Finding Joy NOT Happiness in the Lord

If I were to take an informal survey, raise your hands and tell me if you are “Happy” today?  Now if I were to ask you again, how many of you are “Joyful”?

Did some of you raise your hands for HAPPY but not JOYFUL?  Why?

How many think Happiness and Joyfulness are one and the same thing?

How many just don’t feel like raising their hands?…..just kidding.

Well, over the next few weeks I plan on doing a series about Finding Joy NOT Happiness in the Lord.  I will attempt to show you the difference between Joy and Happiness.  That’s not to say that you can’t be happy and joyful at the same time, because obviously you can, but there are also times when you can experience joy without feeling happy.  How is that possible, you might ask?…well let’s start with some definitions:

Happiness: is a state of being that is generally short-lived.  In other words, happiness occurs over and over again for a variety of different reasons, generally caused by a pursuit or an activity that the individual has done or experienced resulting in this “happy” emotion to occur.  For example:

You can feel happy when you are:

Reading to your child, or walking your dog, or going on a holiday….I’m sure we could come up with countless things to list that make us happy….

Now some of you may say, “But Lynn, I experience “joy” doing those things as well…”  In other words the word “happy” is just not a strong enough emotional word to adequately express how you feel.   I totally understand that.  It’s like we equate the emotion JOY as a kind of step up from happiness.

Here’s the differentiation between Happiness and Joy and we’ll use our original examples:

You are happy reading to your child.  It’s bonding time.  It’s cuddling with your child and sharing a good book and getting some good quality time in with your child…you are happy until he suddenly looks up at you and you realize he has a kind of “green look” in his face.  In fact, as he leans against you, you feel that he’s a little warm and suddenly your “happy” emotion has dissolved into concern for your sick child….

Another example:  The prospects of going on a holiday makes you happy.  You have planned this tropical get-away, you have enjoyed a week soaking up the sun and the whole experience has left you happy and contented.  On the way home, you’re still happy reliving all the great memories of the past week, until you land and you discover that the airline has lost one of your bags.  Your happiness is replaced with frustration, possibly anger.  In fact, if you are an A-type personality like I am – this ONE negative experience may adversely affect how you felt about the entire holiday….

Let’s take another more extreme example:  You are a fit, active woman.  You eat healthy, you are happy with your good health.  Sure, you’re happy…until one day you become sick….

See where I’m going with this?…

Happiness is a state of being, an emotion that can be interrupted and therefore is temporary.  It can be experienced again and again but not necessarily with the same intensity as before…

-you can go back and read to your child and be happy but you might never recapture the same mood as before the child got sick.

-you can go on holidays and be happy but you might always be thinking about whether or not you’ll come home with the same amount of bags as what you left with.

- you can recapture your healthy state again and be happy, but you might have had to change your lifestyle to do so.  It just won’t be the same again.

I came across an interesting website that actually measures how Happy you are….I am not a social scientist so I don’t know whether the measurements are accurate etc. but I thought that their definition of “happiness” was interesting:

“Happiness is a belief that a hoped-for state of affairs is coming into existence.  Pleasure is limited to the feelings of the moment.  Contentment is the feeling that a hoped for state actually exists.  Unhappy reactions to being blocked from an activity are the best measure of a person’s true goals.  It matters little where you came from but greatly where you now choose to go and what you choose to do.”  (Charles Scamahorn’s Happiness Scale – HAPS – A scale for measuring human happiness, 2006).  http://www.probaway.com/MetaScales/Happiness/Happiness.htm

Based on that definition alone, we can see that it is entirely up to the individual whether or not he or she will be happy or not.  We can also add that if you set your goals too high for yourself and you fail in the attempt to achieve that goal, you won’t be happy.  Often happiness is in the pursuit of things entirely centered on the individual.   In other words, if you set out to be rich, or healthy, or powerful, or lose weight etc. etc. and you somehow are not successful in achieving that goal you will not be happy…ever.  Therefore you have two options:  try harder to achieve those goals (and we know what that means…stress, stress and more stress….) or try to avoid being blocked in achieving these goals.

What I read here is that the only way to achieve true happiness is to completely avoid anything that would cause you to be unhappy…..in fact as I researched a little more, many world philosophies today are based entirely upon that fact alone: avoidance of anything that will cause you pain, hurt, distress, or upset.  Happiness is only achieved if all negative experiences and feelings are removed.  So these philosophies advocate that people try to avoid or at least control negative influences that would undermine their state of happiness.

So here’s some homework for you today:

  • 1.  Make a list of things (people, events, activities etc.) that make you happy.
  • 2.  Briefly ask why those things make you happy?
  • 3.  Take time today to participate in one of those “happy” activities!

