Choose Happiness

Our lives are like scrapbooks, memories frozen in time on pages preserved in our hearts and minds. With every breath, every step, and the passing of time, those pages turn capturing the laughter, the tears, the joy, the heartbreak, the pride and the disappoint of days gone by. Sometimes I envision it something like a dream catcher, analyzing our thoughts, reading our emotions and casting its net to gather up all the shreds of our existence to file away only to be called upon with a familiar smell, feeling, or desire.

I treasure those pages, perhaps now more than ever, as they bond me closer to the pieces of my heart that belong to those I’ve lost. But what it also does is help me become keen to those moments as they happen; my senses acute to a touch or a feeling I’m bound to treasure forever. It’s incredible to me how time can sometimes stand still when you’re caught up in a moment, how you feel like you’re surrounded by a blur of emotion as you narrow in on a memory in the making. It does my heart good to slow down and take in the aroma of a sweet gesture, the twinkle of a bright eye, or the ring of laughter. Especially amidst a world that seems to challenge any brightness that exist, threatening to extinguish it, or worse, paint it gray.

As I call upon my pages at times, I am often speechless at the caliber of memories and happiness they hold. Sure, there have been tears, fears, and struggles along the way. But the pure joy and innocence that roll off the pages remind me of how truly blessed I am. I think it’s easy sometimes to get lost in ourselves, to focus on the hurt and the pain. To revel in the disappointment and loss. But it takes effort to really stop and allow the gratitude to creep in. Perhaps it’s because when we welcome it into our hearts, we compare those sweet moments of light to the multitude of darkness we face and it stings just a little more to see the darkness for what it truly is, a valley.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21

But what Matthew tells us is that where our treasure is, there are heart will also be. And while this verse is most often associated with the lesson of serving two masters, today my heart applied it in a different way. Today, I found it as a message to not dwell in the sadness, to not allow yourself to bed down in the trenches. But where your focus and attention lie, that is where your heart will find rest. So if you are experiencing loss, if you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death, if stress and worry is trapping you, if that is where you let your mind wander, it is there where your life song will be.

I have so many people around me experiencing things that break my heart. Every day I am faced with a story, or a bit of news that twists my heart strings threatening to disengage them completely. And while my heart aches for them, my mind churns with how to fix it, how to make it better. And naturally so, I’m a solver. I don’t always say the best things to comfort people, I don’t always give great advice. And I mourn in the least desirable ways. But where I find refuge is solving problems. Fixing worry, relieving stress. I run on order, to-do lists, and small successes.

So as I racked my brain for a way to bring peace to those I love that hurt, this verse laid on my heart. It’s always been a favorite but today I saw it in a new form. I saw it as an invitation to extend to those I love, a challenge to search your heart and it’s landing place. I saw it as a a chance to encourage those around me to find the strength to heal inside themselves. For as the verse says to us, what you treasure your heart will take up.

My prayer today is that for each of you hurting, for each of you who feel the darkness pressing in on all sides, that you choose to plant your flag in your happiness. It’s true that days are dark, but hidden in those pages of our scrapbook are good memories, happy memories that can carry us through the darkness. And all though they may be long gone, or seem like another lifetime ago, they can act as a bridge to carry us over troubled waters. And for every hard time we go through, there is a sweet moment waiting for us around the corner. It may be small, and you may be hard pressed to see it, but it’s there.

Our Savior promises us that we will experience nothing that we cannot handle. And just as the wonder that I wish for to heal my heart, I know that what we need to truly heal is found within us, we need only to call upon it. Take advantage of a holiday that focuses of thanks and gratitude and whisper a prayer of thanks to him for the beautiful life you’ve lived. Open your heart to your scrapbook and let the pages flood you with the joy you deserve this thanksgiving. May God grant you peace to embrace today, and every day.

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Living Life with No Filter.

As humans, it is our nature to hide our flaws and cover ourselves to prevent our vulnerability. And as we live in a world of technology, we now have the guise of a computer to hide behind as we project the image of ourselves we want others to see through social media. But what if you stepped away from the computer, striped yourself of the coverings, and stood in the presence of others as you are, with no filters…what would they see?

While the revolution that is technology has reached a climax in our current day and age that has produced incredible advancements in fields such as medicine, it has also brought with it the likes of social media. There are refreshing aspects to our time online, like keeping up with friends and sharing our lives with those who may be far away from us, but it also brings with it a devastating mindfulness of our flaws. By having the ability to broadcast every second of our lives to those whose opinion we value, we enable ourselves to find a filter to put on our life that projects perhaps a happier picture of ourselves, a healthier picture, or a more acceptable picture. It allows us to pick and choose who we are to others.

This can be absolutely devastating to our spiritual lives as that mindset tells us, I can hide the things I don’t want others to see. I can cover up the bruises and imperfections and no one will know what I hide. But the truth is, your Heavenly Father knows your heart, your mind and every hair on your head. There is nothing you can hide from him.

