choose joy

the vulnerability of joy

fleeting joy

Vulnerability is far bigger than owning my weaknesses. 

I've discovered that vulnerability also includes owning my joy.

On a deep level, joy taps into my very worthiness. I question whether I even deserve it. I can think of so many who are worse off, and it feels unfair that anything should go my way at all. Who am I to have good things happen? Who am I to be happy? Especially when so many I care about are currently going through their own challenging and dark times.

The contrast of joy against others' pain makes my heart ache. And I instinctively dim the brightness of my joy because fully feeling, acknowledging, and expressing it seems wrong. Immodest. Arrogant, even.

The battering ram of the past 4 years left my heart tattered and torn. Grif and heartache consumed everything for so long that, without even realizing it, I became afraid of joy. In its place grew a deep, underlying foreboding... a proverbial holding of my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

So when good things happen, of any variety, I find myself dismissing them. It's too good to be true. This won't last long. I shouldn't be happy. I don't deserve good things. 

Somewhere along the line, I unknowingly convinced myself that being happy in this "new life" means I'm glad my "old life" fell apart. That enjoying Nashville is somehow an acknowledgement of gratitude that I'm no longer in Africa. Saying it out loud, I know it's ridiculous and untrue. My own journey of the past few years has taught me rather vividly that joy and grief usually reside together. I can be completely joyful and grateful for today, while still grieving over yesterday. One doesn't nullify the other.

And yet, still, even when joy comes, I don't embrace it. Knowing just how fleeting it can be, I send it on its merry way and close my eyes, cringing, for whatever might come next.

This is no way to live...

So I am intentionally forcing myself to lean into the vulnerability of joy. To look it straight in the eye, pull it close, and hug it tight. To allow myself to feel it and own it. To smile, to lift my eyes, to give thanks.

I don't know what tomorrow will bring, or if there's another shoe waiting to drop, or how long anything in this life will actually last. But I do know that the God who gives and takes away wants me to be fully present in the moments He's woven into my story.

It's not up to me to control what happens. But it's up to me to choose to live wholeheartedly—honestly accepting and embracing all that comes my way.

And so today I'm leaning in, embracing the risk, and owning my joy.

[photo credit]

choose joy pendant

My heart is so full right now that my eyes are overflowing tears... There's a bittersweet mixture of grief and joy in there, but if I've learned anything the past few years, it's that both often reside together. And no one modeled that for me better than my friend Sara. Despite illness, pain, and so much loss, she made the continual decision to choose joy. I'm not talking about a plastic facade of happiness. Sara had the kind of genuine joy that comes from the simple but oftentimes hard decision to trust that God remains in control even when everything is spiraling out of control.

In her life and also in her death, Sara taught me lifetimes' worth about trusting Jesus, loving well, and choosing joy. I know she did the same for so many around the world. Being homebound only extended Sara's reach, and thousands of people have continued to embrace and live out her mantra: Choose joy.

I've been working with the incredible artisans at Tag...You're It Jewelry to create a custom pendant in Sara's own handwriting. And I just got to see the finished product. What they came up with is beautiful and inspiring and completely Sara...

The pendant is formed from scratch out of precious metal clay; then stamped and fired in either bronze or silver. Its shape is organic and imperfect, and because they are handmade, each one is slightly different. Sara would love that subtle reminder of the beauty in our imperfections.

I'm so happy with the way these came out—such a beautiful token of Sara's incredible life, legacy, and heart. And of course a constant reminder to choose joy.

Tag...You're It is offering a 30% discount to Sara's global community. Use the following coupon codes:

For 30% off the silver pendant: GITZENGIRLSILVER For 30% off the bronze pendant: GITZENGIRLBRONZE

Visit Tag...You're It's online store to place your order.

This one's for you, Fritz...

God is good

My friend and fellow Deeper Story writer, Seth Haines, wrote a post recently that really resonated with me. He wrote about the unintended double-edged sword of proclaiming God's favor. "I’ve heard the creeping theology of prosperity in the averted tragedies of others. They spill wonder-filled, mystical stories, recounting God’s graciousness in piecing together the impossible jig-saw puzzles of life."

You need to read his entire post to really get it. The comment I left there ended up being long enough for a post of its own, so I figured I'd share it here as well.

... ... ...

I have found myself in the wrestling ground of this very issue for the past few years. I haven’t even been able to find words for what I’m grappling with, and I certainly haven’t come to any answers or conclusions.

