Ultimate Joy

Archive for June 2012

The email’s subject line read simply, “Lecktor.” Still that one word had an ominous tone to it. It was the name of my girlfriend’s beloved pet – a champion German Shepherd, a hero in the Search and Rescue community.

I read the email and immediately felt the need to flee the house. I could hardly breathe, the walls started crashing in and I had to run away. Lecktor, who had once covered miles and miles in search of lost humans, was slowly losing his battle to stand. My friend faces the horrific decision to put him down. Age is one foe he couldn’t conquer; the email listed details of her decision.

Sitting in the parking lot of the local grocery store, I called my husband in tears. I tried to explain why  I was crying – why I was sitting in my car sobbing. Losing a pet is so gut-wrenching and as I blubbered, I tried to explain my deep emotional reaction to my husband.  “I know,” I whimpered, “how hard it is to lose a dog you love.”

Worried that something had happened to our dog, he tenderly asked, “Where’s Lily?” Assuring him that our own canine was safe at home in her kennel relieved him, but did little to calm me.

My heart broke for my friend. I cried because I did not know how to comfort her. I cried because I couldn’t wipe away her pain. I cried because I knew her family was saying goodbye under crushing sorrow. And I cried because there is loss in this world and sometimes it grabs me, shakes me and refuses to release its grip.

To escape the hold this news had on me, I had the uncontrollable urge to one-by-one hug everyone in the parking lot. Because we have all been there. We have all suffered loss. We are together in grief. But I figured that action would only result in a panicked call to the police and a trip to the psych ward for me.

So instead, my loneliness drained me sitting deep in the crevice of my sadness.  Heartbroken, unfixed, I was powerless to erase my friend’s grief. There is no earthly fix, no person can repair a loss like this. I often tell people we heal in community but those words seemed pathetic. Yet it was all I could offer. I pray my friend is comforted by my desire to sit with her in her pain.

I sat in my car facing this lonely place comforted knowing God is my Search and Rescue team. In the unique solitude of the parking lot, all I could do was pray. My prayers to heal Lektor won’t be answered. Yet because of Jesus, we don’t need to hide from loss. We can ask Jesus into it with us. He won’t always remove the cause of our anguish, but with Him, we are never truly alone.

It was exactly what I wanted – a shiny, new blue and red two-wheeler.  For my fifth birthday, I graduated to a “big girl” two-wheeler bike.  It was time to leave the sissy three-wheelers behind.

With sheer joy, I begged my parents to immediately let me ride it. Their hesitation was justified. I was a two-wheeler newbie and for some unknown reason, those tiny, goofy training wheels were not attached to my new bicycle. Both of my parents begged me to wait until my dad could attach them.

But I was ready to blaze new trails, to reach new distances, to boldly go where no 5-year old had gone before and kept badgering my parents. Eventually, they gave their blessing and off I went.

To my credit, I managed to get four houses away before I lost my balance, fell off the bike, scrapping both my knees in the process. I limped back home crying leaving my new bicycle still at the crash site.

The minute my father saw me, he scooped me up into his arms and lovingly, tenderly comforted me. “I’m so proud of you for trying. Riding a bicycle isn’t easy. I love you, now let’s make your knees feel better.”

That was my dad. He lifted me up, protected me yet giving me wings to fly, helped me define myself when I was growing up and cherished me. And he was there to catch me when I fell, even if it was because I made a stupid choice.

Looking back, I never thanked him enough for his esteem, for the inspiration he gave me and for always extending his love. How could I?  It would have taken a lifetime.

I don’t know what your earthly father was like, but your heavenly Father comforts in the same way.  He also asks us to go one step further. We are all sons and daughters of the King who wants us to deal with each other “as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” (1 Thessalonians 2:11 – 12)

And so this blog entry comes with a challenge. Ask God to humble you and raise others up. If that last sentence gave you pause, chances are the Lord desires this to be a place to fully surrender to Him. And maybe, just maybe the Holy Spirit is nudging you…

Today, please reach out and tell someone they mean something to you. Then make a commitment in your heart to pray God will use them. Let them know you value them, that you hold them in high regard. Then pray that God will use them for mighty efforts to bring glory to Him.

I could tell in one glance, she wasn’t doing well.  After surgery, Lily, my beloved canine companion, looked dreadfully uncomfortable in her Victorian collar. And despite the vet’s reassurance Lily wasn’t in pain, I could tell something was amiss.

