Ultimate Joy

Archive for December 2011

“Hold my hands for a little while longer,” she implored.  “Mine are so cold and yours are so warm.”

And with that, we sat, her hands cradled in mine until she fell asleep on my shoulder.

Churning in my heart is a story which will encourage you. It is about a gracious woman of dignity – a hero to me.  I yearn for my words to come tumbling out to honor her, but heavy-laden with glorious memories makes it too long for telling here.

Aunt Marion is a living, breathing Proverbs 31 miracle. Dementia has robbed the world of her luminous spirit.  Some days she recognizes you; on others she disengages. Long term memories come floating to the surface…of picnics and swimming at the lake in summer, toboggan rides down snowy hills in the winter.  Hope rises in my heart thinking she’s back, but five minutes later, she’s asleep with no memory of who I am.

As she slumbered next to me, my thoughts turned to leaving. It was Christmas Eve, after all, and I had holiday chores waiting for me.  But then the Holy Spirit whispered to me, “This is the most important thing on your agenda.”

So I prayed deep appeals, holding back tears, for more time with her.  Craving the times we sat over coffee sharing our successes and regrets, knowing the love between us didn’t need to be spoken.  I hoped my presence now addressed everything that needed to be said.

I stayed for a few more hours, afraid to leave. I was overwhelmed by how completely she loved me. Tears overflowed in my eyes dripping into my heart and carving out yet another memory to cherish. My heart raced and while I wanted to pull away, I couldn’t.  Sadly, I didn’t know when I would see her again.  Even if I came again, I didn’t know if she would be there.

A deep woman of faith, Aunt Marion was someone you could hold onto.  Her house, always immaculate despite raising five children, was a place of healing and hope. A place dominated with love, acceptance and unity.  A place that collected the shattered, because she filled it with restoration.  No matter how dark it was, the light of hope shone there.

In these days of Facebook and Twitter, of rushed days and overbooked schedules, we rob ourselves of the gift of presence.  We steal the intimacy gained only from loving interactions with those we care about.  Aunt Marion built powerful and passionate relationships with me and others.  Always positive, always encouraging, her love made us feel deeply rooted, upheld, courageous.

Do you do that? I deeply regret I’m not anywhere near as good at it as she was.  And so I’m asking all of you brave individuals to join me in deciding anew to choose time to give life, to remain authentic to those you love, to celebrate the redundancy of reconciliation.  Every day we chose love over hurriedness, we chose the nature of God who makes loving others the bravest, most transforming and most mysterious act of all.

Perhaps today or tomorrow, the most important thing for you to do is just to hold someone’s hand.

“Many women have done wonderful things, but you’ve outclassed them all!” (Proverbs 31:29 MSG)  I savor my aunt’s legacy and pray to never neglect her lessons in love.

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I was rushed and hurried.  My husband told me he left critical software “somewhere in the house” and I needed to find it. Funny how he misplaced it, but it was my job to find it.  I’d never even seen it, so my job was essentially looking for a needle in a haystack.

After a few hours of organizing, straightening and searching, I was about ready to give up when something told me to look behind the dresser.  And sure enough, there it was.  All wrapped up in its crystal case, somehow the software had fallen between the furniture and the wall.

At the height of my frustration, one thing kept me sane.  I started thinking about the line in a song, “He came to seek and save the lost.” Remembering God is essentially always looking, always searching, always seeking kept me calm.  In the midst of this mundane and maddening task, I thought of God always pursuing those far from Him.  How patient and loving our God is with us.  How frustrating it must be when we turn away from Him.

I wanted so much to find this software and be finished.  Instead, in the midst of this project, God showed up – irresistible and strong.  The significance of a serene God patiently waiting for His children was an inspiration whispering right into my heart.

The mad dash to recover the software showed me His sovereignty, His patience and His love.  The thought of Him searching for me with even more fervor than I searched for the lost things in my life made Him seem absolutely irresistible to me.

Before I accepted Him, He waited patiently on the sidelines, while I fumbled, tumbled and pretty much made a big mess of my life.  That’s generally what happens when we try to rule our lives instead of letting God do it.  Yet, He never gave up on me and continued the search.

