Ridiculous looking rabbit at the Sedgwick County Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Laughter is good medicine

When was the last time you had a good laugh? I mean, a seriously good laugh where your sides hurt and your face hurts because you’ve been laughing so hard? Can you remember? It’s interesting to me that our world seems so dead set on being so serious all the time.

Granted, our world is ridiculous, but when you get right down to it, our everyday lives aren’t really a laughing matter. We have stress at work, stress at home, stress at church, stress everywhere. There are bills to pay and food to put on the table and houses to clean and clothes to buy and all sorts of other necessities that we can’t get by without, and there’s very little time to actually do anything that needs to be done. Real life is a downer. Being a grown up is a downer, let me tell you.

Maybe that’s why people can make a living as comedians. People just want to laugh. But it’s hard to laugh when you know you’re facing difficult times. It’s hard to laugh when all you feel like doing is crying. But there’s something about laughter I think we forget sometimes, in our frenzied rush to get through life: laughter is good for us.

Ridiculous looking rabbit at the Sedgwick County Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Ridiculous looking rabbit at the Sedgwick County Fair, Hutchinson, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 17:22.

A cheerful heart is good medicine,
    but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.

Some of the most hilarious memories I have as a child were hanging around Hutchinson with my dad and my brother. Actually, most of my hilarious memories come from my dad and my brother. It was always so much fun to go places with them because they have a similar sense of humor–sarcastic. Like the photo for today? I snapped that at one of the Kansas State Fairs as a reminder of the times we would all go to the fair and make fun of the silly looking rabbits.

Other times, we would entertain ourselves for hours just wandering up and down the toy aisles in Target making fun of all the magic potty babies. Those were great memories, memories that have stuck with me through the years. I mean, how often does a kid say some of their favorite memories are wandering the toy aisle at a big box store? Normally that would be a sad statement. But not the way we did it. We laughed so hard in those toy aisles, I’m sure someone must have thought there was something wrong with us (maybe there is!).

Laughter is good medicine. It just does something to you inside.

So how do you laugh when your world is falling apart? How do you laugh when you don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring? How do you laugh when everything in your life feels like it’s completely out of control?

I think it varies from person to person, but I truly believe that all of us need to have someone in our lives who brings us unbridled joy. Someone who sparkles. Someone who can spark laughter just by being there. And if you think that sort of person doesn’t exist, you’re wrong; you just haven’t met them yet. They’re hard to find, and a lot of time you don’t find them right away. Sometimes you have to do some investing in that person before they show up. Maybe it’s a parent or a child or a friend, but if you have one of those people in your life, treasure them. They’re the people who add value to your everyday. Don’t take it for granted, but make use of it.

Life down here is dark and sad, and God knows that. Yes, He’s in control. Yes, He knows what He’s doing, but this world is broken. And all of us face terrible sadness every day, and I think that’s why God wants us to laugh. Faith is wonderful. I love having faith, I love trusting that God is going to keep His promises, but that’s hard work. Faith and trust wear me out sometimes, but if I can laugh about it? If I can laugh in spite of life’s troubles, faith isn’t so impossible.

Find something that makes you laugh. Do something that makes you laugh. Just laugh. It will change your perspective. It may not change your circumstances, but it will help you get through them. And if you can cling to joy through your faith, your burdens won’t seem so heavy.

Advertisements
Baby Hoo, with the quirky little grin that makes me happy

Joy can be contagious

I like being happy. And I like being around happy people. There’s just something about happy people that brightens everything up. Even if it’s been the worst day ever, hanging out with someone who laughs and smiles from a genuinely happy heart is refreshing. Even if you’ve had a good day, a person like that can make it better.

But not everyone in life is happy. Have you noticed that? Do you know people who don’t like being happy? Unfortunately, I do. You know who I’m talking about. They’re those people who suck the joy out of the room just by walking into it. They’re the people who open their mouths and drain the sunlight of its warmth and the flowers of their brightness. They prefer dank, gray misery, and they aren’t satisfied until they’ve dragged everyone else around them down into the depths with them.

Baby Hoo, with the quirky little grin that makes me happy

Baby Hoo, with the quirky little grin that makes me happy

Today’s verse is Philippians 4:4.

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!

Yesterday I got to experience a once-in-a-lifetime event: Baby Hoo in her first Halloween costume (Mickey Mouse, who else?). I don’t know much of anything about babies. I’ve learned more about babies in the last four months than I ever expected. But there is one truth about infants: bring a cute one into a professional office and instantly every responsible, intelligent adult becomes a babbling idiot.

