Glorious Joy

 written:  12/23/2018

I was in so much despair

Thinking I was beyond repair

Joy was not a part of my life

I was suffering from much strife

 

Everything seemed to go wrong

Life seemed to just drag me along

But then God rescued me

And His love I began to see

 

Like a growing tree, my joy grew

I learned contentment that was true

As I was led into the light

My life became a glorious sight

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Precious Sunshine

–written 10/26/2018

Tears fall from your weary eyes

As your foes plan your demise

You think you lost it all

But I’ll protect you from the fall

 

For you are precious to me

Your light I will always see

Your presence brightens my life

And it never causes me strife

 

You have given me much love

You’re a gift from up above

You give me reason to be

Because your soul shines in me

Having Christmas In Your Heart

This past week had been very stressful for me—and for many people around me.  Two or three departments at my job were without management, including mine, leaving me to do even more work than usual. Managers, associates, and customers were seemingly extra busy and pressured this past week—especially some of the higher levels of management at my workplace. At church, we just voted in a new pastor, who will officially start a few months from now. Finally, in the midst of all this, my family and I are making our own preparations for Christmas.

You may be also experiencing similar stressors—but, maybe, hopefully not.  Regardless, I was encouraged by God to develop more peace in my life and to incorporate more of the character of what Christmas truly should be about, in my life. As I read in my church bulletin today, Roy L. Smith, had said, “He who has not Christmas in his heart, will never find it under a tree.” So, if we can’t find Christmas under a tree, how can we find the true character of Christmas?  Here is what I learned about finding the true character of Christmas in my heart:

  1. One of the things that I learned about having Christmas in my heart is that I needed to have more peace in my life. – In Matthew 11:28-30, it says that when we rest in Jesus, He gives us peace for our souls (translated in the KJV as “rest,” which is essentially the same thing). Unfortunately during this week, I found myself being anxious about bad things that either never happened at all, or wasn’t as bad as I once thought.  For instance, I was very upset at myself because I accidentally spilled my entire lunch. Not only did it  needed to be cleaned up, but I would have to now waste time and money buying myself a new one so I would be able to sustain myself energy wise to continue to be able to work afterwards.  I was also stressed out as I thought about all that I already spent on presents for various people in my life, and now I had to spend this additional money and have less time to eat my lunch!  However, all my anxiety turned out to be for naught, because although I did have to spend more time and money, I also got to eat some things that I have never really tried before—and turned out to be pretty good.  Additionally, one of my kind and generous friends, Allison*, graciously gave me almost her whole bag of her favorite onion ring chips. What I have learned about not being anxious is to look for the good in my uncomfortable, bad, or anxiety-producing situations. If I can’t think of any, I should try to ask myself what good can come out of the situation at hand. For instance, if I don’t have time to complete my work, I should try to focus on doing a good job on the work that I CAN complete, instead of rushing to try to complete everything and doing a half-hearted job. I also am still learning and have learned that when I let God be in control, my anxiety goes away.  When you become anxious, reminding yourself that God’s got this, or that things often don’t turn out as badly as we fear they might, really can help the anxiety go away, or, at least, lessen in severity.
  2. Another thing that I learned about having Christmas in my heart is to cultivate joy. — Sometimes, in the midst of stress and busyness, we forget to enjoy life.  I know that is often the case with me. One of my online friends even had suggested to me in the midst of me writing about my stress that week to take time and enjoy myself.  Yes, we should love and serve others, but we should also not forget to have joy in doing so.  Also, we need to take time to rest and recharge occasionally so we can minister more effectively to others and not get burnt out.  One of the things that I like to do for relaxation and recharging is to read about various topics such as various recipes, different places around the world (travel),  exercise, inspirational topics, and much more.  I used to be part of an online blogging group that encouraged me to read other people’s blogs, which were on a wide range of topics.  Because of this, I was able to broaden my interests. One thing I would recommend to anyone struggling to find something that they enjoy doing or having more hobbies is to force yourself to read books in a library or articles online on a variety of topics that seem interesting to you.  Then, as you learn about more things, often your interest in that said topic broadens as well.  Also, when we serve others, we should have joy in getting to know those who we are serving and focusing on their contentment, rather than on the stress of having one more thing added to our “list” of things to do. Also, when we focus this Christmas on having the joy in having Jesus come to earth as a human baby to eventually grow up and become the ultimate sacrifice for us, instead of the busyness and commercialism that this society often puts in Christmas, we will be happier to serve others.
  3. The most important thing I learned about having Christmas in my heart is to cultivate love.– Since it says in the Bible, in various places, that Jesus is the embodiment of love,  and since love is what makes Christmas more meaningful, I learned that instead of acting like the Grinch, I should strive to love others more.  Christmas is not only the time to give presents to family and friends, but also to be willing to sacrifice for them and others.  For instance, if Christmas is difficult for someone, sacrificing your time to be there for them to encourage them through it and helping them cope with this time of year, can make their Christmas a little bit brighter than usual.  Giving others hope when they are in a hopeless or a desperate situation can help them to see God’s love and to know that they are not alone.  Another way to love others is to thank the people in your life that have made the most positive difference in your life. For instance, if a teacher or manager at work has really encouraged you in your abilities in some ways, now is the time to thank them and to let them know that they are not taken for granted. If your parents and/or significant other have served you faithfully for a long time, now is the time to let them know that you notice their sacrifice and their service on your behalf.

