Ultimate Joy

Archive for November 2011

One joyous benefit of moving from half-way cross country is all the new experiences just waiting to be tried.  In the winding road that is my life, I’ve learned I enjoy pushing the envelope, exploring new things, meeting new people and creating bold adventures. Even as I sit in front of this computer, I’m giddy about filling a blank screen with something creative.

So what better California experience could there be than driving to the ocean on a sunny 80 degree day?  My husband, Richard, and I packed up our dog, Lily, and headed off to Laguna Beach.  The day would be Lily’s first beach experience.

Normally Lily doesn’t shy away from the water.  Back home she’d jump into every puddle and just yesterday leaped and danced in the spray of the sprinkler system.  Yet as we slowly waded into the surf it was quickly apparent Lily didn’t understand the waves.  She was very content to splash in the water, but as the small surf gently banged against her, fear and trepidation overcame the wonderment we thought she would have.  Despite all my soothing words, Lily didn’t want any part of the ocean as long as it included waves.

And I wondered how many of us lose out on a great experience simply because we dismiss the soothing words of our God? When we land square at the feet of Jesus, His waves of love pick us back up each and every time we’ve fallen. We thrive under His guidance, yet many of us, myself included, run back to counterfeit forms of peace.

One reason I go to the ocean is to drink in the awesomeness, the hugeness, the strength of my God, who created it.  Yet despite the sea’s reminder, every hour of every day, I must do the difficult work of directing my mind, my heart and my soul back to the Ultimate Security.

There are days, I freely admit, when I’m impatient, my voice has a biting tone or my bed seems to provide more comfort than my God.  Sometimes I fret about the clouds overhead and forget to dance in the puddles of the sea.  Psalm 100:1 says, “On your feet now—applaud God! Bring a gift of laughter, sing yourselves into his presence.”  When the world carries too much stress, try its helpful suggestions:

Stand  – It’s okay to be afraid – to stand on fearful feet.  You must first stand in order to walk, then run.

Applaud God – Give God a standing ovation in both the extraordinary and the mundane.  Gratitude will brighten any circumstance.

Bring laughter – Laughter is indeed the best medicine…one of the most potent stress-busters around.  When tension circles, just smile and laugh.  It will lighten any moment.

Sing – It doesn’t matter what your voice is like, bring happy, worship-filled songs into your life.  Make your car, your shower, your home into God’s cathedral.

No matter how much life changes, God is always there urging you to lean on His strength – to let Him provide your security.  So get on your feet and learn to nourish your soul by dancing in the tide of God’s unconditional love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are so many things to do today as I rush to ready ourselves for our grand feast: a feast to feed our tummies. Yet as I rush, shop, clean, cook and bake, sometimes I forget to just breathe, and savor the moments we are creating.

While I want to feed tummies, more importantly, my desire is to feed souls.

 I’ve scribbled my new “To-Do” List.

Feed Gratitude. As I nurture this quality, joy thrives.

Feed Flexibility. Our best laid plans may not happen. Guests will be late. Food may get cold, but in the scheme of things, it’s nothing.

Feed Patience. (Lots of Patience)  A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel. Proverbs 15:18

Feed Laughter. There’s nothing better than cultivating an atmosphere of deep belly laughing after a satisfying meal.

Feed Contentment. With all the Black Friday Sales, it’s difficult to remember the balance of “need vs. want.”

Feed Compassion. Even though Old Aunt Sue has shared the same story for the fifteenth time, make her feel as if it is the first.

Feed Encouragement. We’re fragile. A blessed word makes hearts soar.

Feed Forgiveness. This is the year. Lay it at His feet. Let our Lord carry the burden. Extend forgiveness. Experience freedom.

This weekend, slow down and remember to feed their soul, their heart, their imagination, their creativity, and of course, their tummy. When the turkey is gone, and the mashed potatoes are cold, all that is left are the shared moments and memories of doing Life together, and I want to make the most of them, don’t you?

 

It’s that time of year, when we rush to the store to purchase our turkey, potatoes and stuffing in preparation for a delicious meal on Thanksgiving.  Are you the type of person who likes watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade?  Or maybe you prefer the football games? Or do you go to sleep early in preparation for all those alluring Black Friday sales?

Sometimes, though, in all the wonderful, amazing rituals of this American holiday, we miss the reason.

Thankful, are we really thankful?

Even though I think of myself as a half-empty/pessimistic type of gal, I’d say I am generally thankful.  When I take a second, stronger look, though, I’m not that sure.

To be totally transparent, I’m thankful as long as it’s convenient.

