Joyful Words Blog
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.
– Psalm 119:105
– Psalm 119:105
Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. John 9:3
We like explanations don’t we. Our world surrounds us with technology, information and knowledge designed to explain and justify everything…until we hit one of those rough patches that we simply can’t make sense of. We aren’t so good at meaning the words, “that’s just the way it is”. We demand proof! We are a society of highly intelligent humans after all, there should be a way to describe, defend and understand everything. If there isn’t, then somebody must have lied or done something wrong because all things should make sense! If things don’t make sense, or if we don’t like the explanation we’ve been given, we set out looking for a spot to lay the blame. I’ve discovered the more out of balance our society’s moral compass becomes; the harder it is to “accept” things we can’t explain. God’s work included.
After hearing this reading from John’s Gospel , I guess the game of prove or blame isn’t new. The disciples were busy trying to figure out why the blind man was afflicted. They wanted to lay blame or find fault in order to understand the situation but in a simple yet completely profound way Jesus explained the man’s situation. His affliction was not to punish or to penalize…his situation was meant to magnify the amazing power of God. I’ve listened to this reading a dozen times before, and I always thought of that man who lived on the streets in darkness with pity and sadness. This morning I saw him with different eyes and I heard the story with different ears. My feelings for this Gospel character turned from pity to something more like envy. God chose the blind man in such a pitiful state to show His glory…what a lucky turn of events for him! This morning’s Gospel reminded me of a conversation I had recently with a woman who just bubbles over with God’s love. She was speaking so tenderly about her brother who had recently lost his battle with cancer. She shared her admiration and inspiration as she told his story. The part of the conversation that sunk deep into my heart was his reaction to the doctor’s proclamation of his condition…difficult news to say the least! Upon hearing the news he told his sister how lucky he felt that God wanted him home in heaven at such an early age. As tears stung in my eyes, it was easy to see why he was such an inspiration to her. There was no blame, no need for explanation…it was simply a case of “accepting” a situation as the work of the Father.
The trouble with trying to explain and understand everything is that we can only do it through the lens of human knowledge. God is the one with the wisdom and understanding to see how things are woven together from beginning to end. We are only capable of seeing what’s right in front of us while God sees so much more. He knows the purpose for each situation…He knows what each event will prepare us for…He knows what will follow each disappointment and sadness… He knows the mighty and glorious ending to all of our stories. If we are willing to accept the “happy ending” we so desperately look for, then we need to remember that His job is to prepare us for it. Sickness, death, disappointment and afflictions aren’t meant to punish, they are meant to strengthen and renew and allow Him to show His mighty and powerful love for His children. In our weakness He shows His strength. That is the only explanation or understanding we ever need…simple as that! The glory of His works on the other side of our struggle is more amazing than we can even begin to imagine. I believe this with all my heart because that’s how much He loves us. So the next time you’re in the middle of “yuck”,remind yourself that God is the only justification, understanding and explanation you need. Remind yourself that the glory He will show through your strife will be every bit as magnificent as the way the blind man felt the moment he washed the mud from his eyes and could see for the first time. Remember that God’s ways are not our ways...His are best and they don’t require explanation or understanding, just our trust!
A Seed To Plant: Read John 9:1-41 and make a list of situations you need to stop trying to understand, justify and explain and simply ask God to make you aware of the ways He’s working in them.
Blessings on your day!
Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled. Luke 1:45
I used to love watching shows about pioneers. I thought the whole covered wagon, cornbread baking, sod busting thing was great. I sometimes daydreamed about being a pioneer woman and thought about the excitement of such a new adventure. I also thought the long skirts would be a great idea to cover up my pudgy legs. Then I became a wife and mother and realized how hard things can be even in this modern world with machines and apps for everything so I figured the whole pioneer woman gig was out of the question. Or was it?
Now, one thing is for sure, I will never travel the frontier in a covered wagon nor will I likely ever bust sod and use it for a roof but the whole new adventure thing might not be such a bad idea. I got to thinking one day that maybe being a pioneer could mean something different than the prairie. Fr. Pierre de Chardin once wrote, “We are called to be pioneers; pioneers who stand on the edge of great beginnings, of unseen futures. Pioneers filled with unwarranted confidence that visions give.” Maybe I could be that kind of pioneer; I don’t think it comes with a long skirt and wide brimmed hat, but the new adventure part is the same.
