Ultimate Joy

Last weekend, I attended a thought-provoking conference. This meant staying overnight, so prior to my departure, I researched accommodations on the Internet. I wanted to go big this weekend, filling it with life and wild joy, so there were two criteria: closeness to the conference site and a place where I could feel pampered. Surprisingly I found a hotel that didn’t break the bank, also!

At the afternoon break, checking into my hotel seemed a good option, so I programmed my GPS and off I went. Handy little devices, these talking wonders…except when they aren’t. Because I am always anxious blindly following their directions, I try to have a vague idea of where my destination is located. I did on this day; still I followed her directions diligently. So imagine my surprise when she led me directly to Naval Mine and Anti-Submarine Command Complex.  I kid you not. DSCN2391

Fortunately, the MP at the gate directed me to my nearby hotel. I loved the bright, whimsical décor. What I loved even more was God’s presence in the room. God crafted a meaning to the GPS’ misdirection. He’s always like that, if we listen close enough. With sacred hands, He works behind the scenes weaving pure poetry in the midst of the crush and swirl of life.

The message was clear: “I won’t leave you. I won’t misdirect you. You can trust me and I’ll keep you on the right path. Trust Me, Myra.”

It continually amazes me when God gives us a valuable life lesson in something as simple as a wrong turn. I desired those words right then; craved them in my very soul. My current insecurities had made me vulnerable to my fears.

So God practically screamed into my life: “Exciting things are happening. I’m changing you way down deep.” Despite my doubts and wrong turns, I do feel something new is coming in my life. The problem is I can’t see the path and that’s scary. But with faith, I continue moving forward on His path and my trustworthy God always makes sure there is something solid underneath my footfalls.

That’s what walking by faith is all about…unable to see the destination, inching forward, taking the next step. Even in our lowest, most fragmented moments, when we feel most out of control, God is there.  When we are left wondering, “How will I get from here to there?” God shows up and gives us energy, hope and inspiration.

All we need do is recklessly fall into His arms.

The saying goes: “Silence is golden.” And yet, to me, silence is confounding. In one sense, it is beautifully laden with potential and possibility. But is also a void – mysterious and empty – waiting hauntingly to be filled.  ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Lately, I’ve been thinking how my silence on this page has been perplexing. To be sure, a lot happened since my last blog entry months ago. I spent most of the time freezing in Illinois, had deep, moving conversations with a great group of friends, worked diligently on a house project and after too many wintry, sunless days, learned that I honestly can’t live without that magnificent, warming orb.

Quite frankly, the days were rich with inspiration for writing. But I never felt compelled to sit down at my laptop and pound out a blog entry. I’d like to say I was just too busy, but somewhere between the bitterness of my confusion and the sweetness of God’s redemptive tenderness, I became afraid of the cursor.

Most writers have it: the fear they’ll finally make time to sit down to write, open a document, but then stare, maybe for hours, at a blinking cursor deeply frustrated that the words won’t come. But for me, starting a new entry has always been exciting. It felt freeing to fill that page with juicy words, ripe with meaning. There was always a hidden joy of tapping into my internal creativity. And even though God’s fingerprints were all over my life these past months, opening myself up was impossible. I was empty and fragmented from the intense dilemma I created for myself.

You see, being a writer requires you become more skilled with each work: richer imagery, better phrasing, more precise word usage. It demands your creativity become rounder, deeper and open-hearted. That’s part of the hard task of writing: to hone your voice to one worth listening to in increasing measure with every page. Writing requires both the very methodical skill of grammar and syntax and a burning passion about the story.

And all that means every time you sit down to write, you grapple with your own sense of worthiness. And in the deep silence of a northern Illinois winter, I just didn’t feel worthy.

That’s when God, more than me, said “Enough!” He reminded me of something fundamental I had forgotten: You can’t get better if you don’t write!

And so I finally am sitting down to write with renewed passion hoping to find the words to say that will bring hope and joy to someone else. That will make them feel like they are one tiny bit less alone, to erase their unworthiness and scream what I learned during this confounding spell of silence, “You are not wrong for being who you are!”