Tomorrow I will continue the series on “Finding Joy NOT Happiness in the Lord:)

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Cover Reveal of “Love the Wounded”

The Great Cover Reveal for the third and final book in the Wounded TrilogyLove the Wounded.

The amazing cover design was painted by my friend, Caleb Booth.  The painting itself actually stands nearly four feet tall!  The wonderful thing about Caleb’s cover designs for my books is that they are an integral part of the story themselves, particularly this one for Love the Wounded.  You MUST read the book to completely understand the cover design!

Have I captured your interest?  Well, head over to my Wounded Trilogy site and tell me what you think of the cover by leaving a comment there.  If I get over one hundred commenters on this blog site by April 22nd, I’ll pick one comment at random and send them a signed copy of my first book, Shoot The Wounded and a photo print of the Love the Wounded cover suitable for framing!

In Limbo

I don’t know if it’s the weather that has me slightly depressed or what.  I know that we can expect this kind of “spring-like” weather here in Alberta…snow, sleet, drizzle and cold but when the rest of Canada seems to be sweltering under record-breaking warm temperatures, I feel Mother Nature has somehow forgotten all about us Albertans.  I told a friend of mine that I grow “snow drops” in my garden…literally…as you can see by the picture I took of my garden last week.  Oh the snow has melted a bit, but it still feels like November out there.  Brrrrrr!

I can’t help but think that we are in limbo here in Alberta when it comes to weather.  We’re not quite out of the winter doldrums and we’re not quite into the spring sunshine.  We’re in limbo, caught somewhere in between the two.

I was reading in James this morning.  God has kept my husband and I firmly planted in the first chapter of James for the longest while.  As I once again read, “consider it pure joy, when you face trials” from James 1, I couldn’t help looking heavenward and asking, “but for how long, Lord?”

Without going into details, we’ve been in one of those valleys that seems to be endless.  We’re not ones to wallow in self-pity, we believe God allows his children to go through valleys to learn, to grow, and to REALLY appreciate the mountaintop experiences later.  However, I don’t think we ever thought our wanderings through this valley would last this long.  I feel like we’re in limbo.  We know that if we’re patient and wait it out, we’ll eventually climb out of the valley, but in the meantime we’re wanderers, searching for the right path out and fighting obstacles all along the way…and to tell the truth…it’s wearing me out!

I decided to look up the term “in limbo” and was surprised at it’s meaning.  I mean to those of us who love to dance…yes…I’m a rebel dancing Baptist…limbo is a West Indian dance in which the dancers keep bending over backward and passing under a pole that is lowered slightly each time.  Wow!  “How low can you go?”  I can almost hear the music.

In Roman Catholic theology being in “limbo” is the place located on the border of Hell, a place where souls remain that cannot enter heaven…you’re not quite in heaven, and not quite in hell.

And lastly, being in limbo is an unknown intermediate place or condition between two extremes – it’s a state, or a place of confinement.  Yep…I can relate!

I believe that is what James is talking about.  He was speaking to twelve tribes “scattered” among the nations.  They were caught between cultures, they were being persecuted mercilessly for their faith.  When James spoke about “trials”, he didn’t specify the types of trials these people were enduring.  He lumped all of the trials together.  Certainly to the people of the time, he might have been addressing persecution specifically, but for us today, (especially those of us in Canada and the U.S.), “trials” may be health related, job loss, financial burdens, family conflict, etc. etc.  James said that suffering trials was a (spiritual) test.  The test designed to develop something that was not yet present in full measure in the person going through the trial.  If that is indeed the case, once a person had “passed the test” there should be cause for great rejoicing!

What was the faith reward for passing the test?  Perseverance.  This means that God will give us the ability to endure patiently. “The Christian with this quality of faith does not give up trusting and praying even when the need continues for a long time. Second, the term carries the idea of discipline. The Christian with this quality of faith continues in a disciplined obedience to Christ as Lord even when it requires “a long obedience in the same direction” (Peterson 1980).  Third, the term means steadfast faithfulness. The Christian with this quality of faith is not a part-time servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. Making the same point, in fact using the same terms, Paul wrote, “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance” (Rom 5:3).”  BibleGateway.com 

Perseverance, of course is something that stays the course, not just for the trial we are presently going through, but for all the trials yet to come.  That is what James means by perseverance developing maturity.  “The trials can be opportunities for testing to develop in you the perseverance which, when it finishes its work, will leave you mature in Christ! For those who have set their hearts on becoming Christlike, this is wonderful reason for pure joy.”

I will admit I wish we did not need to go through the trials and testing to develop this spiritual perseverance and maturity.  I do however like what vs. 12 states, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”  Persevering is worth doing, because the crown of life is worth more than avoiding the trial.  We are called to place greater value on the goal of becoming mature and complete in Christ than anything else the world has to offer.  That’s pure JOY!