The Hoo Child’s mama (one of my best friends) brought her by my office yesterday afternoon, and I got the opportunity to introduce my coworkers to the little bundle of awesome I’ve been talking up since June. She didn’t disappoint. As usual, she was her adorable, alert, flirtatious self, batting her big blue eyes at everyone and grinning just because she could. I think I had the cheesiest grin ever plastered across my face, but it didn’t bother me. This crazy kid just makes me happy. And a lot of that comes from the fact that she’s just so happy all the time.

Well, maybe I shouldn’t say all the time, because I know she can throw a major fit when she’s unhappy. But generally speaking, she’s a truly laid-back kid, and it doesn’t take much to make her grin. I hope she holds on to that as she grows up because happy people are fun to be around.

I’d had a pretty good day yesterday, in spite of still being exhausted. But all it took was a few minutes with my friend and her beautiful daughter, and I was flying higher than a kite. Just coming to my office to smile at me made my day better. And that got me thinking about being happy in general.

Joy is a choice, and it’s a choice that’s rooted in our perspective. If our perspective is wrong, joy can be hard to find, but if we remember the things that matter in our lives and why we’re here, joy isn’t that hard to grasp.

This crazy kid just grins all the time. It’s not hard to make her happy. And that’s the kind of person I want to be. I don’t want to be one of those joy-suckers, those people who refuse to be happy even when they have every reason. I want to be the person who chooses to rejoice over and over again, in the good times and the bad times. I want to be that person who makes other people happy because I’m happy.

The Bible tells us to be full of joy. That word there, the one translated rejoice, is a verb. It’s an action word. That means it’s something you do. That means it’s something you choose. Joy doesn’t just happen; you have to choose it.

So whatever you’re facing today, choose joy. Remember that God has it under control. He knows what He’s doing, and He’s not going to ask you to face life’s challenges alone. And if you’re having a hard time being joyful, go find someone who is. Joy is contagious after all.

Baby Hoo, a.k.a. Cowgirl Hoo

Baby Hoo, a.k.a. Cowgirl Hoo

And because I can and because it’s just the cutest picture in the whole world, here’s Baby Hoo in her western wear:

Yes, I’m one of those people. I might be a little biased, though….

Chicken yakisoba I made one day just because I could, Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

God will provide

What do you need? I’m not talking about what you want, because what we want and we need are rarely the same. But what do you need? Do you need a job? Do you need a car? Do you need food to eat? Do you need clothing to wear? I’m going to make the assumption that you are reading this blog post on your computer or your tablet or your phone, which probably means you have your immediate physical needs met at the moment. That is an assumption, and I never know where these crazy posts end up, so if I’m wrong, I’m wrong.

All of us have needs. Our needs vary greatly from person to person, and our needs today may be completely different than our needs tomorrow. So when you need something, who do you ask? When I was younger, I would ask my parents. If I needed something, I knew they were there to provide for me. But I’m not that young anymore, and while I still sometimes turn to my parents for help, most of the things I need are things that they really can’t give me. Most of the things I need are things they shouldn’t give me if I want to call myself an adult.

So who do you ask? Friends? Family? The government?

Chicken yakisoba I made one day just because I could, Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Chicken yakisoba I made one day just because I could, Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Philippians 4:19.

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.

This is one of the closing verses of the Book of Philippians, where Paul is saying his farewells to the people of the Church. This verse comes off a previous paragraph (Philippians 4:14-18) that thanks the Church of Philippi for their support and their gifts that helped sustain him when he was on one of his missionary journeys. He identifies the Church of Philippi as “the only ones who gave me financial help.” He also says no other church did this, at least at that time.

And at the end of this paragraph where he is thanking the Church of Philippi for providing for him, he writes down this verse that says God will provide. God will provide? Sounds to me like the Church of Philippi provided. Is Paul being facetious? Is he being sarcastic about this? How can he go from saying “thank you for all the money you sent me” to “God will take care of you too” in one breath?

I really believe that you have to understand how God works for this to make sense. This is what I’ve learned through many years of following Christ: Whether through miraculous circumstances or the generosity of fellow believers, God will always provide for your needs.

If you’re a Christ follower, you’ve experienced this. You’ve been sitting in church and listening and all of a sudden you feel an undeniable urge to give money. Or you’re walking down the street and you feel this sudden pull to give somebody some money or help somebody out. Do you really think that’s you? I mean, maybe you’re a good enough person to just randomly walk around giving people money and helping people out, and if you are, good for you. I’m not that good. But God is. And God lives in me. And He tells me sometimes that I need to help somebody or I need to give somebody some money.

