Mother’s Day: Joy, Grief, Hope

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Today is Mother’s Day.  Today 3 words come to mind: joy, grief, and hope.  Maybe today you are experiencing incredible joy for the child or children you have.  Maybe today you feel grief for a child or baby you lost.  Maybe today you feel hope (and a bit of sadness too) for the child you yearn to come, whether through pregnancy or adoption.  Maybe today, like me, you are experiencing all three of these emotions and realities.

Today I sit in awe of my son, at my beautiful life of being a mom to him, and I have to remind myself that I am not dreaming; I am living in reality – I made it to motherhood!  I watched the video of my first mother’s day today; my son was 3 days old.  The day before that first mother’s day my son was discharged from the hospital to our care, the day before that I held him for the first time, and the day before that he was born and I woke up that morning not knowing that I was to become to a mom.  I’ll always cherish that first Mother’s Day always.

Today I also miss my baby twins that I never got to meet or hold in my arms.  They will soon be 4 years old. (We lost them in a failed adoption)

Today is also a day of hope, hope for the babies and children that I pray will one day come to our family.  I have no idea how we will adopt again and I fear some days that it will never work out to adopt more children.  However my heart does not feel that our family is complete and so I hope in God’s blessings of more babies and children to come.

Wherever you land in these three emotions on this Mother’s Day, may God’s abundant grace and peace fill your heart!  Happy Mother’s Day!

A pocket full of superhero band-aids

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I am learning a very important lesson of motherhood.  Go at your child’s pace.  (This may be like second nature to some of you seasoned moms but to me, a task-oriented perfectionist, it has not been an easy lesson to learn.)  I have noticed how high my frustration levels run when I try to go through the day at my prefered pace and expect my almost-3-year-old to keep up.  I forget that his world is full of distractions and curiosity to look at, touch, talk about, and explore pretty much everything he comes into contact with throughout his day.  He does not feel rushed to find his shoes and put them on to leave the house but would first like to play a short game of hide-and-seek or go through his toy bin looking for the perfect toy to take for the car ride.  Washing his hands entails making a sink full of bubbles – because how boring would it be to simply wash your hand?  Reading a 30-second book may take 5 minutes and some pages will have to be read again and again.  In my check-list of tasks I so easily forget that my son does not feel that same sense of urgency and his transitions from one activity to the next may take an extra few minutes.  His imagination, creativity, and love for silliness is often squashed in my fast-paced routine.

Today we were walking out the door to go grocery shopping when my son asked for a band-aid (he was not hurt, just wanted a band-aid).  We were already running behind schedule but I pushed aside my urge to say no and got down the box of superhero band-aids from the closet.  As he searched through the band-aids he decided that he needed to give one to every person he could think and soon his pockets were full of band-aids.  He was so happy.  It made his day.  It was only band-aids and a couple of extra minutes in our day.  But it was so worth it . . . a pocket full of superhero band-aids.

Of course we cannot say yes to every adventure our kids get side-tracked to and there are times when have to hurry and keep a strict schedule but there is so much joy and blessings for both our kids and for us to sometimes allow a little “wiggle” room in our schedule and routine to move at our child’s pace.

Centering My Focus

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Lately I have been feeling completely overwhelmed with information and ideas.  I seem to have this long check-list in my head of new things to try and new ways of doing things more efficiently.  I love new ideas but lately I am bogged down with thinking, “I have to do it all!”  Maybe this is why I avoid things like pinterest.  Every new idea I see that works for another person, I think to myself, “Aha!  That’s awesome!  I must do that too!”

Sometimes you have to just get back to the basics.  Feeling guilty for all the things I want to do and just don’t have the time or energy to do, I asked myself what is the most important job I have as wife and mom if I boiled it down to 1 or 2 words?  For my husband, support and respect and for my son, nurture and train are my roles in a nutshell.

I’ve decided that all of these ideas are good ideas but I can’t implement them all or I will lose my focus, much less my sanity!  So the question then becomes, what is it that my family really needs?  I think as wives and moms, we have a very unique opportunity to set the mood or atmosphere in our homes.

What is the atmosphere in your home? What is it that your family needs now in the current season you are in?