Arriving home, she didn’t want to get out of the car. As a German Shepherd weighing almost 70 pounds, I couldn’t muscle her out, either. So I let her be, leaving both the car door and the garage entryway door open, hoping she would make her way into the house when she felt up to it.  Like any doting dog lover, I checked in on her about every ten minutes.

But the last time I checked, she was gone! She wasn’t anywhere in the garage, couldn’t find her in the house and there was no dog in the backyard. I panicked. Given her condition, she couldn’t have left the premises, but where was she? As the minutes clicked by and I rushed from room to empty room, my mind traveled to the worst case scenario – she’s bleeding to death in some closet somewhere and I didn’t find her fast enough to help.

Finally as my fear reached desperation pitch, I located her! Somehow, Victorian collar and all, she managed to squeeze between the tiny distance separating our concrete wall and the hedge. And there she sat, looking even more uncomfortable than she did in the vet’s office.

I must admit, I’m a bit like Lily. When difficult times are the norm, my first reaction seems to flee from my Master instead of flying  to Him. That’s because I blame God for my misfortune rather than my foolish miscues or the fallen condition of the world.

I’m not the only one. Psalm 10:1 implores, “Why, LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” In my despair, all I can think about is me.  Me, me, me.  My hurt, my discomfort, my disappointment. My self-centeredness pulls me off my normally solid footing and into a riptide of even deeper misery. And once in over my head, even my prayers are shallow. They make God into some sort of magician whose only purpose is to keep my life from running amuck.

I drown myself in sorrow. It is there that God must rescue me time and time again. He whispers softly to me, “Why don’t you trust me? Why don’t you come to me? I love you and want you to abide in Me at all times – especially when you are dismayed. Let me shelter you and give you hope.”

You’d think after a lifetime of this habit, I’d know to run to Him first. When I hide from God, I feel foolish and ashamed. Psalm 119:11 gives the remedy for exactly this situation, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

When I run to Him instead of away from Him, when I pray and seek His guidance in the Bible, I’m no longer adrift in a sea of dejection. The Holy Spirit softens the hurt, relieves the burden and replaces it with joy.  For joy is found only in giving control of your life over to God.

“Come Thou Font of Every Blessing, Tune My Heart to Sing Thy Grace”

Fountains are magical. The slight gurgles and giggles of the water speeding through the different levels calm and soothe the soul. If I close my eyes while standing in front of one, I’m transported to a piazzo in Tuscany, relaxing under the warm sun in an overstuffed lawn chair enjoying the delight of a sweet gelato.

Over the weekend, I attended a retreat. It was the perfect vehicle for me to honor my body’s need for refreshment, my spirit’s need for replenishment and my soul’s need to delight itself in God solely because He is God.

Thank goodness the retreat center had a fountain.  Just sitting for a moment besides it before the retreat began taught me a valuable lesson.  Between the rush of household chores, my daily routine and several emotionally draining conversations, I had forgotten to take time to rest.  Not sleep, not tuning out while watching television, not even checking out like you do on vacation. But rest – gaining refreshment and rejuvenation simply by being in the presence of our Creator and Redeemer.

Psalm 36:9 states, “For with you is the fountain of life…” Remembering those words helped give myself permission to surrender fully before God.  I knew before ever stepping in this tranquil courtyard that the byproduct of my frenzied life was crowding out the voice of the Holy Spirit, who is the agent of change in the Christian life.

Giving up my time is not easy – my pace is often frenetic. But I had reached a point where I was believing my happiness, my fulfillment was up to me. That’s a dangerous place to be because life requires supernatural effort.  It was definitely time to humbly listen to the Holy Spirit. Only by being known can we experience the depths of God’s love.

There is no magic formula to resting in the Lord. Mine involved striking a new posture, of letting go of the effort and stress in life and replacing it with a new willingness to submit to God. Because as the retreat director reminded, “Our significance has nothing to do with who we are or what we have done, but rather has to do with who God is and what He has done.” When I am totally dependent on Him, I am strong.

Giving up control has never been easy for me. I have a strong personality and am frequently the bull in the china shop forging ahead without ever asking God, “Is this Your way for my life? Is this even the path I should be taking?”

While I was fortunate to have time away, we all have a daily need to open our hearts to His work of redemption. Our souls crave purposefully setting aside a time to practice resting in Him.  Our minds and life changes when we slow down and savor God, to just be still and know that He is God. (Psalm 46:10)

Please join me at the fountain as we savor our gelato and create a personal, spacious leisure to savor God and His grace. It will absolutely change your life.

