Dog toy, Cat toy, My joy

A year and a half ago, we gave away our dog Ella to a wonderful family. They were going to provide her a loving home in the countryside, and we knew that was a better alternative than moving her to Florida. She’s a mutt:  a mix of beagle, basset and labrador – but if you look up Coonhound on Google, you’d see her picture. I always figured hound dogs loved the south – remember the dogs on the porch in “Hee Haw?” Well, Ella hated the heat, was at home in snow and rain. So we felt it best for her to not bring her with us when we moved. And as much as I’ve missed her, she is with a family she adores and who love her back, in a climate that she manages well.

We had her for her first six years, and like most dogs, she had her favorite toys. She had a stick that she loved to gnaw on – she had been so proud dragging it home from her walk. She also loved pine cones – I remember seeing her on a Sunday in December, tossing the tiny pine cones that she had pulled from my front door wreath – just throwing them in the air and watching them float down until she could catch them and toss them again. She was so full of delight, her whole body wriggled. It was hard to get mad at her for dismantling my wreath with such joy exuding from her!

Inside, she loved stuffed animals, especially the ones that squeaked. She would zero in on the squeaker and with her very strong back jaws, bite through the fabric to pull it out. She would completely de-stuff the toy – there’s a lot of batting that squishes into those fabric carcasses! But the squeaker was her delight – rolling back and forth, wiggling with the squeaker squawking until she had completely punctured it. Her entire body would wag as she laid on her back, paws flailing in absolute bliss.

I bought her two rubber toys, thinking that she wouldn’t be able to disembowel or destroy them – one was a blue figurine of a person, and the other was a red shape of a dog. Oh, how wrong I was. She applied her strong jaws to biting off the feet of each animal, and tossing those in the air.  The footies flew just like the pine cones! For awhile, we had two blue footies and four red ones, but they slowly disappeared, until we were down to one of each, then only one red one, then none at all.

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Fast forward 12 months, and my kitten Annabelle discovered a new toy – a red footie. As far as I can tell, it somehow became lodged in the netting of the underside of our couch, until one day it fell out onto the floor. Because suddenly, my darling kitten is chasing a bouncing red rubber footie across the living room floor! If cats have favorites, I’d say she loves this footie. Just like Ella, she tosses it in the air, but instead of catching it, she watches it bounce haphazardly a few times before she pounces on it. She picks it up and carries it to another room, where the routine begins again. And then suddenly it’s gone – nowhere to be found, until it shows up several days later in the window track or by the TV or under the throw carpet. She tosses it, she pounces on it, she wrestles with it, she buries it, then delightfully finds it again and the play starts over.

Watching Annabelle makes me smile as I see her pure joy in playing with the little red footie. I often wish I had such a thing, that would bring me joy like her toy does, and did for Ella before her. But that is external joy, and the Bible says that our joy comes from within. Knowing that our names are written in heaven for eternity. Complete joy from Christ placed in us. A gift from our Heavenly Father and as fruit of the Spirit. Multiple verses speak of joy being found in the Presence of God.

So why do I feel like I’m still looking for it? For some external toy, some outside thing that gives me the exuberance of a small red footie. I told my therapist years ago that I wanted my joy back, and I feel like I’ve been looking for it ever since that first depressive episode 8  years ago.

I think it might be that I find that joy, that exuberance again, as I continue to sit with Jesus each morning. As I draw closer to God and He shows me His heart and fills me with His joy. A joy that cannot be removed or lost in the couch cushions. Complete joy of His kingdom, forever and ever.

 

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Praying for Healing

Some very thoughtful comments from a fellow blogger prompted this post…thanks, Jennifer!

And in responding to her, I recalled meetings I had several years ago with a pastor at our church. He had referred to his battles with depression in several sermons, and I felt very safe sharing my struggles and seeking his wisdom and prayers on many occasions. We talked about being Christians with mental illness. We discussed depression as a result of sin in the world, not necessarily due to a specific sin in one’s life. He reminded me that this battle against depression has a spiritual component, and that I should daily prepare myself with the armor of God (Ephesians 6).

