Ultimate Joy

As Christians, we often talk about the broken world. Since the 4th of July, I’ve personally experienced this when my body broke down. For a few days, I thought I’d caught a common cold until the symptoms were no longer common and eventually drove me to seek medical help. As the doctor patiently explained how sick I was, she also brought the good news that I’d be feeling better soon.

naturepathObviously her definition of soon and mine aren’t the same because here it is almost seven weeks later and I’m still ill. Getting better, for sure, but still reeling from the fatigue, from being numb to the world, shut in from enjoying things I love and trying to understand why this illness caught me.

There were nights I prayed to God mostly to reach out and grab hold of Someone who could heal. In the darkness, I’d question Him. “Why?” I’d cry out struggling sometimes to breathe through the coughing, focusing solely on myself and my needs.

Despite my self-absorption, God was always there. I’d feel the warmth of His love in those moments of despair. His love covered me in the middle of my doubts, when the voice inside told me I will never be well, even during the times I tried to reason away His love, He was still there.

There were times when I didn’t like the person I was during this illness. They balanced out the times when I liked myself more – when I was more patient, more empathetic, more thankful for the health of earlier times. But in the illness, I learned you have to keep running to your Maker. Even when I was afraid for my life, that there was only this illness and very little else, God was with me whenever my fear seemed overwhelming.

Isaiah 55: 12 – 13 says, “There will be no more sickness or dying, and all that’s sad will come to an end. You’ll hear it then—how the mountains will shout for the everlasting joy being born, the thorns in the thickets will no longer grow, and all the trees in the field will clap their hands.”

Even though this world is broken, and I along with it, it is still good. There is beauty here. God is glorified throughout the day. I found Him in the phone calls from friends, the offers of food, the cards, the prayers. Despite how my illness miniaturized my world to my bed, I never had to go hunting for the joy of His ways.

My apologies to you that I haven’t written since early July, but I also thank you for your grace of letting me heal, of sweet recovery and most of all, of experiencing Jesus as doctor – the one who heals not only my broken body, but my broken soul. The fallen world is still fallen and we as the Body of Christ cannot stop it. But when we show up, when we shine our shaft of light through the darkness, when we bring the warmth of a greater love, we show the world that wounds can be openings to the Beauty within us.

Today, I am praying that you will keep showing up, keep looking up, keep courageously letting your life be a spark for God’s glory.

My brown thumb deeply saddens me. I love flowers. Sweet are the moments spent in gardens and parks. The fragrant smell of nature ignites a passion in my soul and fills my heart to bursting mostly because I lack the gardening skills to keep plants alive.

So standing in the middle of a southern California vineyard last week almost brought me to tears. The earthy smell of the grapes, the lovely shades of the green vines, yet the order in the rows of vines all combined to remind me of the richness of God’s grace. And of course, made me remember John 5:15, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”DSCN2467

One reason I make a lousy gardener is I hate to prune. I don’t mind cutting away the dead shoots or blooms past their prime. However, it seems mean to cut off healthy growth. It is difficult to snip away a lovely flower even knowing in the end it will make a much healthier plant.

Pruning, which means to cleanse, removes the unhealthy part of the plant, but also eliminates the cobwebs, dried leaves and fungus that can collect on a plant. It is difficult, not only in the garden, but in real life. The Master Gardener uses circumstances in our lives as tools to trim, snip and prune us. It hurts to undergo the process. But I’ve learned if I don’t cooperate, I become self-absorbed, greedy, unloving, angry – a person who has lost track of the bigger picture of becoming a beautiful bouquet.

I learned in the vineyard that day a vine left to itself produces what are called “sucker shoots.” Sucker shoots will never bear fruit because they suck away the life-giving sap on its way from the vine to the branch. They will grow leaves abundantly, but they will greatly reduce the quantity and quality of fruit the true branches can bear. To give off the heady fragrance of a woman sold out to God requires pruning the areas in my life that are not producing fruit.

When I am feeling weak, drained, weary or unproductive, it is time to pray asking God where the sucker roots in my life are sapping my strength. Removing them is usually a very unpleasant process because I cling to my opinion of how life should be. I grab desperately to the things I feel are important. But in order to bear fruit, I must stay attached to the Vine.

Cooperating with the Master Gardener’s process means leaving those things behind in order to become more firmly rooted in Him. A vine cannot prune itself or another. The job of shaping me is God’s alone. If I surrender to His plan for my life, there will always be growing pains. At the same time, with God embedded in me the future seems less scary. Even though I’m imperfectly making these God-directed changes, fumbling and relearning the lessons He wants me to learn, I submit. Because I am firmly convinced His pruning is changing my life into a beautiful bouquet.

Frustration grew in my heart as I rushed to be on time for an appointment the other day. I had just put the car in drive and was preparing to back out of the driveway when my cell phone rang. I shoved the gear selector back into park and picked up the phone. It was a dear friend of mine from graduate school and her voice was heavy with hurt. Recently, there had been two deaths in her family and just last night, her mother-in-law suffered a terrible stroke and was not expected to live.

