David C. Hughes, Writer

“For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your JOY will be complete." –Deuteronomy 16:15

Archive for the tag “Jesus”

Joy for the World (2015-12-18 Daily)

 

Be joyous always, and serve God with joy.

—Chaim Kramer, Crossing the Narrow Bridge

 

I looked down at the gray LCD display on the elliptical’s control panel. 15 minutes had passed. 15 minutes I still had to go. I shifted my eyes to the odometer: 0.9 miles. My goal for the morning was to hit the 2 mile mark, something I hadn’t done in, gosh, years. Sweat gathered on my forehead and led a charge down my cheeks. It beaded on the backs of my hands and slicked up the elliptical’s metal handles. It rolled off my face and dripped on the floor. My heart pounded to the rhythm of my stride. My breath ebbed and flowed in strong and even measures. My legs no longer ached, warmed by the 4.1 mile-per-hour pace. I was loving it!

Yes, this morning I woke up actually looking forward to my every-other-day flagellation on my Horizon EX-56. After a slow buildup that had started weeks ago, I was close to reaching the 30 minute climax of my fitness goals. The agony had long passed; I now felt one with the elliptical, my body a well-oiled machine pounding away on a not-so-well-oiled one. As I pedaled the squeaky piece of exercise equipment, I tore my eyes from the odometer and fixed them on the wall hangings mounted behind my desk: posters of two of my books, Melted Clowns and The Epiphany of Joy. I smiled. The emotion washing over me at the moment was endorphine-fed bliss, but undergirding that elation lay a growing foundation of pure joy, one not based on current circumstances but on the One Who allows me to experience these circumstances for my benefit and His Glory. “You make known to me the path of life,” King David wrote in Psalm 16, “you will fill me with joy in your presence, /  with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11 NIV®).

I looked at the butterfly on the cover of The Epiphany of Joy—a Question Mark perched on a pale violet lilac bloom against a defocused green foliage background—and realized I’d never fully shared the story of how that butterfly had gotten there. I figured it was about time . . . .

Three years ago, as I was turning the crank on the book’s manuscript, I hadn’t given much thought to the cover until I received an email from my sister, Linda. My sister, a spiritual person who’s in tune with the unseen as much as she is with the seen, had written about a dream she’d had. In her dream, a beautiful woman, perhaps her guardian angel, stood before her with hands closed. The woman smiled, spread her arms, and opened her hands. “Butterflies!” she declared. Books fell from her hands and landed on the ground in front of her.

“I’ve read some information about the symbolism of butterflies, and it’s amazing,” she’d written in her email. “You need to look it up.” So I did, and besides the obvious symbolism of transformation, the butterfly is also a symbol for . . . JOY! I asked Linda for her blessing to use a butterfly on the book, and she eagerly agreed. Then the cover’s wings began to unfold right in front of my mind’s eye.

The butterfly I picked to represent joy is the Question Mark, chosen because of the pearly white question mark prominently displayed on the underside of each hindwing, and because the book is a compilation of my three-year search for joy (What is joy, exactly question mark, question mark, question mark). I pictured a white cover featuring the butterfly in profile perching on a limb. Since the underside of the Question Mark is a drab brown, I wanted to use this angle to represent not only my questioning, but also my uncertainty about joy—what it is, how we achieve it, how we live it. For much of my life, joy was elusive, until I discovered I’d possessed it all along.

I’d also planned to use a drawing of a Question Mark butterfly with wings spread open on the back cover, illustrating my newfound understanding and reception of joy in the upper wing’s vibrant red-orange spotted in black. I commissioned my niece, Emilie L. Hughes, to create these drawings, and she met my expectations. Problem was, my publisher had a different vision for the cover.

Talk about a struggle! I held on tightly to my concept, proud of all the symbolism I’d incorporated into both the front and back covers. When my publisher strongly suggested I use a much more vibrant stock photo of a Question Mark butterfly instead of the purposefully drab illustration, I pushed back. “It’s a book about joy,” she explained. “The cover needs to be bright and colorful. It needs to call out joy! What reader is going to want to pick up a book about joy if the cover doesn’t reflect it?”

