Ultimate Joy

Archive for August 2012

It was long, hard walk. Beads of sweat gathered on my forehead. My legs were burning; my breath coming in fits and stops because it hurt to fill my lungs with air. But the triumph I felt made all the exertion worthwhile. I made it; I finally made it – to the end of my driveway!

You see, I know what it is like to be lame. After surgery, walking was next to impossible. No, let me rephrase, it was impossible. Physical therapy helped, but recovery took longer than expected. I grew impatient, crabby. Then, one day the physical therapist said words that brightened my soul, “Let’s take a walk!” Delicious words, forward moving words, words that finally spoke about leaving my recovery behind and embracing wellness. I was ready. “Let’s go,” came my reply, wearied from too much time in bed.

But, it wasn’t that simple. The spirit may have been willing, but the body takes longer. So, by the time I made the round trip between bed and driveway’s end, I was spent. And ready to climb back under the covers.

Despite the triumph,  I also remember the humiliation of it all. Before my surgery, this was a distance I covered with little thought.  My driveway wasn’t that long – a few car lengths at most. The degradation of that slow, torturous walk chipped a hole in my spirit. I wanted to feel less lame, to skip, to jump…to feel affirmed, less burdened.

So the words Mephibosheth have always retained a special place in my heart, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?” (2 Samuel 9:8) A dead dog! Yep, that’s what I felt like that day.

Lame after an accident, fearful of King David, since he was the son of Jonathan and that lineage could threaten David’s claim to the throne, Mephibosheth is ushered into the palace and given a place at the royal table for the rest of his life. All because of a covenant David made to remember all Jonathan’s relatives with kindness.

God’s grace shouts through David’s kindness. We are all weak, lame and fearful before our King. We have all separated ourselves from the King, but because of God’s covenant with us, He seeks us out and showers us with the riches of His table. We can delight in our fellowship with Him and receive His grace which gives us more than we have ever lost.

But notice what David’s kindness doesn’t do.  It didn’t remove Mephibosheth’s lameness. In this world, no matter how healthy, we are nevertheless weak and lame.  It is God’s favor that restores our dignity and gives us a place of honor. God never wastes a hurt; He crams our lives with His love even in our most difficult seasons.

God comforts us through our distress. He soothes our wounds. He loves us so fiercely that He seeks us out even when we don’t always turn to Him. And in the middle of our hurts, He showers us with love. He loves us first before we even think about loving Him.

While I eventually regained my ability to walk, I’m still lame, frail in spirit mired by my wrongdoing.  That makes me realize even more how much He loves me. God is bigger than this world, stronger than the ills of this world.  Yet He never leaves me.

No matter what humiliation this world brings, no matter how difficult the steps we must take in life, this world is not all there is. God, like David with Mephibosheth, has not left us orphans.

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I really thought I mastered it. I honestly felt I understood precisely how far to place things away from the counter’s edge so my German Shepherd, Lily, couldn’t get them.  At eighteen months, I believed she outgrew the curiosity of grabbing things placed there. I was sorely mistaken.

Silverware, paper, oven gloves, all found a way into her mouth! The most terrifying, though, was the pill incident. In my computer room, distracted in a Skype session with my out-of-town husband, I heard a crack come from the dining room. Investigating, I found Lily practically smiling at me with an empty pill bottle hanging out of her mouth. It was a full container purchased from the pharmacy only the night before.

I panicked. Abruptly ending the session with my husband, I desperately searched the house from top to bottom. No pill bottle top; no pills. With dusk setting in, my choices were limited; hunt in the backyard or immediately put Lily into the car and break land speed records to get her to the nearest animal poison control. Reluctant to put her through medical intervention, I opted to search.

Near the end my backyard investigation, I saw something white sticking out among the blades of grass. Could it be?  Yes, it was the top of the bottle. Now where were the pills?  In the growing shadows of evening, my flashlight beam illuminated them – faint robin’s egg blue tucked amongst the lawn’s dark blades.  I picked up all I could find, quickly went inside and counted them. All of them were there, now once again safe in the orange bottle.

Only when the bottle was placed on a cabinet’s shelf did my body react -folding in on itself, collapsing on the floor – too tired to do a victory dance, too exhausted to yell at Lily. Torn between strangling her or burying my head in her neck. The latter seemed more appropriate. Burrowing my head in her fur, tears started in earnest. How close had I come to losing her? And then I lifted up a quick prayer to God that she was more interested in the pill bottle than the actual pills.

When the tears stopped flowing  I realized how much I’m like Lily. How often do I strain my relationship with God for something that looks satisfying; that piques my interests? How often am I deeply tempted not to miss the pleasures of life even when they bring grief, fail to glorify God or, as in the case of Lily, can cause me real, physical harm?

In the darkening gloom of my kitchen, I had a moment when everything stopped. I realized how truly blessed I was – not because disaster was averted with my dog – but because I am loved beyond measure by a God who sees all the times I stumble off His chosen path for me; detouring to something unworthy of both Him and me.

Alone on the dirty kitchen floor, His love caved in on me; a love so strong it hangs on to me even on the most uncertain of days.  Even when I’m turning away, running away from Him.

Unlike the items on my counter, His love is never out of reach. And I’m truly in awe of all His love blessings even in the randomness of my days; aware I have no guarantees – except one. That nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)

I hate my fingers. They are small, stubby and by no means beautiful. Not at all the long slender ones belonging to models that move through the air with such beauty and finesse, poets could write sonnets about them. But maybe it is better mine are so short because they fly over the computer keyboard when recording the creative musings of my mind. Could that be why God gave them to me?

