Faith

A Joyful Heart

A Joyful Heart

It’s no secret that we all experience hardships in our lives. To be human and to be alive on this Earth pretty much guarantees that very thing. Life isn’t going to treat us as we think it should. There will be obstacles, failures, and losses that will bring you to your knees. In fact, that very saying that we use so often in our culture gives insight into the deeper meaning behind the pain we may be feeling. If something is so powerful over us that it is bringing us to our knees, I can’t help but believe that we were brought to that point for a reason. It is on bended knee that many of us cry out to God for help and he does have the power to do that. I found myself reflecting on my own hardships after hearing a beautiful sermon at church on joy that remained with me well after returning home.

For me, I have found myself at this point many times over the past two years. Seeing my aunt and uncle, my dad’s brother and sister, grow so weak and ill from the cancer that had invaded both of their bodies, eventually being called home ten days apart. My father being in the hospital less than a year later with what was an unknown illness at the time, praying that it wasn’t cancer that had made it’s way to him also. Standing at the foot of a hospital bed in September, surrounded by my aunts and uncles, praying Psalm 22 as my maternal grandmother took her last breath and entered the kingdom of Heaven. Less than 48 hours later, standing in the front yard of my late grandmother’s home, seven hours before her funeral, reeling from the unexpected loss of my beloved Aunt Shelia. Four months later, telling my paternal grandmother over the phone how much I loved her and losing her just days later. And finally, a week after that, losing my maternal grandmother’s cousin; a beautiful, loving, and Godly woman who had taken it upon herself to be a mother and grandmother figure to my family after losing our grandmother four months prior.

You will find that story, that testimony, mentioned many times if you explore this blog. I share it, not to receive any sympathy or pity, but so that I may share the love of Christ and the joy of the Lord with you all. Before this journey, I would have never understood how joyful and grateful one could be after enduring heart ache such as this. But as I’ve said many times, this heart ache of mine is the driving force behind the blog and my writing. This joy that I feel in my heart and soul was put there to be shared with the world. Sure, my family’s circumstances were, and are, tragic and full of sorrow. But pure joy, the kind that can only be found when living a life that has been rooted in God and his great truth and hope, transcends any circumstance.

As Mother Teresa beautifully said, “A joyful heart is the normal result of a heart burning with love.”

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If They Charged by the Memories // Virginia Weekend

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“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again; rejoice!” // Philippians 4:4

This past weekend, several of my aunts and uncles came together on the Virginia coast to celebrate my Aunt Deborah’s 60th birthday. Anytime we all get together, there is no shortage of laughter and craziness and although this trip had that, there was something different. We all felt it, I think, whether we shared it aloud or not.

Weekend in Virginia

Other than Christmas, this was the first time that we had come together since losing my grandmother and Aunt Shelia in September.

I almost didn’t even expect for it to affect me the way that it did. The last time I had been to Virginia was for my cousin’s wedding and my Aunt Shelia had driven us there. Nearly every road trip up there from my childhood was spent with either her or my Grandmother. The route from Durham to Hampton is paved with memories, laughter, and an unlimited supply of treasured moments.

Weekend in Virginia

From the moment I got into the car on Friday afternoon, their absences were felt. The majority of the drive up was spent with smiles on, laughing at all of the memories made with these two special women. I never even opened my book that I had brought to pass the time.

Throughout the weekend, we reminisced and celebrated, and it was truly what the doctor had ordered for me. There’s something about spending time with this sweet family of mine that can just restore me and fill my heart, in a way that has God written all over it. I am so grateful that he chose these people to be mine.

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On Sunday, tired but full, Aunt Kay, my mom, and I stopped by my Grandmother’s old house to run an errand and see my Uncle who had been unable to make it to Virginia. As I walked through the now empty home, I found myself overcome with all of the stories and memories that those walls held. Just in my first 24 years of life, that house had held numerous Thanksgiving dinners, countless pots of Grandmommy’s soup (also known as Brunswick Stew), and who knows how many tree climbing adventures with my cousins. The house was also where my Grandmother had her stroke and where my Aunt Shelia took her last breath and entered the kingdom of Heaven, on a September morning at 2am.

We were discussing the house being on the market and what it may be end up selling for when I found these words spilling from my lips before I even registered it, God using that moment to speak this precious reminder. I said, “It’s too bad they don’t charge by the memories.”