I understood her position but felt I would be compromising my vision (and Linda’s) if I gave into it. I discussed it with Mary. I put on my grumpy face. I pondered and thought and contemplated. Finally I relented and okayed the change, feeling somewhat like I’d sold out just to move the project forward. However, when the publisher asked me to select a photo from two stock pictures she’d sent, I knew we’d all made the right decision. The book cover exudes joy, reaching out to the reader with its vivacious colors while still featuring a Question Mark butterfly. Inside, my niece’s illustrations adorned the flyleaf and the crown of each chapter.

Life’s trials and challenges, even the small ones like finalizing a book cover or building up to my goal of running for 30 minutes on the elliptical, make joy all that much more delicious. “Without experiencing sorrow and mourning, there’s no way for us to appreciate its opposite,” says Chaim Kramer in Crossing the Narrow Bridge: A Practical Guide to Rebbe Nachman’s Teachings. “We have nothing with which to compare our happiness. Therefore, we must experience suffering. Only then can we know the true taste of joy.”[1]

As I suffered in bliss for the last five minutes of my morning run, finally hitting both the 30 minute mark and my 2 mile goal, I remembered that joy is available to everyone who would receive it. And as we again prepare to celebrate Christmas this year, our ultimate Joy—Jesus Christ—stands at the door and knocks, offering His presence and His promise of eternal joy. All we need to do is answer.

 

 

Copyright © 2015 by David C Hughes

[1] Kramer, Chaim. Crossing the Narrow Bridge: A Practical Guide to Rebbe Nachman’s Teachings. Jerusalem/New York: Breslov Research Institute, 1989. 27.

All I Ever Learned I Learned from My Seven-Year-Old (2015-05-26 Daily)

“Through the praise of children and infants

    You have established a stronghold

        against your enemies,

To silence the foe and the avenger.”

                                     —Psalm 8:2 NIV® 

 

I stood in the craft room silently, arms crossed, and watched Hannah draw hearts across a piece of white paper with a red washable marker. As she finished the corazón chorus line, she traded the marker for a mechanical pencil and wrote “remember that you have more faith and corage than fear Love Hannah” then added the girl’s name. Leaving no space behind, she squirted white glue around the hearts and sprinkled the page with a copious amount of gold glitter. Satisfied, she set it aside, fetched a piece of brown construction paper this time and began crafting another word of encouragement. She wrote the word “JOY” in hollow block letters, filled in the red outline with a brown sawtooth pattern, penciled “Be Joyful” above the capital J’s crossbar, dotted the paper from corner-to-corner with red polka dots, and stuffed the center of the O with more gold sprinkles.

“It’s beautiful,” I told her. “Who’s this for?”

“It’s for you,” she said, handing me the masterpiece. “Because of The Epiphany of Joy.” The Epiphany of Joy is my three-year answer to God’s request to write a book about joy, something I still struggle with.

I accepted the custom-made artwork with a smile and the lesson I learn fresh practically every day: If you want to know what it really means to live a joy-filled life, watch a kid. “‘Truly I tell you,’” Jesus said in Matthew 18, “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:3 NIV®). Hannah demonstrates that truth every day.

“Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up,” the Apostle Paul exhorted in his letter to the Romans (15:2 NIV®). A few days ago Hannah told me she’d made me something. “It’s sitting on the floor next to your bed,” she declared. When I got home from work I retrieved a light purple gift bag sitting on the floor in front of my nightstand. Mary sat on the edge of the bed and watched as I took out a handmade card crafted from blue construction paper. “TO DAD from HANNAH!” it shouted. Beneath that she’d written “I ♥ YOU” in black and red crayon. Inside, with a silver glitter pen, she’d written,  “I love you to the moon and back. Awesome. This is a PRESENT just because I ♥ you.” A glittery smile emblazoned the page. I then dug out the pile of multi-colored tissue paper from the top of the bag and found: 1) a miniature foam basketball, 2) a jar of Slime, 3) an octopus made of rubber bands, 4) a knit finger puppet (I think it’s a lamb with a black face and green whiskers, and 5) a small cylindrical box stuffed with candy. I cherished my gift bag filled with meaningful randomness, given to me . . . just because she ♥ me.

