Choose Joy

There’s a picture that hangs on my wall. It’s simple, it’s plain. It’s not really outstanding in beauty. But the second I saw it in the store, I fell in love with it. It says two simple, but powerful words:

Choose Joy.

The life of a Christain is not marked by an easy life, where we live in continual comfort and bliss. It’s not marked as a life where everyone around us simply adores us. Walking with God doesn’t mean that all will go well.

The road to the cross is marked with suffering, betrayal, and pain. But the life of a Christian MUST be marked with something else as well.

JOY.

“Why,” you may ask, “should we joyful? How can you expect me to find joy when the Christain life is so hard at times? When my friends have left me because I don’t do the things they do? When I’m mocked by my coworkers for living out my faith?”

Maybe you’ve even been despised by your very own family, whom you never wronged, yet they turned against you.

Take heart, dear friend, YOU can still choose joy.

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. For surely, O Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with favor as with a shield.” Psalm 5:11-12

Have you ever noticed that this verse doesn’t say, “You surround them with favor as with an umbrella on a beautiful beach?”

It doesn’t say, “You surround them with favor, as with a warm fuzzy blanket.”

It says, “You surround them with favor, as with a shield.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t pack a shield along when I’m going on vacation. I don’t bring a shield on a picnic. In fact, I don’t even own a shield. Why?

Because a shield is used for war.

These verses talk about being glad, rejoicing, singing with joy…not when things are easy, but in the midst of war.

Are you crazy?!? Joyful in war? How can one have any joy at all on the battlefield, where death and destruction cover the landscape? Where blood and pain mark the ground?

Now I’ve never been in the army, I’ve never fought in a war. But David, who wrote these verses, was. And not only that, he once fought a battle against a GIANT, with a whole army shaking in fear behind him.

He approached the battlefield alone.

Now I don’t know a lot about war, but what I do know is that there is very little one man alone can do on the battlefield. In fact, there is no chance that one man alone can win a great war.

But David, just a boy, ran up to the battle line and was able to conquer a great enemy, because he knew a great big secret: He was actually not alone. 

God was fighting beside him!

We can be glad, rejoice and sing, because by the grace of God, we are not in it alone! He is by our side! He is our shield! He is our refuge! He is our rock! Praise God, for I am not in it alone!

He is right here beside me, acting as my shield!

Oh, dear friend, is your life hard and full of pain? Have you been struck down and wounded? Have you often felt like you’re walking this road alone?

Take comfort and be filled with joy, for you are not alone! God is your shield. Your refuge. Your rock. He will never leave you. In his presence is fullness of joy!(Psalm 16:11)

“…Don’t grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10

Advertisements

When, Lord?

This post is for all of you who have been crying out to God for something, maybe even for years, and all seems silent.

This post is for you who are ready to give up.

This post is for the prayer warriors, who are growing weary, yet day by day keep praying.

This is for you who wonder if God is even listening.

These are not my thoughts, I can’t take credit for them. I only share them because today they impacted me deeply.

This morning my pastor was sharing on the topic of prayer, and how we need to ask if we want to receive answers.

And in my head I know this, I really do.

But in my heart of hearts, if I were to be really honest, often I don’t believe it. There are things I have been praying for, for YEARS. Literally years. And Nothing. Seems. To. Happen.

Ever.

In fact, often everything just seems to get even worse.

And I cry out, “When God? When will you hear my prayers? When will my dear loved one give her life to you? When will I be reconciled with those whom I love?  I long for our friendship to be restored!! When will my friend’s broken marriage be healed? When God? Are you even listening anymore?!?”

And sometimes I’m filled with despair, because it seems hopeless. It seems as if all my prayers have been in vain.

My heart is filled with pain.

Because I am tired. I’m so tired of hoping when all seems hopeless.  I’m so tired of pressing in for people who just seem to grow harder and harder against me and against God.

However, today, once again I was filled with hope.