Chaos always reigns around the holidays, but it also reminds us of how rich and lovely and beautiful life is, full of vitality and laughter amidst lots of busyness. Which might explain why, to me, heaven always seems much closer on Christmas Eve. On this most holiest of nights, we’re done. We’ve shopped and partied, decorated and wrapped ourselves silly, but tonight, weMP900313865 recognize that none of our efforts really matters. Christmas – a true celebration of fresh starts and new beginnings starts tonight if we choose to focus on the tiny baby born in a manger who came to save us and give us true life.

Tonight is the night of new hope.

That hope is available for anyone who wants it; for anyone willing to reach out for it and grab a hold of God’s hand.

His hope is for anyone who clutches to what is important about this night. It is the message brought to us by the child who came to light the world with His forgiveness, that perfect child born in a manger in Bethlehem so very long ago.

He is the gift.

It is all about His love.

And I hope His love comes to you, comforts you and remains.

My greeting and prayer to you is that you’ll create a time in these next few days to reflect on God’s goodness shone down upon you throughout 2012. That in those few moments, you’ll thank him, but also listen, weep, and be still.

Grasp tightly to that holy reflection to be fully present and fragile in the presence of a God who came to earth to be with you, near to you and connected to you.

Merry Christmas!

The Christmas rush is on! Many of you are still looking for the perfect gift, wrapping presents, baking your famous sugar cookies or packing the car for a long trip

Stop right where you are! Take a deep breath and travel back with me to a time when there was no hope and no celebration. I can’t imagine a world without Jesus and yet, many times I live my life as if He doesn’t even exist. A trial comes and I try to handle it on my own. Loneliness floods my heart and instead of reaching out to Him, I withdraw into the darkness.MH900399587

He then interrupts my life and fills each black corner with Light. His love flows over the pain like a soothing balm and once again, I experience the manger. Once again, He steps into the smelly, unlikely and very ordinary existence that is mine to change everything – everything!

Jesus could have come to us in many ways, but He chose to interrupt the very ordinary with the most extraordinary. He could have chosen to be born in a palace. After all, He was a King. Yet His life on earth began in a manger housed in what amounted to little more than a dirty, smelly barn. The simplicity of His birth is one of His most precious gifts to me, and one of my most profound life lessons.

Every year I am reminded of the very heart of Christmas — Emmanuel, God with us. God wants to be involved in the simple, ordinary happenings of daily life: where we go and what we do, the smile we give the harried stranger and the patience we exhibit in the crowd of impatient shoppers, the love that prompts the secret gift and the heart that constantly celebrates His birth through every sparkling light, every beautifully wrapped gift, each special meal, every card, phone call and visit.

Celebrate Him and His birth in everything you do. Have a birthday party for Jesus. Bake Him a huge cake and invite neighbors to join in the celebration. Adopt a family in need. Reach out to the lonely. Look for Him in the crowd. Emmanuel, God with us!

Prayer:  Father, today we celebrate the reality of Your presence in our lives. I celebrate Christ’s birth, His life, His death and His resurrection. And as we celebrate, Lord, help us be “God with skin on” to those in need around us. Open our eyes and let us see them as You see them! We love You. Happy Birthday, Jesus! In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Are you a Black Friday fanatic? Please tell me you aren’t! This year, I was thoroughly disgusted that major retailers started the Christmas shopping season on Thanksgiving. Instead of giving us a few more hours to bask in the thankful glow for all God gave us, for all the blessings this country has received  –  instead of sitting with family and friends relishing deep community and fellowship – something we all need – folks were out sleeping in tents, standing in lines, pushing and shoving all to save a few dollars on an item that will probably be obsolete in a couple of months.

The saddest commentary for me was a man sleeping in a tent in front of a big box realtor. He explained, “I brought bats and pepper spray; just in case someone tries to cut in front of me.” How very sad that the holiday meant to pause and offer gratitude has become one of battling it out for the latest electronics.

Especially this year, I didn’t want Thanksgiving to end. It’s quickly becoming a holiday that is skipped over in our dizzying rush to Christmas. Instead, I like to make Thanksgiving a time I reflect on all God has done for me. In Luke 8:15, Jesus reminds us, “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it and by persevering produce a crop.” (NIV)

I long for all of us to have the noble and good heart – to reflect the love of Christ in all we do. There is no better way to express thanks to Christ than that. Could those at the first Thanksgiving dinner ever imagine their holiday of love, peace and thanks would get sandwiched in between Blackout Wednesday and Black Friday? America showed its nobility when it became the first nation to set aside a national day of thanks, yet now we seem to be the laughing stock of the world as we drink ourselves to oblivion the night before and shop ourselves silly on the day afterward. Has that become the sign of a thanking God for our country, life, family and friends?

