Life’s too short to live without laughing

 

I laughed a lot yesterday. It’s been a while since I laughed so hard. Long enough that I’d almost forgotten what it feels like–that pleasantly sore feeling in your ribs and stomach, aching from full-body laughter. It’s probably embarrassing when I laugh, because I’m not exactly quiet. But I remembered something yesterday: Real laughter is a natural antidepressant.

It’s hard to be down or discouraged when you can’t breathe because you’re laughing so hard. And after you spend an hour or two of hilarious, uplifting, God-centered conversation, I dare you to walk back into the darkness and think it’s still impenetrable. Laughter lightens your spirit, and that’s why it’s important to have friends who help you laugh.

J13BCL98JMToday verse is Proverbs 17:22.

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

Laughing is good for you. It’s a scientific fact. I can’t quote the science, but I’ve read about it, that a life full of laughter helps you stay younger and maybe even healthier. The problem is that life isn’t always fun. It’s difficult to laugh in the tough moments. It’s hard to hold on to that spirit of lightness when just living feels like a burden too heavy to bear.

I’ve been hunkered down for most of this month working on novel revisions, limiting my contact with the outside world to a small number of very close friends. I’m introverted. Very introverted. So the alone time doesn’t really bother me. I actually enjoy it.

But this month has also been extremely trying. Just loads of difficult, frustrating things have happened, piled on top of each other in one big suffocating mass of ugliness. And I really buried in my self-imposed deadlines, and my perspective suffers. I try to keep my eyes on the prize, but when you’re locked away in your office trying to knock out 5,000 to 7,000 words a day? It doesn’t leave a lot of time for listening to others, and that’s a mistake.

Yesterday I got to have lunch with two of my favorite people–friends I haven’t been able to hang out with for a long time. Friends I can pick up with right where I left off and it doesn’t feel like any time has past.

Everybody needs friends like that. People you can real with, who know the real you and–more importantly–who know Jesus and who know that God has everything under control.

If you can’t get your own perspective sorted out, you need to ask for help. Go to someone you love, someone you know loves you, and just spend some time with them. If you need to talk about what’s bothering you, do it. But you don’t always have to. Sometimes you can just have a silly, inconsequential conversation about nothing, and it can still encourage you. Just taking the time to talk to someone who loves you can make all the difference in the world.

Life is far too short to live it by yourself, and maybe some folks can get through it alone, but I don’t recommend it. The journey’s a lot more fun if you go with people. And if you’re one of those privileged people who still get to have lunch with friends you’ve known for 10, 15, 20 years, don’t take that for granted.

So tell stories. Remember good times. And laugh your butt off. I guarantee the weight on your shoulders will feel much lighter if you do.

 

Photo by Kryziz Bonny, some rights reserved, creative commons

That I might not be silent

 

Life is one big balancing act sometimes, where you have to figure out how to take the good and the bad. And sometimes you run into situations where you’re powerless to help. There are some things in life that you can’t fix. Eventually, we all have to face the reality that life is more than we can handle alone.

And that’s where God comes in. With God, we can face any challenge, conquer any enemy, and win any battle. Maybe some days it doesn’t feel like it, but it’s the truth. And when we know we have God on our side, we can stand up to the troubles of the world with our head held high, and we can laugh–genuinely laugh and honestly rejoice–in the face of darkness. Because we have faith that God will bring us through.

So throw off that robe of mourning. Yes, there’s a time for it, but that time will eventually pass. Abandon that hiding place where you’ve taken refuge to recover from your wounds. There’s a time to rest, but that time passes too.

It’s time to get back to what we were made for. Forget the quiet. Let’s get loud. Let’s remind the world who Jesus is and what He’s done for us–and what He will do.

Psalm 30

Photo by Kryziz Bonny, some rights reserved, creative commonsI will exalt you, Lord, for you rescued me.
You refused to let my enemies triumph over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you restored my health.

You brought me up from the grave, O Lord.
You kept me from falling into the pit of death.
Sing to the Lord, all you godly ones!
Praise his holy name.

For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime!
Weeping may last through the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

When I was prosperous, I said,
“Nothing can stop me now!”
Your favor, O Lord, made me as secure as a mountain.
Then you turned away from me, and I was shattered.

I cried out to you, O Lord.
I begged the Lord for mercy, saying,
“What will you gain if I die,
if I sink into the grave?
Can my dust praise you?
Can it tell of your faithfulness?
Hear me, Lord, and have mercy on me.
Help me, O Lord.”