Today I was reminded of a passage I had long forgotten. It’s found in Daniel 10.

Daniel goes on a 21 day fast. He is crying out for answers. This fast is so intense, he is most likely not even bathing – I mean, Daniel is SERIOUSLY seeking God…but for 21 days he hears nothing. At the end of the 21 days, he is visited by an angel whom God sent in answer to Daniel’s prayers.

We hear this story, and we nod, because of course it seems perfectly natural for this to happen…in the bible.  And we think, after 21 days, I mean that’s persistent prayer and fasting… so we reason, ok, God was just sitting there, waiting, and after enough prayer, Daniel finally got his answer!

This was not the case. Read the story, and read it carefully. Daniel 10:12 says:

“Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before God, your words were heard and I have come in response to them.”

The first day.

God heard him the first day.

I don’t know about you, but these words cause my eyes to fill with tears even now.

Because they fill me with hope. Hope that was almost gone.

God heard me the first time I prayed.

Whether I started praying for it today, or 2 years ago, or 10 years ago, he heard me the first time.

This means the first prayer I prayed for these things mattered, and my prayers still matter. The moment I began to call on God, God began to answer.  However, if you read on in the book of Daniel, you will see that there was much happening behind the scenes before an answer could be given. There was a battle to be fought, and won. There were spiritual forces needing to be struck down. The timing had to be right.

Dear friend, the moment you call on God, he begins to answer.

He heard you the very first time.

Don’t give up, don’t lose hope – for God is a good father and he WILL give justice to his elect, who cry out to him day and night. (Luke 18:7)

May this message bring you as much encouragement today as it did me.

 

 

 

It’s Not Ok

Some days can be exhausting as a mother, believe me, I have five kids – I KNOW. And while many times I enjoy the energy and giggles (…ok more like shrieks and screams) in my house, sometimes it just WEARS on you. I know. I sometimes just want to sit in my room in silence and lock all the doors. I GET IT.

But the other day I had a conversation that literally caused me to choke back tears, not because I didn’t relate in some form to the mother, but because I realized at that moment how horribly mean us mothers can be.

Yesterday I was talking to another mom about how her Christmas Break had gone –  and I kid you not, she gave an exaggerated sigh, rolled her eyes and said in a loud voice, “My kids are driving me CRAZY!! They are SO annoying! I just can’t wait until I can give them back to the school to deal with! Like I love them, but I need them gone!”

Stunned at her boldness, I quietly managed out the words, “Oh, that’s too bad.” And looking at my shocked expression, she softened her tone and gave me a smile, “Oh it’s not THAT bad, but it will be nice to have them gone so I can sit in peace again.” And I nodded, regaining my composure and smiled back, “I understand.”

Truthfully though, that conversation has haunted me all day. It broke my heart. Because one thought plagues me…what if her child had overheard her?

What if any child had overheard her?

I can’t imagine the pain of overhearing my own mother say that about me. Luckliy, I grew up in a much different time, where mothers simply didn’t say such things about their children.

Now, that same day, my six-year-old son came back from his Sunday school class with a picture in his hand. On the paper he held there was a question: “What makes you happy?”

His response? “Mom and Dad”

The contrast of those two moments are forever burnt in my memory.

Mothers, it’s okay to have hard days. It’s okay to break down in tears. It’s okay to need space. It’s okay to leave the room. I TOTALLY understand.

But you know what’s not okay? Saying hurtful things about your child. PeriodEven if you’re joking around.

It is OUR JOB to pour out unconditional love on our undeserving littles, not the other way around. But more and more I see the roles being reversed and children loving their parents unconditionally, while their whiny parents complain about having to put up with them.

This is not okay.

I’m so far from perfect, it makes me want to cry. Often I have to go back to my kids and apologize for hurtful and careless things I’ve said…again and again and AGAIN.

But more and more our culture is getting callous to these mean hearted “authentic outbursts.”