I’m thankful for all the gifts I’ve received. And I always thank the giver.

And, for all the comfortable, pleasant and awesome things God has showered on me, I lift up the occasional prayer of thanksgiving.

But then I delve a bit deeper: What about the painful experiences?  Have I ever thanked God for my struggles?  When I am in the midst of them, all I want to do is hightail it out of that situation.  Even when looking back at how God orchestrated great personal growth during my battles, I rarely say, “Thank you, Lord, for making my life an awful mess.”

To me, it sounds a little silly:

Thank you, God, for the untidiness of my house.  The dog hair, the unwashed dishes, the lack of organization.

Thank you for the struggle to pay the bills.

Thank you for being out of work and all the difficult and inelegant interviews in order to find work – that is, if I even get the interview!

Normally, we are thankful for only the blessings.  Support, gifts, abundance.  We are thankful then because it’s easy.

The sad truth of being human is discomfort is the only way we grow.  Yet how many of us are thankful when we are sitting in the “valley of the shadow of death?”

My normal reaction is to cry out to God, expressing my displeasure, imploring Him to act quickly to get me out of my distress.

But I am not changed when all is going my way.  I’m not transformed when my burdens are light.  I don’t learn to trust God in those high-flying moments.

I am moved to trust God only when I’m faced with such difficulty I have no where else to turn.  Those are the days when God strengthens me, holds me up, refocuses my attention on Him, then asks me to trust.

I’m grateful to Him for thinking so highly of me to use difficulties to craft me into a kinder, more beautiful person.  Past unhappiness now brings a personal sense of wonder. Because of my wounds, grace and sympathy towards others is just a bit easier.

And while at Thanksgiving, I do want to thank God for all He has done to make my life easy – a warm bed, the glow of a fire in the fireplace, a satisfying meal and a fulfilling marriage – I also want to thank him for the struggles.

That involves making a choice – one I am making today – to taste the goodness of God even in the darkest moments of our lives.

Won’t you join me?

Do you believe in miracles?

I’m not talking about ones you can brush off lightly, but real life-changing, stop- you-in-your-tracks type of miracles.  Not ones you’ve heard about happening in someone else’s life; someone’s mother who was miraculously found free of cancer. I’m asking you if you deeply believe that miracles can happen in your life?

Miracles require impossible prayers.  Do you have any of those?  I did and still do.  Mine were pie in the sky, through the roof kinds of prayers, but relied heavily on a God that regularly does the impossible in the world.

One of my impossible prayers was for Osama bin Laden.  The Bible says to pray for your enemies and I prayed that bin Laden would come to faith in Jesus Christ.  To my knowledge, that never happened.

Another of my life-changing, impossible prayers was to move to California.   God answered that prayer.  At times I thought it would never be answered, but in His timing, my expectations were surpassed beyond belief. Every day I get to drink in the sweetness of a seemingly impossible, but answered prayer.

There is a very real enemy to mind-blowing prayers – balancing the heartache and tension of not seeing any movement.  Powerful prayers take time and over time, we abandon the worthiness of our prayer.  Powerful prayers demand you never give up; that you become a warrior…in no way hardening your heart when a miracle doesn’t immediately follow the prayers.

Good thing, Jesus occupies my heart.  When I lift powerful prayers to Him, He gives hope when I would probably lose it and faith when I feel like abandoning them.  I prayed, for example, bin Laden would overcome his anger and come to truly know the One who gives life and love.  I prayed he’d move closer to the only Person who could rescue him from the depths.  It was tough to pray for Public Enemy #1, still I continued to plead bin Laden would finally know the One who could bind up his broken heart.  The only One who could give him an identity that said, “You are loved, my son.”

And even though that miracle didn’t happen, it hasn’t led me to abandon my belief that everyday, life-changing miracles are still ahead. This impossible prayer wasn’t answered, but it hasn’t soured me on all impossible prayers.  It’s easy to believe in miracles if every time you prayed, one happened.  While miracles are wonderful, it is the prayer and faith – the increased dependence on God while asking for an impossible dream – that’s where the true miracle takes place.

I believe in miracles – not just for the ones that have happened in my life, like getting to live in California, but I also believe because of the ones that didn’t happen.

Praying and having faith in impossible prayers declares to everyone that we have a God that is greater than “impossible.”

If you have an impossible prayer, don’t stop believing in miracles. Don’t stop praying. Have courage, put yourself out there and trust your God.  Believe in the impossible because we serve a God who can do all things.

I stopped dead in my tracks – sadness washing over me, pain searing my heart, helplessness booming in my chest.