 

Help Stop Bullying – We Can’t Say It Enough

Since publishing my first book, Shoot the Wounded, I have tried to raise awareness to get the anti-bullying message out there to anyone and everyone.  I was bullied in high school.  I know what it’s like to feel fear while walking down a hallway at school.  Each one of my children has had encounters with bullies in school.  Why, even my husband has had to deal with bullies in the business world!  If you think bullying is limited to children on playgrounds, think again.

I saw a young grocery clerk dissolve into tears after a rather unpleasant encounter with a less-than-satisfied customer, who verbally harangued the poor girl in a public tongue-lashing that had us all cringing in line.  When I got to the front of the line, the poor girl’s hands were trembling so badly she dropped my change on the counter and nearly burst into fresh tears for fear I would be the next to reprimand her.  Instead, I reached out my hand, touched her lightly on the arm and smiled at her.  “No worries.”  I said.  The look of relief on that young girl’s face was heart wrenching.

I am in the middle of reading a particularly compelling, but shocking account of a young girl’s years as an abducted, tortured
innocent in Uganda.  Kidnapped into Joseph Kony’s army of child soldiers in the book “girl soldier” at the age of fifteen, she is one of countless thousands of children who do Kony’s bidding.  It is either kill or be killed.  (For those of you who have never heard of the atrocities this individual has committed on the innocents of that nation, I would ask that you listen to the YouTube video that was made about Kony.)  As a westerner reading this story from the safety and comfort of my Canadian home, it shocks me that one man could so effectively “bully” a nation to submission.  Yet it is equally true that bullying tactics have worked for historical tyrants of the past like Hitler, Idi Amin, Stalin and Hussein to subjugate and slaughter thousands of innocent men, women and children.  We only need to watch news headlines to see that nations continue to fall under tyrannical dictatorships even today!

Whenever I read books of this nature, I can’t help feeling totally helpless.  After all, what can a grandmother living in small town, Cochrane, Alberta, Canada do about the atrocities I read about in Africa?  Well, truth be told, very little.  Certainly I can write about it, bring awareness to it, and support with financial aid those agencies that are helping to assist the rescued and the refugees, but realistically my little rocking chair is far removed from the distant battlefields there.

So what do I do?

I start with one.

One prayer.  “Matthew 7:7 says that we should ask, seek, and knock. James 5:16 “The prayer of a righteous man is effective and powerful.” 1 John 5:15 says that we should pray for those that are committing sin. Matthew 21:22 “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” John 15:7 “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.”  If we do nothing else, we can pray. 

Then, practically take action close to home.  Bullies are living in small towns and large cities across Canada, from British Columbia to Newfoundland.  Bullying is an epidemic in our nation and children are threatening and being threatened daily.  Take a stand and speak out against bullying.  Write about it, tweet about it, Facebook, blog, get the word out that bullying is not going to be tolerated in the town in which you live.  Write members of Parliament, sign petitions, speak to teachers and administrators, encourage your children and grandchildren to not be silent but TELL on their bullies.  It takes courage to stand up to a bully but it has to start somewhere.  Be the first ONE to say, “No, not on my watch!  I’m taking a stand against bullying!”

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

To My Friend

 I wrote this years ago when I was a young Mom, it is still a fitting poem now for busy grandmothers out there too!

To My Friend

by: Lynn Dove

Today as I did my daily chores

I thought about you.

My hands in dishwater

and a child tugging on my leg

I thought about you.

Some days there is more time

to devote to fervent

prayer in petition for

you…

but today with a swipe of

soap suds on my nose

and a ringing telephone

I thought about you.

But I take comfort and you

should too that God takes

each of my thoughts and they are

lifted to Him as prayers

and though sometimes fleeting

He knits those remnants together

to build a tapestry of prayer

Just for you.

So my friend,

I thought about

you today

and He listened.

Causing Others to Stumble

Here’s what I think…take it or leave it.  If you cause another to “stumble” in any way shape or form…it is sin, period.  Drinking, indulging in food…even getting someone addicted to Facebook…

None of the above is “bad” in itself unless the indulgence of that one thing takes a person’s mind off of Christ.

We read in scripture that God is a jealous God.  That means that anything that distracts us from Him or His purpose for us can be considered an idol to us.  The second and third and fourth commandments in Exodus 20:3-5 clearly make that point.  Consider how important that is to God if 3 out of the 10 commandments deal with the idea of putting God first in every aspect of your life.

ANYTHING that distracts us from God (TV, computer, gaming, sports, shopping, recreation, work, school…etc. etc.) can become to us an “idol” if we indulge in that activity to the point of neglecting our time with God.  I would even say doing “church things” can be distracting, if the motivation is “doing” and not actively seeking God’s will and direction.