If money is tight maybe your focus can be on saving money and thinking up creative family activities that do not cost money.  If chaos  and busyness describes your family’s season of life right now, maybe instilling and cultivating peace in your home can be your focus.  Maybe illness has been in your family and your focus in this season is simply sleep and ensuring everyone in the family is getting enough of it.  If stress is overwhelming your family maybe you need to look for ways to bring humor and relaxation wherever you possibly can.  Whatever it is, think about what are the needs of your family and where does your focus need to be in this season of your family.  Get the emphasis here?  Don’t get bogged down with what others are doing in their season of life.  Let’s focus our attention to the needs of our own family and let all of those wonderful and creative ideas bombarding us in this technologically crazy world be just that, wonderful ideas . . . for another day!

Where Myrtles Grow

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Why myrtles?  It was a few years ago when one day I was reading in the Bible Isaiah 55.  It’s a beautiful statement of God’s invitation to his people, the Israelites to trust in him and a beautiful metaphor of his promise for restoration both on the earth and ultimately in heaven.

“The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth.  They cause the grain to grow, producing for the farmer and bread for the hungry.      It is the same with my word.  I send it out, and it always produces fruit.  It will accomplish  all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.

You will live in joy and peace.  The mountains and hills                                                            will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands!                                  Where once there were thorns, cypress tress will grow.                                                     Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up.                                                             These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name;                                                                they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.”  (Isaiah 55:10-13, NLT)

When I read these verses I smiled when I came across “myrtles.”  I had always loved this as a girl’s name (my husband has never shared my enthusiasm for the name!).  Curious now about what myrtles meant in this Bible passage, I looked up the word myrtle.  I discovered that myrtles grow wild in the Mediterranean (I love everything about the Mediterranean!) and the plant produces beautiful, fragrant flowers, usually star-shaped white petals with dark green leaves.  Both the flowers and the leaves produce an aroma that is often used in perfumes.  Dating back to ancient times myrtle has been used for medicinal purposes.  The leaves were ground together and used to treat a wide array of ailments as well as the plant’s essential oil.  The myrtle also produces a dark-colored berry.  This plant has it all; fragrance, beauty, oil, berries, and medicinal value.  Beautiful and functional, the myrtle was treasured in ancient times for its many uses of perfumes and medicines.

After researching the myrtle, I was curious then what nettles were.  What a contrast to myrtles!  Nettles are covered with little stinging hairs that cause a stinging pain followed by skin irritation and redness when touched.  The plant produces no flowers or fragrance, and beautiful is not a word that describes nettles.  There are, however some medicinal values to nettles.

After reading the descriptions for both myrtles and nettles, I read the passage again in Isaiah.  Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up.  The words now created a mental image, an amazing picture of ugly and pain-producing nettles being replaced by beautiful, fragrant myrtles with healing potential.  I was stunned at this imagery.  Imagine something so ugly, painful, and annoying being taken away and in its place something beautiful, un-harming, fragrant, with medicinal value growing in its place.  I thought of the season of life I was sitting in and it felt like nettles.  Years of trying to conceive, discovering from doctors that conception was not possible for us, waiting to adopt, and losing babies when birthmothers later decided against adoption.  We had just lost precious twin babies whom we prepared and waited for almost 6 months when, on the day of their birth, their birthmother changed her mind about giving them for adoption.  I grieved over an empty womb for years and now I grieved over empty arms.  Was this desire for children, to be a mom ever to be fulfilled?

My eyes filled with tears as I thought about this picture of nettles to myrtles.  In the context of the story in Isaiah, the Israelites were suffering intensely and asking God when relief would come.  God promised them restoration.  He promised to restore them as his people and it is a foreshadow, I believe of the ultimate restoration of our brokenness through the redemption of the cross that brings eternal life with God.  God echoes this promise throughout the Bible, to restore that which is broken.  Some healing he gives on this earth but the day will come when, in heaven complete and final healing will be given to those who know his grace.  This is what God does; he takes pain and heals it, he makes beautiful what was once ugly, and he takes what is annoying and makes it a blessing.  I felt hope that God would take my nettles and replace them with myrtles.

