Yearly seasons have taken on a whole new meaning since living in the tropics. Winter doesn’t exist here, and neither does fall. Our entire region swings between beautiful spring weather to blazing hot summers, overlapping with the swing between dry and rainy. If this isn’t the perfect metaphor for my life, my emotions, and my circumstances, then I can’t think of a better one.
At the beginning of the year, I was overcome with gratitude for life we live here. Beautiful weather, cool breezes, ocean waves, and the chatter of lizards and monkeys coming through the window. The work we do had found its rhythm. The ministry was growing, and change was happening in those who attended! Our kids loved their new school. As I praised our Father for this work, the word ‘joy’ filled my mind. “That’s it!’ I thought, “That is my word for this year: Joy!”
“What about when things change? Will you choose joy then?” I felt the Lord whisper these words to my heart. My mind started racing in a million directions from those questions. Then I felt the Lord call my attention back to Him, “Will you still find joy when things aren’t easy?” “Of course!” I responded, but I quickly tucked such thoughts to the back of my mind. Right now life was sweet, and I was going to enjoy it. God continued to fill me with joy as I soaked up all He was doing in that season.
The months raced ahead. Some big, but expected, ministry changes were taking place. Our friends, and the heads of our church, were moving back home. The leadership team, which included us, were taking on their responsibilities in this short season of transition. The new head pastor and family were coming, but they had just been a bit delayed. It would be hard, but we would do all we could to care for the church in the waiting. Distractions popped up, but I kept coming back to joy. Even in this – goodbyes, grieving, working, waiting – I could find joy in what God was doing, that this was all His plan.
Our kids finished their school year and we left for our yearly visit back to our home country. We did our best to prepare for the work to carry on in our absence. Our church was being left in very capable hands with the rest of the leadership. The new pastor and his family were even coming down for a few weeks to help out! So off we went to share, and speak, and visit, and stock up on all the things we would need for the coming year.
Most of you will understand when I say that furlough is not a particularly restful season. We quickly became tired, drained, and felt completely off with no routine. We survived the summer, but we did not thrive. Time with Jesus was sparse. Sleep was short. Travel was long. We had plenty of happy and fun experiences, but my supply of joy began to run low. Midway through our trip we were made aware of challenges the church leadership were dealing with at home. We would be visiting with friends or speaking at a church, and then race back for hour-long FaceTime calls to help resolve the problems.
Towards the end our time in our host country, we were hit with some hard news: the family who planned to move down and lead our church found out that they could no longer come. All those plans and telling ourselves that this is just a season began to fall apart. What were we supposed to do without a pastor? How would we run a ministry and co-run an entire church? What could God’s plan be in this? Then, just two days later, we got the call that my husband’s grandmother had passed away. It felt like one thing after another.
I was scrolling through Facebook and saw where a friend mentioned their word of the year. I felt as if the post was mocking me, whispering, “Where is all that joy now?” Suddenly, I knew what had happened. If I wanted to feel joy, I had to be daily connected with the One who provides it. No more rushing through or putting off my time with Him.
The words of Philippians 4 jumped to my mind: “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!… Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:4, 6-8 NLT). As I followed these directions, joy began to dawn in my heart once more.
So now we’re home in our host country, readjusting to this new and unexpected normal. The days are busier and the tasks more stressful. We are being stretched into many new directions. No matter the season we find ourselves in, however, we are choosing to continue seeking joy, and continuing to sit at the feet of our God who lavishly provides it.
What have you done to return to joy in seasons that have been especially challenging?