On Sunday morning, my dog, Lily, woke me up at the crack of dawn.  My apologies to you early morning risers, but 6AM, in my opinion is not a time fit for man nor beast to be roaming about outside. But a dog’s needs being what they are, I was forced to get out of bed.

This morning, that simple act unexpectedly forced me to collide with the wonder of God. The earth was still, no traffic noise, conversation or dogs barking wafted through the air. The dew was still on the grass and bushes. The sun played peek-a-boo with the dawn sky.

His strength and power were so evident, I almost stopped breathing.

Despite not being fully awake – my eyes and ears were barely open – my heart was slightly more tender at that hour, so experiencing the presence of Almighty God seemed effortless.  It was as if God was shouting in the early morning silence. Piercing through my dreariness, His words brought comfort, “I am here. I love you. You are chosen, redeemed, loved and forgiven. See My world and yourself with new eyes.”

Currently in the midst of an emotional season of self-doubt, I’m bruised, embarrassed and suffering from a mind-soul disconnect. My brain grapples with my inadequacies, even while my soul declares my identity in Christ is not dependent on what the world – including myself – thinks of me.

In the garden that morning, this tension disappeared. I drank in all of Creation and marveled at all the things God put into place to maintain life here on earth. The trees, the flowers, the dew, the sunlight, even the snails. Things we take for granted, but they are the masterpieces of God. Even my body is a work of art – the senses that allow me to experience the world around me, the antibodies that fight off infection, my breathing in and out…

Chronicles 29:11 states, “Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.” The backyard reminded me creation was a gift from God, a instrument to see His glory.

When I take my focus off myself and seek God, my self-doubt is replaced by His glory. My foolish thoughts are brushed away to allow space for His grace and love. The learning begins, for His loyalty to me destroys my doubt.

If you are facing uphill battles, a season filled more with hesitation than certainty, go outside. Take a walk in the forest, go sit by a lake, experience the crash of a waterfall, follow a butterfly. Within the beauty of those things, you’ll sense His gracious faithfulness.

It is waiting for you right outside your door.

The other day, I was assigned to “control the dog” so my husband could paint our dining room. My trusty canine and I banished ourselves to the upstairs bedroom, where I watched two episodes of one of my guilty pleasures on television. Because it was the long holiday weekend, the channel showed episode back to back to back. Normally funny, the two episodes I watched drove me to tears.

In both, two young brides faced heart-wrenching decisions. One’s fiancé was recently diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) while the other was just one day out of the hospital recovering from a random act of violence that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Both planned to go ahead with their weddings and when they cried on television, I cried right along with them. 

I cried, I kept telling myself, because I felt their pain. But stripped down to its smallest part, I had no idea the deep torment they were facing. I’ve never been in those situations, though I have felt the pain of knowing life isn’t going to work out the way I planned it to be.

The experience left me wishing  I understood pain more than I do. Not to experience it more, but to understand it. Pain doesn’t make sense to me. Oh, I’ve heard the story that pain is a product of The Fall; it came from Adam and Eve’s failure to stay away from the apple. But when you are in the midst of it – when life is defined by the pain as it is for those two young brides – those aren’t the words you want to hear.

In my previous blog posting, Clouds, I mentioned that God reveals Himself more to us in our pain than in the pleasurable moments in our lives. This is a mystery that unfolds throughout our lives.

I thought about how many times I’ve walked beside a friend in the throes of terrible grief while I yearned to make them feel better.

How different that is from God! He uses pain to make us better; stronger in character, joyful in our dependence on Him, mature in our faith. Psalm 58:6 states that God collects every tear we shed in His bottle. Our pain grieves Him so much He records our tears, each and every one of them.  He does not take pain and our resulting tears lightly.

Life is about the hard work of overcoming pain, getting stuck, being confused, but holding on dearly to our Creator’s hand so that we finish well. There are spiritual implications to pain – using it as opportunities for transformation to overcome fear, self-sabotage and failure.

I don’t want more pain in my life, nor do I wish it for anyone else. Yet when it strikes, I know in the loneliness, the craziness and the heartache, my God holds my hand through it. Yours, also. For He understands your pain because He experienced pain Himself. He sees the hard work you do in the midst of pain. He values it and He values you!

Pain is messy, but when we cling to God to overcome it, His goodness and love permeates it. He never leaves us alone holding the pain.