I am reminded of Paul’s words in Romans 12: 1-2…present your bodies as living sacrifices, acceptable to God; and not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the “renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Do not indulge in those things that are morally wrong, that may pollute our minds and our bodies; that offend God, that demean the Word, or negate the teachings of Christ.  Our lives should be living offerings to the Lord.  If anything is amiss in our lives that we know would cause the Holy Spirit to grieve within us, we need to let it go and repent.  If anything is taking us away from building relationships with God and with others, let it go.

“He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.” Romans 14:6

“For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” v.8

Anything we do during our day should be for the Glory of God.  If we work…do it for His Glory, not ours.  If we play, do it for His Glory, not ours.  We give thanks for every good thing and we give thanks for every negative thing that comes our way, because we believe in that we are honouring God and acknowledging that He is indeed Lord of our lives.  He is Sovereign and I believe that in everything God can be glorified if we acknowledge that He is totally in control.  So if I face hardships (like cancer), I believe that God will never “leave or forsake me”, if I receive an accolade for a job “well done”…I acknowledge that I can “do all things through Him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).

I believe God calls His people to be “lights” in all areas of life.  Some are called to minister in their places of employment.  That means we should act differently than others around us may act in the work place.  We don’t complain about our bosses to others, we go above and beyond the call of duty…because God has called us to do that.  We submit to authority.  We don’t lie or cheat or gossip (we are not of THIS world) so we need to act like it!  We avoid temptation.  We pray for those we work with, we share the love of Christ with them.  We become the hands and feet of Jesus….and in everything…good or bad….we give thanks to God!

“…walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.”  Colossians 1:10-12

All that said, we need to ask ourselves several questions with regards to what side of the fence we want to live or die on when it comes to some of the “world’s” more controversial issues.  Some of them are virtually no brainers - according to scripture to take a life is wrong, “Thou shalt not kill”….thus abortion is wrong, euthanasia is wrong.  Period.  Scripture is also very clear on homosexuality, greed, lust, and adultery.  They’re wrong.  Period.  If we believe that, then that answers some of the questions with regards to sex before marriage, common law relationships etc….it’s wrong.  Period. Oh, and then there are lots of other “no brainers” we’re not as keen on hearing or accepting: submitting to authority, (“rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”…ie: paying taxes); letting go of pride, honouring our parents, submitting to our husbands, loving our wives as Christ loved the church, living debt-free.  I could go on.

And then of course, the one that causes a few Christians to sit on the fence and ponder upon…to drink or not to drink alcohol.  In a nutshell, scripture is not clear to tell us one way or other if it is right or wrong to drink…what scripture IS clear about is that anything that leads to sin (or causing another to stumble) is wrong.  Do I believe that alcohol is wrong in itself?…NO.  Do I believe that indulging in alcohol can cause someone to sin?…YES.  That’s the kicker.

If I drink a glass of wine before bed so I can relax get a good night’s rest am I sinning?  No.  If I have a glass of wine with a fancy meal or to toast in the New Year am I sinning?  No.  However, if my children see me drinking a glass of wine and it causes them to want to drink it…then I am responsible.  They do not know their limits yet, they are prone to use my example as an excuse to over indulge because they are not old enough to know better.  They respect me, they watch me,…if I am to guide them I must be careful that my actions are not misinterpreted by them.  (That goes with everything I might add…kids will do as they see their parents doing…)  If I toast in the New Year with others knowing that some in the room have a weakness for alcohol and do not know their own limitations…once again I sin, by participating in an activity that may cause others to stumble.  Easy answer.  If in doubt…don’t drink.

I think the one thing we have neglected in all of this is listening to the Holy Spirit.  He will guide and lead you in everything.  If you are in a quandary about something, don’t lean “unto your own understanding” but in ALL things acknowledge that you have a Counsellor Who is more than able to tell you what you should or should not do.  If you feel that nagging, squirmy feeling of guilt whenever you drink…that’s the Holy Spirit telling you to NOT drink.  Doesn’t matter the circumstances…whether you’re home alone, or in a crowd.  If the Holy Spirit tells you to stay away from something…STAY AWAY.  To ignore the Holy Spirit is disobedience to God.  Scripture is pretty clear on THAT particular subject too!

Jesus drank wine…and good stuff too (according to scripture), yet Jesus never sinned.  Why?  He never over-indulged, He never forgot Who He was, Who the Father was, and what His purpose was.  Jesus hung out with prostitutes and “sinners”…yet He never sinned.  Why?  He never forgot Who He was, Who the Father was, and what His purpose was.  You too, can drink wine and not sin.  How?  You must never over indulge, you must always remember Whose you are, Who the Father is, and what His purpose for your life is.