As if these words were not encouraging enough, I read on.  These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name; they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.  Another wave of emotion passed over me.  Not only does God promise to heal and restore, he gives a reason for it!  His work of restoration will bring glory and honor to him and his healing work will be a visible sign of his power to all.  When God heals and replaces nettles with myrtles, it is a testament, a tangible sign of his love.  I felt relief because I believed I had found purpose.  I love purpose.  Experiencing the pain of nettles and waiting for myrtles builds character in a person, it can bring husband and wife closer together, but above all it ultimately has a purpose in God.  Only God can completely change and heal, only he can transform nettles to myrtles.  And when he does, it brings glory to him.  He uses this process so that others may see him, may see his glory.

How?  I don’t fully know, but I trust him.  If I don’t see these painful experiences through God’s glory, then it is senseless.  My pain would be for nothing.  But I love purpose and I know my seasons of pain have purpose.  Knowing that God can use my pain to point others toward him (and point me to him!!), to show his glory of what beautiful myrtles he can plant after seasons of nettles, gives me purpose.  I had no idea when I started to read that day how God would speak to my heart in such a way as he did.  But his words changed me.

Today I look at my adorable son and know that God has indeed restored my empty arms.  My son is my “myrtle,” my sign of God’s healing, restoration, and glory.

I have many types of nettles in my life.  My journey to becoming a mom is just one.  Have all of my seasons of nettles been fully replaced with myrtles?  No, but I know that day will come in heaven.  I still, when I see a pregnant mother or newborn baby, often feel a twinge in my heart for the baby I will never feel grow inside of me and the babies we held in our hearts but never got to hold in our arms.  Some pain just never fully goes away, but like I said, I know that day will come in heaven.  But as I wait for that day of complete healing, I know that God, through his grace is restoring the broken every day.  And living in his grace is why I can say I’m living where myrtles grow . . .

“You adopted me”

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Those are the words that fell out of my 2 ½ year old today at the dinner table.  He said out of the blue “you went to ____ (the state where he was born) and adopted me when I was a baby.”  I nearly fell out of my chair.  I had a conversation with him a few nights ago about adoption after he watched a tv cartoon in which one of the characters flew to China and adopted a baby girl.  He was very curious about the little character becoming a big brother and we talked for the rest of the day about the baby adopted from China.  As I rocked him at bedtime that night I said to him that we adopted him just like the baby who was adopted from China.  I told him how we drove to a special city and adopted him when he was a tiny baby.  His response to me was something about how he didn’t want to go to China to adopt a sister.  I smiled and thinking that he probably did not understand what I had told him, I left the conversation at that.  So you can imagine my shock when he uttered those words to us at the dinner table tonight!

Of course in his toddler mind the abstract concept of adoption cannot be understood but I love that he is becoming familiar with the vocabulary of adoption and the seed of this concept is being planted.  We have a few years before he is able to understand that he has a birthmother and did not come from my tummy.  But until he is able to grasp that concept, I am so happy that he is growing up with the vocabulary of adoption and the concept from early on.  I pray that he grows up to be confident and secure in his adoption.  And I am hoping that the beginnings of that security are being planted now as we talk to him about adoption with joy and confidence.

Since our son was just a few days old, we have lovingly and joyfully told him that we adopted him.  Most nights before I lay him down in bed I tell him how happy (that is the word I use, but “happy” does not even scratch the surface of how I feel!) I am to be his mommy.  Tonight at dinner was the very first time I have ever heard him talk about his adoption.  And he talked about it with a smile on his face.  Through the ups and downs of life and the journey he will take of finding his identity as an adopted child in a transracial family, may that smile stay with him and may he know in the deepest part of his soul that he is loved, always our son.