So, as this post is as much to myself, as to you, the reader, I hope we will cultivate the character of Christmas in our hearts and lives, so that we can impact the world for the better.  When we don’t have Christmas in our hearts, the joy, peace, and love that flows out of the Christmas spirit, will never be found even under a tree. Let’s pray that this will not be true of us this Christmas season, but instead we will embody the joy, love, and peace that this time of year is supposed to bring, not only to ourselves, but more importantly, to God and others.

Precious

-written 11/4/2018

I have seen you struggle all your life

Among others you have had much strife

People treating you like just a toy

For them to just use and then destroy

 

But they don’t know the light in your soul

The light that makes you awesome and whole

They don’t know the joy you brought to me

Or how precious you will always be

 

Don’t let their dark extinguish your light

Remember your value in my sight

Because you’re unique and set apart

And that I love you with my whole heart

My Journey Out of Darkness

*=all names have been changed for privacy reasons

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2016, approximately 16.2 million adults have suffered from depression, and approximately 3.1 million teens suffered from depression in the same year (1). In 2016, though I still struggled with depression, at times, I was much better than I was in the past.  In fact, depression is something that I have struggled with since I was about ten years old.  If you struggle today or have struggled in the past with depression, you are not alone.

As I said earlier, my depression started in my childhood. Though I may have appeared to most people to be the traditional, happy, go-lucky child, I constantly struggled with making lasting friendships with my peers, and because of certain quirks I had, some of my peers would even bully me relentlessly and  mock me by pretending to be my friend, before I knew of their real intentions.  Because of this, as I got older, I trusted people less.  However, as attested by a fellow classmate, I was very difficult to get along with, probably because of my rigidity and selfishness.  I wanted things done right and my way, but because I didn’t really know how to accommodate or listen to other people’s views, no one wanted to really pay attention or work with me. As a result of this rigid personality, combined with my peers’ bullying and lack of understanding, I often felt lonely, bored, and depressed. I desperately wanted to “fit in,” but I didn’t know exactly how to go about this.

Then, I grew up. I no longer was as rigid and self-centered, but the years of being bullied and teased had taken its toll.  I had grown so paranoid of people that in my senior year of high school, I was dubbed “most paranoid.”  I still struggled to make close friends, as people had already settled in their cliques by then, and I felt like I really didn’t belong anywhere.   Also, during this time, in addition to my depression, which had gotten a bit worse at this time, I also struggled with other mental health issues that almost sent me to the hospital! I wanted to be a successful person, both academically, and eventually financially, but I felt it was never good enough for either myself, my parents, or anyone else.