That’s my opinion.  Take it or leave it.

 

Hunger Games – Yay or Nay

As a writer of Young Adult fiction, I try to read anything and everything that is in that genre to keep current with my reading audience.  That also means, even though I write from a Christian world view, that I read secular books (oftentimes paranormal) so I know what is “trending” with that age group.  I read all the Harry Potter Books, the Twilight Series and most recently the Hunger Games.

I will admit I quite enjoyed the Harry Potter series.  I even liked the Twilight series (go Team Jacob!)…so I had high expectations for the Hunger Games.

They say that books (and movies) define a societal thinking at the time the books are written.  For example, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) was a scathing commentary on racial tensions at that time; The Diary of Anne Frank (1947) was released shortly after the Holocaust; The Feminine Mystique (1963) was the “spark” that lit the feminist movement of the 60′s.  Books give a hint to how people view society and if I take that theory and run with it, based on the Hunger Games, society is at its most hopeless state ever.

I was surprised, no…shocked at the violence in the books.  These are not books that have a classic “good vs. evil” theme with “good” ultimately triumphing over evil.  This is a corrupt, futuristic world that pits children against one another in gladiatorial combat games to the death.  Innocents placed on the altar to appease the “Capital” gods.  It is a society that has absolutely no morals or ethics.  It is bereft of hope…and turn away now… (*Spoiler Alert*…there’s not a happy ending).

Is this the way that our young people view today’s society?

Recently I came across a discussion between a few Christian parents on Facebook about whether or not they would allow their children (12 years and under) to read books (or go to movies) that show people killing other people.  Right away I thought about the Hunger Games.  The books are intended for a Young Adult audience but I know for a fact that children much, much younger have read the books and are lined up with their parents now to see the movies.  It does concern me, I’ll admit.

If I expand upon my initial theory and determine that books (and movies) hint at societal mores at the time they are written; if the Hunger Games are indeed a snapshot of how youth perceive the world around them today, then we as adults must take note.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

“And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.”  (Jeremiah 7:31)

The Trials and Tribulation of Bathing Suit Shopping (2)

Before reading today’s post, make sure you read the previous post yesterday.

A long while ago, I bought two new bathing suits.  When I returned home from my shopping trip, my daughter had me model the suits for her and she cried…

Now you might think I would have been slightly insulted by her reaction based on the story I told yesterday, but I wasn’t at all upset…

and here’s why…

She wasn’t crying because she thought I looked like a tube of toothpaste squeezed in the middle…

She wasn’t crying because she was worried that I would have to sit on a public beach under a “whale on the beach” sign…

She was crying because I was actually comfortable enough with my “new” body that I could model a bathing suit.

You see, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001.  After having a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy, I went through the most physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually challenging two years of my entire life.  In fact the first time I saw myself after surgery, I wondered if I would ever dare to wear a bathing suit again.

We place a lot of stress on ourselves as women and mothers.  We buy into the commercials that say we must look a certain way, or be a certain weight, or keep house like Martha Stewart.  If the picture gets skewed at home, meaning we can’t measure up to these perfect ideals, we put huge guilt trips on ourselves and we add more stress onto ourselves as we attempt to change into what we believe is the image of perfection.  It is no wonder that we have no “peace” in our lives if we are never really satisfied with how we look, where we live, or how we act.  I’ve actually coined a phrase that describes this: Superwoman Syndrome.

We try to be everything, do everything, attempt everything so we can measure up to this perfect standard the world has somehow created.  In my house, shortly before my cancer diagnosis, it meant signing my kids up for soccer, hockey, piano, skating, choir, and anything else that everybody else was doing because goodness I did not want my kids to be left out of all these opportunities!  So while my children were benefiting from all these activities I was taxi-ing them all over the place, and we were eating fast foods because there was no time to cook.  A fact that made me even more guilty.  My house hadn’t been cleaned in weeks because I’d been standing on the sidelines of some soccer field cheering on my child rather than on my knees washing a floor at home.  And even though it was great to do these things with my kids I always had this twinge of guilt that my house was a huge disaster area.

Then of course there were job commitments back then.  I was a seminary student, I worked on staff at my church and being a wife, mother, student, writer, etc. I barely could find 10 minutes of good quality time with my husband a day, let alone spend any quiet time with God.

Then of course there was the outer me.  (I’ll admit I still feel this way…) I can’t leave the house without my hair looking just so, and my makeup on…

Oh… and I forgot to do the laundry, and the dog needs to be fed, and I haven’t watered my plants, or picked up the dry cleaning;  one child needs a button sewed on, and another child is having a social crisis, and then there are blogs to write, books to edit, etc., etc., etc….

Do you get the picture?