Man Holding Cell Phone Camera
Her sorrow broke my heart. I wanted to reach through the phone and hug her. I wanted to lift her burdens and reach through the phone line to hug her. I couldn’t do any of that, so I listened and prayed.
Do you feel overwhelmed today? Discouraged by the complicated challenges in your life? There are so many burdens being carried by souls weary of the task. So many people are desperate for a miracle from God.
God knew we would struggle with difficulties. That’s why so many times the Bible points us back to the hope of Christ. In Mark 5: 25 – 29, for example, we learn of a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. She heard about Jesus and thought, “If I just touch his cloak, I will be healed.” I love how the Message translations says about Christ’s response to her after He has healed this precious daughter, “Live well, lived blessed.”
Like this woman, the best thing you can do is take your needs to Jesus. Purposefully place your faith in the Faithful One. When you pray, He will strengthen you. But if you try to handle things in your own strength, you will remain weak and ineffective.

If you are desperate for healing, help and hope, ask God to increase your faith today. Make a determined choice to trust Him. When you do, He will meet you at your need and carry the load of your burdens for you. He will whisper to you, “I am here. Now live well, lived blessed.”

Yesterday, I attended a moving prayer service at Saddleback for Matthew Warren, Rick’s 27 year-old-son who committed suicide on Friday. I didn’t know Matthew, but I am on one of Rick’s teams and one of Kay’s. I’ve come to know both of them and I know their hearts are breaking. Could you say a prayer for them, but also for anyone who has been devastated because of suicide?

Myra+Rick2Richard and I had a very close friend who committed suicide. This happened in 2010 and I still often think of her often. We have always operated with an open door policy on our home; we feel it is God’s, not ours. As we processed our friend’s death, we wondered why she never shared her troubles with us, never picked up the phone to call us or come to stay with us. With all the questions we asked ourselves in our grief, I can’t imagine how a family member recovers from this shock.

Tom Holiday, Rick’s brother-in-law and Matthew’s uncle, gave a profound message this weekend. He issued a call to action: to attack evil with good. So, please take an extra moment to be kind to those around you. Hug your family and friends. Let people know how much you love them. Ask Jesus into whatever grief you are carrying because we all have grief in this life. Only He can completely transform a situation. Nothing, absolutely nothing is hopeless if you invite Christ into it. His very presence covers us with an all-encompassing love and a radiant hope to fill our lives with energy and purpose. So go out of your way this week to become a living, breathing, walking display of His glory.

Let me start: thank you for all the kindness you have shown me through the years. All of you, my readers, have gone out of your way to encourage me and make me into a better writer. I appreciate your acute intellects and wonderful suggestions on how to improve. You are awesome and amazing. My writing has vastly improved because of you.

Thanks for all you do! Now, please say a kind word today, tell someone that you love them or bring a smile to someone’s face with a word of encouragement. Let the world be brighter today because of you.

The symptoms hit me during a Saturday morning meeting. A low grade headache, nausea and muscle aches came on suddenly. All I wanted was the comfort of my bed. It wasn’t the onset of the flu. No, I recognized the symptoms as burnout brought on by a long, busy week. Because of the frequent times I operated outside of my comfort zone that week, my body was simply telling me, “I need some rest.”

Not wanting to give in to my fatigue, I did the next best thing or so I reasoned. When I got home I grabbed a good book and laid down on the couch. My thought was to read a chapter or two, then get up and tackle my list of chores. But you know the story…I got comfortable, warm, contented. Quickly the book was put aside and I took a much needed nap.

When I woke up, my body felt rested; so much so I also didn’t want to get up. I was cozy, relaxed, ready to camp out on the couch for the rest of the evening. Only one problem, though. I had signed up to serve communion that evening at church. That’s when my contentment started speaking to me. “You don’t really have to go. It’s a big church. They don’t need you. They have plenty of volunteers. Someone else will do your work.” I snuggled even further under the blanket lingering longer on the couch.Trays of Bread and Wine for Communion

Yet the Bible is very clear about situations like this. Matthew 5:37 tells us, “Let your ‘yes’ by ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’” A war began stirring in my soul. I didn’t want to get up. I simply didn’t want to go to church that evening. I wanted to savor one of the few moments of rest I had that week. “I don’t want to go,” I explained out loud to my dog curled up on the floor at my feet.

But I had given my word.

Reluctantly, I rose from the couch and drove to the service. There I discovered the most interesting dynamic: God didn’t tell us that our word should be our bond to be mean. No, He told us that to safeguard our character. Had I stayed on the couch that evening, I doubt anyone would have noticed. But I would have sold out my reputation, my integrity for a few extra moments on the sofa. In the long run, it just wasn’t worth the price.

