Celebrating Joy Amid Loss
My husband and I became foster parents in 2014. Since then, we have had ever-changing family photos. I will forever have holes in my heart because of the absence of the kids we have fostered for a week, a month, or longer, who have called me “Mom.”
The apostle Paul was no stranger to hardship and loss. Yet he wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). And, “Rejoice always,” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).
During our years of fostering we have struggled as we’ve walked through our foster kids’ difficult behaviors and prayed for their emotional healing. Our “good-bye” moments have been filled with tears with little ones we have loved. Yet God’s Word is clear to believers—joy is to be a consistent part of our story.
What can we do to celebrate joy when we’re on a path that brings inevitable loss?
Remember Jesus’ Story
Jesus’ earthly life began with joy yet ended in sorrow—or so it would seem. The gospels tell us that although His life on earth ended with great pain and suffering, His Resurrection proves there is more to the story than meets the eye: Sorrow is often a conduit for joy, death can bring forth life, and loss is only for a little while.
Jesus told His disciples they would weep and mourn while the world rejoiced, but their grief would turn to joy that no one could take away (see John 16:20).
The author of Hebrews encourages us to focus on this lesson as we keep our eyes and hearts fixed on Jesus, who “ … For the joy set before him he endured the cross … Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2–3).
Keeping our eternal perspective in focus can help us know the joy of serving God—even when the journey is difficult or painful.
Surrender Our Mistakes
We recently said goodbye to a foster daughter who had lived with us for seven months. While I knew I had loved her well, I also wished I had done better. The morning after she left, I sat before the Lord and offered Him my regrets and mistakes, praying, “God, I offer these pieces to you and ask that you would take my broken efforts and put them back together into something good.” In response to my prayer, this verse filled my thoughts:
“[He will] … bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:3a).
Our lives will never be perfect this side of heaven. Yet carrying around guilt because of the mistakes we’ve made will push away the joy God wants to give us. His comfort that day reminded me that I need not despair: He would take my efforts—an offering of ashes—and turn them into something beautiful.
My memories from fostering the kids who have since left our home are filled with games of hide-and-seek, playing “make believe,” sharing funny words and phrases, and teaching them how to catch a ball or ride a bike. Although we no longer have their physical presence with us, they will always be in our hearts. Living fully in each moment and remaining aware that we can make a joyful memory any minute is a key to letting joy be a consistent part of our lives.
At a playground recently, one of my foster children and I played tag. We laughed together when she realized I was harder to catch than she expected. Pausing to catch her breath, she said with a smile, “It’s fun to play tag with an adult.”
She was right. Life can be fun—even for us adults—if we celebrate the smiles in the small moments and hold onto the joyful memories.
Stories of Freedom
Freedom. I’m not sure how that word strikes you. Perhaps it’s a reminder to pause and take a deep breath before tackling the rest of your day. Maybe it’s elusive—a word you’ve heard all your life and have longed to fully grasp.
Hearing the word freedom may even cause you some fear since it means surrender and surrender can be scary.
I don’t know your story, but I know what Jesus desires for you—He wants you to be free.
Labels were a big part of my life growing up and into my 20s. The ones I owned and wore most often were “too much,” “not enough,” “broken,” and “useless.” I didn’t particularly like any of them, but they were what I knew; I thought they defined me.
In my mid-20s I experienced a couple of major health crises. In the space of a year I contracted a rare, deadly bacterial infection. And I learned that my knees were severely deformed, requiring major reconstructive surgery to keep me out of a wheelchair.
A Dark Season
This was also a period of great difficulty for me in ministry. Leaders I had trusted had deeply wounded me. Their treatment confirmed that the labels I was wearing were accurate.
But in that season of darkness, at the bottom of all that I thought I knew and had planned, I found freedom. Freedom is often found where we don’t look for it.
Broken and defeated, I looked up and saw my Savior. He extended His hand, and I grabbed on with both of mine. I cried, I questioned, I was angry—but I never looked back.
In my brokenness I came to realize the labels I had been wearing were lies. They were comfortable for me because they were what I knew.
Swimming in the Deep
True freedom requires great courage because you must intentionally let go of all that is familiar and step toward the unknown. I knew my labels. I knew how to manage them, and I knew how to wear them.
Stepping into freedom means stepping into the completely unknown. I call it “swimming in the deep.”
I think most of us live our Christian lives on the shore of the ocean of God’s story. God can bless us on the shore because He is a kind and gracious God. However, swimming in the deep is where God desires us to be.
I was sick of living on the shore. I was sick of the labels that had defined me for so long. Like a messy toddler I ran into the ocean of God’s story—His promises.
I ran until I couldn’t touch the sand anymore and fear gripped me and yelled at me to turn back. I was tired of fear, so I shouted louder and told it to get out of my story. And I let my Savior take over—I found freedom in surrender.
A New Anthem
I clung to Bible verses about freedom, repeating them over-and-over again, until my mantra became my anthem.
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed,” (John 8:36).
“You … were called to be free,” (Galatians 5:13).
“ … I have called you by name, you are mine,” (Isaiah 43:1b, NLT).
“ … forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,” (Philippians 3:12, NASB).
Freedom is a daily surrender. It’s a moment-by-moment intentional flinging of yourself into the arms of your Father. It’s releasing control to the Holy Spirit and recognizing “all my humanness cannot accomplish the work of the Holy Spirit.” It’s taking a deep breath and knowing that nobody writes your story better than the Creator of you.
“I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and he delivered me from all my fears,” (Psalm 34:4).
*originally published in Great Commission Women’s Engage newsletter November
Tell Me A Story
When my children were little, they loved tuck-in time, and snuggled deeply into the covers, turning their faces toward me. “Tell me a story about when I was little,” they said. Not overlooking the fact that they were still little, my brain scrambled for anecdotes that showed their valor, or creativity, or kindness, or humor.
“Tell me about you,” people ask. What do you say? It’s such an open-ended question, and perhaps even a cop-out question. What on earth do they want to know? Why they should like you, or pay attention to you, or be your friend? You might think, “Ask a more direct question that shows you have thought about me, and context, or that demonstrates actual interest.”
Or maybe the, “Tell me about you” question invites us to carry about with us those plot points in our storyline that demonstrate what is most important about us, or the most significant milestones.
The turning points of our journey, the elements of our daily life that speak the most profoundly about us. It requires thought: self-assessment, and perhaps faith-assessment, a wrestling with where we have seen God’s presence.
Answering those sorts of questions requires time and thought, then. At Celebrate 2018, we’ll be telling stories about the heroes of our faith, our relatives in the Scriptures who’d never heard of God before and yet dared to follow this God into exploits and adventures that revealed their worst selves—and God’s very best.
The sheer humanness of these heroes surprises me—their failings, their inappropriate conduct, the places of disbelief—and the colossal faith needed for their journeys. Those failings are woven into the Scriptures, too, and the struggle-stories inspire me the most. Because in spite of those difficult places, they followed after God. And in spite of those throw-mama-under-the-bus moments, these people achieved great momentum in establishing God’s work on earth.
I’m beyond excited to see you at Celebrate, and hug your neck as they say in the South. And I may just say to you, “Tell me about you.” What you love, what intrigues you; how you fill your days, what occupies your thoughts, what you long for, where have you missed God, where have you found God, what have you learned in your journey toward today?
Because the stories remind us not just of who we are. They remind us of who God is.
And that’s the real story. That we are so deeply loved, God has come to earth for us.