Jack And The Umbrella

It was a day of drenching rain.  Umbrellas were a necessity.  I entered my front door holding my collapsed umbrella, then popped it open with the idea to set it on the floor to dry.  How could I have guessed that at the precise moment I pressed the button on the handle of my umbrella, causing it to spring open with a flourish, that Jack would be rounding the corner, meeting it face on!  My poor dog!  He moved so fast that I only saw a black flash turn and disappear.

I also moved as fast as I could to get to Jack to comfort him, to assure him that all was well.  However, where was he?  I stood in the doorway to the living room, eyes darting back and forth to find him.  It was like he had vanished into thin air; but wait, what did I see?  One brown eye and a black ear peeking out from behind the curtain.

“Hey, Jack.  It’s okay.  It’s okay, Jack.”  I went to him, calling out in attempt to soothe him.  It didn’t work.  He was trembling and staring without blinking at the entrance to the hallway.  I could tell that he knew the big yellow monster could appear at any moment to gobble us all up!  My words of constant assurance did nothing to alleviate his panic.

I then had another bright idea!  I would bring the umbrella to Jack and let him see it was harmless. Yes, that would work!  No, it didn’t.  It pushed Jack further into the folds of the curtain, trembling from head to tail.  I didn’t know what to do but wait.  I sat in a chair nearby, every now and again calling out, reminding Jack that I was still there.

Many of you reading this know what I’m going to say, don’t you.  You and I also become frightened at things that may or may not harm us.  We also run in some attempt to hide from the thing causing distress.  We fear the unknown, the things that make no sense to us.  We tell ourselves that if we stay behind the curtain of our fears long enough, the monster of the unknown will go away and leave us alone.  A good plan if life were really like that; situations disappearing simply through avoidance.

As I was calling out to Jack with the desire to comfort him, I said a prayer of thanks to my heavenly Father for never leaving me when life’s unwanted situations scare me, too.  We all know what it’s like to be afraid when our jobs are threatened, when a loving relationship breaks apart, when we are falsely accused, when our once robust health is attacked by disease, when bank accounts dwindle into meager amounts.

It’s a frightening world out there, but hiding behind some curtain of safety is only a temporary action we can take.  Hiding may or may not help — for awhile.  The only certain help that will bring peace no matter the stress, that will instill courage throughout any ordeal, that will fill us with confidence to take a step into the unknown, that will put a smile on our face because of joy in our hearts — is the One called Jesus.  He is always there — omnipresent — meaning it’s impossible for Him to leave us.  He is omniscient meaning He knows all.  He knows what troubles us and He loves to bring us through to safety.

When the umbrellas of the unknown and the uncertainties of life startle us, what comfort to know the One who says, “…Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Matthew 28:20

Happiness Vs. Joy

There is a game that Kyrgyz children play in which they use the dried vertebrae of sheep.  The children squat in a circle on the ground and take turns rolling or throwing these vertebrae much like one rolls dice.  Each bone is shiny from its use.  I haven’t fully understood the object of the game; but one thing is certain, the children love to play.  They shout and jump and laugh.  It’s such a simple pleasure that brings about much happiness.

Every culture knows how to find happiness.  In poorer countries happiness is found in the simple things of life because simplicity is all there is to find.  Nonetheless, it is indeed happiness that lives in the hearts of those playing with old bones, riding horses, cooking simple meals, or among a group of women washing clothes together in a river.  In the western world, finding happiness comes in different shapes: a new car, a trip to the beach, a hike in the mountains, a dream job, a house, new shoes, lunch with a friend.  The list of what brings happiness goes on and on.  Pursuing happiness is a desirable thing and it’s especially good that it can be found whether rich or poor.  Happiness comes whether one is playing with old bones or a nintendo — but what about joy?  Can anyone find joy?

There is a great difference between happiness and joy.  You see, happiness depends on outward stimuli whereas joy depends completely on something inward.  The things that make us happy can be seen, but what makes us joyful is invisible yet it is present.