Lily and I decided to enjoy the brilliant morning sun with a walk through the  neighborhood.  All was well until I saw it – a lost dog poster. How miserable his owners must be!  Lily was secure at the end of her leash; still I identified with the devastation of losing my dog.

We’ve all been there.  We’ve all lost someone or something precious to us.  Life hands us so many legitimate reasons to break down, to remain hurt, to stay a victim.

Human nature encourages us to stay stuck in our grief…to be unwilling or unable to let go of it.  We can live so long in anguish that our lives become a miserable pit of desperation.

And yet – whole comes only after broken.  Healing comes only after wounds.  The sun shines much more brilliantly after the storm.

Jesus experienced the pain of being human.  He wasn’t supposed to be a carpenter – He was a king…to be served and not to be a servant.  But it is precisely because of the work He finished on earth that we are no longer lost.  He reached down from heaven so we’d experience the joy of being found.  To be rescued from a world filled with dangerous turns and welcomed into the safe embrace of His arms. His story wasn’t complete until He brought grace to the world by dying on the cross.

Ephesians 2:10 declares, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus.”  You can’t create a masterpiece without dark and light, harmony and dissonance, uncertainty and resolution.  Even in our difficulties, God is only perfecting His masterpiece.

God made the world and then He came to change it. As an artist, He creates us to be masterpieces full of His love and grace.  Sometimes, racked by grief and despair, we impede God’s refining.  And when we stop short, things seem extremely unjust.

Difficulties are part of the masterpiece we are…the opportunity to learn to see life not as it is, but as it will be.  The world provides darkness with its heartbreaking ways.  God knows every part of our masterpiece – even those dripped heavy with pain.

Make no mistake; there are times we need to grieve deeply.  But with God’s strength, in time, we can take a step back, examine the masterpiece God is creating in us and fall deeply, passionately in love with the Creator.

I never thought I’d catch a cold living in California.  Compared to where I lived in Illinois, this is the land of perpetual sun and warmth.  Yet, here I am struggling with a cold. I guess germs live everywhere – even in Paradise.  The irony is for the past 4 years, I didn’t catch one in Illinois, but less then two months after arriving, here I am with hot tea, tissues and a blanket wrapped around my shoulders.

Occasionally a burst of energy will jolt me and I can complete some work – like finishing up this entry.  But I wonder if I’m being truthful to myself about how well I feel, since I just tried warming my cup of tea in the cabinet instead of the microwave.

Sadly my thoughts turn to all I am missing. Even though I’m still getting connected here, my life is extremely busy. There are meetings, lunch dates with friends, walks in the park with my dog Lily, travel plans and more.  That doesn’t include my daily responsibilities …cleaning the house, searching for employment and playing nurse to my dog that was just spayed.  It’s a whirlwind of activities to be sure.

Most of us like being busy.  We like being part of the team, experiencing new things, seeing the completion of our projects.

When you are not feeling well, you begin to see problems with busyness.

Sickness brings a laser-sharp focus to how busyness has overpowered your life and crowded God out.

Every day, the Holy Spirit prompts me to remember Jesus’ words, “Be still and know that I am God.”

But, I reply, “How can I possibly be still when there is so much living to do?”

But He repeats, “Be still and know that I am God.”

“How can I be still when life is overflowing with to-do lists, activities and friendships?” I answer. Regrettably, God’s small voice gets overrun by my priorities instead of His.

But when I am sick, when my body is exhausted and unable to go any further, I welcome the Holy Spirit’s promptings of “Be still and know that I am God.”

Being sick means raising the white flag: I can’t fight it anymore!  My body needs His stillness even more than sleep.  It is as if the Lord put a soothing cold compress on my feverish forehead and said directly to me, “Rest my child. Be still.”

Yesterday, I had one of those encounters.  I had about ten projects I wanted to complete before day’s end. Even though I was up and off the couch for part of the day, all I longed to do was curl up in a ball under my electric blanket and let the world pass me by.

Later that night, I prayed God would give me a relaxing, uninterrupted night’s sleep.  The last three nights were spent sleeping fitfully, if at all, taking care of Lily after her surgery.

I awoke this morning, much more rested, but still unable to take on the tasks of my overcrowded schedule.  “That’s okay,” prompts the Holy Spirit, “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

And that is my choice for today.  I’ll try to accomplish a few things scheduled for completion yesterday. But, I will also steal away to remember that God is in control.  And in that, I will be joyous.

Remember to take some time today and thank God for surrounding us with wonderful blessings.  Stop, reflect, slow down. It’s in these moments that God touches us…