Ultimate Joy

Archive for March 2010

Nothing says the first day of spring than sitting in a park on a warm, sunny day with your favorite Californian epicurean’s delight.  That’s precisely what I did today, as no trip to the Golden State is complete without an In-N-Out Burger.

I took my moveable feast to my favorite Foothills Ranch Park, Borrego, which is situated on a mesa overlooking the splendor of Orange County.  The peaceful surroundings, the graceful soccer players in the field, the dogs and their owners meandering on the paths were insignificant compared to the expectation of sinking my teeth into that juicy, tasty burger. 

In-N-Out is a bit of a Marketing anomaly. For over 60 years, their small menu, consisting of burgers (or cheeseburgers), fries and drinks, has been delighting California residents.  No line expansion, no frills, just great burgers. Whatever the magic is, I hope it never goes away.  The enchantment is so compelling that when the first location was opened outside of the state, Arizona residents slept in their cars to be the first to savor a burger. 

Conversely, God loves variety.  He created the heavens and the earth. The water teeming with living creatures and the birds flying above the earth over the great expanse of sky. (Genesis 1:20) He had the land produce living creatures, the earth produce seed bearing plants and trees. His crowning creative act was to form man. (Genesis 1:24 – 30) When He was done, He saw that it was very good.  (Genesis 1:31)

All around us is the variety of God’s most profoundly inspired undertaking. He fashioned the giraffe and the blue whale.  He shaped the prickly pineapple and the soft orchid.  He formed every color in the spectrum.  And in man, he created so much variety that even science through DNA has determined we are each individual masterpieces.  How very interesting 20th century genetics echoes what the writer of Ephesians said two thousand years earlier, “For we are God’s masterpiece.” (Ephesians 2:10, NLT)

His hope was that we’d revel in it, adore Him all the more because of it, and see the beauty in the mystery and mission of others.  Sadly, one look at man’s history tells us this isn’t so.

This is why I’m asking you to participate in a variety experiment. Vote for your favorite hamburger by writing a comment on which burger delights your taste buds the most. It could be In-N-Out, Red Robin, Burger King or McDonalds…or one of a thousand different selections. I’ll share the results of this inexact straw vote poll in a later blog entry.

But, please, also take this fun activity one step further.  As you type your answer, make sure you also take time to notice the God-given variety in your life.  Be kind to someone different from you.  Smile your way through the frustrations of dealing with others.  Laugh at the variety of animals and foliage we enjoy.  Take pleasure and find ultimate joy in the beauty that surrounds you.

And then thank God for His creativity and love of variety.

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Today you are on my mind, as I sit in the stony silence of a California library. The light from the warm sun outside and the green trees blowing in the wind are playful reminders of life. They stand in stark contrast to the quiet stillness of the library. Today, though, the warmth wins me over as I remembered the love you showed me growing up…the excitement that charged through my mind anticipating a visit to Uncle John’s.

Today I think of some of our last conversations when you were dying. I dearly wanted death to scatter and leave you alone. My heart shrank a bit knowing the end was near and there was so much more to say. We weren’t silent with each other, but that didn’t bring back all those years when the silence was unrelenting.

Today, I am writing you from my perch amid the books overlooking the beautiful foothills. My eyes can not help but meet the snow-capped mountains that gently crisscross one another in distance appearing to caress. I close my eyes and try to remember your jovial nature, your sparkling eyes and the way everyone felt loved in your presence.

But then I think about the years I missed all that. They seem, ironically, both long and short at the same time. Years of silent disconnection, of not knowing or appreciating each other. To ask why seemed futile. They can’t come back. When did we stop being family?

Today, my body aches with a sadness whose depth seems unending. There are many questions, but instead of asking them, I feel I must rejoice that eventually we rebuilt our relationship. Maybe not as deep as before, certainly not as trusting or free, but we both held onto the love and familiarity. For a few brief months before you slipped away, we enjoyed the family ties that once were discarded for reasons neither of us probably fully know.

Today, I miss you and I love you in a combination of singularity and duality. It’s impossible to say, “I love you,” without feeling the sorrow of your death. You were more than an uncle, you were a father, a friend, a confidant, an encouragement, a person I trusted with the inner most secrets of my tender, young soul.

Today, as a finish writing you from my studious post among the foothills, my thoughts are clear…like the crystal sky victorous after a heavy rain. Grieving your passing is such a delicate dance between holding on and letting go. Releasing the sorrow means I can hold even more tightly to the self-confidence you built in me, to the security that was you. The colors of the landscape of my life are brighter because of your touch. I can never thank you for all the ways I am stronger except to assure that life comes bubbling out of me the way you taught me.

I admit it:  I’m an Olympic junkie.  For two weeks during the Vancouver Olympics, I sat transfixed in front of my television set watching sports that I only watch once every four years.  (Can you say “skeleton?”)

The human interest stories capture my attention.  The skater, Joannie Rochettte, who skated to a bronze medal despite her mother’s death a few days before the competition started.  The Georgian team performing admirably even after a team member’s tragic death.  Or the American bobsled team, who won gold at the hands of a driver suffering such severe eye trouble that he brought along his own eye doctor!

Every athlete participating in the Olympics has disciplined their bodies and mind.  Careful exercise routines and diets are laid out for them by their coaches.  They spend hours and hours practicing; beating response from their bodies because events are won or lost by fractions of a second or less than a point.

That dedication never fails to nudge me to be more dedicated, more faithful to God.  The Olympic athletes train years upon years, putting in hundreds of hours for the chance to shine on the world stage, to possibly win gold, silver or bronze.  But there is another reward even greater than those medals and I cringe in horror at the times when I realize I rarely match the time these athletes practice for a shiny piece of metal.

In II Timothy 4:7-8, Paul explains our reward.  He writes, “I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge – will award me on that day – not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearing.”

Paul knows, just like the Olympians, that he has been in a battle, not against the clock or each other, but against Satan.  We are at war, but we also know the outcome.  God wins, Satan loses.

But what about us?  Sharing in God’s victory, we will receive the crown of righteousness if we remain faithful like Paul.  But do I work as hard as an Olympic athlete?  Do I pray daily?  Do I open my Bible and study it every day?  Do I always treat others with care and compassion?

Sadly, I have to say no to all of those questions.  Does that mean my crown of righteousness means less than an Olympic gold medal?  Definitely not!  It is just so easy to put off heavenly pursuits because the prize is unseen.  Yet, they seem so little to ask given the majestic glory of God’s heavenly kingdom.  Every day, I must remind myself that God will crown me with righteousness for what I exhibited here on earth.

The choices we make every day exercise our will the same way a treadmill exercises our muscles.  They determine whether we grow spiritually strong or remain spiritually weak.

I pray each evening that I can give a positive response to one very simple question:  “What have I done today that will make heaven different?”