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

The ceiling at St. George Orthodox Cathedral, Wichita, KS

Finding joy for someone else when you’re in the dark

Have you ever been happy just because you’re around someone who is happy? I got to go to a wedding this weekend. It was an unusual wedding for me because it was in a Greek Orthodox church. I’d been to this particular church once before and found it fascinating, so I was eager to see a wedding.

It was a pretty neat event. If you’re in Wichita and you’ve never been inside St. George’s Cathedral, you seriously are missing out. The building is gorgeous, and the acoustics are pretty much unmatched. And their choice? Wow. All a cappella. Just fantastic.

But as beautiful as the wedding was, as beautiful as the church was, as beautiful as the music was, nothing quite prepared me for the sight of the pure joy on my friend’s face as he watched his bride walk down the aisle. I seriously thought I was going to burst I was so happy for them. My face hurt from grinning by the time the wedding was over.

The ceiling at St. George Orthodox Cathedral, Wichita, KS

The ceiling at St. George Orthodox Cathedral, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Romans 12:15.

Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.

Have you noticed that it’s really easy to weep with someone who’s weeping? Maybe not in a literal sense. Or maybe it is in a literal sense too, if you’re a particularly emotional person. What I mean is that it’s easy to focus on the bad things that are happening in life sometimes.

I think it’s because life is so full of bad things. People die in horrible ways. Families split up. There’s drought where there should be rain and rain where there should be drought. We don’t like our jobs, we don’t like our schools, we don’t like our political leaders, we don’t like our church leaders. People we love are lost. People we don’t like hang around.

When someone is unhappy, there’s normally some kind of unhappy common ground you can find with them. I mean who hasn’t been jilted in some way or another? Who hasn’t lost a loved one? Who hasn’t been forced out of a job or a career or a dream?

And you know what? That’s okay. It’s okay to weep with people who are weeping. It doesn’t work to go to someone who is grieving and expect them to be happy and cheerful. They won’t be, and that’s fine. Everyone experiences loss, and everyone needs to grieve. But the problem comes when you have to get out of that grieving mindset and start rejoicing.

Maybe life isn’t going the way you want it right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be happy for the people around you who are achieving great and wonderful things. Maybe you’re going through a rough patch where nothing seems to be going right, but that doesn’t mean you have to drag everyone else down into your dark moments.

No, don’t ignore your dark moments. Recognize them. Those times where you need to grieve, where you need to be sad, are important, and you should have someone in your life who you can go to where you can be completely honest about how you’re feeling.

God didn’t create people to be nocturnal. We were never intended to live in dark places. Doesn’t mean we won’t be there every now and then. It’s just not healthy for us to stay there.

And you know what? Even if you’re in a dark place, you can still rejoice with someone. And it might even help you find the light a little sooner.

Barney the cat with his grumpy face in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Did you know you have permission to laugh?

When was the last time you had a bad day? I mean a really bad day. One of those days when everything goes wrong, when you can’t seem to do anything right, when all you want to do is go home and curl up with a cup of tea and a book and escape your life.

Ever had a day that bad? Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. You’ve been there. Everyone has. It’s not every day (if it is, you have bigger problems), but the days that you want to quit are sometimes just more than you think you can take.

What do you do on those days? Do you have a plan, a strategy for fighting back on days when you don’t want to fight anymore?

Barney the cat with his grumpy face in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Barney the cat with his grumpy face in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 26:1-6.

When the Lord brought back his exiles to Jerusalem,
    it was like a dream!
We were filled with laughter,
    and we sang for joy.
And the other nations said,
    “What amazing things the Lord has done for them.”
Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us!
    What joy!

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
    as streams renew the desert.
Those who plant in tears
    will harvest with shouts of joy.
They weep as they go to plant their seed,
    but they sing as they return with the harvest.

People don’t laugh enough. That’s my personal opinion, but I think just about everyone will agree with me. People–God’s children included–don’t laugh often enough.

And I’m not talking about derisive laughter or about forced laughter. I’m talking about laughter that comes from joy, from the sheer mind-blowing joy of knowing God.

When was the last time you were stressed out about something? When was the last time you were ready to quit your job? Do you have answers for those?