When that happens, I hesitate sometimes because honestly I live paycheck to paycheck. You would think a single person living in a paid-for house and a paid-off car with a full-time career would be fine, but it’s the little everyday expenses that kill you. But every time God has told me to help someone else financially, those times when it was a financial burden for me, He has always provided for me. He’s always made up the difference, and usually He provides more than I need.

Sometimes those needs are met through circumstances and situations that nobody has control over. In those instances, I can only thank God. But other times, people provide for me–like my parents or like my friends or like strangers on the street, and in those instances, I can thank them but I also need to thank God because He moved them to do it.

Philippians is one of those books that I never get tired of reading. It’s all about how to be happy. It’s about how to be content and joyful in living and following Christ. And a big part of that is trusting that God will provide for you, no matter what you need.

And God does. Maybe he’ll use a miracle, maybe he’ll use your next door neighbor (and maybe that is a miracle), but He will provide. He might even use you to provide for someone else, but you can trust that if He asks you to do something, He will provide for the hole it leaves.

That’s who He is. He is our God who provides what He requires. We just have to trust that He will.

We Americans don’t think about it because we don’t usually sacrifice anything; we’re not used to it. But standing up what Paul was doing back then could have been a death sentence. In all honesty, in parts of our world today it still is, just not in the U.S. Not yet.

Mountain lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

The secret to happiness

What is the secret to being happy? Is there a magic formula that you can just mix up some random things and expect to create happiness for yourself? Is it at the end of a rainbow, like a pot of gold? Does it even exist? Life can be so dark sometimes. People have to endure so many things, so many hurts, so many disappointments. How can you be happy when you have to face so many discouraging obstacles, whether they’re of your own making or not?

Yesterday, I posted about how Paul said we can be content. And it’s true. We can. There’s a difference between contentment and complacency, but we can be content where we are. In one of yesterday’s verses, Paul said that he had learned the secret to being content, but it didn’t strike me what it was until I read today’s verse.

Mountain lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Mountain lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Philippians 4:13.

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:13 is one of those hallmark verses that just about everybody knows, whether you realize you know it or not. People who don’t read the Bible know it. It’s almost as prevalent as John 3:16, but have we really stopped to think about what it means? It’s comforting, yes. And whenever I read it before, it calmed me down because it helped me to remember that God can empower me to accomplish great things.

But what we need to remember is that the Book of Philippians wasn’t originally broken down into chapters and verses. It was one long letter Paul wrote to the Church of Philippi, and while most verses can stand on their own, if you consider them in their original context, they take on a different meaning.

This is an example. This verse can stand alone and be true. We can do everything through Christ. Christ gives us the strength we need to get through life. That’s true. But where is this verse located in the grand scheme of Philippians 4? It’s in one paragraph that reaches from verse 10 to verse 14.

How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.

It’s a good habit to get into that whenever you see a verse that begins with For or Since or But that you read the previous verses, because that word indicates a connection to the sentence that comes before it. So what comes before verse 13, our verse today? Well verse 12.

I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

See what I’m getting at? Do you see the difference? Do you see what I saw this morning that I’d never really paid attention to before?

If there’s a secret to being content, to being happy with life, it’s right here. No matter what you’re going through, no matter where you are, no matter what you have or what you don’t have, you have strength to do everything because Christ is with you. Christ gives us strength for the bad days. Christ gives us strength for the good days. So whether you’re celebrating a win or mourning a loss, you can still be happy because you can trust that Christ will strengthen you no matter what.

Trusting that Christ will help me face a day no matter what it brings is enough to make me happy. It’s enough to make me content with where I am in life and where I’m going. I don’t have to be afraid of the future, because with Christ I can handle whatever is coming. I don’t have to have to regret the past, because with Christ I can learn from my mistakes and leave them there. I can love people, I can rejoice in difficulty, I can live without worry, and I can be secure enough to disagree with people I respect because Christ gives me the strength.

I think the Message encapsulates Philippians 4:13 best: Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.

Want to be happy? Want to be content? Embrace this. You can do everything through Christ.

Sunflower at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

We can be content where we are

If you have spent any time at all reading this blog, you’ll know that I’m both a control freak and a perfectionist, and while those characteristics have positive sides to them, they can also be quite negative when it comes to everyday living. While striving to understand a situation is good, trying to control every aspect will drive you nuts, and the same is true of perfectionism. It’s good to do your best, but no matter how hard you try, you can’t be perfect. And if you try to do so, you’ll nitpick and pigeonhole yourself into a dark hole of depression.

It’s good to control the things you can control, and it’s good to do your best; but we can’t go to extremes with either of them because we simple human beings can’t handle either of them. They’re too much for us. But that doesn’t stop us from trying.