Psychologists will tell you that many of their women clients are counseled primarily because they have a deep dissatisfaction with their bodies, and they harbour so much guilt because they do not measure up to what they believe is the perfect woman or the perfect Mom.  In the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary there is a whole psycho-social department geared towards women who have gone through breast cancer…why?…because women who suffer from breast cancer are radically changed, outwardly because of surgery, and inwardly as they try to cope with their disfigurement and the disease itself.  They no longer feel they are a complete woman, and they struggle trying to come to grips with not being the perfect picture of a woman anymore.  Not to mention the fear that accompanies the knowledge that you have been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.

One of the fruits of the spirit is Peace.  The peace that is spoken of here is not necessarily the peace that comes by controlling warring factions in Iraq or stepping between two battling siblings, or quieting a colicky child.  The peace of the Spirit is something that is referred to as a “peace that surpasses understanding.”  It could be considered a peace that cannot be easily defined because it defies explanation.  There is a difference between being peaceful and having inner peace.  You can attain a peaceful state by calming down your hectic pace, pampering yourself, reading or doing things that make you feel good.  But an inner peace comes with the knowledge that we are made in the image of God and God has created this beautiful world and He is a God who is in control of everything and everything He has made is good.  It is a state of mind that allows ourselves to let go of our circumstances, release our cares and rely solely on God.

My life verse is: “In his heart a man plans his course but the Lord determines his steps.”  Proverbs 16:9

It took nearly a year for me to fully grasp that truth.  It was a year where I came to understand what it meant to have a “peace that surpasses understanding”.  I gradually developed a quiet acceptance of my new body image.  Of course I would have liked to never have experienced cancer, but God had allowed me to go through the experience and if I believed He had a plan and a purpose for my life, I also had to believe He had a plan and a purpose behind my getting cancer.

The incredible opportunities I have been presented with since cancer have testified to God’s faithfulness.  I have a peace about my circumstances.  It doesn’t mean I totally understand why things happen the way they do but I’m OK with it.

Do I still struggle with trying to be Superwoman?  Yes, but now I don’t beat myself up about it when the house is a dust bowl or we’ve lived on fast food a couple of nights a week.  I enjoy life more.  I see life differently and I am amazed more by ordinary things.

I can honestly say that I am no longer so self-absorbed with the “outer” me.  That’s not to say that I neglect the outer me, after all I did go through reconstructive surgery in 2002 and although my body image will never be what it once was I am so thankful to be a breast cancer survivor and present to you…the new and slightly improved “me”.  I even laugh at my bad hair days because at least I have hair to have bad hair days!

I know as women we get caught up in how we look and our outward appearances but today I would like to challenge you to spend as much time on the inner you as you do on the outer you.  I want you to celebrate YOU today.   Today when you look in the mirror, don’t look at the little flaws, or the extra pounds.  Try to see yourself as God sees you, precious in His sight.  Today pamper the outer you, consider how you will pamper the inner you.  A friend sent me this wonderful poem while I was battling cancer.

There is a Place By: Val Conner

There is a place where acceptance is found,

a place of peace and contentment

Where fears subside

And smiles of hope exist

Where warm embraces have long since replaced cold shoulders

And I can be me.

There is a place where freedom of expression is welcomed

Where “sincerely” describes a life lived honorably

And not merely impotent words penned at the end of a letter

Where the distance between opposing views

Is measured for it’s diversity, not measured by its intensity

And I can be me.

There is a place where one’s value is based on “Whose” you are, not “whom” you are

Where the barometer of success is gauged by the attitude of one’s heart

Not the platitudes of one’s performances

Where life is valued because it is a gift –

Regardless of gender, race or geography

And I can be me.

There is a place where beauty lies not in the eyes of the behold’en, but solely in the eyes of the Begotten

Where one’s spirit describes the splendor of one’s presence, and the measure of one’s age is the compilation of past memories – not years passed

Where the shaping of one’s mind is

More important than mindings one’s shape

And I can be me.

“There”

This place I long to be –

Where the law of the jungle is but a fable,

Where darkness finds no place in which to cower,

Where we are not merely acceptable in His sight –

We are the accepted by His side.

Where joyful todays are always followed by joyous tomorrows –

And tomorrows are forever,

“There” is the place I want to be –

But not just yet.

For now, I choose to dwell here;

To fulfill the purpose He has chosen for me.

To be a refuge and a reminder

For people – like me –

Of His Peace

And of their

Acceptance,

Value, and

Beauty.

To touch every soul I can,

As if it were His touching mine,

And to willingly follow Him down the road He has selected me to travel.

For here – in this place –

I am ever mindful that as I place my hand in His

I am learning that I am exactly where

I can be me.