Okay. So when was the last time you laughed like it didn’t matter who heard you? When was the last time you laughed until your sides hurt? When was the last time you had to wipe the tears out of your eyes because you’ve been laughing so hard you started crying?

And, no, that kind of laughter isn’t bad or irreverent or disrespectful. I mean, it can be. Of course, it can be. Anything good and pure can be corrupted. But laughter by itself isn’t wrong. Laughter is something more of us need to spend time doing.

Why?

Have you ever been down or depressed or sad? I have. And in those moments, everything feels so dark. I feel isolated. I feel like I’m the only person in the world. And then someone makes me laugh. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount of laughter–just a chuckle. Just something that makes me smile. And it’s like the sun comes out, and all of a sudden I can remember that life doesn’t suck all the time. There are bright spots–more bright spots than dark spots if I’m being honest.

That’s what joy does. Joy helps us refocus, helps us clear the cobwebs of depression and sadness out of our brains for a little while and remember that we’ve actually got it pretty good.

Are you down today? Are you sad? Call someone. Or text someone. Someone you know will be happy or joyful or cheerful. Someone who has light in them. Maybe you don’t know that person well, but I’m sure you know someone like that. Just take a moment and talk. It’ll help. Let yourself laugh a little. Stop taking life and all its many issues so seriously, and give yourself permission to laugh.

You aren’t doing yourself any favors by running yourself into the ground. You aren’t helping the people around you either when you stress yourself out just to get your work done. No, take the time to laugh. Take the time to enjoy your life and the people in it. And I would be willing to bet that your ratio of good days to bad days will change.

Your bad days won’t go away. Don’t expect that. But how you look at them will change.

We all have bad days. We all have sorrows. But God’s promised in so many ways that sorrow won’t last forever and bad days eventually end.

Make the choice to be joyful. Give yourself permission to laugh. And pretty soon you’ll be able to honestly proclaim what amazing things God has done for you.

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.

French horn ornament on my tree, Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Let God hear you sing

How busy are you this Christmas season? Parties to attend? Social gatherings to plan? Last-minute shopping to finish? Honestly, a lot of that is part of what I look forward to. It’s not every day that I get to bake for people and buy awesome and ridiculously funny things for people I love without having to justify myself.

But I’m one of those people who gets caught up in the celebration while sometimes forgetting the reason for it. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a perfectionist. Or if it’s because I get focused on a goal or a project. But it’s very easy for me to let go of the purpose behind what I’m doing and keep soldiering forward, even if I don’t remember why I started. Sometimes that’s beneficial, but other times it’s not such a good trait.

French horn ornament on my tree, Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

French horn ornament on my tree, Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Colossians 3:16-17.

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

I’ve always read this verse like a benediction, like Paul was gracing his readers with the knowledge and/or ability to live by God’s Word. And maybe he was, but as I read this verse today, something stood out to me about it that I hadn’t seen before. Or maybe I just hadn’t thought about it before.

What does that word Let mean do you?

I did a brief bit of Googling to try to find the appropriate English translation, and I didn’t have much luck. And both my normal go-to translations (the Amplified and the Message) both use the exact same word. Let. So to the best of my ability I can assume it means to let, to allow, to make it happen.

Let God’s Word fill your life. You have to let it, because it won’t get there on its own. That’s the thing about following Christ; it’s not a passive activity. You don’t get wisdom from God through osmosis. You get it through growing closer to Him, through having a relationship with Him, and you can’t have a very good relationship if you’re not invested. And that takes time. Loads and loads of time.

I love Christmas songs, and I love to sing. But I don’t always think about what I’m singing. It’s traditional to sing Christmas songs at Christmas time, so I do. I don’t really question it. But when did I last really take time to sing? Honestly sing? Without pretense, without tradition or expectation. Just singing with a thankful heart, like the verse says.

I posted yesterday about how short life is, and that’s very true. But in our brief lives, some things are worth spending time on, and singing is one of them. Whether it’s Psalms or hymns or spiritual songs–or songs without words that allow you to exalt God–or songs with words that still bring honor and glory to Him with their heart–take the time to sing this Christmas season. Make the time to sing.

I grew up in a musical family, so music is everywhere around me. I don’t go anywhere without it. Singing is normal as breathing for me, and I know it may not be normal for others. But if you’ve never tried just singing for the joy of singing, you should. Just sing for God, so He can hear you. So what if you’re tone deaf? So what if your voice squeaks or you can’t carry a tune in a bucket? Know what? That doesn’t matter.