Between Friends: Pregnancy and Infertility

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It has been about 6 years since we first learned we were unable to have biological children.  In that time we have watched countless friends and family give birth to baby after baby.  If there was one thing I can say for certain about the experience it would be that it is awkward and uncomfortable for everyone.  When you are dealing with infertility one of the most painful things to hear from a friend is their news of pregnancy and then to congratulate them on their newborn baby when he/she arrives.  But as much as I know first hand of this pain, I have learned and watched the pain from friends and family who have been on the other end; the ones announcing their pregnancy to a loved one experiencing infertility.  It saddens them because they do not want to add to the pain and sorrow of their friend or family member and they are at a loss over what to say.  This scenario happens everyday; one friend is pregnant and the other friend is dealing with the grief of infertility and another month of not being pregnant.  One is experiencing joy and the other, pain.  How do you share the news of your pregnancy with your friend who is experiencing infertility?

The last thing I want to write is a “do’s and don’ts” list or a “how to” talk to your friend with infertility because I don’t think there is a ‘one size fits all’ approach.  Infertility is so intimately personal and each couples’ experience is unique.  The experience of infertility can include primary infertility (inability to conceive), secondary infertility (inability to conceive after giving birth), multiple miscarriages and the inability to carry a pregnancy to full term, and each situation is distinctive.  Some couples learn right from the start that they are infertile and others endure years of expensive testing and failed attempts to conceive.  Maybe there is an illness that has robbed the couple of their ability to conceive or perhaps the cause of infertility is unknown by doctors.  The experience and pain associated with infertility is so very different to each couple.  And so with this in mind, I share my thoughts about infertility strictly out of my own experiences over the years of the comforting, supporting, and the sometimes painful responses I have received from others regarding our infertility.  I write this as a guide, not as an end-all “how to.”  I hope these thoughts will give you some peace and hope if you find yourself in the situation of sharing your pregnancy with a friend experiencing infertility or if you find yourself on the lonely island of everyone giving birth except for you.  I’d love to hear from you about your experiences.  What has been helpful to you?  What has been hurtful to you?  Let’s learn together.

You’ve told your friend who is experiencing infertility that you are pregnant.  Both now and in the months that follow, remember:

1)Don’t ignore the obvious.  You are pregnant.  They are not.  You are thrilled and filled with joy to welcome a new baby.  They have lost hope of ever welcoming a birthchild into their arms.  It may feel counterintuitive but don’t ignore the “elephant in the room.”  Share with your friend that you are fully aware of the reality of the situation and share how you feel.  Tell them you feel sad to share your pregnancy because you know they are unable to experience pregnancy.  Tell them you were scared to even share your news with them because you feared they would be mad at you.  Tell them you wish you could ease the pain of this news for them.  Tell them you are unsure of how to share your joy when you know they are hurting.  Whatever you are feeling; tell them.

2)Don’t assume they are unable to feel joy for you and/or want to share in your excitement of a new baby.  I have shared with family and friends that my heart is able to feel sincere joy for their baby and at the same time, pain for my reality that I will never give birth to a baby.  My heart is complex enough to experience both at the same time.  So don’t fear that you will be causing them more pain by sharing with them your pregnancy because believe me, they haven’t forgotten their pain!  You won’t be necessarily adding to their pain because it is so strongly enveloping their heart already.  And they can and may feel true joy and happiness for your baby.

3)Ask your friend how they would like to be involved in your journey of pregnancy and give them permission to express whatever emotions they may be feeling.  Let them know that you would like to share with them throughout your pregnancy updates about what is happening but ask her if the details are too painful for her to hear.  She will probably tell you that some days she would love to hear all about your pregnancy and other days she may be unable to share those details with you or give you support in your experiences with pregnancy.  Give her the freedom to let you know how she would like to support you and where it is too painful.  For me, I went through a period of time when I couldn’t hold much less look at a newborn baby without crying.  Whenever a friend gave birth I would visit them at the hospital for a quick visit, hold the baby, smile, congratulate them and then run like the wind of the hospital before I lost it.  For the woman dealing with infertility, hospital maternity wards can be the most painful place to be.  Let your friend skip your baby shower, skip the hospital visit, whatever it is that is too painful and let her know it’s okay.