Let’s not become callous to them. Let’s not find them funny. Please, let’s just not go there. Because under each tiny child is a soft, tender heart – yearning to be loved by YOU.

So watch your words carefully, Moms, for the sake of your little one who – when asked what makes them happy, responds ever so sweetly: “My mom.”

Broken

How long will this heartache last?

Will I be broken in two forever?

I feel forgotten and worthless.

Yet here I stand.

Cold. Dark. Alone.

In vain some try to comfort me, to make me forget.

But can’t forget, I just mourn.

I mourn their loss forever.

Did no one value my friendship?

Did no one mourn the loss of me?

Life goes on as though I never existed.

They carry on without a glance in my direction.

What is love if it does not last?

What is friendship if it fades away?

Where is loyalty, can it still be found?

For though I reach out again and again,

None take my hand.

Though I call out in love,

There is no reply.

Just a cold, dark, silence,

Which speaks louder than words.

 

Devotions? Or Devotion?

I used to think New Years Resolutions were pointless – that they were nothing more than another attempt by the world to become the best we could be…only to fail three weeks in. You hear it all the time – the gyms are full come January 1st, but by the end of February, membership has returned to normal.

We’re funny that way, us human beings.  So desperate to be great that we jump on any bandwagon of change, only to jump right back off when life gets too hard. Some of us feel like failures when we give up, but most of us don’t even think twice about it. After all, we do it time and time again.

In the year 2015 all of that changed for me.

I decided to attend a Christian conference at the end of the year. The conference runs right after Christmas and goes until New Year’s Eve, ending with “praying in” the New Year. It was the first time in years that I was going somewhere without a baby or toddler in-tow. Me and my husband went with the older two kids, leaving the younger three kids with their grandparents.

To my great shock, the first two days were incredibly difficult for me to sit through the long messages. It had been years since I had sat through a message without my kids beside me crying, or needing a diaper change or nap. I had expected to just soak in the atmosphere and love it without my usual distractions.

And here I was, with no excuse at all, unable to consentrate for longer than 10 minutes without drifting off into lala land! With the busyness of my life, I hadn’t even realized how far I had been drifting from God. I hadn’t realized that my five minute a day devotional with God while kids jumped all around me and a quick read through of my prayer list wasn’t enough to sustain me. I realized that I was hungry – no, STARVING for God!

By the end of the conference, I was overwhelmed with a deep desire to be with God every single day. Not just reading the bible, I already did that. Not just reading through a prayer list, I did that too. But to encounter God daily – to KNOW the One true God.

My only problem was that I have five kids…How in the world could I possibly find time to spend with him? Certainly God didn’t expect me to find more time with him in my busy stage of life, could he?

It was as if God had known my thoughts ahead of time, and prepared this conference exactly for me. A woman got up on stage at this time and began sharing. The testimony she gave changed my life forever.

She was a top student at her university. Her schedule was packed and her workload was overwhelming. On an average day she was so busy that even without any social life she would only get four hours of sleep.  During this time she became overwhelmed and asked God to help her.  The very reason she has started going to university in the first place was to make a difference in the world. And now she felt like she couldn’t keep going.

During this time, God told her that he wanted her to start tithing. Of course, at this point she was thinking dollar amounts – but God made clear, “No I want you to start tithing what is most important to you – your time. 10 percent of your time.”

That’s precisely 2 hours and 24 minutes a day.

She, of course, responded like we all would – like I would: “No God, that’s not possible! I can’t possibly spare any time, never mind that much of it! I don’t get any sleep as it is!”

But she obeyed, waking up at wee hours of the night to be with her Maker.

Sacrificing what little sleep she had.

What happened as a result was an absolute miracle, for she began to find more and more time. She had time to do her work, she was more efficient in her studies, and she was even able to go to bed earlier. She found after just one week that she was getting more rest than she had since starting university! God had simply and miraculously multiplied her time.

Now until this moment, until this testimony, I had always believed that lack of time was unique to parents of young children only.