But having walked through infidelity and then divorce, while surrounded by countless others whose infidelity journey (thankfully) ended in restoration/reconciliation, I am left with a pit-in-my-stomach feeling over my former position on the favor and goodness of God. Because as much as I’ve heard the seemingly careless remarks, I know I’ve made them in my lifetime as well.

“God is so good, and our marriage is better today than it ever was before.” “By God’s grace, we caught it in time and they got all the cancer.” “God is so faithful, and provision was there right when we needed it.”

'May God help me!' photo (c) 2005, Bashar Al-Ba'noon - license: the provision doesn’t show up—sometimes the bills don’t get paid and the ministry God had clearly started is forced to close its doors. Sometimes the healing doesn’t come—like my beautiful, faith-filled friend who passed away last year or the chronic pain I live with daily. Sometimes the marriage doesn’t get restored—sometimes he really leaves to begin a new “happily ever after” with the other woman.

So do those outcomes mean that God isn’t good or faithful? Do they negate His grace or His love or His kindness? I know that they don’t. Because I know I can’t trust the God who gives without also trusting the God who takes away. He is one and the same, and His goodness is in anything His hand extends (and even in what it withholds). I know that He is both good and sovereign. The challenge lies in believing He is both of those at the same time.

I know that my gut-level cringing reaction to those seemingly flippant remarks about God being good when His favor is evident says more about me than the one who says them. Because I know they don’t mean them flippantly and I know they are right that God’s goodness is evident there.

The gritty sandpaper grating I feel inside is because I’m left wondering if I could say the same thing had the outcome been opposite. Or really, it’s because I’m left fully aware that I haven’t always done so. Even now, can I honestly and truly say I believe God’s grace, goodness, and faithfulness is evident in the way things turned out in my marriage? Maybe evident isn’t the right word. If “faith is the evidence of things not seen”, then I need to believe His goodness is there even if it isn’t evident.

And so I wrestle.

He is good. And He is sovereign. And both are displayed when the protection, provision, healing, and restoration shows up. And both are displayed when it doesn’t.

Lord, I believe. Help me overcome my unbelief.

it all comes down to choice

'I'm with you' photo (c) 2010, rosmary - license: asked me the other day where I'm at in my journey. She was talking about the traumatic loss and transition I've endured in just about every single area of my life over the past few years. "Do you feel like you're on the other side of it?" I didn't really know how to answer that question because I don't think she fully understood what she was asking (though I know she certainly meant well.)

I'm in a much better place than I've been in a long time. Although I'm painfully aware of how fragile it all is, life feels good right now. And I haven't been able to say that truthfully in years.

But that doesn't mean I've gotten over—or even through—my loss.

I think the idea of "recovery" from loss is a harmful and misleading mirage. It's unrealistic to expect that life could ever go back to normal after catastrophic loss of any kind. In a way, life will be forever divided by before and after. And to strive to go back to normal—to return to how things were and how you felt before your loss—is like trying to get somewhere on a treadmill: exhausting and impossible.

I don't know if I'm meant to come out on the other side of my heartache. At least not in the usual sense.

I'm discovering what it's like to live in the delicate tension of sorrow and joy. What we deem to be opposites are not actually mutually exclusive. They can be—and maybe they should be—embraced together. We don't move out of sorrow into joy, as if we've recovered from our heartache. Instead we learn to choose joy even when that seed of sorrow remains ever present.

Jerry Sittser, in A Grace Disguised, said it so beautifully:

"I did not go through pain and come out the other side; instead, I lived in it and found within that pain the grace to survive and eventually grow. I did not get over the loss of my loved ones; rather, I absorbed the loss into my life, like soil receives decaying matter, until it became a part of who I am."

What happens in me matters far more than what happens to me. It's not my experiences that define me, but my responses to them.

So instead of making it my aim to get through what's happened to me, I am learning to focus on my response to what's happened to me. As with most things, it all comes down to choice.

That's the reason "choose" is my One Word for this year. Because I need constant reminding that even when I have nothing else, I always have the power to choose.

While I can't control what's going on in this world or in my life, I do have control over my responses to those things. So today—same as yesterday and the day before—it's entirely up to me to choose how I will respond to pain and sorrow and loss. I need to continue to choose to face, feel, and work through it, rather than to avoid it. And I need to continue to choose joy and trust right here, right now.

So if you're wondering where I'm at in my journey, know this: You can always find me right here, in the middle of the tension between joy and sorrow, grief and gratitude, weakness and strength, questions and faith.

Join me here, won't you?