4)Whatever you do, don’t minimize your experience of pregnancy and childbirth by saying something like, “Don’t worry, you aren’t really missing anything.  Pregnancy is miserable and childbirth is terrible.  You are saving yourself a lot of pain!  You’re lucky to escape pregnancy and childbirth.”  (Yes, I have had this and similar said to me!)  This is probably the number one worst thing you can say to your friend with infertility.  Would you tell a single person looking for a spouse to be happy because they are saving themselves from a lot of frustration and agony from marriage conflicts that inevitably arise?  I sure hope not!  Be honest with your friend.  Even though pregnancy and childbirth is both wonderful and miserable, it is an experience many women cherish.  And this fact is what your friend is grieving.

 

To the friend experiencing infertility:

Give your friends and family lots of grace.  They may not show it but they probably feel extremely uncomfortable and are not sure what they should say.  Out of wanting to protect your heart and not cause you further pain, they may opt to not say anything to you.  To you it may feel like the elephant in the room that they are ignoring or that they are forgetting about your reality.  But the opposite is probably true, they don’t want to cause you more discomfort.  The ball may be in your hands to speak first and let them know how you feel.  Let them know if you are feeling happy for them but your own sadness is just too much on this particular day to talk about babies.  On another day ask them questions about their pregnancy or newborn baby.  Friends can take turns; laugh and share the joy of the precious new baby that is just conceived or born, and then cry together for the baby your empty womb and empty arms miss.  As I said before, I went through a stage where I couldn’t look at a newborn baby without crying.  Let your friend know this.  Say, I would like to hold and snuggle your little one but I may cry.

Infertility is a lonely experience and no matter how much support, prayers, and love you may receive from those around you, you may still feel very much alone.  Give your friends grace because for just as alone as you feel, they may be feeling an equal amount of aloneness in their pregnancy or recent birth.

Looking for answers

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My grandparents always had crossword puzzle books by their living room chairs, on the nightstands by their bed, and they never left for vacation without a few puzzle books stashed away in their bags.  When I was young they both taught me how to do crossword puzzles whenever we were together for a visit.  Several years ago when my grandfather passed away I was staying at their house and picked up one of their crossword puzzles book and started working on the next word puzzle.  My grandma offered for me to take the book home and there I had it; my first crossword puzzle book.  Up until that point I had never actually done a crossword puzzle on my own except when I was doing one with my grandma.  When I took that puzzle book home and slowly filled in the answers to each puzzle I thought of my grandpa and how much he enjoyed doing the same.  I guess it was a way to connect with and think of him during those first months that he was gone from our lives.

Well those silly crossword puzzles grew on me and have become a part of my daily routine.  Each afternoon (or as often as I can) after I put our son down for a nap I make a cup of coffee, put on an old tv show, and sit down with my crossword puzzle.  And oh how I love my afternoon coffee and crossword puzzle break!

Today I started a new crossword in my book and realized that the answer pages had been torn out of the back of the book by my sweet toddler.  Knowing that I have never completed a puzzle without peeking at the answer page, I was hesitant to even start the new puzzle.  I was sure that I would get only part way through it and not be able to finish it without the answers.  Well, I am happy to write that I did the entire crossword puzzle completely by myself, first time ever!.  I was pretty happy and surprised with myself.  (It’s silly, I know.  And please don’t judge me if you are one of those who have never once looked at the answer key!! 🙂

What does this accomplishment have to do with anything?  Surprised that I did my first crossword puzzle without the answer key made me think of how often I depend on and search for the “answers” to the multitudes of questions I have as a new parent.  As my son reaches each new stage I feel a frantic urge to research and ask other parents questions in search of the “correct” or “perfect” answer.  I wonder, like the crossword puzzles, how often I jump to looking for answers before first going with my intuition and the instinctive “answer” that seems to naturally fits my child, my personality as a parent, our family, and our daily rhythm at home.  Before giving myself a chance to discover a possible answer, I rush ahead looking for the perfect answer.

Are you like me?  Do you hurry to find solutions to your parenting problems and concerns before even allowing the unique intuition and problem-solving abilities God has given to you as your child’s mom?  It is so easy to look for that safety net of answers, advice and wisdom that is out there and to forget that God has uniquely equipped us to parent each child he has bestowed to our care.

I would never, ever advise against seeking good counsel to our vital parenting questions.  I am, however suggesting that perhaps we lose confidence in our parenting abilities and this can drive us to crazily seek the perfect “answer key” (as if there was one for parenting!!!).