I still remember my reaction when he told me to pray for healing. I was shocked! Not at his comment, but at myself. I realized that somewhere over the recent years, I had resigned myself to living with depression, and had stopped asking God to heal me. Instead, I had focused my prayers and energies that He would use my depression to share hope with others who struggle, especially with other Christians. But why had I stopped asking for healing?

Sitting in Pastor’s office, I realized that I had given up hope of being healed. Don’t get me wrong – I know that in heaven there will be no depression; I will eventually be healed. (“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:17, NIV) But I had accepted that I will have depression for the rest of my lifetime on this earth, and so I had stopped asking God to take it away.

Maybe I was thinking of Paul’s “thorn” (2 Corinthians 12:7b-10) and that he had asked God to remove it – three times! – and God had responded with “My grace is sufficient for you.” In other words, “No. I will use this ‘weakness’ in your life to show My strength.” I don’t think Paul told us he asked three times as a magic number, and Scripture doesn’t say he asked, it says he pleaded. Implored. Begged. But still God said “No.” I thought, “Well, I’ve asked many times and it hasn’t happened, so I’ll just accept it and ask God to show His strength through my depression.”

But unlike Paul, I haven’t been told by God to stop asking. Instead, the Bible encourages me to be more like the woman who showed persistence in repeatedly asking the judge for justice (Luke 18:1-8). Keep asking. But keep working. Keep letting God use the depressions and remissions in my life to encourage others. “so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:4b, NIV. But keep asking for healing too.

I also remember the end of a meeting with my pastor. He laid his hands on me and prayed that God would take the depression away from my life. I prayed and cried silently, completely agreeing, with hope that God would answer “Yes,” and the depression would be gone. Pastor ended that prayer with Romans 15:13, NIV, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  the verse that keeps showing up over the years of my depressions. When he finished praying, I told him of the significance of that verse, and we agreed that it is my life verse, that I am to trust God, because the rest of the verse’s action comes from Him.

I’ve seen prayer heal depression. I’ve prayed with others for a woman whose depression went away that afternoon. I’ve had people pray the same for me, and I’ve felt the relief and comfort of my needs and concerns being given to God. My depression has not gone away. I still move in and out of depression and remission. But the verse remains the same. So I pray that I’ll trust God, be filled with His joy and peace, and overflow with hope. Certainly not of my own doing, but supernaturally, through God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

I don’t think that asking for personal healing and serving God from a place of brokenness are mutually exclusive. There can be – should be – both. I think this is what my pastor was trying to tell me.

I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy, Down in My Heart. Where?! 

And I really mean that last part – where?

On one of my first visits to counseling, my therapist asked me what I wanted. What I want out of therapy? What I want in my life? My answer – “I want my joy back.”

Depression is a thief. It took lots of things away from me – sleep, right thinking, relationships, health, desire, peace, …and joy.

Speaking of peace (see Lightness), peace and joy are not the same thing, not to me anyway. Peace implies quiet, stillness, contentment.

And while I’m at it, happiness and joy are not the same thing either. Happiness has to do with external circumstances. Joy comes from within. So why don’t I feel joyful?

I have some joy now and then, but not all the time. I want my full joy restored. Like it was 8 years ago, before I had depression. And I’m trying to figure out how that happens.

I was encouraged by my psych doc, my therapist, my friends, to reach for it. In stretching towards mental health – away from depression, I was told I would also receive peace and joy. I understand peace, but I’m not finding the joy.

I was chatting with my mom about this last week. She is a very wise woman, a lady whom I hugely admire, respect, and love. Besides, she’s my mom! As I’ve grown older, we’ve had amazing discussions about issues of faith.  “As iron sharpens iron,” she’ll tell me, since we both benefit from our deep conversations.