The Trials and Tribulations of Bathing Suit Shopping

I ran across an article recently that described an ordeal I face every summer…the quest for a new bathing suit.  Now I know I might be speaking to young women out there and you may not relate to this experience as well as some ladies in my “season of life” but bear with me as I read:

“I have just been through the annual pilgrimage of torture and humiliation known as buying a bathing costume.  When I was a child, the bathing costume for a woman with a mature figure was designed for a woman with a mature figure – boned, trussed and reinforced, not so much sewn as engineered.  They were built to hold back and uplift, and they did a good job.

Today’s stretch fabrics are designed for the prepubescent girl with a figure chipped from marble.  The mature woman has a choice – she can either front up at the maternity department and try on a floral costume with a skirt, coming away looking like a hippopotamus who escaped from Disney’s Fantasia- or she can wander around every run-of –the mill department store trying to make a sensible choice from what amounts to a designer ranged of fluorescent rubber bands.

What choice did I have?  I wandered around, made my sensible choice and entered the chamber of horrors known as the fitting room.  The first thing I noticed was the extraordinary tensile strength of the stretch material.  The Lycra used in bathing costumes was developed, I believe, by NASA to launch small rockets from a slingshot, which give the added bonus that if you manage to actually lever yourself into one, you are protected from shark attacks.  The reason for this is that any shark taking a swipe at your passing midriff would immediately suffer whiplash.

I fought my way into the bathing suit, but as I twanged the shoulder strap in place, I gasped in horror – my bosom had disappeared!  Eventually I found one bosom cowering under my left armpit.  It took a while to find the other.  At last, I located it flattened beside my seventh rib.  The problem is that modern bathing suits have no bra cups.  The mature woman is meant to wear her bosom spread across her chest like a speed bump.  I realigned by speed bump and lurched toward the mirror to take a full-view assessment.  The bathing suit fit all right, but unfortunately, it only fit those bits of me willing to stay inside it.  The rest of me oozed out rebelliously from top, bottom, and sides.  I looked like a lump of play-dough wearing undersized cling wrap.

As I tried to work out where all those extra bits had come from the prepubescent sales girl popped her head through the curtains, “Oh, there you are!” she said, admiring the bathing suit.  I replied that I wasn’t so sure and asked what else she had to show me.  I tried on a cream crinkled one that made me look like a lump of masking tape, and a floral piece which gave the appearance of an oversized napkin in a serviette ring.  I struggled into a pair of leopard skin bathers with ragged frill and came out looking like Tarzan’s Jane – pregnant with triplets and having a rough day.  I tried on a black number with a midriff and looked like a jellyfish in mourning.  I tried on a bright pink high-cut leg one and I thought I would have to wax my eyebrows to wear them.

Finally I found a costume that fit…a two-piece affair with shorts-style bottom and a halter top.  It was cheap, comfortable, and bulge-friendly.  So, I bought it.  When I got home, I read the label which said, “Material may become transparent in water.”  I’m determined to wear it anyway.  I’ll just have to learn to do the breaststroke in the sand.”

Would you give it up for Me?

I am a first generation Canadian, my parents came to Canada from Denmark in the 50’s and I was born in Calgary 6 years after they arrived.  I think as soon as I was weaned from a bottle, I was immediately introduced to coffee.  I don’t mean the Tim Horton’s coffee we all know and love, no, I mean black, thick, strong coffee…the kind of coffee that a spoon would have a hard- time-stirring-through coffee!  When I was about two years old I would get about a quarter of a cup coffee, and the rest of the cup was made up with cream and sugar.  Every year after that the mixture got blacker and blacker, thicker and thicker.  Ever since I was a little girl I can remember drinking coffee.

It was a cold Sunday morning early into January of 2000 and I was putting on my makeup and fixing my hair and trying to finish quickly so that my husband, Charles and I could have some time to enjoy our second cup of coffee before heading off to church.  This had been our usual custom for 21 years.  As I was combing my hair and looking into the bathroom mirror I heard a distinct voice around me saying: “Would you give it up for Me?”  I thought Charles had spoken to me so I turned around but saw no one.  Then I heard the voice again very distinctly say, “Would you give it up for Me?”  I stopped brushing my hair, and said, “What?  Give what up?”  The voice again said, “Would you give it up for Me?”  I don’t exactly know, but I felt more than understood that I had just had an audible encounter with God and for some reason the Holy Spirit was asking me to give up coffee.

I went downstairs where my husband was and I told Charles what I had just experienced and I told him that I needed to stop drinking coffee immediately.  Charles did not question my sanity, as I thought he might, but he said, “If you think God is telling you to stop drinking coffee, you must stop and I’ll stop too, to support you.”

Well, over the course of that year, many times I wondered why the Holy Spirit had asked me to stop drinking coffee, but I would not question God’s wisdom.

