Ultimate Joy

Archive for November 2009

Oscar the Grouch would not have been pleased.  The denizen of Sesame Street that lives in a garbage can and sings “I Love Trash,” would have been downright angry.

One Halloween, instead of “suiting up,” my employer asked us to “costume up.”  While understanding the company’s desire to provide a bit of whimsy to our guests, I was frustrated figuring out what to wear.

One day, revelation struck…I had a stroke of genius – or so I thought.  I’d dress up like a garbage can.  I cut slats in a black, heavy-duty lawn garbage bag and then stapled labels from various food products on the bag.  Proud of myself for creating an original costume for very little money, I was on Cloud Nine for most of the day.

At the end of my shift, a coworker, really more a friend than a coworker, asked me, “What are you supposed to be?”

To which I happily replied, “A bag of garbage.”

And then he said words that even twenty-five years later still deeply wound me.  “How can you think so poorly of yourself that you’d dress like garbage?”

Ouch!  That hurt!  Especially coming from a friend…his comment personally ruined Halloween for years to come.

The truth was I loved myself so much that I could wear garbage.  The magic in my life wasn’t what I happened to be wearing, but what was contained in my heart. And that was something no one could take away.

Psalm 118:24 says, “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  Admittedly, some of my days feel like garbage.  Nothing goes right, sorrow overwhelms me and there didn’t seem to be any way out.

The solution, though, is held in that little verse.  No matter how low I got, I could always be honest with God.  Unfortunately, that occasionally even went as far as blaming God for my predicament.  Despite that, the more honestly I conversed with God, the more I saw His love in my life.  So even when I started my prayer with anger overflowing in my heart, I generally ended it praising Him for His kindness to me.

And even in my exhaustion, when I felt that no one understood, when the walls were pressing in, I realized that God understood.  In Luke 22:44, the Bible describes Christ’s predicament:  “and being in agony, He was praying very fervently and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down on the ground.”

Christ knew bitter anguish.  He knew the grief of a friend’s death; he experienced the ridicule of others; he faced the betrayal of a companion. In prayer, I recognized all those things and that’s when His strength began to appear. Even though I didn’t set out to rejoice in the day the Lord had made, my attitude was completely changed through prayer.  Pouring my despondency to God, I was reminded that God traded His righteousness – something of immeasurable value – for my sin – something that is totally worthless. 

And that’s the magic that is always inside.

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Bright colored leaves on the trees.  Apple-picking.  Sweater weather.  Dazzling orange pumpkins.  The warm days and the cool nights.  Waking up to frost on the ground.  Autumn is the favorite season for some.

Unfortunately, I am not one of them. 

To me, having lived far too long in the upper Midwest, fall brings to mind only one thing – winter.  Then the real fun begins.  Digging out your car after a blizzard.  Taking four hours to travel a distance that normally takes a half hour because people forget how to drive in the snow.  Being cooped up in your house because the temperature hasn’t risen above zero in days. Or worse, bitter freezing days combined with no sun – just a dark, frigid grayness.

Autumn, as the brightly colored harbinger of the cold starkness of winter, always makes me consider my timelines.  While I don’t welcome the winter of my life, there is a purpose to it…a deadline – an ending point when all the things I want to do with my life must be completed.  So, when autumn’s chill invades the warm frivolity of summer, I ask myself, “In the end, what do I really want to be good at? What do I want my life to mean?”

Deadlines force us to concentrate on what is truly important.  Determining your legacy might seem a bit creepy, however, there is great joy and freedom in acquiring a singular laser-focus on what is truly important in life.  Developing endurance, discipline and perseverance aren’t easy tasks.  Yet, I welcome the hard work since I’ve found establishing this self-control is essential for navigating through the winters of my life, the inevitable winters of my life. 

How joyful, how fantastic life is depends on developing the self-control to concentrate on where my life can make a difference.  This requires experience coupled with reflection.

Deep, soul-searching reflection gives insight.  And it is this insight that causes positive growth and change. 

Life holds pain – it is part of loving deeply and living fully.  Joy comes from living a life reflecting on all of its experiences and forging a future based on insight.

While I don’t enjoy autumn, seeing the fallen leaves swirling on the ground brings the joy of asking, “What do I want my life to mean?”

Rascal and I enjoying lifeAs a confused ten-year-old, she almost certainly sensed we were her last hope. 