What it is about your body, personality or life you dislike? Doesn’t it make you just a teeny bit frustrated when reminded you are made in the image of God? You wonder “What was He thinking when He imagined these fingers, or this nose or this hair?” When I look closely at my body, it is sometimes hard to believe He took time to create the chaos that is me. But He did and in that, I can rejoice. And you should, also.

You see, the world needs you. You and only you. God fashioned you so that you can reflect back His glory, light and love in a way no one else can. Not anyone else on the face of this earth now, in the past or in the future.

Christ came to set you free to be all He created you to be. A healthy self-image is not rooted in pride. That’s because success happens not because we place ourselves above others. It only comes when we give Him permission to make us exactly who He created us to be. Celebrating our uniqueness requires that we blossom into the incredible, exceptional individuals God made us to be.

By focusing on our identity in Christ, we allow His handcrafted individuality in us to flourish.  As we thrive in our identity, we come fully alive. That happens only when we let our lives reflect the hope of Jesus Christ. His sacred hands behind the scenes molding us with His love and grace.

We have a role in this celebration, also. When we accept our distinctiveness and hold tightly to who God made us, we can soar above self-criticism, other’s judgments, feelings of low self-esteem and a posture of unworthiness.

God tells us in Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure that God who began the good work within you will keep right on helping you grow in his grace until his task within you is finally finished on that day when Jesus Christ returns.”  Knowing who we are in His eyes, covering ourselves in His grace leads us to a life of peace and purpose.

Christ in us furnishes the ability to rise above fear of rejection or failure. Because of His sacrifice, God sees us all clean and sparkly. We are an empty canvas waiting for the precious strokes of a loving God. Only He can paint our lives anew with beauty, quality and brilliance.

It is only through Christ that we can walk well together in value and worth – and lead others to do the same. Isn’t that worth celebrating?

The pressure was unspeakable. King David was alone, desperately trying to survive. In the throes of one of the darkest periods in his life, he puts his feelings out there for all to read, “No one cares for my soul.” (Psalm 142:4) Obviously, David was in the midst of one of those “nobody loves me, everybody hates me” type of days. We all want to be noticed, cared for and loved. But how much effort do we put into caring for one another’s souls?

For my daily Bible reading, I recently decided to tackle the book of Romans. I hadn’t even gotten through the first chapter, when I felt like I had been shot between the eyes. Romans 1:12 speaks of being mutually encouraged by one another’s faith. And I had to ask myself “How often do I take the time to spiritually encourage another person? Do I go out of my way to let people know they are significant?” In my journal, I wrote truthfully that I’m not the best spiritual encourager. I’m probably bringing up the rear.

What is amazing is that God gives us in each day, an opportunity to positively shape and mold those whose paths we cross with simple words of prayer. There is great power in prayer. It tells another that we have their back, that we are there to cheer them on, that we believe the best for one another. Prayer unites us as a community that delights in each other’s successes, celebrates each other’s joys and uplifts each other’s broken hearts.

Prayer for another is not simply a nice thing to do. When we are praying for another, we are locking arms with another. We create a God-sized defense around that person by letting them know they are not alone – that there truly is someone who is caring for their souls.

We all need a community of people who pray for us, who lovingly tend to our soul care by initiating a conversation that reverberates in heaven. Prayer is a powerful expression of faith bringing us into the very throne room of the Almighty God. When we pray, God listens. And He knows exactly what is needed even if our words tumble out and we struggle with their meaning.

Is there someone God is calling you to pray for today?  Someone, who like David, might think there is no one around that cares for their souls?

Then why not give them a call or send them an email? Better yet, email them a prayer or pray for them over the phone. Whisper to them what a privilege it is for you to share life with them. Tell them they are truly beloved of God, and yes, you truly do care for their soul.

Pizzazz.  That’s what I was looking for.  An attention getter.  Most importantly, I wanted the photograph to capture the special bond between me and my dog, Rascal – a picture illustrating the tight connection between us.  And in the process bring me comfort and healing since Rascal had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

It was a tall order, I admit, so I went searching for backdrops. Something to make us stand out, yet was in keeping with our personalities. When I found something that might work, I’d pester my husband to take a few pictures. Summoning every creative molecule in his body, he’d snap away, but the results would be less than spectacular.  Oh, I don’t blame him.  I was asking him to use a lens to capture a feeling, an insight into my soul all the while I was yelling at him, “Don’t get my butt in the picture.”

It seemed I’d never find the perfect backdrop to make Rascal’s black and white fur stand out and my blue eyes sparkle. Looking back it was an exercise in futility because although Richard managed to snap some great pictures, there was never one that truly stirred my soul. That’s because no picture could ever give me what the deep recesses of my heart longed for – more time with my canine companion.

When my life’s hurts become overwhelming, I don’t have to go searching for backdrops. Soothing comfort can be found in the backdrops God provides.  Luke wrote, “He will be a joy and delight to you and many will rejoice because of His birth.” (Luke 1:14)  In a lowly manger, God came to this world and other than the angels singing that night to the shepherds, his birth went widely unnoticed by the inhabitants of Israel.

Yet it was the beginning of many more backdrops – a merciless cross – an empty tomb and with that, eternity itself. His backdrops change everything about life. There are times when what He has asked me to do simply doesn’t make sense to me. But against that backdrop I found that faith is a matter of blind obedience, not human logic.

Life doesn’t lack the rough spots. But it takes storms to teach us that God is faithful and will provide the strength to stand firm.

Only when we sit at the feet of Jesus, surrendering our plans and dreams, do we discover that Christ came not to eliminate the storms of life. No, he came to fill those storms with His presence. We can always count on His joy in us when we face the storms of life – a truth that makes our hearts sing and our souls dance.

And with each storm comes the victory waiting to be claimed – the awesome privilege of clinging tightly to the hand of God.