Just because she cares about me. Just because she thinks about me. Just because . . . . As adults, how often do we do something with the hopes of receiving something in return, sort of twisting the Golden Rule for our own edification? “I’ll do unto you as long as you do unto me back,” we say. How often do we thread the golden strings of expectation through our gifts, then find ourselves disappointed when the gift is not reciprocated? Hannah’s selfless thoughtfulness demonstrates Jesus’ command to love one another because, “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:25 NIV®). She crafts, she gives, she smiles, she expects nothing in return except maybe a little of our attention.

I love my daughter’s heart of giving and service, a heart she shares with her Mama, but I think what amazes me even more than her heart of service is her heart of gratitude. As part of our bedtime ritual, Mary and I pray over Hannah, each in turn thanking the Father for the stewardship He’s given us over this true daughter of the Most High God. Lately I’ve tried to be more intentional about encouraging Hannah to pray out loud. “Thank You, Daddy, for this day,” she begins without fail, “and thank You for all You’ve given to us. Thank You for my mom and my dad, and thank you for the dogs and the fish.” It blows me away how this four-foot tall, 40 pound seven-year-old demonstrates Biblical truth so naturally. By being herself, by opening up her heart to the One Who Created her, she speaks that truth unburdened by the worry, shame, guilt, legalism, and fear that too often grip the hearts of those who’ve been around a lot longer.

What we make so complicated and burdensome she demonstrates so simply and easily. When Hannah prays, every word goes straight to my heart because it’s straight from hers. When Hannah prays I feel the power of that gratitude as angels, smiling, carry her words and place them into God’s bosom. It’s a message so simple it’s often lost on those of us who have let our hearts become hardened by a world that can be so cruel, so harsh, so unfair but so beautiful, so filled with joy, so . . . good. When Hannah prays, the lessons of the Word spill out into the open. In the July/August 2015 issue of Writer’s Digest magazine, editor Jessica Strawser reminded her readers about the importance of being childlike with our craft?

 

To watch a child at play is to witness creativity at its purest. What would we create if we didn’t have so many preconceived notions about the world around us? If we didn’t ascribe meanings to certain words or situations, if we didn’t already know the purpose of actions and objects and even the role of particular people in society or our lives, how might we interpret things differently? What kind of magic might we bring to the stories we put on the page?[1]

 

To answer her questions, turn to a child for guidance.

I’m convinced God placed Hannah into our lives to be a walking, talking demonstration of Biblical truth, and I’m both awed and humbled by the responsibility to raise her up in the way she should go. As she prays prayers of thankfulness, as she speaks words of encouragement, as she lifts up friends with cards written in silver glitter pen and decorated with hearts and dog stickers, as she dances around the house to songs by Lori Line,  Taio Cruz and Bruno Mars, I’m reminded, again, of Jesus’ words to the disciples when they tried to peel the children off his lap: “‘Truly I tell you,” He scolded, “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 18:1-5 NIV®).

“Most of what I really need /” wrote Robert Fulghum,  “To know about how to live / And what to do and how to be / I learned in kindergarten. / Wisdom was not at the top / Of the graduate school mountain, / But there in the sandpile at Sunday school.”[2] Want to see how God intends for us to live? Pick up a child, put her on your lap, and simply ask. I guarantee you’ll learn something new.

 

Copyright © 2015 by David C Hughes

 

[1] Strawser, Jessica. “The X Factor.” Writer’s Digest magazine, July/August 2015. Volume 95, No. 5: 5. Print.

[2] Fulghum, Robert. “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.” Scrapbook.com. n.d. 23 May 2015. http://www.scrapbook.com/poems/doc/842.html (please also visit Robert Fulghum’s amazing website at http://www.robertfulghum.com/).

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