After distributing the elements, I returned to my seat and held them preciously in my hands. They offered me redemption of another kind; soul redemption, an eternity with my creator. Having struggled to be there, I saw the sacrament in a new light.

When you say ‘yes’ to God, you become a living, breathing, walking display of His glory. All of us are just one step of obedience away from the next great, godly adventure and the mountaintop moments that follow. Are you willing to abandon what makes you comfortable to embrace what makes you fulfilled? Are you ready to exchange cozy for the confidence He provides?

Not only did God love us enough to die on a cross, He loved us enough to send a roadmap to a more joyful life. All we need to do is let our ‘yes’ by ‘yes.’

The brunch buffet chefs made my choices difficult with such a mouthwatering, marvelous array. Hungry after a two-hour drive, I hustled through the culinary selections looking for something extraordinary amidst all the excellent enticements.

There were eggs and sausages, sandwiches and salads. After surveying the tempting abundance, my childish taste buds decided for me. I’d have my two favorite things – pancakes and pizza – mostly because I could. There aren’t too many brunch buffets that feature both, so this was way too much temptation to overcome.DSCN2427

After I made my way to a table and sat down, I thanked God for the bounty in front of me. Oh sure, this wasn’t an extreme high that I’d remember forever. But my meal, because it was so out of the ordinary, was something I would savor.  Thanking God for the opportunity to step away from an epicurean rut was important. After all, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 tell us to “give thanks in all circumstances.”

It seemed so appropriate at the time; I marveled at God’s wisdom in asking us to scatter gratitude throughout our lives.  That’s because He knows gratitude gives birth to joy.

Joy is easy when you are staring at a plate filled with your two most favorite foods. But what about those dreary days when you are in a bad mood? What about those days when you feel so far from God that lifting a prayer of thanks from your lips seems impossible?

That’s precisely when giving thanks becomes paramount. The language of a grateful heart raises our soul from the muck of our intense difficulties or even just past the routine, passionless segments of the ordinary world. Gratitude changes the way we see our circumstances. Thanking God for who He is and for what He’s done changes our point of view despite turbulent events, broken dreams and unfulfilled longings.

When we feel distant from God, gratitude is the way back to Him. When we make the world larger than Him, gratitude returns us to intimacy with the One who made the world.

Even if it is nothing earthshaking, but just pancakes and pizza, realizing what God provides changes your perspective and brightens your day. Acknowledging His presence magnifies Him. Thankfulness makes experiencing God easier in the clutter, rush or disappointment of our days. Giving thanks always makes us better able to see, touch, taste and feel the deep goodness of God.

But most importantly thankfulness makes us hungry for even more of Him.

It wasn’t a flood by any means. But the wetness in the ceiling meant something was happening up there. Richard poked a couple of holes to determine the source of the dripping. Thinking he found the problem and corrected it, he returned to Illinois. It was highly evident the problem was not over when the ceiling leaked for another week. Drip, drip, drip into the bucket below.

The plumber I hired was skillful. However, to fix the leak required cutting a large hole in the ceiling and an even larger in the wall outside the master bath. Normally that type of deconstruction would make me nervous, but I knew it was necessary to eliminate the problem…one that could cause even greater damage down the road.DSCN2432

Everyone has areas in their lives where a little more finishing work is needed. Isaiah 64:8 states, “You are our Father. We are like clay and You are the Potter. Your hands make us all.” Under a potter’s skillful hands, the clay is stretched, molded, pounded and shaped according to the vision of the artist. The same is true of us. We are constantly under construction by our God so we can accomplish His perfect plan.

God desires for us to live out His mind-blowing plan for us. To become all God desires of us, we must remain pliable in his hands – to lay ourselves open to the deep, transforming corrections necessary. If I had tried to fix the house leak on my own, I would have failed miserably. But in the hands of a Master plumber, the leak was repaired quickly and correctly. So it is with God! He wants to create something eternally beautiful with us. He wants to make us more like Jesus. And He can accomplish all this with less pain and damage than we ever could.

The dual problems of trust and pride constantly get in the way. I’m not sure I trust God when His shaping hurts; doubting He can do better than anything I could do. But we all have rough edges that need to be removed. Our lives may be so off track we need to be broken and crushed so the Potter’s hands can begin again. Despite this construction work, there are many times in my life, when I look back and can honestly say, “The beauty God created was worth the pain.”

With no agenda, no preset conditions, total surrender demands placing ourselves in the Potter’s Hands. And like the Master Craftsman He is, the bending, breaking and changing under his hands guides us to a life of worth, meaning and joy.

Directing our own lives and agenda only leads to discontent and frustration. Our souls were made for more, so our hearts cry out, “Is that all there is?” But if we surrender our lives to God, allow His loving hands to shape us, God can relive us of our burden of our anxious striving. The truth is nothing can bring us the peace and joy we’ve been searching for but Him. Are you ready to surrender your broken life into the Potter’s Hands?

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