In March through mid April 1999, I suffered verbal abuse at the hands of one of my instructors. This instructor basically had said, in so many words, that I would not amount to much in my life, and sadly, for many years, I believed him.  In fact, I had so unconsciously internalized his searing words of condemnation that this had resulted in me contemplating, more than once, ending my life. In fact, on April 7, 1999, I had written in my diary, “I wish I could be more […] effervescent (lively). I feel dead without being physically killed. I hope I don’t die emotionally, but I am dying. If I could only find that zest, that greatness life is supposed to hold. But where is it, at least in me?”

A few months later, God gave me His answer by rescuing me from some of my self-destruction, and I finally found hope in Him. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  Slowly, but surely, with God’s help, I would climb out of the pit of darkness and despair.

I didn’t get out the pit immediately, though. In fact, it took awhile. However, by the time I started college, I was beginning to open up to people and develop closer relationships, which, most of them unfortunately have faded. However, I will never forget their kindness and understanding to me during the years I was there.  I changed my major from biology to writing and publishing (one major) and Spanish (my second major).  However, even though I graduated with honors from the college, I had an incredibly tough time finding a job in my field, and I was beginning to fear that my instructor from high school was right–that I wouldn’t amount to much in this life.

It was during this time that I really searched for my specific purpose and call in this life. I tried many jobs and volunteer opportunities that I thought I could do, but most of the jobs weren’t the right fit for me. I was beginning to get discouraged again, until I met my mentor J. After meeting J, about several months later, I started trying to find jobs that were better suited to my abilities and interests.  After about six months, I found the first job that suited me well.  However, after almost three years, I felt God leading me to somewhere else. 

I had applied at a bookstore that was opening about twenty five minutes from where I lived.  I was ecstatic about finally getting an interview after applying the second time. However, the day of the interview came, and I quickly found out that I wasn’t a good fit for that job.  My worst fears were confirmed after they hadn’t called me back after several days and later told me that they had moved on to other candidates.  I became discouraged again, but didn’t give up finding a job. 

Then, several weeks later, on February 25, 2016, I was at my current workplace, and wanted to check the status of my resume, since they hadn’t contacted me for several days.  So, I talked to the HR coordinator, and she then scheduled an interview for me at 1 pm. Since I don’t live that close to my current job, I had no time to change into better “interview” clothes,  and then I went back at about that time and was interviewed by Chris* who later became my manager too.  I did not know it at the time, but the fact that Chris was willing to hire me partly helped me to recover from the depressive funk that I had suffered from for so many years!

During the next six months, many changes happened to my family and me. My brother moved out to go to school in another part of the country, where he has been living ever since.  I also felt called to move to a different church. I began to take my blog that I had started in December 2015 more seriously.  These changes, which may have left many people frazzled and/or depressed, actually brought me joy and opportunities that I may never have had if these changes did not occur.

I also faced a big change at work.  I was talking to another manager, Hope*, one September in 2016, when she and I discussed about the possibility of me being full time at my company. She agreed that I should be full-time, and then she changed my status to be full time on September 9, 2016. That was one of the happiest days of my life! Even people that knew me well didn’t think I’d ever be able to be full-time, so I was surprised, but also grateful for this opportunity.

Now, more than two years later, I continue to learn and grow. Yes, there are still times when I feel depressed and stressed, but these episodes are much shorter and less severe than ever before.  I have finally found people, both at my current job and at my church, who I believe value and love me as I am.  As I look ahead to my future, I would like to show as many people as possible the love and joy I have found through God and others in my life, and give them hope, that they, too, can conquer their demons and live in abundant joy.