A silly, frustrating task brought me to worship.  For God is always with us, throughout our day, whether we are doing something mighty and majestic or something ordinary and frustrating.  Constant opportunities abound to see His love, to deepen your faith or to hold more tightly on to hope.

I encourage you to stop and find God in your mundane, little tasks.  They matter so little when compared with the God you simply could not do “life” without.  Be truly, honestly, painfully thankful for the presence of God in your life. Worship Him for His grace, be thankful for His mercy, marvel in His sovereignty.

Because you and I would be nothing if it were not for Him.

The other day a bright orange and black Monarch butterfly flew right across my path darting to and fro enjoying the geniality of the sun.  I had to pinch myself when I first noticed it.  The calendar read December and in the snowy Arctic wasteland where I’m originally from, no self-respecting Monarch would be there now.

Observing it for several minutes brought such joy.  Butterflies speak beauty to me. This majestic one reminded me of an abundant Creator, who lovingly sprinkled His creation with such fragile splendor – just for us to enjoy.

So far, I’ve suffered little homesickness; though to be honest, I do miss my friends and some very savory Chicago food. But as I more and more enjoy a southern winter, I’m left with a better understanding of what Jesus meant in the story of the little children.  Recorded in Luke, “People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth; anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

There is wonderment all around us!  Too often all we see with our eyes is too much work, too much Facebook and too much responsibility.  Seeking the beauty in our world sustains hope and joy.  Finding God in the little blessings makes resting our Herculean problems in the arms of the Master Problem Solver so much easier.

I want to receive the Kingdom of God like a little child – shrieking with delight with hopeful eyes sparkling.

But usually, I don’t.  My prayers are rushed, hurried.  There are times I don’t believe God can help.  Or that He chooses not to fix my concerns.  Too often all I bring to God is a pressured desperation to mend my life.  No praise, no thanksgiving, no joy.  Just God sandwiched between a thousand responsibilities until a little butterfly drowns out this crazy world for a few moments of hushed communion with its Creator.

When did I lose this sense of discovery and curiosity with God?  At what moment did I begin to see the world as just laptops, freeways and tasks?  Why can’t I depend on the Lord with child-like trust?

This winter, I pray I will come to the Father seeking childlike hope and joy. Won’t you join me?

“You don’t win silver, you lose gold.”  That’s what an Olympic advertising campaign boldly stated a few years ago. Do all silver medalists view those years of hard work, of denying themselves, of turning their bodies into absolute machines as failure simply because of the color of the medal?

Vince Lombardi, beloved coach of the Green Bay Packers, made the point even clearer. “There is no room for second place. There is only one place in my game and that is first place. I have finished second twice in my time at Green Bay and I never want to finish second again.”

On Wednesday, Lily took her final exam in her obedience class.  I was pleasantly surprised and insanely proud when she took second place!  It was quite the achievement.  The bright red ribbon we won made all our training times seem more valuable.  And since both the dog and handler are graded, believe me, I didn’t go home crying because it was only second!

But to Vince Lombardi’s point, there is something defeating about second place.  It means you weren’t perfect, that someone was better than you, that in the moments that counted, you were found failing.

So despite my glee in winning second place, Lily and I were still found lacking. Despite our highscore, we were imperfect.  We were beaten by someone better.

But there is Someone that doesn’t see us as imperfect.  Our God treasures us; He adopts us into His family, where we’ll never be second but a treasure to be cherished. In the eyes of the One who created us, we are the best one.  Even if we are tarnished a bit, a little frazzled or found wanting by others, He loves us so much that He wishes to display us as beautiful and perfect.

Whether you come in first place or last place, God values you.  When you are beaten and tossed by life’s circumstances, God comforts you.  And even if you feel life has worn away the best parts of you, God will refresh you; make you new, create in you an inner beauty.

In the great grace God gives us in His love, doesn’t matter if we even have a medal.  2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “My grace is sufficient for you.”  Grace is exactly what takes our efforts, our tattered, frayed hearts and makes them into something beautiful, something He can restore.

While in this world, I’m thrilled with second place, the knowledge that there is no second place in God’s heart brings an even large sense of excitement and joy.

What part of your life would you most like God to restore?