Ultimate Joy

Archive for October 2010

It was supposed to be a most sacred moment: Christmas Eve service – right after Mary gives birth, followed by a quick transition to the shepherds in the field.  The church was blanketed in an intense silence punctuated by the gentle bah of a lone sheep. A rapid switch between the profound miracle that just happened and the one about to, giving the audience time to reflect on both God and angels touching earth during that holy night.

The problem was I couldn’t stop laughing.  The actress playing Mary was really into the labor scene.  She screamed; she howled; she rolled around the floor.  She probably taught more people about labor than they would learn in the delivery room! Then the agony was over. The stage turned dark except for a few glowing stars and all that was heard was the lovable sound of a baby lamb.  For some reason, I found the shift hilarious and starting laughing. 

My laugh was not a quick giggle, but a belly laugh so loud that it shook the seats in my row and was heard all the way up to the last row of the balcony.  It was louder than some jet aircraft.  And as it circled around the cavernous church, mind you, filled with congregants supposed to be in deep reflection, I couldn’t even tell you what was so funny.  The sweet sound of a lamb? Not hardly.  The newborn Savior of the world finally here in human form?  I don’t think so.  Labor pains? Not at all.  Maybe the abruptness of it all had gotten a hold of my silly bone and wasn’t going to stop tickling it.  I was making a fool of myself, knew it, but was powerless to stop.

Fortunately, the audience was good natured about my faux pas – it was Christmas after all!  Maybe they already knew laughter is important and should be practiced daily, though maybe in a place more appropriate than a Christmas Eve service.  Proverbs 17:22 states, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”  Thousands of years before medicine began to tell us that laughter can prevent heart attacks, reduce stress or enhance brain chemistry, God told us all that is true! 

Our God is a God of joy!  He wants us to be happy and to laugh.  Joy is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of Jesus.  Laughter is the way that we can express the joy in our hearts – it is the shortest distance between two people; it is an instant vacation.  Most importantly, laughing invokes feelings of happiness and joy. Instead of being all gloomy and frustrated because there is no perceived solution, laughing lifts us up out of our pool of problems and plops us on solid ground where we can gain some new insights.

So practice LOL (Laughing Out Loud)!

If you can’t muster up a laugh each day, that try to fake it by at least smiling once a day.

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Wednesday night, I attended a book club with about 700 of my closest friends.  Obviously, it wasn’t a normal book club – more like a book reading by the author who stopped at well-chosen spots for participants to share insights with their tablemates.  The author, very wisely, left time at the end of her reading for questions.  One question fascinated me; I mean really captivated me to the point where I was supremely envious that I hadn’t asked the question.

“Where,” someone seated far from my table of six women shouted, “do you get your inspiration?”

To which the author very simply responded, “I’m responsible for keeping myself inspired.”  Wow!  What a concept!  She went on to give a sampling things that inspire her: loving community, great food, good books. 

I didn’t ask that great question, but did ask myself one maybe a bit more important.  How seriously do I take my responsibility to keep myself inspired?  Not just as a writer, but as a human being.  Someone put on this earth by a loving God who created its majesty yet rarely stops to enjoy it.  Someone who badly flirts with disaster from a life that makes me feel out of time, out of breath and out of sorts.  Two words, “Not seriously.”

So today, I’m making a promise to myself.  I’m promising to see the little things that I often miss:  The riotous color of the sky at sunset, the youthful spirit and extreme joy of the children in the park when I take my walk, the warmth of the water in my daily shower and how it soothes my sore muscles, the soft brush of a puppy’s whiskers on my face.

I’m making a promise to myself that I will find something to laugh about each day.  That I will smile more often; do something kind for someone just to be kind, without any ulterior motive.  I promise whenever I light a candle, I’ll take a moment to stare at the flickering light it provides in my life.

I love the quote by Lou Holtz, famed football coach – “I can’t believe that God put us on the earth to be ordinary.”  God didn’t create an ordinary world, why would I ever think that He expected me to be ordinary? 

Keeping myself inspired will soften life’s worst blows.  It’s my responsibility.  And once I take inspiration seriously, joy is a wonderful by-product.  It is only as far away as the closest puppy or child or even a candle.