It’s laughable now, but really, I believed that singles and couples without children had no valid excuse to not be spending time with God…I, on the other hand had every excuse: the constant interruptions,  the lack of sleep, busyness of the days, the sacrifice of being depended on 24/7 – who has better excuses than that? My excuses weren’t even selfish!!

It was at this moment, this very moment, that I realized Satan has lied to us all.

We all have the time. 

In every stage of life, in every situation,  we all have the time because we are all given the same amount of it.

I began noticing all the excuses:

“Oh I work all day, if I was a stay at home mom I would have much more time! I’m just too tired after work to spend time with God.”

“Oh I can’t possibly do devotions daily, right now I’m in school, I constantly have homework!”

“My job demands so much of me, I don’t have any time for myself – never mind for God!”

On and on the excuses go, every single person believing that they have less time than the next.

This was crazy to me! Every single one of us believed that lie: I can’t find the time because my situation is unique. I’m more tired, more over worked, busier than most. 

It was only when I recognized that lie that I was able to overcome it.  Because the truth was that I had time for all sorts of things. I had time to scrapbook, time to cook, time to get together with friends, time to clean my house, time to sleep, time to be on Facebook, lots of time!

Therefore, the issue had never been time – the issue was desire. This changed devotions in my life changed forever.

I then made the first resolution I had ever made, and it lasted.

My resolution was to quit devotions as I knew them and to begin a life devoted to God. Devotions was never mentioned in God‘s word. Not once. What is mentioned are people who walked with God. Devotions are merely a tool to start off the day focused on a single task: devotion to God.

I no longer found it hard to spend time with God, because it wasn’t something on my checklist. It was my checklist. If I wasn’t walking with God all day, every day, I had gotten nothing done.

That is the essence of Christianity.

This year don’t get caught up in the meaningless resolutions. Rather, in desperation, resolve to do nothing but cling to Jesus. To abide in him. To walk with him.  If this is your heart’s desire, you’ll find the time.

I promise.

A Messy Christmas

I did it!

I got my first piece published in a newspaper!

And I almost didn’t even notice, because they got my name wrong on the front cover….but hidden away in the paper, there it was!

My first published story.

Now, I’m well aware that my small city paper is no New York Times, but it still feels like a first step. Like a milestone for writing. Almost exactly one year ago, I started this blog, not knowing where it would take me, not even planning to share it at first with anyone (thanks to my sister-in-law, Andrea’s encouragement I did) and now I’ve taken one more baby step. And it feels good.

This is my story, which I submitted into the local newspaper, The Carillon, for the Christmas writing contest. It placed third out of who knows how many entires (hopefully more than three, LOL).

A Messy Christmas by: Heather Bergen

This year it will be perfect! I thought, as I put the last few packages under the tree. Finally, this year I was going to be able to make Christmas look just a little bit like the Christmas’ we read about in all those heart-warming Christmas tales! Decorations hung around the house, most of them new. Mountains of presents are stacked underneath the sparkling tree, each carefully wrapped in brightly coloured paper, ribbons shining on top of them. The usually empty box that sits in the corner of our kitchen (my husband tells me it’s a refrigerator and that people put food in it) was packed so full of meats, cheeses, egg nog and other mouth-watering dishes that there’s no possible way my small army of children will ever finish it all.

Perfect.

I think back to our humble beginnings, just ten years earlier. It was our first Christmas together. I was with child at the tender age of seventeen, a child myself really. Not yet showing, but feeling so small – so lost in a world where everyone around me seemed to have their futures figured out. I couldn’t afford the paper to wrap a gift, never mind something worth giving…but that year the story of a young, unwed teenager, in a stable, pregnant with the Messiah reached my heart in a brand new way. My eyes twinkled with the youth that I possessed. The hope within me was so bright, so fresh…sweetly naive.