Originally posted on Deeper Story. Read the comments there >

the grace of fragility

Cozied up in my comfy chair—still in pajamas, coffee in hand, snuggled under a blanket—I close my eyes and take a deep breath. And I can't help but smile. I have a home, a job, an income. I have friends and family who love me. I have health insurance, a car, a closet full of clothes. I have all I need, really. I shake my head in wonder. All gifts. All grace.

And I whisper a "Thank You"...

I open my eyes and breathe in deeply again. This nagging thought—the same one that's been hovering just beneath the surface for weeks now—scratches again and reminds me it's still there. It lingers close, threatening to steal my exhale and my smile. Like a funhouse mirror, it plays tricks on my mind, distorting hope into a frightening creature and making fears appear larger than they really are.

The thought I can't seem to shake is how fragile everything in my life feels, in a way it never used to. I'm painfully aware of how quickly it all can vanish. How in an instant, everything can be taken away.

Realizing life's fragility is ultimately a good thing. It keeps me mindful that nothing and no one ever belongs to me. It forces me to hold things (and people) more loosely. No matter how strong my death-grip, the concept of "mine" remains a mirage. Nothing is mine. And I'm not in control.

The constant reminder of fragility also leaves me feeling unsettled... insecure... unstable. It makes it difficult to invest in relationships, trust wholeheartedly, and put down roots. It feels harder to dream, to laugh, to enjoy the good that's present right now. Joy takes more effort than it used to and anxiety comes more easily. Hope often seems like a cruel joke. Remember Lucy and the football?

Sometimes that's what hope feels like, and I'm left feeling stupid that I fell for it yet again.

Even as I say all this out loud, I know how ridiculous it sounds even in my own head. I hear the nudging reminders not to worry about tomorrow as today has enough worry of its own. I see the "choose joy" on my arm and feel the heart hug of my ever-present friend who showed me what it means to live that out. I hear God calling me to hope. Again. No matter what.

I want to believe that eventually dreaming will feel easier again, that life—though fragile—will feel more secure, and that thoughts of the future will breed more hope than fear. I want to.

So I close my teary eyes again, and take a deep breath. I hold it as long as I can, and as I let the air out I shake my head. All gifts. All grace.

And I whisper a "Thank You"...

always and always, fritz

My friend Sara was affectionately known as Gitzen Girl -- a nickname coined by her dad (who I am so thankful to have spent some time with before he passed last year). Everyone knew her as Gitz.

But to me, she was Fritz.

She was Fritz. And I was Frass. (Short for Sassafrass, of course...)

And this Frass? Misses her Fritz like crazy...


When I was asked to speak at Sara's memorial service, it felt like an incredible gift had been placed in my hands. One I held gently and tenderly. An honor I didn't take lightly.

I didn't want to speak about our history or friendship, although I could've talked for hours on that alone. I wanted to somehow try to capture and express Sara's amazing heart and the incredible way she lived her life. I wanted to explain what Choose Joy meant to her, as so many have picked it up as their own life mantra. I wanted to paint a picture of who Sara really is...

I hope my feeble attempt to find adequate words achieved that even in the slightest possible way...

Here are the words I shared at her service...

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There are so many things I could say about my sweet Sara. So many that I don’t even know where to start. Or harder still, I wouldn’t even know where to stop. She has been one of the greatest gifts in my life, and her friendship has truly changed me. Forever.

And I know many---literally around the world---can say the exact same thing about her.

It is absolutely mind-blowing to think of how far-reaching Sara’s impact has been. From the tiny confines of her condo in Iowa, her life and love wrapped around the globe.

Because of her illnesses, her way of life had to change. But her way of living didn’t.

Sara continued to live well. To love deeply. To trust God unswervingly. She continued to choose joy. To love Jesus passionately. And to run her race well... All the way to the end.

Through her words, Sara shared her faith and her heart so genuinely and authentically. Sara was real. Velveteen Rabbit kind of real. And in her realness, she made it easy for us to be real in return. Real with ourselves... With others... With God.

And in that place of threadbare honesty, she challenged us to choose joy.

Choose joy.

Those two words ran deep for Sara. They weren’t just a pick-me-up statement... Those words truly shaped her life.

Sara taught me that choosing joy doesn’t mean living in denial of reality. It doesn’t mean pretending everything is okay when it’s not. It doesn’t mean not allowing ourselves to grieve or acknowledge our own heartaches in life.

It means being honest and authentic with where we are... And from that place, still lifting our eyes Homeward.

Choosing joy is acknowledging that while I don’t understand what’s going on, God does. Choosing joy is remembering that while life seems to be spiraling out of control, it is never out of God’s control. Choosing joy is remaining mindful that while my circumstances may feel anything but ideal, God still has my good and His glory in mind.

