives us new life.

Easter lilies. Choral and brass anthems. Dress-up clothes. And yes, Easter baskets, hidden eggs, and even chocolate bunnies.

Photo credit: Nancy Ingersoll, http://thephotocottage.net/

Photo credit: Nancy Ingersoll, http://thephotocottage.net/

Celebration is important, necessary for a full life, the highs balancing the lows. But what if you don’t feel like celebrating? What if you’re stuck in a valley so deep you don’t remember the sky?

Thank God the Bible addresses the full range of human experience. See Psalm 13:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

David cries out in despair, feeling the absence of God in this struggle against his enemy. And yet, he chooses to trust, to rejoice, to sing the Lord’s praise, to celebrate God’s goodness. He doesn’t feel like celebrating but he chooses to celebrate nonetheless.

It helps to remember that celebration is itself a spiritual discipline. We can choose it even when – maybe especially when – we don’t feel it.

A decade ago I went through a particularly difficult few years. After two years of secondary infertility we finally got pregnant just as my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My sister had a baby and on his baptism day, Father’s Day in fact, she landed in the hospital with a potentially life-threatening case of pancreatitis. Around the time our own long-awaited baby was born, we realized our jobs were in transition; we left our jobs shortly after Dad passed on Tween’s first birthday. Our peers, fortunately for them, hadn’t experienced the crushing weight of life’s traumas and couldn’t support us in our grief.

My kids were my joy, my reason to get out of bed each day. My sweet husband held me when I could cry, not as often as I expected. Family felt like a lifeline as we walked together through the valley of the shadow of death, that poetic line from Scripture becoming our too-real daily walk.

Time passes. We found new jobs and new community in a new town, and I came across my journal from that time. Although grief like thick fog had obscured my vision, had left me feeling alone, here I saw page after page of Scriptures and prayers in my own handwriting, a dialogue with God that had under-girded each day. Even in the darkness I had continued to practice a long-time discipline of Scripture reading and prayer. I wrote in my journal the verses that stood out from each day’s reading and then wrote my prayers to God in response. It didn’t feel celebratory, but I held on to God’s goodness, to His faithfulness, His love for me, His promises to be with me in every circumstance: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

As I flipped through the pages of my journal, a testament to God’s goodness, I recalled this promise from Psalm 30:

11 You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
    You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
12 that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.
    O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!

I wish that dark valley hadn’t appeared in our journey, but I am forever grateful for God’s presence with me and for the spiritual practices He used to reveal Himself to me. I am grateful, too, for the place He has planted us down the road, for the good work before us and the rich friendships we enjoy. We might have wanted to go a different way, but we had to keep walking to arrive at this beautiful destination.

God is good all the time. All the time, God is good!

Jack & Diane tell us: “Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of livin’ is gone.”
Jesus responds: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Celebrating God’s goodness in every situation – rejoicing in the Lord always – may be the very thing we need to get through those dark valleys and to live the full life Jesus intends for us. We will not emerge unchanged, but Lord willing we will come out with grace enough to share.

Jesus Christ has risen, and that changes everything. Hallelujah!

Reflect on a great party you’ve attended and what made it a special event.

Read Philippians 4:4-7.
What does it look like in everyday life to “Rejoice in the Lord always”? i.e., How can you obey this command in the midst of difficult circumstances without being phony or inauthentic?
Explain the connection between rejoicing, anxiety, and prayer.
Read 2 Samuel 6:12-22.
Describe David’s acts of celebration.
Why was Michal offended, and how did David respond?

What causes you anxiety? How can an intentional focus on celebration affect your anxiety?
When have you danced before the Lord with all your might, physically or otherwise? Explain.
What gets in the way of you celebrating God’s goodness? What can you do this week to level those obstacles and increase your celebration?
Richard Foster, in Celebration of Discipline, writes, “…I am inclined to think that joy is the motor, the thing that keeps everything else going. Without joyous celebration to infuse the other Disciplines, we will sooner or later abandon them. Joy produces energy. Joy makes us strong.” Reflect on your experience practicing spiritual disciplines this Lent. Does the above quote resonate with your experience? If so, how?
What spiritual practices might God be leading you to continue beyond Lent?

Pray that the Holy Spirit will cause your faith training to overflow with joy.

Note: This is the last study in the Faith Training series. It may be helpful to review the Faith Training Exercises and continue to explore practices as God leads you.

Tween picked out this bouquet in Easter celebration colors

Tween picked out this bouquet in Easter celebration colors

Peace in Pieces

Advent: Awaiting the Savior who brings hope, peace, joy, love.

Our version of Advent week 1: crushing activity and little peace. Oops…

Some of this week’s low lights:

A lens popped out of Tween’s glasses when he got jostled playing at a friend’s house. And then someone stepped on it, cracking the top of the lens and crunching splintered concentric circles into the bottom. Miraculously, the lens still fits into the frame (not sure how well he can see) and – God have mercy! – it’s covered under warranty. The lens tech could not believe this was his “new” pair as of June; unfortunately (and of course) he lost the back-up pair the day he brought this pair home.