Fast forward one year. My eyes still young, but red from crying, stared out of the hospital window at the large, dancing snowflakes falling to the ground like big pieces of confetti. A tear slips down my cheek. How can this possibly be my sons first Christmas? We should have been starting our own traditions, setting up our first tree, maybe with one of those cute “baby’s first Christmas” ornaments hanging in the center. I should have been buying him new stuffed bears, musical mobiles or maybe rattles with flashing lights.

But instead, there is nothing.

We’ve been here, at the Children’s Hospital for over two months. No one is certain how much longer until he is better. None of the doctors even know what exactly is wrong. We’re waiting. Waiting for answers. Waiting to continue our lives together. Turning to face my baby boy, I hold out my hand to grasp the chubby little fingers on his. His large, blue eyes look back at me and once again he pulls away, expecting that I’m just looking for a finger to poke. My heart sinks. He no longer lets me hold his hand. Every couple hours, more blood is drawn from those tiny fingers to make sure that his levels are okay. The tips of them are covered with little cuts. I close my eyes and wonder: Will he make it? Will we ever walk out of these hospital doors and be a family again?

Another year passes! We’re finally together!! All four of us. My husband and our two children. My little boy, now a healthy eighteen-month old and his brand new baby sister! Each of them receives just a small toy. After all we’ve been through, there’s no money for much else. But we’re together this year and it’s all that matters. I’m filled with warmth and gratitude.

Year after year goes through my mind. Most of the time, we were just holding on week by week. Decor? There was no money for that. Fancy meals? Nor those. Just a small gift or two each. Nothing more. But finally! This was the year! We were in a new house, Ryan had a new job. I could pay for all the things on our lists and more! Surely this would be the most special week, the best Christmas ever!

My five children are tucked into their beds when I hear it…there’s no mistaking THAT sound. Someone is throwing up.

I groan.

Are you kidding me?!? Not tonight! Not THIS year! Not just one…but three little children are up all night. I spend Christmas Eve scrubbing rugs and doing laundry – load after load after LOAD! And then I get sick too. Throughout the whole week we all take our turns – a full six-day span before this family of seven is healthy again. The food in the fridge goes uneaten. the sweet oranges on the counter turn green. The new toys lie untouched in the corner, bringing little comfort to this sickly family. And once again bitter tears fall.

Why?!? It’s just not fair! Why did this have to ruin our first real Christmas?

Slowly a strange feeling comes over me and it dawned on me: What was the first real Christmas? It surely wasn’t neat and tidy, was it? And it dawned on me: This was the reason for Christmas. We are so weak and helpless, consumed by our own desires, and if our plans don’t work out, we cry and complain.

Yet Jesus.

He saw our pain, our helplessness, our sicknesses and our junk and he came. Not just to be a baby, but to show us that there’s so much more. He came to heal our hearts, and give us new desires that will never disappoint. He came to give us joy through the hard times. He came to die and forgive. Christmas wasn’t meant to be a neat, pretty picture. It was a messy painful story, full of people with ruined plans. But it is also glorious. It is all our hope.

With tears full of joy running down my face and a heart so full it could explode, I whispered, “Thank you Jesus, you never let me settle for all that Christmas fluff. You made sure that I got to experience the real Christmas once again…messiness and all!”

 

Worth My Time

For as long as I can remember, writing has just been something I do. It’s like I wake up in the morning and have something to say…sometimes I don’t even know what it is yet. But I know it’s in there, and it’s important. Sometimes it’s a certain topic, other times it’s a feeling…. a deep almost inexpressible feeling.

It’s like a challenge awaits me. The challenge is to share that feeling, to put it into the right words so that others can feel it too.  For some, a challenge like that seems overwhelming. For me, it brings about a sense of relief, as if finally others can understand another piece of what is in my heart, another thought that makes me who I am.  This is why I’m unconcerned with whether or not people agree with me, because I know that one of the things that makes me, me, are my individual thoughts.

My thoughts today?

I like being alone. A lot.

The silly part though, is that I also like being with people a lot. This results in a funny little thing, for what brings me the most stress, in the end also brings me the most joy. I’m like an introverted-extrovert. If that’s even a thing.