I’m so thankful that God doesn’t require us to be perfect. He knows we can’t be, and He understands that. Of course, that doesn’t mean we can just let down and live however we want. That’s not the point. Understand where I’m coming from. As a perfectionist, there’s a part of me that is convinced that my best is never good enough, and that I can’t just take God at His Word that He loves me no matter what. I have to perform, and I can’t ever be content with where I am in life. I always have to strive for the next level.

But is that really how a Christian is supposed to live?

Sunflower at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunflower at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 4:10-12.

How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.

This is one of my favorite verses in the Bible, and always before I’ve focused on the fact that Paul is talking about being content with little or much. I’ve been in those situations. I’ve been in situations where I had everything I could ever need and even everything that I wanted, whether I needed it or not. But I’ve also been in the position where I had so little I wasn’t 100% sure where my next meal was coming from. And I’ve spent enough time out on the mission’s field to know what it’s like to have to give up the modern comforts and conveniences American’s really cherish. I know what that’s like too.

But these verses hit me differently this morning, because whether or not I have everything I need and everything I want or just enough to scrape by doesn’t really affect my level of contentment. My contentment really has never been based on my material wealth. I’ve always been thankful for what I have.

What struck me this morning was the plain and simple fact that Paul says he has learned to be content.

Paul learned to be content. He was content. Wherever he was, whatever he had, he was content. He wasn’t constantly putting himself down as a failure. He wasn’t always seeking the mistakes he made in order to fix them. He wasn’t always striving to reach the next level of performance.

He was content where he was.

Does that mean we really can be content? Does that mean we can accept where we are in life and not worry about being the best at everything all the time? If you’re a perfectionist like I am, that sounds almost blasphemous, doesn’t it? How dare anyone suggest that we don’t have to do our very best! It’s all for God, isn’t it?

Well, is it?

I run myself into the ground. Daily. Sometimes hourly. All in pursuit of perfection, but I’m not quite sure it’s always for God. I honestly think a lot of it is for me. I’ve admitted on here multiple times that I struggle with pride too. And it’s not too far a leap for perfectionism to turn to pride.

Don’t misunderstand. There’s a vast chasm between contentment and complacency, and I really think the width of that chasm depends on your heart. I think it depends on you and what you’re physically capable of. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll know if you’re being complacent. You’ll know if you’re just accepting the things that come at you and passing them off without really considering what they might be about. You’ll know if you’re treating opportunities to make a difference for God like they don’t matter.

But you’ll also know if you’re killing yourself to achieve the impossible.

So the next time you start stressing out because something isn’t perfect or because you don’t have control over every detail, check your heart. Check your motivation. Do you want to be perfect for the glory of God? Or for yourself? And don’t beat yourself up because you can’t get there. It doesn’t do you any good, and if God would never think those things about you, what makes it okay for you to think them?

Yes, do your best. Yes, invest yourself, your time, your heart, your hope. Yes, strive for the top. But remember your place. And remember your purpose. We’re not here to be perfect. We’re here to praise God. And it’s difficult to praise God when you’ve beaten your own head into the ground.

Boat in a yard on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

We become what we think about

All of our brains are wired to work without us really telling them to work, though. I mean, how many processes go on inside your body that you don’t have to control? Do you tell your lungs to breathe? Do you tell your eyes to blink or your heart to pump? I hope you don’t. If you do, you might consider talking to a doctor. There are just some things your brain is supposed to do that you don’t have control over, but there is a level of processing that we do control.

Choosing to be happy and choosing to look at life with a perspective that honors God is difficult sometimes, but it’s a lot easier if you’ve already chosen to alter the way you think anyway. Some people operate under the assumption that we can’t choose what we think about. But that’s not true. Just because your brain starts thinking about something, that doesn’t mean you have to think about it.

Boat in a yard on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Boat in a yard on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Today’s verses are Philippians 4:8-9.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

I’ve heard this verse described as a filter on more than one occasion, something to run our thoughts through before we allow ourselves to think them. If it’s true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, praiseworthy, and/or excellent, you can think about it. Thinking about things that meet those requirements will encourage you, will enrich you, and will help you be a light to other people who don’t necessarily think the same way.

But does it really matter what we think about? Does our thought life really mean so much to how we live?

Well, I haven’t done any major studying about it. I haven’t researched it. But I know I’ve heard plenty of secular people talk about the power of positive thinking, that if you think positively about something you can overcome it. And from what I know about psychology and mental exercises, I would say that the content of your thought life is a direct reflection of how you live and it has a direct influence on your attitude.