If you can get comfortable enough with God to sing for Him, you can be comfortable enough to talk to Him. And that’s part of what building a relationship is. The more time you spend with Him, the better you get to know Him. And then one day you’ll wake up and He’s your best friend.

But it probably won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen by accident. It’s intentional. You have to let Him in. So stop fighting him, and take time to sing. What better time of year than Christmas? And if anyone complains about the racket you’re making, just sing louder. Maybe they’ll take the hint and start singing too.

Old broken door to the granary at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Responding to brokenness with joy

Our world is a pretty sad place. Everything’s broken, and brokenness is always sad, whether it’s something small or something big in our lives. But I have met people who have every right to be unhappy and miserable yet somehow they are more cheerful than people who have everything. How is that?

Well, if you’re a Christ follower and you have the Holy Spirit inside you, you have access to a power you can draw on at any time that will help you make it through a day or a week or a month or a year with a cheerful heart. That power is joy.

Old broken door to the granary at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Old broken door to the granary at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Galatians 5:22-23.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

But what is joy? Is it just happiness? Is it healthy thinking? Is it a choice? We talk about joy a lot. We say we’re joyful or that we’ve lost our joy or that someone is joyous, but what does it actually mean?

This month I’m doing a study of the Fruit of the Spirit because part of living a life that is led by the Spirit is demonstrating these qualities. I want God’s Spirit to be a part of my life every moment and not just in the times when I don’t know what to do.

From what I understand, the word joy itself that is used in the Bible is the same as happiness. The difference is that many times happiness is something that can be taken away because it’s based on circumstances, but joy is a gift that God gives to people who believe in Him. So that gift doesn’t depend on our circumstances. It depends on the person who gave it, and since we can always trust God, we can always have joy.

But what it comes down to this morning is that joy is a response. No matter what happens in our lives, joy is how we are supposed to answer. Whether we have everything we want or just the things we need or maybe not even that much, we are supposed to respond to life with joy.

Joy is happiness. It is healthy thinking. It’s all of those definitions and more.

The fact that this kind of joy is a Fruit of the Spirit means that it will take some time to cultivate. The difficult part about this kind of joy is that it isn’t readily apparent until you truly begin struggling. If you haven’t had difficulties in your life, I’m not sure you know what this kind of joy is like because you have to know sorrow before you can understand what it’s like to know joy.

When I was younger, I thought I understood, but then I thought I understood a lot when I was young. But when you begin to live and when you truly understand how broken our world is, life is full of sorrow. I don’t know how God stands it. My heart breaks for this world and all the evil things we do.

People hurt each other. We tear down our own lives. We crush dreams. We interfere. Families are falling apart. Life is no longer precious, and what once was bad is now good. Heroes are snubbed and villains are exalted. Everything is backward. Everything is broken. And even where life is supposed to work, there is still dysfunction and sadness and sickness.

But in the midst of all of it, no matter what situation you’re in, you have the power to choose joy. Joy is a response to what God is doing, to what He’s saying, to what you’re learning, to what you’re experiencing. Whether it’s good or bad, whether it’s happy or sorrowful, whatever the situation if you have the Holy Spirit in your life, you can choose to respond to your circumstances with joy. And once you choose to respond with joy, life looks different.

Oh, everything is still broken. That won’t change. But once you choose to respond to that brokenness with God’s joy, your whole perspective shifts because you will understand that the things that matter are still intact. God isn’t broken. The Bible isn’t broken. And while our relationship with Him probably doesn’t look like what it should most of the time, He is still in control and He knows what He’s doing and if we let Him do what He does best, He’ll take the broken pieces of our lives and our dreams and put them together again in a way that accomplishes something awesome.

Granted, we may never see the outcome of the difficult moments in our lives, at least not in a physical way. But what we’ll experience goes beyond mere happiness. Real joy comes from peace and confidence and trust and unwavering knowledge that everything is going to be okay. And once you grasp that, you can respond to anything with a cheerful heart.

If you have the Holy Spirit, you have joy. So what are facing today? Frustrations at work? Frustrations at home? Frustrations in general? All of the above? No matter what you’re facing, you can choose to have joy. Just ask for it and remember that you’re not facing life alone. If you have the Holy Spirit, God is walking through life at your side.

So smile. The world may be broken, but if you belong to Christ, you’re not.