Choose Joy

Her name is Natalie Joy.

When I first met her this weekend at the Winsome Retreat in Pennsylvania I observed the most delightful woman. Smiling. Bright spirited. Joy filled. I thought to myself, surely, her name suits her well.

But later on she shared her story with me and I learned that life for Natalie has not always been filled with joy. She’s suffered a great deal, in fact, when a marriage she loved for many years ended in divorce. Natalie describes this painful season with a quake in her voice, still searching for all the right words to wrap around this hallowed ground.

It is ground, I believe, because the most raw moments in life feel so much like dirt; barren and black. And yet we know that it is only from the barren and black earth that a seed can grow.

New life emerges if the conditions are right.

The conditions, though, are often like a season of drought under the hot, sweltering sun. We know what is needed. Cleansing Rain. But the fiery trial is unrelenting, leaving us withered and tired. Where O’ where is the rain?

“I’ve discovered that when everything is taken away, when nothing is left but the core of who you are, that’s when you have to make a choice. I can either hide inside and let the fear of getting stuck by lightning paralyze me, or I can stand out in the rain to be washed free of everything but the comfort of a God who would never let me fall. I choose every day to be washed free.” -Sara Frankl

We find the rain in Isaiah 54 when the “barren” woman is encouraged to sing. We feel her pain because her barrenness is like ours. It’s every unmet longing and unanswered prayer. It’s every choking circumstance and dreadful disease. It’s every betrayal linked to our deepest fear. To sing while still and yet barren is choosing to receive the Cleansing Rain.

“Sing, O barren woman…” -Isaiah 54:1

We find the rain in John 11 when Jesus who is deeply troubled and moved in spirit rolls the stone away and calls his dead friend Lazarus to come out.

“Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” -Jesus

But not everyone who sees believes. For it is written that some scoff Jesus for allowing death and suffering (vs. 37) while others decide to see its purpose through the lens of abiding love (vs. 36). And the same is true for you and me: to see and believe in Love while the sting still and yet burns is choosing to receive the Cleansing Rain.

Barrenness knows of its need. Stones keep from proceeding. What response will we choose while we wait for the miracle?

When Natalie looked down at the divorce decree she stared at the empty box awaiting an inky name. She says she knew in that moment that she needed to choose a new name: Joy. It was the only way to begin again. The conditions were right.

Dear friends, may you sing your heart out despite the barrenness. Take off the grave clothes and believe. And may you always remember to…choosejoy

Amen.

(Side Note: Needing to define your joy and clarify your purpose? Check out Natalie’s business here.)



My Story: Overcoming the Drunken Monster Within

I’ve spent some time in the dungeon of self-hatred. The term was only a few short years but let me tell you, it was hell down there. A prison-of-sorts where my worth was beaten repeatedly. My image so bruised that it even hurt to look in the mirror. It was sorrowful time, a contemplative pit of disgust and shame. A time when the choices I’d made with my own free will caused me to trip and fall, the long way down.

prison

Some of you know bits of my story. The pre-Me was a girl who’d enjoy any excuse for good time. Drinking was my desired gateway to fun. Oh, it was all in good spirit, I told myself. Most of the time (but not always) I was able to juggle the drink and the façade of self-control pretty darn good. Just a carefree girl with a forecast for fun, I told myself.

But the untold truth was like bubbling magma. What many did not know is that the beer swallowed cold was feeding a monster. A monster of generational alcoholism, a monster with haughty eyes and a lying tongue.

Oh, in those early years the monster’s voice was so affirming. It’d tell me such grand things about myself. It’d tell me how beautiful I was and how deserving I was of ANYTHING and EVERYTHING I wanted. I only needed to relentlessly pursue and I could have it all – the whole world, yes! As the consummation ensued, the voice would coil itself around my spirit and make me feel like a twelve story building.

Come morning, I hated that damn monster. And myself.

True enough, as the years carried on I began to chase after another baby Love. It was the heart of God. As I sought, I learned. Until oh-so-softly another voice began to emerge. This Gentle one, it wasn’t pushy. Heck, though, it spoke truth to me that sometimes stung.

“You are my ambassador,” the Gentle voice would say. “This (drink) is not good for you. When will you let it go?” The question always circled like a white dove returning home, into the palm of my hand. It was always up to me as to what I’d do with it.

Even still, despite the Gentle voice and despite my personal academy of seeking, from time to time I’d feed that monster. Without fail it pushed and bullied its way into chambers of my heart, attempting to conquer its foe, the Spirit of God.

I discovered that the monster had an uncontrollable appetite to devour the other Living occupant of my heart. And so it began, this epic battle for dominance. Back and forth like a sword-drawn Tarzan swinging from a vine. Back and forth, with each pass the Spirit hacked away at the choking weed – monster. Back and forth, with each pass the monster attempting to spew poisonous lies.

“For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. “ – Galatians 5: 17

It takes time; the sanctification, the cleansing, the killing of monsters. The death of it all was a process. The finality, grotesque. The most severe pain I’ve ever felt in my whole life. The grief – a dark tomb. For me, this self-death of drinking was my plummet into the dungeon of self-hatred.

Thanks be to God who rescued me from the pit with His right hand. Though that place was dark, the Voice was with me saying things like,

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness and into his wonderful light.” -1Peter 2:9

You see, when the monster died, my body felt like ash. But let me tell you, in that good-long-hard-season the Lord God made me whole again, this time, into a new creation. Yes, He did that. I can’t believe it’s been nearly eight years since He destroyed that monster within but He did, and I’ve never known such freedom. Praise be!

And do you know what? He can do that for you too. You’re never beyond His reach. Never. I believe that some of you have been living under the monster’s thumb for far too long. You’re tired. You’re lying in the pit of self-hatred, perhaps.

Dear brother or sister, listen, God’s unfailing love for you is so vast that there is nothing you can do (or nothing you’ve done) that can remove this Love. All you need to “do” is turn your head, look to Him, repent, and let Him lead you into a new (better) life. No regrets.

Amen.
signature2