“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.” Psalm 139:1-5

I am currently diving into a study by one of my favorite Christian authors, Angela Thomas-Pharr, entitled “Redeemed.” In one of her sessions, she was talking about selfies and social media and she said something that struck a chord with me, “living life without a filter.” As I worked through the rest of the lesson, I circled back to that phrase and sat on it for a bit. What did that mean to me? As a professional in the world of marketing and public relations, social media is a part of what I do. I am continuously learning and soaking up any knowledge I can about a piece of technology that is ever-changing. I am always strategizing, calculating each move I make on Facebook, Twitter and the likes as to how it will represent the brands I am a part of. And then I looked at how much time is spent by myself and others each day, creating just the right post to capture the attention of the people we follow. How much time is spent picking out just the right photo filter on Instagram to mask imperfections in our photos, from our photography to the glimmer of chaos that is caught in the frame. But what would happen if those filters suddenly disappeared, and we were left with just the raw film of what is taking place in front of us. Would our world look differently to those who see it through social media?

“But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” Isaiah 59:2

I wonder if sometimes we get so caught up in building this brand for ourselves online, that we forget who we are on the inside. That we allow our desire to please mankind to separate us from our Heavenly Father. In truth, the opinion of man will give us nothing but a belief in God, and striving for his kind of perfection will give us eternal life.

As humans, vulnerability is naturally a scary thing. We are inclined to protect ourselves and hide our hearts from the rejection or distaste of those here on Earth, a desire that came to us from our ancestors of the Garden of Eden. If you visit Genesis 3 in your Bible, you will read the account of Adam and Eve and how their disobedience to God led them to the knowledge that they were naked. They sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves and their shame, and even hid from God. Our sinful nature is reflected in that of the first man and first woman put on Earth. God being a gracious ruler gave us free will, he gave us the power to choose to love him or choose to sin against him. That is why Adam and Eve were able to disobey him and because of it, were forced out of the paradise of the Garden of Eden. And today, we still struggle with the same temptations that they did. We are surrounded by influences that force us to judge our bodies, our hearts, our minds, and others. We are constantly gaging how we measure up to others and completely ignoring the glaring reminder that God gives us that we were made in his image. Rest on that a moment.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27

The Lord of Lords, the God of ALL creation took his time and made you specifically in the image of himself. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that God created any other living, breathing thing in his image. Only male and female.

How special are you that the Creator of Earth wanted you to be like him, the very definition of perfection?

And yet we struggle to accept ourselves, to accept others. We spend time staging just the right look, just the right pose, in just the right setting to fit the brand we want for ourselves that we think is pleasing to our fellow man. But what happens if you strip away those filters, and you are left with the raw film of your life. What does it look like? Are you happy with the stripped down version of yourself?

If you were forced to take a candid picture with no filters, and write a true, honest caption that represented your life, what would it say?

Maybe you are reading this today and you say, you know what? I am happy with my life. I have a great family, I have wonderful blessings in my job and home. I am happy right where I am and would show anyone that life in a moment’s notice. My question to you then would be, what if Jesus was at your door? In the midst of the chaos you don’t post on line, when you have had it with the day before you, you feel defeated and are at your absolute worst, the Lord and Savior shows up at your door. What would he find? Would you find a servant living their life as best they can for him? A Christian praying for peace and guidance in an upside down world? Or would he find a human that has strayed from their Heavenly Father, just trying to make sense of things and keep up a façade that makes everyone believe you’re ok, because you’re supposed to be ok?

Or maybe you are reading this today and tears are streaming down your face. Maybe you are sitting there saying, “I’m lost.” You recognize that you have strayed away from your Heavenly Father and have been working for men, not for him. That the happiness you just can’t seem to find is because you’ve been chasing the wrong joy. You’ve been looking for fulfillment in the things this Earth tells you should make you happy instead of filling that God-shaped hole in your heart with prayer and his word.

Whichever category you fall into, it is ok. God loves you regardless and he wants to help you. He doesn’t care about that blemish on your face, or the extra pounds you have gained. He doesn’t care that there is a scar on your body from where you took out your frustration on yourself. He doesn’t care that there are bruises, physical and emotional, on your body and in your heart because of the evil of another person. All he cares is that you love him and you want him to be in your heart.

Now I am going to ask you to do the one of the hardest things you will ever be asked to do. Take just a moment of your today and peel back all those layers. Delete those filters from your life. Scrub away every mask you have painted on in the name of survival. Now look at yourself in the mirror. Who are you? Is that person who you want to be?

I will tell you exactly who you are, you are a child of the Creator of everything. You are loved by God, who is the Alpha and the Omega and he is yearning for you to rest in his love. He is craving your desire to follow him and he is standing right there beside you, just waiting for you to give in to his glory. Let him take you, and make you new. Let him erase the past, and provide you with a future that is brighter than you can ever imagine. I can promise you that when you have a relationship with the Lord and Savior, no human attention or approval will match the tremendous joy that fills your heart, mind and soul. You are perfect in his eyes, let him love you.

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17-19