I was a little stuck in writing this post, so I was sharing some thoughts with her, and she had some ideas, too, to help me to think this through.

She reminded me that joy is a fruit of the Spirit, which means that the Holy Spirit gives it. If I am living in the Spirit, then I have joy. But I must be fully yielded to the Holy Spirit, like Jesus was yielded to God, to be able to experience it fully. Yielded means I have to put aside my own agenda and timing, and let the Holy Spirit be my Guide. He gets to drive, I’m in a passenger seat. I’m not even riding shotgun or navigator. I’m buckled up securely in the back!

For a Perfect example: Jesus was fully yielded to His Father. The book of John in the Bible is replete with Jesus explaining that He is here doing the work of the Father. It meant that He had to die on the Cross. This was His Father’s will. Because Jesus was fully God, He knew that. But because Jesus was also fully human, He didn’t want to. Remember Gethsemane, when He asked God to “remove this cup?” But after that came His yielding: “Yet not my will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42, see also Matthew 26 and Mark 14). Jesus yielded to God the Father, and by doing so, saved all who believe in Him as their Savior to an eternal life, forever and ever, with God in heaven.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance [patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (‭Galatians‬ ‭5‬:‭22-23 NIV).

So, here’s what I’m thinking. I’m a Christ follower, being shaped into the image of Jesus. And Jesus was yielded. So therefore, I must yield. Lay aside myself, and allow the Holy Spirit to work in my life, to develop the fruit of the Spirit in me. I was given the fruit of the Spirit when I first asked Jesus to be my Savior. Now, as I continue on this earthly journey of faith, the Holy Spirit is fine-tuning me, molding and shaping me into the image of Christ.

I have the fruit of the Spirit; I have joy. Since I’m not experiencing joy, if I don’t feel the full joy in my heart that I know I’ve had before, perhaps this means that I’m not fully yielded. I’m not completely surrendered in this area of my life, to let God do what He needs to do by the work of the Holy Spirit to shape me to look more like Jesus.

I asked my therapist (who is also a Christ follower) if she had any ideas why I am not reaching out for/toward joy?  What is my hesitation? She suggested that perhaps it’s fear – fear that things won’t all come together the way I hope. The way I picture it will be. Maybe I’m protecting myself so I won’t be disappointed.

What if what I think life will be like when I’m all done grieving my move, when I’m finally feeling like this is home…what if it doesn’t turn out the way I picture it? What if I don’t develop close friendships like those I left? What if I don’t serve in leadership at a women’s Bible study? What if I don’t have a group where I get to share my story? What if…what if…God has something else planned? Something different? 

The question then returns to my willingness to yield. Can I – am I willing – to stay buckled in the backseat while the Holy Spirit drives? And not as a back-seat-driver, but as a child of God, traveling wherever He takes me, excited for the journey and the destination.

I highly suspect that if I’m willing to stay yielded, surrendered, I will experience the full joy I’ve been longing for. I also think it’s going to take time. Because grief takes time, and I’m trying to walk with Jesus through it, not rush it. Even though what I want is for all of this “settling in” to be done so I can get on with it! But I’m in slow motion, because God is using this time of healing to get me ready for whatever He has for me next on the journey.

What will full joy look like? I imagine joy as something that wells up inside me, effervescent-like, bubbling like a child does when squealing in sheer delight. It might be a confidence that things will be alright, a twinkle in my eye that is contagious and positive.

What does full joy sound like?  I don’t think joy has to be noisy. I hear the sound of water as it drops down an incline – a gentle waterfall, or as it laps up onto the edge of the beach – a gentle tide coming in. I guess joy sounds gentle.

I hope it will lift me up, and others who observe it in me. After all, it’s a gift from the Holy Spirit. I want it to be obvious and appealing to others. And when someone asks me, I can tell them that it’s what Jesus promised: “I have told you these things so that you will be filled with My joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! (John 15:11, NLT)