I think the key word in Fr. Pierre’s quote was vision. I can set goals or make resolutions; I can even pick a word for the year but to have a vision is something big. I think our desire to be logical and systematic makes it difficult to be a pioneer. When you really think about it, pioneers set off on adventures that didn’t seem safe, logical or systematic at all. They really had to trust. Some of the best things in life happen with that kind of start. Look at Mary and Elizabeth…neither of them was the common candidate for motherhood. Elizabeth was too old and Mary was too young and not even married yet but they trusted, followed and radically changed the world. If we wait until everything is in order to make a new beginning, we’ll likely never get started on the journey.
What is your vision? What do you see within yourself that could use a new beginning? Be a pioneer and set out to find that new place or thing. Be a pioneer for peace, patience, mercy or trust. Blaze a trail so bold others can’t help but follow! Can you make a plan to bring the hopeful newness of life to your heart, your home, workplace or community? Great things have to start somewhere…go ahead…YOU be the pioneer!
Right now, as I type this post hundreds and hundreds of Christians are stuck on the Pennsylvania Turnpike returning from the March for Life rally in D.C. They’ve been stuck there for more than 24 hours. They are pioneers…they are working for a new beginning; the beginning of a culture that respects life in all its stages. As they gathered in the Nation’s Capital, they received no attention at all from the media but now…now they’re big news. The images of the altar made of snow and the hundreds who got off busses and out of cars to join together in a snow storm alongside the road to pray is flooding social media outlets. These are pioneers…pioneers of perseverance, joy, prayerfulness and an unselfish dedication to a Godly cause.
What new beginning are you going to pioneer? Think big…think mighty…think Godly but mostly think about the needs of others and the mercy of God. If you need someone to join your wagon train just let me know!
A Seed To Plant: Dear Lord, give me the strength to bust out of my comfortable-ness and be a pioneer of something really important to you.
Blessings on your day!
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
Saint Augustine gave a sermon once in which he proposed a kind of self-test to see if we truly love God; Suppose God proposed you a deal and said “I will give you anything you want. You can possess the whole world. Nothing will be impossible for you…nothing will be a sin, nothing forbidden. You will never die, never have pain, never have anything you do not want and always have anything you do want….except for one thing; you will never see my face.” St. Augustine closed with a question; did a chill arise in your hearts, when you heard the words, “You will never see my face”? That chill is the most precious thing in you; that is the pure love of God.
Every time I read the wise words of this story I get such a wave of desire…desire to try harder to be holy! I realize after reading St. Augustine’s words I have a renewed sense of purpose…a new strength…a new hope. I think we work so hard at doing the “right thing” maybe we forget just what we’re working for. It’s easy to get into the habit of doing good things so others will think we’re “nice”. We are called to be holy, called to be uncomfortable, called to realize sometimes the Gospel’s hit us sideways…and that’s ok! We are called to do the hard work of following Christ…being His hands and feet on earth and that, as we all know, isn’t always easy. There are days, when that offer from God St. Augustine talked about seems like a great idea! Those are the times we need to set out with new energy to do His work and know it isn’t without great blessing and reward.
I read this story tonight and then I told the room full of teenagers listening, “Our number one task is to get to heaven! Everything we do, say, listen to, watch and everyone we hang out with will either help us get there, or draw us away so pay attention!” The temptation is there to think one little thing here or there won’t matter but it’s still a step away from our task. The most powerful thing I can think of to make those decisions easier is to remember what’s waiting for us in heaven…the face of God. That’s something worth fighting for…that trumps everything! We just have to remember it!
A Seed To Plant: Print the words to St. Augustine’s sermon and read them every day this week. I’m willing to bet if you let these wise words really sink into your heart, living the Gospel message will have a new meaning!
Blessings on your day!
Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your kind spirit guide me on ground that is level. Psalm 143:10
I was standing in the checkout line in the grocery store the other day behind a mom and her 5 year old daughter. As the mother of grown children it was very easy for me to giggle at the conversation I was hearing because I have so “been there; done that” but I could really sympathize with the mom. The daughter was a negotiator whose favorite phrase was “But Mom!” If I had a dollar for each time that little girl said those words I could have paid for half my groceries! I was very impressed with the mother’s patience and creativity. The little girl wanted; no NEEDED a variety of important things that afternoon like gum, a doll, tic-tacs, a dart gun and of course, sparkly shoes. She carefully outlined all the reasons her needs were valid and each time mom would counter with logic she would say, “But mom” and then go on with three or four ideas to counter the wisdom of her mother. As I stood there laughing to myself I wondered if that’s how we sound with God.
The truth of the matter is I think we do argue with God much like that little girl argued with her mom. We try to come up with all kinds of rationale to convince him that our way is right and that there are really things we need. Here is how I see the conversation goin down most days…
But God…I want to win the lottery, I’d use the money for lots of good thing; No child…I’ve given you enough.