Tiredness: the enemy of motherhood

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I’ve only been a mom for a couple of years but I have decided that the biggest enemy to motherhood is

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old

tiredness.

It’s when I am tired that I make my worst parenting decisions.  I don’t follow through on discipline and consequences.  I give in to pleas for the extra snacks too close to dinner time or let the television stay on far longer than I’d ever like to admit.

It’s not that I don’t get good sleep most nights or that I have a night job that keeps me out late.  I just get tired . . . from the day-to-day stresses and busy activities of life as a mom, wife,  and homemaker.  We live in such a fast-paced lifestyle with a culture that gives us a false sense of pride and an imaginary pat on the back for being busy.  We somehow are led to believe the lie that the more we cram into our week, the more activities we are a part of, and the more entertaining play sessions we have at home the better of a parent we are.  All of this leaves us parents feeling tired: physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and in relationships.

And it is in the moments of tiredness that I make those parenting decisions that I later wish I could take back.

Sometimes I get tired just from the chaos of multi-tasking.  I know, there shouldn’t be “chaos” in “multi-tasking” – that’s the point of multi-tasking, to manage and decrease chaos.  But sometimes my brain hurts from multi-tasking all of the thoughts running through my mind.

How do we combat this enemy of motherhood called tiredness?  I guess that is the million dollar question.  We can strive to say no to the extra activities and keep tasks simple at home.  We can have good self-care with healthy food, adequate sleep, all of those good and healthy things.  But

life happens and we get tired.

So what do we do when tiredness gets the best of our mommy skills?  Go into your room, scream into your pillow, let out a big laugh, and give yourself GRACE.  I love grace.  Let’s not be afraid to give it to ourselves!

 

 

Sweet bonding moment

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Last month we celebrated the anniversary of the day our son’s adoption was finalized in court.  By law of the state he was born in, his adoption could not be finalized until he was 6 months old.  It was a long journey, those 6 months of waiting for the legal processes of his adoption to be completed.  Each year we celebrate that special day; the day we became his parents with all legal rights, the day his name was changed from Baby Boy to the name we gave him, the day he was issued a birth certificate with his new legal name and our names as his parents.

This year when we celebrated this most special day, after the special lunch with grandparents, eating cake and sharing a few gifts, I looked at my son and something flooded my heart.  I’m not sure I can describe in words what I felt but it was some kind of bond with him that I had not felt before.  Don’t get me wrong – my son and I have bonded together beautifully with no problems, but there was something different with this bond that I felt.  I thought back to that day standing in court before the judge and walking out of court, papers in hand and the feelings of relief and security knowing that it was finished, nothing could ever separate us as mommy, daddy and son.  It was a day that will forever be in my memories and in my heart.

I looked at my son on his special day and thought; I may have not been there on the day you were born but I was there on the day the judge declared you my son.

When it was nap time I put him in our bed and just laid there looking at him and snuggling him.  My son.  My heart felt something indescribable.  A mother’s love for her child – I guess there just are not words.

Joy

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Joy.  I love joy.  It’s not about happiness, a fleeting emotion that can come and go in an instant.  It’s a state of being.  It’s a peace deep in your soul that is not dependent on the circumstances of the day or the feelings of the moment.  It’s a joy that comes only from the Lord, that reminds us of the hope we have in him and living eternally in his care.  The joy of the Lord.  No matter what you are experiencing or what season of life you are in, his joy is unshakable.

Needing some joy today?

“May the God of hope fill you with all JOY and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  Romans 15:13

“You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with JOY in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” Psalm 16:11

“When I said, “My foot is slipping, your love, O Lord, supported me.  When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought JOY to my soul.” Psalm 94: 18-19

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love.  If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love . . . I have told you this so that my JOY may be in you and that your JOY may be complete.  My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”  John 15:9-12

“for the JOY of the Lord is your strength.”  Nehemiah 8:10

“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great JOY that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11

May the Author, Giver, and Sustainer of JOY fill your heart with joy this Christmas and always.  Merry Christmas!