Category Archives: joy

Our joy and faith are embodied in Christmas lights

Lay bow to string and lip to horn
     And make our joy ring: a child is born.
Put pen to sheet and stick to drum
     And make our joy speak: the Christ has come.
Lift lights to eaves and voice in song
     Till each believes that the Son has dawned.

As I grew up, my family never had a Christmas tree and never decorated the house beyond a few candles arranged with sprigs of white pine or blue spruce from our yard.

But one year my oldest brother made a large star outlined with lights and mounted it on our front porch latticework. We had twinges of conscience: was it too gaudy? Was it a waste to use electricity to burn lights for no practical use? Yet it seemed a biblical thing to do, a witness and reminder of the star God had placed over Bethlehem to point to the Christ-child. Several years later my brother made an even larger star and placed it atop our farm’s tallest silo, aiming it toward the nearby town and highway.

The other year Karen bought a string of multicolored lights and we taped them around our front picture window. This year we added some lighted garlands to wrap the porch pillars and a long string of lights to hang under our porch eaves, and spent the better part of a Saturday morning putting them up.

It’s only a small porch. But is the lighting too expensive, too bright, too much?

No! This month’s issue of Christianity Today has several church leaders suggesting ways to root our celebration of Christ’s birth more deeply in our lives. Patricia Raybon says: Turn on Christmas lights. Plug in the bulbs and “light the night sky with electrified elation.” Tell the whole world, Look at our house. Look at our bright, happy season. Look at our Christ.

We have a true reason to light up the night. I like to believe that, on our front porch this month, our joy and our shouts of faith are getting embodied in some simple strings of Christmas lights.

The fun of four kids who are close!

The presence or absence of family tends to mark this time of year with the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas. So I’ll take this time to express joy and gratefulness for four close children.

When Karen & I moved here after 30 years in Corning, NY, we were following unusually clear guidance from God. And following our four children! Two had recently graduated from EMU and were still in the area, and two were still students at EMU. It’s always risky for parents to relocate near young adult children—because the kids might move! However, last week marked our fifth anniversary of being here at Trissels, and, amazingly, all four children are still in the area (three are even in the Trissels directory), and three new in-laws each have roots here.

Our kids being “close” is more than a matter of geography. They are also close in the sense of enjoying each other. And close in age. When our sons were born (seven minutes apart, as identical twins), their sisters were one and three. From December to April that year, we had four children and the oldest was only three years old! The next few years were demanding, especially on Karen—that time is sort of a hazy blur for her! But as the kids grew older, the fact of closeness in age made parenting easier because finding shared activities they could all enjoy was easier.

Their enjoyment of each other was boosted by Karen’s idea of a Family Night each week. Every Thursday night the church knew that its pastor was unavailable for meetings and non-emergency calls, and was instead preoccupied with family fun at a local playground, a hike to a picnic in a treehouse in a nearby 250 acre Nature Center, a meal in the living room while watching a movie, or decorating Christmas cookies, or playing games together.

Our children continued the tradition during the three years all four were in Harrisonburg before Karen & I moved here: they got together most Sunday evenings for Sibling Sundays.

Thanksgiving evening all nine of us enjoyed Wits & Wagers, perhaps the best game ever for families and friends who enjoy numerical trivia and guesstimating odds. Countless moments each year, Karen & I give thanks to God for the joy of four kids who are close.

Don’t tune out the good things

Interested in a simple exercise that can boost how you relate with God and with persons around you?!

At any moment in our lives, there are many more things going on around us than we can consciously focus on. So we must “tune out” wide swathes of life so our mental circuits don’t overload.

Unfortunately, one class of things that we “tune out” are the recurring good events or elements in our life; we tend to go through our days ignoring that whole group because we are used to them. Even more unfortunate, these are the most valuable parts of our lives – good things so consistent that we depend on them and expect them to be there for us. Here we are, taking some of the most important blessings in life for granted! Instead, what we notice most are the events that disrupt their occurrence!

The simple exercise that can reverse this whole unfortunate pattern is the discipline of gratefulness. This is a choice to notice and remark on some of the multitude of good things that happen so consistently that they can pass unnoticed, a choice to fight our natural tendency to “tune out” such things. Instead we deliberately “tune in” to them (1 Thes. 5:18).

Think of a difficult relationship, perhaps a co-worker or family member. This person is a mixture of both good and bad. If we continue the natural pattern (automatically noticing the bad, not the good), our emotions about the person are more negative than necessary. Without the discipline of choosing to look for and affirm the positive, we give ourselves a diminished person to relate to: we go into interactions with them with our mind full of how they disappoint us but not full of what they do right.

Similarly, God seems a mixture: regularly giving good gifts that we count on (and take for granted) and then at times taking those good things away (which we notice). We have a choice: do we dwell on the pain and loss? Or do we choose to focus on the many instances of God’s goodness present even in the midst of suffering? Giving thanks does not eliminate our questions about God. But it does fill our minds with the overwhelming indications of God’s love, and move us toward joy and trust!

Can I sing in the rain

The cat at our house is a gorgeous calico whose sole job in life is to lay there and look beautiful. Her hair is quite long and perhaps because we don’t brush her enough—or because our dog uses her as a chew toy—her fur sometimes forms into clumps that her tongue can no longer subdue. So Karen or I put her on our laps and try to untangle the mess with our fingers; if that fails, we cut it out with a scissors. Neither process feels pleasant, as she tells us by her tail. But she stays put. She somehow chooses to trust us, to act like—in spite of the pain—we intend her good.