Because like Sara said, “It’s not about me. It’s about what He can do with my life.” That statement holds the very essence of her lifestyle of choosing joy...

Sara lived her life by six simple goals she set for herself. She had these scribbled on her wall in that amazingly beautiful handwriting of hers. But more importantly, she had them scribbled deeply on her heart. She set out to do six things with her life:

  1. To not be ashamed to stand before God.
  2. To fulfill God’s plan by living the best life I can with what I am given.
  3. To be aware and present in every moment.
  4. To love what I have and not yearn for what I lack.
  5. To spread the joy, not the fear.
  6. To be intentional in all things.

I read that list, and I can’t help but smile. Even through the tears. Sara so faithfully lived out each one of those things. And we would do well to make these goals our own.

Sara lived well.

She loved well.

She finished well.

And she taught us to do the same.

I love you always and always, Fritz...

Memorial Service for Sara

Tonight is the memorial service for our beloved Sara at St. Stephens---the church in Cedar Falls, IA where she served for so many years. We would love to have you join us as we mourn her passing and celebrate her life---together as her community and family, each in our own corner of the world.

Just as Sara would have loved it.

The service is at 6:30 PM Central Time. Please join us if you're able. (And help spread the word online...)

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Update: The memorial service was recorded... Watch here.


Choose Joy Ink Link

This is a space where you can share your Tribute to Sara Tattoo for all to see... If you decided to get a Choose Joy tattoo, we would love to see it! Please link up to the tweet, blog, pic, or video you post on the Interwebz about it, so we can all celebrate Sara's life and legacy together.

[Be sure to link to the specific post and not your blog homepage.]

If you have chosen to use any of the Choose Joy designs, please email Trevor and let him know. He worked into the wee-hours of the night doing this for Sara. Such a gift. I think it would mean a lot for him to hear and see what became of it all...

I'm grateful for my reminder. God knows I need it...

a living, breathing canvas

I don't even know how to find words right now. I honestly don't. I've left this blog abandoned because I simply don't know how to say everything that needs to be said. My beautiful friend Sara -- known so affectionately online as Gitzen Girl -- is dying. There is no easier way to say that. I wish there was...

Sara has been sick -- very sick -- for a very long time. And from the confines of her tiny condo in Iowa, where she's lived completely homebound for 3 years, she has changed my life.

I can't even begin to find words to explain THAT right now... so that will need to wait. But I've had the gift -- the sheer treasure -- of visiting with her twice. Of spending several weeks as her roommate. And that is a gift I will cherish always and always.

And now my beautiful Sara is in the final leg of her race. The finish line is in sight, and she is about to cross it. And even in dying -- just as she did her whole life -- she shows me Christ. She infuses me with courage and strength. And she teaches me how to love well and choose joy.

Choose joy.

It's been her life mantra. It has defined who she is and how she lives. Despite her pain. Despite the challenges. Despite her limitations. Choose joy. She has shown me what that truly means.

She has lived well and chosen joy right up to the end...

And the mark she has left on my life? I want it visible to the world.

I am going to get "choose joy" as a tattoo on my left forearm. In Sara's handwriting.

I want it as a visible, permanent reminder of who Sara is and how she lived. And how I want to live out the rest of my days.

Sara is known literally around the world for her beautiful painted canvases. They are works of art that reflect her steadfast faith and point our eyes Homeward.

And now her words, her art, will be painted on the canvas of ME. A living, breathing Gitzen Girl canvas...

Oh my heart...

I know many of you have been impacted by Sara, either in years of knowing her or even in just recently learning of her amazing story. Maybe you want to get inked as well.

Tam and I had my amazing friend Trevor at Cross & Crown put together some designs using Sara's own handwriting. (So. Frickin. Amazing.) He also designed some more block-font options that aren't as scripty... Maybe you'd like one of these as a permanent reminder to Choose Joy... Or maybe these will spark an idea in your mind of a unique design you want to run with.

I'd love to hear if you're gonna get a Choose Joy tattoo. And when you do, take pictures and blog/tweet about it so we can all celebrate Sara's life and legacy together.

We are also working on some other things we can do as a tribute to our Sara (like a custom line of jewelry), and I'll share details as soon as they come together.

What an amazing community of people who Sara loved so well!

Today... as you go about your day... please pray for Sara. Pray for her family and all those who love her so dearly. And remember to...

Choose joy.

Choose Joy - Gitz's Handwriting