We had the youth group come to our home for a New Year’s party to usher in the year 2001 and as we prayed together, our youth pastor’s wife, Cathey said something that remained in my thoughts for a very long time.  “We welcome in the New Year,” she said, “But even as we do that, we think about how we need to stay focused on God throughout this year.  This might be a year of challenges; of good times and of bad times.  We might be called upon to offer help and support to each other.  We might have to say, “Good-bye” to friends.  Some right here in this room, may not be here with us next year…”  I thought about those words, and even as I knew that she was thinking more along the lines of kids moving away than anything more ominous, a month later I suspected God used Cathey to prophesy what the future year was to hold for me.

In January of 2001, I had a full physical at the doctor’s and I was sent for a routine mammogram.  The technician normally does not reveal findings to patients but she let on that she thought she saw something unusual in one of the pictures and sent me immediately for an ultrasound.  Three weeks later a biopsy confirmed I had breast cancer and on March 6th of 2001 I underwent a mastectomy.  Four days later I danced at my brother’s wedding as we welcomed not only his wife but her thirteen year old daughter into our family!  There are countless of stories I could relate during that two year battle with cancer, where God spoke to me through prayer, scripture, and God’s people…as Cathey had prophesied, the youth group was instrumental in lifting me before the Lord in prayer that year.  Her words were remembered by many of those young people and they banded together to surround one of their own, my daughter, with unconditional support as our entire family experienced my cancer together.  My entire church family ministered to me through random acts of kindness and service, while I went through the chemotherapy treatments and the worship team even came to my home and led a mini-worship for me when I was too exhausted and weary to venture to church.  I received countless emails from friends around the world and truly God used them all to encourage me through the entire experience.  I could and probably will, write a book someday about my journey with God through that cancer experience, but I know that the first chapter would focus on why God told me to give up coffee in the first place.

I didn’t know it at the time, but doctors, nurses and technicians told me after, that the lumps that were discovered in my right breast at the time of my mammogram were so small that the technician almost missed seeing them.  She had asked me before the test if I was a coffee drinker and I had told her I had given up drinking coffee the year previously.  Again, I didn’t know it at the time, but discovered later that in some women, heavy coffee drinking can cause little fatty cysts to develop in breast tissue because of the caffeine.  This can sometimes throw off a mammogram reading.  If I had not given up coffee, the technician may have thought that those tiny lumps were nothing more than cysts caused by my caffeine intake, however, since I was not a coffee drinker at the time of the test and had been off of coffee for over a year, she decided to investigate those minuscule lumps and as a result that early detection of cancer saved my life.  I was told by my surgeon that my particular form of breast cancer was extremely aggressive and had the lumps not been detected when they were, I would probably not have survived the year.

This past week I have Facetimed with my daughter several times.  She is gloating over the daffodils sprouting up in her yard there in Louisville, Kentucky while we’re still on “snow watch” until April here in Alberta.  Jaxon, my grandbaby, is walking now and whenever he sees me (on their iPad) he says, “Gaaah!” and laughs.  They’ll be home for the summer and I am counting down the days.  My youngest child, Carmen is heading to Guatemala next week on mission with her grade eleven class.  She’ll have millions of stories to tell when she gets back.  I am so looking forward to hearing them all!  My son, Brett brought home an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen the other day, declaring that he just thought we might like a “surprise”.  Such a treat!  Such a blessing!  Life has indeed come around full circle.  The little everyday things – memories – that I count as treasures.  How does one adequately thank God for this gift of life?

I have thought often about God telling me to stop drinking coffee.  It sounded like a strange thing at the time but I obeyed without hesitation.  God asked, “Would you give it up for Me?”  The more I have thought about it over the years, the more I am sure that those words at the time didn’t have as much to do with giving up coffee as it was my giving up everything to God.

Henry Blackaby says in Experiencing God that if you have heard from God, what you do next, determines what you believe about God.  The moment God speaks to you is the time He wants you to respond to Him.  I had no idea what was happening within my body, but God did.  His timing was perfect.  Had I disobeyed, I would not have lived out that year.  It was a life or death decision for me and I didn’t even know it at the time.

I have learned since then whenever God speaks to me, He may be waiting for me to give Him a “life or death” answer.   I pray that in the large things and small things whenever He asks me to “give it up for Him”, no matter what He asks of me, I will respond immediately, “Yes, Lord!”  God will then respond, “That’s thanks enough!”

“Lord, by such things men live; and my spirit finds life in them too.  You restored me to health and let me live.  Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish.  In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back.  For the grave cannot praise you, death cannot sing your praise; those who got down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness.  The living – the living – they praise you, as I am doing today; fathers tell your children about your faithfulness.”     Isaiah 38: 16-19