I know personally when I spend a length of time thinking about something that upsets me, I become upset. If I think about the things I don’t have that I still want, I become discontent and unhappy. If my brain wanders down the road of any random topic with a negative bent, it won’t be long before the rest of me follows right along. What I spend my time thinking about shapes my mood and my attitude and my conversation and my choices.

So what do you think about? Are you thinking about things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, praiseworthy, and/or excellent? Or do you think things that are degrading? Do you think things that are bitter and resentful? Do you think things that are hurtful? Do you think in lies? Do you think about things you shouldn’t?

It’s difficult to keep our thoughts true and pure, especially when we’re surrounded by so much garbage that leads us to think things that are the opposite. But the beauty of how God has designed our mind is that we have control over our thoughts. We don’t have to think about things we shouldn’t. We can choose what we think about, and we need to choose to think things that are true and right and good. Each thought we have is a seed, and we need to choose which ones are worthy of nurturing and which ones need to be thrown away.

Don’t misunderstand. A single wrong thought isn’t going to send you toppling out of control. Most of our brains run on overdrive all the time anyway, and in many instances, we can’t control that very first thought. But we can control the choice to keep thinking about it or let it slide away.

So the next thought you have, ask yourself: Is it true? Is it right? Does this thought honor God? Does it honor the people around me? Is it something worthy of praise? Is it something God would have me focus on?

If it is, think about it.

If it isn’t, drop it. And don’t go back to it. Don’t dwell on it at all.

We become what we think about. So it’s a good idea to think about something worth the time.

Cardinal in the pines at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Something to remember

What’s the big deal about rejoicing anyway? The Bible says over and over again that we need to rejoice, and Philippians is full of instances where Paul says to be joyful, be joyful, be joyful.

And I get that we need to be joyful because it will help our perspective. I get that we need to rejoice in difficult circumstances because it will help other people be encouraged. And deep down inside I understand that difficult circumstances come to help us grow and to remind us that this world isn’t home. But there are days when it still feels like an exercise in futility to continue rejoicing when nothing seems to go right.

So on those days when it’s difficult to find joy in anything, maybe we need to remember one important fact.

Cardinal in the pines at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Cardinal in the pines at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 4:4-5.

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.

Maybe this doesn’t bring comfort to you like it does to me, but the idea that the Lord is coming soon is enough to make me jump for joy.

I’ve read this set of verses many times, and every time before I have split them up into two statements: An admonishment to rejoice always and instructions to be considerate because God will be coming back soon. But when I read it this morning, I read it differently.

I’m not a Bible scholar, so maybe it wasn’t intended this way. But what if it’s three statements on how to live instead of two? Rejoice. Be considerate. Remember.

Remember, the Lord is coming soon.

What if that little tag on the end of that verse isn’t a warning like I’ve always thought it was? I’ve always read it like Paul is saying we need to be considerate or else. Rejoice and put others first, or else God will get you when He comes back soon.

But this morning that’s not how it sounds.

Rejoice always. Making this choice is great for our focus and our perspective.

Be considerate. Making this choice is great for our relationships with others.

Remember, the Lord is coming soon. Remember, the Lord is coming soon, so when you don’t feel like rejoicing, you still have something to rejoice about. Remember, the Lord is coming soon, so when you’re so bogged down with your own troubles that you can’t invest in others for a time, you still have something to look forward to.

With the pressures of daily life and the stress of just living, it’s so easy to forget that God is going to come back for us. It’s so easy to get buried in this life and think this is all there is. But this isn’t all there is. This world isn’t home. God is preparing a place for us that defies explanation, and we will get to live there with Him for all eternity, along with the others who have gone before us in Christ. No more sickness. No more pain. No more night. No more suffering. No more conflict or stress or tension.

That is our home. Not this broken, worn down shell of a world that we turned over to Satan thousands of years ago.

Yes. Rejoice always. That’s not an option. When everything goes wrong, rejoice. When everything goes right, rejoice. Choose to have an attitude that makes you unsinkable.

And be considerate of other people. Put others first. Help others succeed. Encourage others. Be there for others.

But above all else, remember, the Lord is coming soon. The world won’t go on like this forever, and when the ticking clock of Time itself finally winds down, all of us who know Christ will get to go on living with Him.

The little annoying troubles in life are just pebbles in our shoes as we’re walking home. Yeah, they’re irritating, but they’re just little things. And, yes, little things can add up until the sum of them feels like a big thing, but that’s perspective. Because even a mountain of pebbles is still insignificant compared to what God can do with faith the size of a mustard seed.