To which my Uncle replied, “Well, if they did, no one would be able to afford this place.”

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Oh, is that ever the truth! 

None Can Compare // Psalm 40:5

Psalm 40:5

Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare. // Psalm 40:5

It can be all to easy for us to lose sight of the many amazing things that God has done in our lives. We can get so consumed by the things that we don’t have, the things that we haven’t done, and compare ourselves endlessly to those around us. Sometimes, we even find ourselves focusing so far into the future that we are unable to see the things that we have right in front of us already. The future, I’m always reminding myself, is God’s territory. If I let myself dwell too long with thoughts of what is to come, I find myself paralyzed with plans that I have no business planning.

Lately, I’ve found myself stuck in a rut of sorts. The spark that has been igniting me and this blog seems to have gone out as I struggle with writer’s block. I’ve found myself in a difficult season at work that has left me second-guessing my decisions and battling my priorities. The dust seems to have settled on this season of loss now that my family has returned home from California, but now it seems the question as I move forward is, what now? In some ways, it can be easier to seek God and rejoice in His good works through the dark and trying times. I’ve certainly had my share of those since this blog was created. But maybe what I am feeling now is a sense of uncertainty in how life is going to be now that the dust has settled.

Despite feeling so out of sorts(the rambling nature of this post is probably a dead giveaway of that), the greatest reminder I could give myself, or to anyone else for that matter, is that God has already done so much in my life, and all of our lives, and he’s never going to stop. To list out for you all of the things that He has done in my life would be far too numerous to list here. But reminding myself of His works fills me with gratitude for the past, and hope and a fervent prayer for the future.

Cleanse Your Hands and Purify Your Hearts // Ash Wednesday 2016

Ash Wednesday 2016

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts // James 4:8, ESV

Having been raised in the Catholic Church, the tradition of Lent is one that I am very familiar with. The thing about traditions like this, though, is that it tends to bring with it some level of guilt on my part. I really never put much thought into the real meaning behind this important season in the Church. It saddens me that I went so long without pausing to really reflect and give Lent its due diligence.

Just over a year ago, I felt God calling me to leave my comfort zone of my childhood church and pursue a deeper relationship with him at a new church home. The switch brought me to an nondenominational Christian church. The church where I spent all of my formative years could not have been more different, but I truly believe that God called me to the place where I am now so that I could finally open my eyes and launch headlong into a relationship with him. What we had before was a friendship, an acquaintance-ship even. I learn something new about this great God of ours nearly every day and this blog, I hope, serves as a vessel for sharing that journey and testimony.

For years, I could tell you in a split second what I was going to be giving up for Lent. Soda. For years, I never gave that decision a second thought. Sure, giving up soft drinks would be great for my waistline, but come Easter morning, was I in a better place spiritually?

Not at all.

A couple of days ago, I came across a quote on Time.com from Pope Francis that he said in 2015. He said,

“No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”

What powerful words they are! Our outlook on Lent has become superficial; something we do out of obligation, not out of worship. The act of giving something up is not just something we do for a personal benefit. The practice symbolizes the abstinence from something that was leading us away from Christ and towards sin. I mean, I know soda isn’t healthy, but was it leading me away from Christ? Not necessarily.

For me, simply fasting or abstaining from something isn’t necessarily going to solely bring me to closer to God during Lent. Removal of a bad habit isn’t going to do much if I am not replacing it with a good habit. So abstaining from something that is leading me towards sin and a divide from God and not replacing it with a behavior or habit that will lead me back to Him just isn’t going to work. Rather that strictly fasting from something, I choose to do this while also adding something spiritual to my life to pray and reflect on. This might mean picking up that spiritual book that’s been gathering dust on the bookshelf, spending a few extra moments reading Scripture each day, or even leaving your car’s stereo on the Christian radio station for the commute to and from work.

I choose to see this season as a time for me to draw near to God and root myself completely in Him. While I don’t necessarily feel that we need to shout the things that we give up from the rooftops, I can appreciate the accountability that is so vital to the Christian faith. So, friends, however you choose to spend these next few weeks before Easter, I pray that you are able to find your way towards God and keep your hearts fully focused and rooted in His love.

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