This morning, I watched the video of when Fred Rogers was inducted into the TV Critics Television Hall of Fame in 1999. In the video, the adult Jeff Erlanger—the same little boy who visited Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to talk about life in his wheelchair in 1981—came to surprise Mr. Rogers on the stage. I remember seeing that episode at some point in my life, and I recently watched it again. I loved one powerful moment in Mr. Rogers’ speech. He asks: “How do we make goodness attractive? By doing whatever we can to bring courage to those whose lives move near our own, by treating our neighbor at least as well as we treat ourselves, and allowing that to inform everything. . .”
These words challenge me to discover in what area of life those around me need courage, and then to help foster that courage. It’s actually another wonderful conversation and community building question to ask, “What’s requiring the most courage in your life right now? How can I help?”
I love asking students midway through the semester what they need more of or less of. They often need more advanced grammar lessons, so I adjust. They often need less rhetorical theory since their high schools prepared them, so I adjust.
I like the question for my own soul, too. Midway into October, I ask what I need more of. Is it more rest, more social interactions, more laughter? And what do I need less of? Less sugar? Less negativity? I take inventory and adjust.
This morning, I read Judy Dunagan’s wonderful devotion called Praying God’s Word. She explores John 17 and teaches us about praying for our children or grandchildren especially. I note her comment on praying for them that they may have the “full measure of joy” Jesus talks about in verse 13.
I thought about how I hardly ever feel the “full measure of joy.” What would it feel like anyway? What circumstances would have to change to usher in this kind of joy? I sit with the question for a while. Then I return to the passage and notice something beautiful and astonishing.
It’s not my joy welling up in me.
It’s Jesus’s joy.
Jesus says, “I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.”
It’s His joy, not mine! What a joy to see that little word! Nothing has to change outside of me. Nothing would be able to enhance or diminish this permanent joy that comes from knowing Jesus.
The joy is His joy within us. I think about connecting more deeply with Jesus to tap into His joy. I think about how in His presence is “fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11). He IS Joy. Joy is a person–Jesus Christ.
When I’m with new people, I love to just gather the stories. I’ve learned to say, “I bet you have a great story about that” based on whatever they’ve just shared. And guess what? They do! They really do!
If you say, “I’d love to hear that story!” and then really listen, you’ll find a special joy in it. Everyone has stories to share about their lives. When I listen to the stories of others, I learn more what it means to be human and what connects us all. I listen for wisdom, for beauty, for awe, and for healing. I listen for joy and humor. I listen to dignify the life in front of me and to honor whatever they need to share by giving my full attention. That’s what I’m learning and continue to practice.
If you gather the stories, your heart will leave full.
Physical spaces matter so much to me. I’m a homebody. I love my things. There’s nothing quite like my own bed, my own bathroom, my own kitchen. I love the sights, sounds, and smells of home.
But what if your physical space changes or if you cannot be in that location when you wish? I’m home less than I wish these days with travel, for example. One way I’ve grown in the last four years of traveling for speaking engagements includes understanding a new way to feel comfortable when I’m not in the space I wish. And it all goes back to a few words by the actress Emma Watson.
In an interview with Voguein 2016, (quoted from an Elle cover story from 2014), I read how Emma Watson handled travel and moving from place to place on different movie sets. I also remember her speaking once on the same problem in an interview, and the words struck me. She said this: “I [needed] to find a way to always feel safe and at home within myself. Because I can never rely on a physical place.”
I loved the idea of retreating with God into the safe space of my own soul, and this concept fueled the writing of Guarded by Christ back in 2016. When we cannot rely on a physical space, we think of our home in God and His home in us. We carry this home with us wherever we go.
I think of Psalm 90:1 and how the Lord is my dwelling place. I think of Psalm 119:54: “Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge” (emphasis mine).
No matter the physical space I’m in, I’m dwelling in God.
And this means I can go anywhere with all the peace, safety, comfort, and joy I need.
God gave us mornings. He didn’t have to. Think about it: God decided to create us with the need to sleep, and He created a sun to set and a moon to rise and then a sun to waken us with a new morning.
It’s a fresh resurrection every day of our lives. It’s a fresh start and a resetting of not only the body but also the mind and heart.
My husband says, “I love the new morning!” Especially after a rough yesterday of one or two poor choices, inconveniences, disappointments, or anything that’s disillusioned us, we now start fresh.
Brew the coffee. Gaze out onto the new morning. Even the dew symbolizes a washing by water of yesterday. The sun’s golden light scatters the darkness of a day gone. I thank the Lord for new mornings and fresh starts.
I love the simplicity of Psalm 42:8: “By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life.”
It’s wonderful to think of God directing His love like a great orchestra conductor or like someone sending orders out to dispense love everywhere it’s needed. But I like best the image of a conductor directing a symphony of love over your life.
At this moment, the Lord directs His love toward you as you move about your day. And at night? You carry a song with you to the God of your whole life. Perhaps it’s the song the Lord has directed during the day–the one you’ve practiced all day long–that you now sing back to Him as you close your eyes in sleep.
I reunited with an old friend this past weekend at the Greystone 100th anniversary reunion. This friend is the one who gave me the very same green Bible that I read every morning of my life. She left it on my cabin bunk in 1994 with my name embossed in gold and a note inscribed in the front about making Jesus my first love.
We all need that friend. And we need to become that friend to others.
We’re so much older now by 25 years. But what a legacy Elizabeth Madden Pehrson left in my life from that summer onward!