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Lord, this is a big world and sometimes we feel very small.  But You are a big God, outside of time and space. You see us. You know us. You love us. Help us experience your seeing, knowing and loving today. Be very, very near. Provide specifically  for today.

Amen.

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Fall is the season of pumpkins, multihued leaves and paradox.

The paradox is this: How can a time of the year so closely associated with loss — rivers shrink back, trees shrivel and the sky goes from shout-it-out blue to a dusky brownish-gray or bone-white — be a season of such joyous, riotous color as the trees shed their green?

How can the season of ecological death be so filled with such a rich palette of color?

It’s a fact. Despite fall being the harbinger of winter, it still brims with hope and promise, with expectation and excitement.

This season of paradox has led me to examine a deep paradox in my life.  I was recently challenged through a book, The Core Issue, to truly love myself.  Several times in the Bible, Christians are challenged to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  My favorite passage is Galatians 5:14 – “The entire law is summed up in a single commandment:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Think of the multitude of rules and laws that the Jewish people were required to follow and all that was replaced by five simple words!

However, the paradox in my mind is:  Do I really love myself?  I have to admit, I don’t love myself deeply enough.  I don’t always revel in the way God created me.  I chide myself for my imperfections and the parts of me that I am still working on.  This leads me down a path to self-loathing, rather than down the path of truly loving myself. 

You see, Christ could have said, “Love your neighbor.”  He didn’t have to add the part about loving ourselves.  But He did to let us in on a huge truth of life – that we can only love our neighbors to the extent that we love ourselves. 

This is something that I suspect many struggle with.  How can you love yourself without being vain, selfish and arrogant?  Where’s the spirituality in loving yourself?  I’m learning that it is impossible to extend love to those around us unless we first confidently love the person that God made us to be.  You can’t give away what you yourself don’t possess.

So, if I am harsh and judgmental with myself, how can I expect myself to be loving and kind towards others?  If I don’t see myself as a valuable person, how can I appreciate the value in others?  I need healing for my brokenness in this area; with God’s help, I am taking steps in that direction. 

In order to fall in love with yourself, you must first receive and accept God’s incredible love for you.  Make it okay to fall head over heels in love with yourself.  And then once you do, as freely as God gave His love to you, go and give that love to someone else.

I’m scared.  There are thunderheads forming on the horizon of my life…huge, thick, menacing clouds carrying raging destruction.  Normally, I’m better at weathering the doom of an upcoming storm without the dread I now feel, but the truth is, I’m just plain not up to the fight.

Six weeks ago, I had surgery and in my silly, uneducated mind, I thought by now, I’d be 100%.  Recovery just can’t come soon enough for me, and despite the blessing of seeing progress each and every day, I want to be my old self again – the self that can laugh in the face of thunder.

I place my recovery at about seventy percent and long for the days when I can accomplish tasks without difficulty or pain.  Deep within every cell of my being, I feel the need for rest.  I’d like to hibernate through the winter and catch up with all of you in the spring.  But, I can’t do that, so each day, I push myself to do my best; knowing that I’m not doing everything I could do before surgery.

With or without surgery, life is tough.  There are days when getting out of bed is a monumental struggle. God gave us these bodies knowing that they would feel used up, worn out and broken down.  But He also gave us something else, and that’s His presence, His unique love for us.  The Lord told Jeremiah (1:8) “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.”  The Bible is filled with verses that say the same thing, “I am with you.”

Staying joyful in the midst of fear is challenging.  But the plain truth is that I am better at 70% with God than I am at 100% without Him.  With God, I can laugh at the distant thunder, can raise my head in praise as the wind whips up, can sing in the midst of a torrential downpour.  That’s because God is faithful and loving and much more powerful than any storm that comes my way. So even when I cry for hours that I’m not fully recovered, I can still hear the whisper of God, “Don’t be afraid; I am with you.  I love you more than you’ll ever know.”

That’s why there is always joy despite life turning you sideways.  I’ve learned that even though there are things that tumble you end over end, with the awesome God we serve, when you come out the other side, you are precisely where God wants you to be: rescued by Him.