The boxes of Christmas decorations came out but surprisingly I put up decorations all by my lonesome. Which made me a little holiday-cranky and created a huge mess that lasted all week.

The mess was abundantly exacerbated by my mad-crafting preparation for a mid-week Christmas boutique at church. Beads, pliers, chenille stems, paint, glue guns and the little strings of stretched-out and dried-up hot glue covered every flat surface otherwise unoccupied by Christmas decorations, increasing the difficulty of homework sessions and family dinners.

Three nights of crafting into the wee hours and I turned to grab the dish towel after washing paint off my hands to hear a plink on the floor – the center diamond fell out of my wedding ring. Hallelujah for having turned away from the sink, and that the floor was at least clean enough to find the stone. Twenty-two years of wearing that ring… Ladies, get your prongs checked!

Teen admitted that he didn’t tell us about a BIG test he should have studied for during Thanksgiving week, and then threw a temper tantrum that we expressed concern that he left studying to the last minute.

Both boys have Monday sports at the same time on opposite sides of town. With no feasible carpools.

Tuesday might have been the longest, most emotional stretch of this marathon. Guy and Teen started the day early with a quick stop at school to ask permission to postpone late-studied test because they had to go to court – he and a friend got a ticket for hiking on the first day of summer, a bogus ticket because the utilities department “cop” was bugged about where they parked their bikes. They plead not guilty and have a new court date for three months from now. Two+ hours waiting in various lines and court rooms to be told to come back another day.

I pulled Tween early from school to get him to the optician before dropping him at church so he could participate in the after-school kids’ club Nativity reenactment as one of the kings (BTW, he is the only king I’ve ever seen actually hand over his gift to the kid who played Joseph. Why do Nativity kings hold on to their gifts? Shouldn’t the gifts be given?). Precious children, Christmas carols, the Best Story, a brief respite. Rush home, homework, make and eat dinner. Have the wherewithal to admit that I will not be making homemade cookies for the Boy Scout Court of Honor that same evening. Stack the dishes next to the already-full sink while Guy quickly irons Teen’s uniform (yes, Teen had been asked to get this done over the weekend. Also, the cookies).

Guy and Teen leave while Tween and I dash through the last leg of homework and race to the Court. We’re late, but maybe just in time. Tug, the doors are locked! Try other doors. Race into the room where Teen is standing center stage – eye contact, big mama smile, so proud that he is receiving his last required badges prior to working on his Eagle Scout project, this moment we have worked toward and awaited his five years in the Troop.

Only to realize that we missed it. He holds the badges in his hand. Guy took a picture but I missed the presentation and handshake, the applause. Disappointment sinks in that I have missed the joyous culmination of all the hours spent facilitating badge work and I burst into tears. I’ve imagined that moment for so long that I’m sure when I’m old and senile I will believe I witnessed it.

Leave Court early to get Tween to bed (feeling ever-more guilty that Tween feels responsible that his homework made us late…) and begin making 16th birthday breakfast for Teen’s Bible study boys. They meet at 6:30am and I don’t see the five o’clock hour but once a day so I had to get it all ready to be heated up in the morning: veggie frittata (26 eggs!) + gingerbread cake, our December birthday boy’s favorite breakfast foods. And more crafting. Sleep arrived at 2am.

Oh, and in recent weeks our country has once again erupted with racial conflict after the acquittal of a white police officer in the death of a black teen and also the death of a black man at the hands of a white cop. Even the most neutral ostrich among us has to see how broken we are, that this country – arguably founded on immigration, our great Melting Pot – has boiled over in pain. My family’s shenanigans pale in comparison to the real violence and hatred on display elsewhere, thank God, may God have mercy.

Time spreads itself thin and I long to slow down, to savor and not miss the season, the Son, in the midst of the crazy. I recognize that this week was a blend of circumstances and choices, that some of my Yeses led to Nos, and so I have, in snatches, stolen time back for prayer and meditation. These words tugged at my mind in their appropriateness for those who are mourning:

“Some horrible, awful, miserable, very bad days, you may look around and say, ‘If there’s a God who really cares, He’d look at our world and His heart would break.’

“And God looks to Jesus, who went to the cross…and says, ‘Look – My heart did break'” (Ann Voskamp, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, p26).

We have been created with a capacity to mourn and to dance, and sometimes those things happen simultaneously. Rich belly-laughter and stinging tears co-mingle. And so these words, too:

“…Abram stared into that velveted night sky, and a million, billion, trillion diamond-shimmering stars danced around him, and Abram tried to count all the ways – the thousands and millions and billions of ways – God loved him, and it made him dance in awe with the stars, with God” (Voskamp, p31).

Our hearts break, and so does God’s. He showers blessings, and we get too frantic to see them. Stop. Slow down. Know peace, even when it seems you have to grab God’s abundant offerings in bits and pieces.

Oh Lord our God, in your great mercy we ask you to turn our mourning into dancing! Give us eyes to see your love unfurling and curling, tethering us tight to your heart of love. Fan the flames of the hope we have in you, and grant us peace – now and forever. Through Jesus Christ our Lord we pray, Amen.