Have you known people who experience a great tragedy, but amidst their tears and sorrow there is a calm in the storm?  Life gives us all sorrow, grief, and disappointment.  No one is exempt.  Some fall apart in the difficult times.  It may take them a long time to emotionally recover; sadly, some never recover at all.  Others can experience the same difficulties; yet even in their tears and broken hearts, they come through stronger with a peace, and yes, a joy that is ever present in their eyes, sustaining them in their hearts.

How can this be?  Why do some survive life’s hurts with calm and inner joy while others are destroyed?  The answer is simple yet poignant: it’s a matter of what we cling to in the tempest of life’s raging seas.  Some fall to the decks sensing no hope at all; others cling to the unseen Creator of the universe knowing that His love and strength will get them through any storm.  One has no hope; despair takes over.  The other has all hope; joy abides.

The truth of the promise found in Hebrews 13:5-6 reminds us of the hope that can come to any of us: “…’I will never leave you,” God says. ‘I will never abandon you.’  Therefore we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will have no fear.’…”  Another comforting and unshakable truth of God is this: “…Weeping may last through the night but joy comes in the morning.”  There we have it: no matter the sorrow or the depth of grief or the piercing hurt, joy comes in the morning and all because God is with us.

Obtaining happiness is a wonderful thing.  We all enjoy the circumstances of life that make us happy; but when happiness subsides, we can thank Father that His joy lives on and on.  It is eternal.  Darkness cannot hide it. Pain cannot destroy it.  It is the joy of God that surpasses anything that happiness can bring or that sorrow can give.  Pursue happiness alone and joy will elude us.  Pursue God and joy lives in us.

Our Temporary World

We will all agree that this world gives each  of us a varied amount of difficulties. Some people, it seems, have more than their share of trouble. Any hardship is a potential precursor to the doldrums taking over. The blues can set in, replacing any peace of heart that was keeping us calm on the inside, no matter what was happening on the outside. Why, we may ask ourselves, when everything was going so well, did trouble come again? For some, it seems that every time an opportunity comes knocking, they open the door, only to have it slam in their face! Disappoint piles high. Inner peace fades and disappears.

Perhaps frustrations rise, not because of what we see around us, but because of what we don’t see. It’s so easy to take on the attitude that God’s not helping, rather than reminding ourselves that God uses everything to our ultimate good. It’s easy to listen to the lies of Satan who would say, “see, He’s left you to suffer alone again,” rather than to focus on God’s promise of, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Thesalonica to encourage them in all they were going through. He wrote in II Thessalonians 3:5, “May the Lord bring you into an ever deeper understanding of the love of God and the endurance that comes from Christ. Isn’t it interesting to note that throughout God’s Word, there is never a promise that God will help us to avoid trials, but there are countless promises that He will equip us with everything we need to get through them.

Jesus told His followers in John 14:27, I am leaving you with a gift — peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” What exactly is Jesus meaning — His peace isn’t like the peace the world gives? To get the answer, we only need look around. What do you see? Things that are temporary. Everything your eyes look at today is temporary. At some point in the future, things will break, people and nature will pass away. The whole world is in a temporary state of existence. Therefore, it stands to reason that, if we look to anything the world has to offer us, at it’s very best, it’s only temporary.

Not so with Jesus! He is eternal. Therefore, everything He has to give us is eternal,too! He can give a peace that the world can’t touch. He gives love that never fades. He gives joy that stays strong in the roughest of life’s seas.  Everything to do with Jesus is unbreakable.

We have to live and work in the world everyday, but we must be careful not to focus on anything the world has to offer as a means of sustaining our inner peace. Remember, anything the world has to offer is temporary.  When we focus on the world more than on God, then a spiritual impairment can set in, blinding us to all God has to offer us; not only to endure troubles, but to get through with strength and joy — for all our days on earth and then into eternity!