But God…I should have gotten that, I’ve worked really hard; No child…that belonged to one of my other children, be patient, I have amazing things in store for you.
But God…I’m too busy to sit still and pray for 30 minutes, I’ve got so many things to do. I mean after all, I am using the gifts and talents you gave me isn’t that good enough; No child…I want you to put me first and give me the first minutes of your day so I can show you what I have planned and believe me, it will be more productive and enjoyable and blessed than anything you could put on your to do list.
But God…I pray all the time, in the car, in the shower, in traffic, don’t you think that’s enough; No child… I want your full attention so I can speak to you in the silence and watch your heat become more connected to mine.
But God…Can’t you take away this suffering, it’s just too hard, I thought you loved me; No child…you are mistaken, suffering doesn’t mean I don’t love you, it means I’m strengthening you and refining you and you simply need to trust me more so I can lead you through this and by the way it will bring you so much closer to me than you were before.
But God…You need to stop making life so hard for me. I try to live a good life but I just keep seeing one disappointment after another while others get everything handed to them and have things so easy; No child…each of my children has a different path to heaven, stop comparing and know everything is perfectly designed to strengthen, purify and refine you so you can follow your own path to me. Besides sweet child, you can only see with your eyes what’s on the surface, you have no idea what someone else’s path is like; only I know that.
But God…don’t you see what they’re doing? It’s not fair that I follow the rules while other people do whatever they want and good things keep happening to them, maybe I should stop worrying so much about doing everything right and just live however I want; No child…If you love me you will follow my commands and please don’t judge others, that’s my job and it’s only making your heart dark and snatching away the joy I want you to share.
But God…I want peace, mercy, kindness and goodness in this world; Good my child…then love me, trust me, and pray for those things every day and let me take it from there. You need to slow down, share my love and let the joy that comes from our friendship spill out everywhere…that’s how you get everything you want. Now just be quiet child and let me take perfect care of you; I’ve been doing this job since the beginning of time and I’m pretty good at it!
A Seed To Plant: Make a list of all the things you argue with God about and let him speak to them in the quiet of your prayer time. He’s a pretty skilled negotiator!
Blessings on your day!
There is a time for everything... Ecclesiastes 3:1
We are headed to Ohio today to return the girlie to her school home. It's been such a joy having her home but there is a time for everything and now it's time for school.
My post today Is one to start you thinkin a bit. How would you define Mercy? This week the middle lovelies started our Year of Mercy lessons and that was the first thing I asked them. Before I share some of the amazing things they are discovering and sharing I'd just like you to do some thinking about what Mercy looks like. To start your thinking here is the working definition we're using..."Mercy is showing kindness instead of meanness. Mercy is showing kindness even when it isn't shown to us."
What do you think? I'll be back next week with more but just ask yourself why is this such a big deal that Pope Francis has declared this the Jubilee Year of Mercy, inviting the whole world; peoples of all faith, races and background to join in? Why? What does it matter?
A Seed To Plant: Just do some thinking!
Blessings on your day!
We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 1 Thessalonians 5:14
Last Thursdays post was all about my 2016 word; Imperfection. I was pretty confident with the direction he was sending me with my word and I was all about recognizing my imperfections and inviting him to let me see him work through them. All of my thought was centered on my own imperfections which didn’t puzzle me because after all, it was my word. But then…he changed the plan and added a whole new dimension to my word.
The seed was planted as I was looking at the Nativity set. I realized my set is not perfect, it’s not fancy or beautiful, it’s a little on the plain side but I like it and then I thought about the fact that the whole circumstance of Jesus’ birth was far from perfect. It wasn’t at all what the world expected. It wasn’t at all what I thought God would have arranged for his Son the Prince of Peace but if I accept Jesus into my heart that means I accept all the imperfections that came with his arrival. The lackluster accommodations, the lack of celebration befitting the King of the Universe, the lack of comforts deserved by a Mother during the most uncomfortable event of childbirth…none of it was perfect. However, to accept HIM means to accept the story and its worldly imperfections.
Through his imperfect beginning, perfection was achieved. I got the overwhelming sense that my word was a big ‘ole throw down challenge from my Father to accept the imperfection of others and love them because of them. I sat staring at that manger scene for quite a long time thinking about all the times I had allowed the imperfections of others to frustrate, irritate or inconvenience me. I suppose the biggest thump to the forehead was when he allowed me to realize how many times I’d been bugged by someone else’s imperfection only to discover I have the same one. Boy oh boy is this ever a power-packed word! Maybe he’s calling me to invite him into my responses.