The agreement was to house her for a few weeks; a quickie adoption until a family to love her was found.  Before that happened Richard, my husband, fell in love with Rascal, a Labrador/German Shepherd mix, and that ‘other home’ became ours.  Thrown out of two previous homes because she was too mean, we experienced only her gentle, trusting side. For six years, she’s shared our home, and our lives as companion and confidant.

Making the recent news she’s dying so disheartening…

As I begin my sad, final goodbyes, Rascal’s legacy isn’t merely her love, but the way she demonstrates how my life with God should be more like a dog’s life.  Her uncomplicated lessons point the way to Him.

Know Your Savior – Rascal was supposed to be my husband’s dog.  But from the beginning, Rascal decided I was her master and always treated me as the alpha dog.  Her loyalty was confusing.  I’ve never had an animal attach herself to me when I wasn’t enamored of her.  Maybe she sensed I had orchestrated her rescue.

When an animal is showering you with affection, it is impossible not to return that love. Rascal won me over and soon the love was mutual.

Like Rascal, I am desperately in need of rescue.  Fortunately, there is a God who is reaching out to rescue me, showering me with affection in the process.  It’s impossible for me not to love Him after He reached out to rescue me through Christ’s death on the cross.  All I need do is accept His loving salvation.

Adore Your Master – Before age slowed her down, whenever Rascal heard the garage door rise, she ran to the family room entrance.  Incredibly excited to greet us, she literally clawed the door and the wall beside it in an effort to get to us sooner.

Sadly, sin, the speed of life and sometimes the lack of motivation are barriers that prevent me from entering into the presence of God. Do I ever claw them down to gleefully meet my creator?  He’s there.  He’s at the door. Why am I not panting at the door to greet Him?

Love Deeply – Seeing us together, no one would fail to see Rascal’s profound love for me.  Her eyes sparkle with happiness.  Even though arthritis makes it difficult for her to get around, she still follows me from room to room.  She’s never judgmental and loves me regardless of how I look or what I say.

Jesus pointed out the two greatest commandments: love God, love others. How I wish I could have the ability to love others with the intense love my dog has shown to me.  I strive to love people without judgment, without prejudice, simply because God loves them.

Savor the Mundane – Twice a day for six years, Rascal has chowed down the same meal.  Most humans would tire of this routine, but she perks up the moment I move anywhere near her bowl.  Once that bowl is filled, Rascal tears into it with wild abandon.

How many of God’s blessings do I miss by not completely embracing the mundane things in my life?  God is even at work in life’s less than thrilling moments. Simple things like a cooling glass of lemonade or the exquisite stillness of a snow fall reflect His glory. 

Yet, sadly, the ordinary is often missed in the rush that is my life.  I didn’t fully realize this until one day, while journaling, I thanked God for the stunning blue of my eyes.  I’ve had these eyes for too many years to admit.  Why did it take me that long to thank Him?  God’s unending expressions of love invite us to a life to be celebrated without restraint.

Expect Treats – Rascal anticipates treats, especially the one lying on her bed at night – the mint on her pillow, so to speak. It is a way she celebrates the end of a glorious day.  Rascal expects those daily treats so much if I forget one, she quickly communicates my error.

Do I expect treats everyday?  Hardly! Too often I allow myself to get bogged down by problems instead of eagerly anticipating God’s treats – the unexpected parking spot at the mall, the laughter of a friend who called just to say hello, the eye-catching red of a fallen leaf.  But I’m the daughter of a caring, loving God.  His treats encircle me every day and they are definitely better than a dog biscuit.

Make Each Day an Adventure – Every day is a Rascal Dog Adventure Day.  Barking at strangers and protecting me are joyous tasks.  Greeting the neighborhood children with a wag of her tail satisfies her purpose of making others happy. Going to the park is such a grand adventure, I have to firmly hold her leash or she’d bolt across the street. 

Daily adventures are waiting for me.  But instead of dancing in the morning sun’s bright glow, I’m thinking of all the items on my to-do list.  Instead of celebrating the joy of serving God, my mind is moving at light speed.  Instead of relishing the time spent with a friend, I’m loading up my schedule.  My decisions conspire against me treasuring my life’s grand adventure – knowing and being known by God.

Sometimes I picture God watching us from heaven thinking, “It’s so simple, even a dog gets it.” Since I’ve owned her, Rascal has lived a full-out, excellent dog’s life.  Her lessons are simple, but provide the design for an exceptional life – understanding, experiencing and loving my heavenly Master.