Ultimate Joy

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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?

“$15,000!”  I screamed into the telephone. “Who needs $15,000 of adult incontinence diapers?”

 “Not to worry,” the lady on the other side of the conversation calmly told me.  “I can see someone has hacked into your credit card. We’ll remove the charge and issue you a new credit card.”

Yet, even after I hung up the phone, an anger smoldered in me. A thief had stolen from me. Well, Imagetechnically from the credit card company. Still, I was miffed. I felt like part of me had been taken, also. And adult incontinence diapers?  I was getting old, admittedly, but I still didn’t need those – yet.

Knowing I had to quickly douse my rage, the Holy Spirit reminded me it was a thief Christ ushered into His kingdom with the words, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) A thief similar to the one that charged over $15,000 on my credit card was in heaven now.  Because he believed. And Jesus granted the thief grace.

Which is exactly what I needed to do – grant the thief grace. That’s when the tears started. But these weren’t tears of frustration, of pain or even of sheer exhaustion. In the midst of thinking of the thief on the cross, I was overwhelmed.  I was taken aback by how completely and utterly loved I am by my Savior. A savior that has given me His story to tell, something to live for, something to hold onto.  In a word, grace.

Because, truth be told, I am no better than the thief. Yet Christ spoke His love to me in a powerful and consuming way; He died for me. His death was confirmation of so many promises. A promise that He will never leave or forsaken me.  A promise that all things work together for good for those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose.

There is tough stuff in this life, challenges that seem too heavy to bear. (And honestly, challenges that far exceed those of a stolen credit card. ) My encouragement to you is to remind yourself daily of the promises wrapped up in those nail-scarred hands. The promises that comfort from His ever-sustaining Word. You see, He is writing our stories in the midst of our trials:  stories of His faithfulness to you, stories of His relentless pursuit of you, stories that will become your testimony to His goodness towards you.

The story He has woven for me is a gift only He can give. A story I can reflect on and praise Him for His goodness towards me. A story that overwhelms me with His love.

And as life moves forward, He will continue to shape it into what He wants it to be for me.

When was the last time you wrote a real letter?  Not one of typed words, but one scratched out by hand with ink? Every time I spy a handwritten envelope in my mailbox, I can’t wait to open it.

I write cards to bless my friends.  Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Aren’t we living this out when we sit down, gather our thoughts and write a greeting to someone we care about?

With Facebook, Twitter and email being so popular, I mourn the lost art of letter writing. A handwritten note affects the recipient because of the writer’s time and effort. Receiving a tangible reminder someone cares deeply for you is profoundly exhilarating.

When I was little, my mom instilled in me and my siblings the importance of sending a personal greeting. Writing thank you cards took on an even greater significance to her. A gift touched your heart and a card relayed your gratitude for the kindness. If my mother had her way, we’d have written our thank you’s before we got to play with any new toys…maybe even before we unwrapped them! But she gave us some latitude as long as the thank you note was promptly in the mail.

ImageThis habit was an excellent way to teach me the importance of saying thank you. As an adult, my favorites are “thank you for being you” cards.  They are unexpected gifts to recipients and a blessing to write.

I believe card writing changes lives.

Oh, you’ll probably chide me for being overly dramatic, but ponder this for a moment.

When you write a card, you quiet yourself for a few minutes and think about the recipient.  This helps grow the affection and love you have for them.  I always ask God to give me just the right words. I pray for the person I am writing to – what is going on in their life? How can this card encourage them? That intentionality is life changing.

Life change also occurs for the addressee.  A card transports love.  It can lift spirits, brighten a gloomy day and bring joy. If you don’t believe me, write a note by hand to someone.  I guarantee you’ll receive squeals of delight.

Who can you send a “thank you for being you” card to?  To whom can you say “you matter?” Someone in your life needs to know they make a difference and you are thankful for them.

It might be a friend who lives nearby or across an ocean.

It might be a family member.

It might be your wife or husband.

Will you pray for that person and send them a card today?  Then share in the comments how this impacted you or the card’s recipient.

I wear many hats in my life:  Wife, friend, blogger, writer, singer, pet owner.  But there is one hat that I’ve worn too often in the past weeks – workhorse!

I wish I could say that my move to southern California is complete.  While I have a physical address in the Golden State, it isn’t “home” yet.  Not by a long shot!  It lacks that comfy, peaceful feeling to luxuriate in.  My house is filled with boxes, bags and furniture that hasn’t quite yet been placed in the perfect place.  And while I relish the fact that when you have moved into a new home it is the one time you can show your house when it is a complete disaster, I miss wanting to rush home just to savor its coziness and tranquility.

For those of you planning a move soon, let me give you one piece of advice – pace yourself!  Develop a rhythm your body can tolerate and be sensitive when you try to go beyond.  Richard and I broke that rule many times this past month because of several interruptions to our packing schedule and then, while unpacking, only having him here such few days.  As a result, I ache in places I didn’t know even existed and I’d love to lay down for a long winter’s nap.  Only problem – too many boxes still clog the living room, bedroom and hallways of my new home.

Despite the rush, we’ve invited the most important person into our new home:  Jesus Christ.  Even before we left the driveway of our old home, His name was on our lips and His peace was in our hearts.

Isaiah 43:19 says, “See, I am doing a new thing!   Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”  I recognize Christ doing a new thing in my heart and in my life.  A spring of audacious excitement wells up in my soul.  Yet, I still must make my way out of the box-strewn wilderness of my new house.  And with God’s help, I will.

For more than all else, I want my house to glorify Him.  I want it to be a haven for my friends to visit and find rest.  I want it to be a place of humility where I can serve my God and others.  I want it to be the place where healing, forgiveness and life take place. I want hope to shout from the hallways and love to encircle all those who enter its doors.