What would it hurt to repeat something even if I think the person I was speaking with should have had perfect hearing the first time I said it? What would it hurt to re-assure a worried soul even though I think they should just trust more and stop worrying so much? What would it hurt to let the impatient person take the parking spot I think I deserve? What would it hurt to offer prayers and loving support to the teenager who’s in trouble instead of passing judgement on their ability to make better choices? What would it hurt to smile first, hold open the door or let someone go ahead in line? Is my life so perfectly orchestrated and timed to the second that I don’t have time to help with a task that’s clearly not mine? Is my life so perfectly ordered that I feel like I can run a highlight reel of people’s mistakes in my head? Is it so important to be first, have the best and be honored that I can’t recognize greatness in others? I will need sweetness, understanding, patience and humility to do this well. I suppose a big dose of all those things is a good idea.
I was so sure this was about me and God but it’s clear that he’s asking me to make it about everyone he puts in my path. He’s inviting me to love others and see his work in the middle of their imperfections. He’s asking me to be as gentle and loving and patient with them in their imperfection as he is with me in mine. Thank you Father for the challenge; it’s a toughie but I asked for a word that could change my life and if I get this right, that’s exactly what will happen!
A Seed To Plant: As this new year begins to settle in around us, what is God calling you to do that will change your relationship with him…go ahead, ask him!
Blessings on your day!
Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins. Ecclesiastes 7:20
Do you have your 2016 “word” yet? For readers new to the site, you might not be familiar with the “word of the year” thing here at Joyful Words so let me bring you up to speed. The word of the year is something someone WAY smarter than me thought of but for the third year now many of us have joined in the fun. It’s pretty simple really; you pray for God to give you a word that will guide your discipleship throughout the New Year. It’s been kind of fun to see how he’s made my words clear as a bell and many readers have shared the stories of how their words came to be and how they made a difference in their walk with Christ. Simple, cheap, powerful, fun and prayerful…who can beat that combo!
SO…dut ta da daugh…my word for 2016 is…drum roll please…you know how I’ve been hoping for a good uplifting word for three years now…the word is IMPERFECTION! What??? Are you kidding me with this one God??? Believe me, I’ve tried to think and pray my way out of this one for three weeks but it’s pretty clear it’s here for the year. Again, I was hoping for something like happiness or joy or friendship; ya know something sweet and fluffy and maybe a word even on the edge of sappy but no…IMPERFECTION is my word. If words were dogs, I guess you could say I was hoping for a cute little fluffy, animated, cuddly puppy but instead I feel like I got a giant, slobbering, cumbersome Saint Bernard! After the appropriately allowed period of pouting I began to pray for the grace to accept the word picked for me and try to figure out what in the heck it was all about. As usual, when I finished pouting and let God into my thoughts and heart, I got some surprises!
My life right now is a bit jumbled. God has me busy with lots of different things, teaching my middle lovelies, writing, Joyful Words Ministry speaking, Catholic Hospitality Institute trainings and several other parish ministries, so my life is kind of messy I guess you’d say. I’ve promised him everything he asks without fussing. In spite of the Godly thumbs up I get along the way there are many days I still feel so unqualified and unworthy to do what he’s asking me to do. I have waves of jealousy and pridefulness sometimes and I get so frustrated with myself for that. I sometimes forget it’s his work I’m doing and I don’t trust as much as I should and I get a little overwhelmed. Honestly there are days I tell him he has really picked the wrong girl! I have that same pesky list of sins I’m working on and I still judge too quickly and talk to those I love most with a little extra sass. I still need to grow about 3 feet taller to balance out the extra padding I’ve been promising him I would take better care of myself and loose. I still don’t pray as much as I should or love as hard as I’m asked to. I can think of a lot of words that would have brought encouragement to those areas that separate me from him, but I didn’t get one of those words…or did I?
After three weeks of prayer I am beginning to realize he gave me the perfect word! Imperfection is what my life is all about. I don’t think it surprises him one bit that my life is messy in the middle of my attempt to love him harder and serve him better. Instead of an insult or a burden, my word is almost like permission and invitation. I think he’s telling me perfection isn’t required or probably even desired. Perfection is a human notion not a Godly one. I hope he’s sweetly inviting me to meet him in the middle of my failed attempts, my shortcomings, my weaknesses, my sinfulness and my dozens and dozens of imperfections. I believe he’s asking me to offer him all my imperfect stuff and let him make them perfect in his eyes. After sitting with my word several days it’s beginning to feel like a great big nod and a wink from the Father who loves me enough to lovingly accept my imperfect mess of a life as long as I give it to him with love and invite him in to shore it all up just the way he needs it to be. My 2016 word is a giant hug from God that says, “I love you anyway” and all I can say about that is THANK YOU!