Source: 1) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. SMA 17-5044, NSDUH Series H-52). Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/

Godsend

written on 10/3/2018

— To everyone in my life who has believed in me

 

I felt alone for so long

I felt no one really loved me

Years of pain and hurt inside

I didn’t let anyone see

 

I was so torn and broken

I thought no one would love me

But my heart you would open

Healing the deep pain inside

 

You showed me abundant love

And gave me the strength to stand

Because you believed in me

And who I was meant to be

How to Cultivate Gratitude

I am happy and blessed with my life, though it is not always free of challenges and trials.  As I have shared before, I have struggled with depression since I was a little girl.  Though this was not the cause of all of my depression, I found that when I realized what I actually had rather than focusing on what I lacked; I found that I was able to cultivate more joy and gratitude into my life.  Yes, cultivating gratitude can sometimes be a challenge, especially when you are facing something tough and personal. However, it still can be done. Gratitude should be cultivated even more during times of prosperity and peace.  Here is what I am learning and have learned about how to cultivate a grateful attitude:

  1. Focus on what you do have, rather than what you don’t have: I believe that the number one barrier to being grateful is our focus. When we focus on all the things that we lack, we tend to develop an attitude of self-pity, which often leads to complaining and bitterness. When we focus on the things we do have, we realize just how much we are blessed. For instance, when I get frustrated at myself because I don’t know how to do something right, my focus is wrongly on the talents that I don’t have instead of my strengths. However, if I shift my focus on something I am better at—such as writing– I find that I can be much more encouraged and less upset at the thing in which I am struggling.  Many people who struggle with being grateful for what they have also struggle with envy because their focus is on getting (or wishing they had) something that someone else possesses, instead of what they have already been given.  For instance, I used to envy people who were happily married and had children, because, as a single, I did not have those for myself. However, when I instead focused on the relative freedom and time I had to help others, I realized the blessing that I had being single that these married people no longer had.
  2. Know that we are often given more than we deserve: Many people, including myself, at times, struggle with the fact that we get more than we deserve, because of our sense of entitlement. However, even though we have all hurt others, though maybe not all intentionally, most of us still have people that love and care for us, and we have some semblance of joy in our lives.  The fact that others still give us mercy even though we may have hurt them before should cause us to rejoice and be thankful!  If you drive, have you not gotten a ticket even though you were speeding through traffic? That is evidence of mercy!   Or you made a serious error at work, and your boss does not fire you? That, too, is evidence of grace and mercy!  Bring to mind the moments when you should have had to bear the consequences of your bad actions, but in God’s and others’ mercy, you didn’t have to.  Moreover, think of the times when you did something careless, but you were saved from disaster.
  3. Consider others who are in worse situations than you: Finally, a great way to cultivate gratitude is not to look at others who are doing better than you, but see the people around you who are in more difficult situations than you. For instance, some people I know have either a loved one struggling with a serious medical issue or are struggling themselves. This helps me to be grateful that my family and I are in good health, even though I may come home from work tired sometimes. Recently, at work, we had a celebration for the bonus that my co-workers and I were able to get on our last paycheck.   They served pizza. Though the pizza became cold after being out for several hours, I was grateful work provided pizza for us because of what I heard about the struggle of people in other countries to get any food at all. In particular, I was thinking about the people of Venezuela. I heard that since they have had an electrical shortage, meat cannot be adequately cooled in freezers, so eventually it becomes spoiled, but the stores sell them anyway because people need food. So, the people actually buy the spoiled meat, season it with some spices, and eat it!  Their dire situation helps me be grateful that we have so much food, electricity, and working cooling systems (freezers and refrigerators) in the U.S and that we can eat delicious, edible food that is not spoiled.

By focusing on all that God has blessed me with, by knowing that I am often being given more than I ultimately deserve and by considering people in worse situations than me, I am able to cultivate an attitude of gratitude for my life. When I do this, I find that I am not only able to be more thankful for what I have, but I am also to have more joy, even in the tough times. Even though we may face many challenges and struggles, we still can cherish and appreciate what we do have before it is too late.