Maybe you are one who understands this, but for those who don’t know the feeling, let me give you a little bit of an example:

Picture this…I’m reading in my room and I do not want to be disturbed by anyone…but what do you know, my child comes in, begging to play with me. Reluctantly, (and somewhat begrudgingly) I put down the book and I follow the child out of the room. To my surprise and delight, my child has planned something great and out of the ordinary for me.

A Game. But not just any game, something so sweet… a made up game! He thought it up for me. Just for me!

My heart warms.

I follow the arrows he made…first down the hall, then up the stairs, around corners, into rooms, through the bathroom and finally into my walk-through closet. I stop at the door that is labelled in my son’s messy, grade 3 writing. It says, “Open to find yor surpize”…. I slowly open, curious as to what the great surprise may be. Out jumps my shining faced boy, “Surprise!!!” I jump too, for he scared me, and we giggle together.

The thing that I really did not want to do, suddenly becomes something so much better than reading a book.

What if I had said no?

What if I would’ve told him that I was too tired for his game? Oh, my heart breaks at the very thought!!

And I realize, everything that’s worth anything seems to go this way. Like having a large family over for a meal. It’s work hosting a big group! But the hours spent in the presence of friends is priceless.

I remember, as a teen, sometimes spending an entire day watching TV. At the end of the day, you just don’t feel good, you don’t feel rested.

You feel gross.

Not necessarily guilty gross, but just physically, it doesn’t feel good. Why is that? I mean, it’s kinda like rest… and rest is good, so therefore I should feel better afterwards. Right?!?

But I never did.

Right now, I see a generation of people who are largely unhappy. I see multitudes of those who sit on their phones, spending many hours doing whatever they want. I see people rushing through the lines of the drive-through’s, getting what they want, when they want it. I see grown up “children” living in their parents basements, spending hours playing video games or sitting on Facebook, doing whatever they want to do…never stopping to reach for the next thing that will entertain, that will temporarily satisfy their craving for self, for fun, for happiness.

But if we have everything, then why aren’t we happy? How come, in a generation where we have so much, are depression and sadness so common? If all our friends are just a text message away, then why is our generation so lonely?

Lately, there’s one question I’ve been asking myself a lot. I ask myself this question every time I’m about to add another thing to my list of things to do and the question is this: Is this worth my time?

On the heels of that question come harder questions to wrestle with…just what do I want to accomplish in my life? What am I going to add to my life that is going to fulfill a greater purpose?

Sometimes, in the busy seasons of life, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s really important. Especially this Christmas, I’ve felt the tug of this. For every group and activity we’re a part of, it seems like there’s another Christmas party to go to. And sometimes it’s great! But often I come home grumpy and exhausted. And I feel stuck.

Did you know that it is possible to just say no sometimes? Yeah, really! Who knew?!? I don’t have to go to every single party! 

It just so hard to say no to things though, isn’t it? Because what if I’m missing out on something really good?

But it’s so, SO good for us. We can’t do everything and we can’t give everything. This doesn’t mean that we should say no to everything, but if one day you wake up, like me, and realize that in the next 10 days you don’t even have one single evening or day at home to yourself, then something has to change.

This Christmas season, as you reflect on your past year, ask yourself: Was I too busy? Was I selfish with my time? Did my schedule look too chaotic? Am I complaining about the things I’m doing instead of enjoying them? Am I making time for the most important people in my life? And as you ponder these questions, seek God on what HE wants you to spend your time on for the year ahead.

For some of us, we don’t need to change our schedules, we just need to change our attitudes. Sometimes, like my son’s big surprise, those things we don’t feel like doing are actually exactly what we need to be doing. On the flip side, if we are just dragging ourselves to event after event, completely worn down…maybe it’s time to ask God, “Is this something you want me to continue with in my life? Is it worth my time?” 

Then, don’t just listen, ACT.