A Seed To Plant: What’s your word. If you haven’t asked for one yet, take it to prayer and see what comes. If you do have one, please share it with us.
Blessings on your day!
God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Sorry I missed saying those words before those holidays past us by but I unplugged for two weeks and filled the time with family, friends and a trip to Kansas. It was a great trip and the long hours in the car gave me some great time to think and reflect on the holiday and the year that has evaporated right before my very eyes! Christmas is always so much fun but it never really plays out exactly the way I picture it in my mind. I was reminded of all the things “I didn’t do” when we got home from Kansas and I sat opening all of the beautiful Christmas cards that came in the mail. Sending cards was on this years list of “to do’s” but I’m sad to say instead it made it to the list of “Christmas didn’ts”.
I love turning the page to December 1 and the feeling of hope and enthusiasm that goes with it. This year I had great plans to send lovely cards with our family picture and a creative family newsletter. I planned to decorate beautifully and maybe even use some real evergreen for the first time. I was going to remember to thank all the people who help our family like the mail lady, the ladies at the bank, the folks at the gas station and the dozens of other kind helpful people who touch our lives and let them know they are appreciated. I really wanted to go to a nursing home and visit someone lonely or choose a child that needed a special gift at Christmas. I wanted to find some parents who needed a boost to make Christmas merrier. I wanted to reach out with joy to someone who needed to know the love of the season. I was even gonna go all out and do the shopping on a December date that didn’t begin with a 2 and I was going to have the wrapping done days before the unwrapping.
You might be wondering how it all turned out. Did my plans become reality you might wonder…well…not so much! I didn’t send cards but I love reading all the ones I got from those of you who lovingly mailed them. As for the decorating…well…yeah, about that; here’s how it went down. Since the tree set up is an annual relay race between Jason and Shannon which is a show in itself, set up couldn’t happen until Shannon got home from Ohio for Christmas break. In fact the tree didn’t even go up until the 13th. Instead of adding something new like fresh greens to the holiday decor, I left half of the decorations in the attic and didn’t put them up at all. It’s still festive; I guess you could even call it “vintage” if you define that as old, mismatched, handmade and simple. I’m sure Martha Steward would gasp and perhaps even require medical attention if she stopped by 12777 Pratt Road for a peek. As for the plan to share treats and Christmas cheer, that was pretty much a bust too! I didn’t even make goodies this year. I didn’t make the holiday easier or brighter for anyone who was lonely or in need and I feel pretty rotten about that. I finished the shopping just in time to put it in the car and leave for Kansas and I wrapped presents Christmas morning. I think it’s fair to say it was a Christmas DIDN’T!
I suppose I could leave it at that and feel like a holiday flop but that would be wrong. The Wise Men didn’t arrive right away so I’ve decided I still have time. Christmas is a season not a day. According to the Church calendar, I have until the 10th of January to celebrate so I plan to do just that! When I began to think about all my “didn’ts” my mind drifted to my “dids” I had to remind myself about all the things that were great. The older I get, the more I am beginning to realize the moments and events I don’t plan are often the best of all. I didn’t plan to get a bean bag game designed for the lawn for Christmas and I certainly didn’t plan to play game after game with it in the dining room but it was a hoot! I didn’t plan to go offline for two weeks but I did and that time was replaced with cards and games and coffee by the Christmas tree. I didn’t decorate and bake in a way that was magazine worthy but we enjoyed the goodies given to us by others. I think the biggest didn’t will lead to the biggest did. Even though we didn’t reach out to others the way I intended; that’s the part of Christmas spirit that I will hold in my heart and honor for the next twelve months. Instead of the twelve days of Christmas, I’m going to do one day of Christmas for twelve months. While staring at the manger on the altar in church I decided I will pick one of those things I didn’t do, like make a thank you tray of goodies, visit someone lonely or offer a gift to someone struggling each month and spread Christmas out all through 2016. For any of you reading this who feels like they had a few Christmas didn’ts…why don’t you join me and give a little Jesus all through the year rather than jamming it all into two weeks in December.
A Seed To Plant: Make a list of people who need a little Christmas love all year and make a plan to deliver a little Newborn King to each of them.
Blessings on your day
Sheri's writing can also be found at Faith Catholic Publications and on CatholicMom.com