So excuse me while I put on my superwoman cape, become the white tornado and try to bring some order to an utterly chaotic place.

A very wise man once told me that, when the darkness of grief settles on our life, it is human nature to look for a new beginning where the sun set.  However, if we turn around and face the darkness with courage and conviction, we will see the sun rise sooner and in the most unexpected place!

Thursday, I’m starting a new beginning in my life. I leave for an adventure in California.  Despite my excitement, this season starts with a profound loss.  Friday, I learned a dear friend passed away very unexpectedly.  Home alone when her grief-stricken husband called at 7AM, all throughout the day, I needed a hug –  to feel some of the love that the world would now be missing.

My friend was a force to be reckoned with.  Blessed with the most amazing gift of evangelism, there are probably hundreds of people who are and will be in God’s Kingdom because of her kind, thoughtful and generous evangelistic efforts.

I was a Christ-follower when I met her and throughout our relationship, she insired me.  Whenever possible, I observed her gentle ways.  Oh, how she loved God and His children.  There was no judgment as she reached out to people.  She lived to celebrate God’s presence in people.

There was much for me to learn.  She taught love when she organized countless parties and even a bridal shower for me.  She taught patience when she listened to endless stories from hurting people.  She taught laughter as she shared the joys in her life.  She taught the importance of faith, family and community. Most importantly, she showered everyone with the love of God.

The day after her funeral, as I begin my own adventure of sorts, I will be thinking about my friend.  She is at peace now; her journey completed.  Mine still continues.  But, fortunately, God gave me a friend who showed me the way with clarity, courage and conviction.  I love her and will always miss her dearly.

For several days, I’ve sat transfixed watching the newscasts from Haiti.  It’s like watching a train wreck – precisely because that is what it is.  My heart aches for the people suffering the after effects of the 7.0 earthquake. Tears well up in my eyes seeing the flattened homes, lack of basic human necessities and the twisted, torn bodies of both the living and the dead.  The debilitating scars of losing family and loved ones will remain even after the city is rebuilt.

An Obvious Question

There are so many questions asked after this kind of destruction.  Where is God?  Why did He allow this to happen?  Why were some individuals spared while others were crushed?  But an obvious question is how do you find joy in the face of such sorrow, death and devastation?

James 1:2-3 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (NIV) The Message Translation takes a step further – “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.”  A true gift…city in ruins, hundreds of thousands dead and over 3 million people without food, water or shelter?

It sounds ludicrous to look into the eyes of a mother who lost her entire family and say, “Consider this a sheer gift.”

God versus the Earthquake

When I am overwhelmed by tragedy, it is best to look at what I believe. My God is a great God, a faithful God.  Nothing is too difficult for God.  He does the impossible.  He can heal.  He can deliver. He helps us out of hard places.  He is the God that can do all things.  God has already done excellent and great things.  He will never leave us.  

  • God will walk beside you and give you a life of victory and wholeness.
  • God asks you to “cast your cares on Him” daily (I Peter 5:7) and in return, He will extend deep peace.
  • God will make you to “soar on the wings of eagles” (Isaiah 40:31).
  • God is our support (Psalm 18:22)
  • God is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. (Psalm 9:9)

Beginnings

An earthquake will not stop God’s miracles.  That is why natives of Port-au-Prince joined in a chorus of worship songs the morning after the quake hit.

The strength and resilience of the Haiti people is displayed in every newscast.  They will rebuild – their lives, their city and their country.  They have hope and strength.

God is already working His miracles in those who draw closer to Him through prayer and acts of service to those in Haiti.  His miracle is in the people of many nations who are working side-by-side using their lives to meet other people’s needs.  He is touching the 82nd Airborne soldiers who, normally called into war zones, are now ambassadors and peacemakers. 

Our human understanding makes it next to impossible to balance these things against what we see on television, which is why we need faith. God will be glorified by this.  He is mightier than the earthquake. 

And isn’t that where our joy truly resides?

If you would like to help with Haitian relief, consider making a donation to a reputable organization.  (Red Cross, Doctors without Borders)  Or please make a donation to Willow Creek Community Church’s Disaster Relief Fund.  100% of the proceeds go for disaster relief.

When my parents purchased the house that was my childhood home, one selling factor was its close proximity to a large city park.  That park became a quiet oasis for me.  I’d walk there during the spring to revel in the first blooms of the season, in the summer to touch the azure sky helped along by the swings, in the fall to watch football games, but winter was always special.  The football field was frozen into an expansive ice skating rink.  I’d spend hours and hours there, forgetting the cold and windchill.  My mother often would have to send my brother or sister to retrieve me for dinner and homework.

So it is probably the most ironic part of my life that, as an adult, I hate winter.  I loathe the cold, the inconvenience of snow and the dark, long days.  While many enjoy the hush of newly fallen snow, I see only the isolation of being forced indoors for many months.

 Human life is made up of bright rays of sunshine followed by stormy rain clouds.  Brightness and gloom, shadows and sunshine.  The warmth of summer followed by the harsh cold of winter.  Living an abundant life means finding joy in both.

During the bitter cold of disappointment, the presence of the Lord is the safest place to be.  Psalm 31:19 says, “How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you.”  It is through worship and adoration that we are drawn into God’s presence. 

The joy of winter is found in God’s abundant reminders of His love.  There is splendor, beauty, majesty and grandeur in these days.  Each unique snowflake is a wonder to behold.  The stillness of the air hovering over the new snowfall whispers God’s love.  The ice crackling underneath our boots carrys the song of the enormous care God has for us.

Winter from God’s perspective means exploring the fun and surprises He puts in the season.  It means seeing the adventure, savoring the moments and gathering the blessings. 

To me, it means reveling in the “wow moments” God brings to my life…even in the dead of winter.