Most of us would say that we trust God as much as our cat trusts us. But do we act like it when we find ourselves in uncomfortable, unpleasant, and even painful circumstances?

The other morning I read Psalm 57, a song David sang “when he had fled from Saul into the cave,” a time when “those who hotly pursue me” seemed like “ravenous beasts—men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.” But David chose to continue to trust God. Intermixed with his lament and pain, there is also an upwelling of trust and praise that inspired a worship song I have often sung:

I will give thanks to Thee, / O Lord, among the people…
For Thy steadfast love is great, / Is great to the heavens.

Author Bob Reccord writes about a time of severe neck injury when the only way he could relieve the pain was to use a strong, prescribed narcotic and to lie on bags of ice. In the middle of that experience, on a cold, rainy day, he was sitting in a screened-in porch. Suddenly a bird landed on the railing and began to sing. Bob couldn’t believe any creature had a reason to sing on such a day. He wanted to shoot the bird, but had no choice but to listen.

The next day was bright, sunny, and warm. As Bob again sat on the porch, tempted to feel sorry for himself, suddenly the bird returned. And was singing again! Then a truth hit Bob: the bird sang in the cold rain as well as the sunny warmth. His song was not shaped by outward circumstances but by something inside.

May we all let an inner sense of trust in God form our attitude rather than let it be set by our external circumstances.

How to move toward the Best Life Possible

Our congregation gets to celebrate with seven high school graduates this year! (For those of you trying to name them: Kellie, Katie, Jared, Evan, Daniel, Philip, Adam.)

As Karen prepared cards (and a green gift) for each of them, she asked me for ideas of what note we should write in the cards.

What would you, their brothers and sisters at Trissels, say if you had a card for them with space for a few paragraphs from you? Perhaps something like this:

You have a great future, a life that will be fulfilling, invigorating. Not a life free from difficulty and pain – we’re in a fallen world after all – but one marked by deep joy and ever-increasing hope.

However, this future depends on what you choose as your greatest love or desire. You will move toward or away from the Best Life Possible depending on your choice.

If your highest pursuit is success and recognition, or comfort and pleasure, or the love of another person, you limit this future. Those things inevitably let you down, some quite quickly.

Rather, shape your desires (by choosing what you value, honor, attend to, give energy to) so that you love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

That sounds like an obsession. But it’s a magnificent one, an addiction that is the secret of life. This desire for God:
• makes you full of love because you’re now focused on God rather than on serving self; you’re communing with One who loves the whole world, and that love for everybody and this planet rubs off on you.
• makes you enter your full potential—God created and placed gifts and possibilities within you and will nudge you toward them.
• creates an upward spiral (that is sometimes slow-going due to the world’s fallenness and sometimes a glorious crescendo): the more you experience those effects, the more you love God, the more you experience the effects, the more you love God…

Give God three days!

Something I read and wanted to pass along!

It was a beautiful spring morning on Easter Monday. I paused a moment by the cathedral, gazing down the avenue crowded with people rushing to their jobs. Sitting in her usual place inside a small archway was the old flower lady. At her feet corsages and boutonnieres were parading on top of a spread-open newspaper.

The flower lady was smiling, her wrinkled old face alive with some inner joy. I started walking — then, on an impulse, turned and picked out a flower.

As I put it in my lapel, I said, “You look happy this morning.”

“Why not? Everything is good.”

She was dressed so shabbily and seemed so very old that her reply startled me.

“You’ve been sitting here for many years now, haven’t you? And always smiling. You wear your troubles well.”

“You can’t reach my age and not have troubles,” she replied. “Only it’s like Jesus and Good Friday.” She paused for a moment.

“Yes?” I prompted.

“Well, when Jesus was crucified on Good Friday, that was the worst day for the whole world. And when I get troubles I remember that, and then I think of what happened only three days later — Easter and our Lord arising. So when I get troubles, I’ve learned to wait three days … somehow everything gets all right again.”

And she smiled good-bye. Her words still follow me whenever I think I have troubles. Give God a chance to help … wait three days.

adapted from Guideposts (March 1995), “The Magic of Three Days” by Patt Barnes

A Holy Humor Sunday

Easter is coming, my favorite Sunday of the year, a day we proclaim and sing the best Good News ever—that our Savior has triumphed over all the down-dragging forces of darkness!

In some church traditions, the day after Easter is a day of special festivities: walks in the country (like the disciples to Emmaus), picnics, practical jokes—each prankster feeling they are imitating the cosmic joke that God pulled on Satan in the cross and resurrection!

Other churches observe a Holy Humor Sunday around Easter. For such a service, Stephen B. Braden, a pastor in Elkhart, IN, wrote the following hymn lyrics, entitled “For the Humor of this Day” and sung to tune Dix (“For the Beauty of the Earth”).

For the humor of this day, for the joy this season brings,
For the joke that Easter plays on all dour and deadly things.

Refrain: Lord of all, to You we raise,
Joyful hymns of heart-felt praise.

For the freedom of release from the bonds of vanity
Won by Christ who brings our peace and restores our sanity.

Though our faults are numerous, in pretension we excel;
You must find us humorous; help us share that view as well.

If, O Lord, we learn to laugh at our pride when it is bruised;
At each silly goof and gaffe, we shall always be amused.

Lord, at Easter, You gave birth to new possibility
Of lives filled with joy and mirth; make that our reality.