Thanksgiving for Richard and I has always been a slow holiday. We enjoy each other; we cook dinner together, we talk, we laugh – we open up space to love each other. We both want the same thing, a heart that is humble and fertile enough to receive God’s Word, retain God’s instruction and reflect on God’s character in both action and reactions.

Want a noble heart during this frenetic season?  Here are three simple suggestions:

Focus on People – Open your heart to all. See everyone as someone who deeply matters to God. Place a higher importance on people than on anything you could ever purchase in a store.

Be Generous – Think of your favorite Christmas memories. Most don’t involve the gifts, but the people. Create fantastic new memories for your family. Give your time and your treasures to those around you – even if it means giving up an afternoon of shopping to work in a homeless shelter. That precious gift will bring more joy than anything wrapped under the tree.

Slow the Season – Avoid hurry. Replace it the community, with friends. Sit on the sofa with those you love reflecting on how Christ’s birth impacts you. People are shaped by two things: trust and truth. And those two things require time.

Above all, with a noble and good heart, thank God for the miraculous love He showers on you.

I’ve always had a tender heart. When first married, my husband was astounded by how much I cried. “She even cries at commercials,” he’d explain to friends in utter frustration. For a thinker like him, living with a feeler like me became a difficult transition.

But I love my tears – even when they embarrass me, like when I am seeing a movie with friends. I look around and it seems I am the only one in the theater moved to tears by the intensity of the scene on the screen. “Geez, Myra, get with it! You are an adult,” I silently scold myself.

But we all cry. And we cry for different things: happiness, sadness, feeling overwhelmed, hopelessness or even just plain tiredness.

Tears also have a purpose. They are a great stress reliever; they lubricate our eyes; remove irritants and contain antibodies to fight infection. How cool is that!

But what I like best about tears is that they express emotions so powerful they simply can’t be conveyed in words. Tears capture it all – the disappointment, the defeat, the drama. Messy and bold, striking thoughts jumbled in water, they are an effective way of letting go. My tears remind me I must embrace rest, grace, prayer and self-care.

But not because I want to rid myself of crying. Oh no, quite the opposite!

Psalm 56:8 states: You have put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your Book? All my tears stored in God’s bottle! What wonderful imagery of God nurturing me.

Tears are honest and they are about admitting need, even when tears of joy are shed. They call out to the sense and strength of God’s spirit. Of realizing life is about being instructed by God’s voice and not fear and weakness. Tears are about grounding yourself to God at time when sifting through life’s intense emotions requires a greater perspective.

Tears remind me of the discipline of holding on to God; of accepting His choices for my life. For they are the ones that will ultimately set me free and get me through stressful seasons. And God is all about making the unbearable bearable through His presence. Following in His footsteps brings a clear-mindedness not possible at the height of a whirling, intense season.

Tears cut to the quick. They tell us we are over our heads and need to rush into God’s arms to find safety, love and acceptance.

The bottle God created to hold my tears may be much larger than most, but that’s what brings joy to my heart. For each tear was a pathway to understanding the supreme love God has for me.

What are some of your practices for rushing into God’s arms when you are in the midst of a rough, intense crying spell?

Founded in 1776, the Mission at San Juan Capistrano was a Christian outreach to the indigenous people of the area. Still a working parish today, its 10 acres include historical ruins, restored buildings and lovely gardens. While visiting the Mission’s grounds, I sat in the peaceful courtyard, drowning out the traffic noise of modern civilization, easily lulled into imagining how pleasant life was when the mission was surrounded mostly by vineyards.

I envied the slower pace of earlier inhabitants. They didn’t have to deal with an over-flowing email box, schedules so crowded an electronic device is needed to store all the appointments or the frenetic speed of California’s crazy traffic. I imagined them working lazily in the fields, enjoying nightly community dinners where laughter and music abounded plus strolling through the garden drinking in its aromatic beauty while deep in prayer.

That feeling stayed with me all the way to the parking lot, but abruptly ended the minute I turned over the ignition in my car. The moment the engine caught, I asked myself, “Who was I kidding?” These folks worked hard; their days longer and filled with more drudgery and exertion than mine. They did life without refrigeration, pure drinking water, electricity, telephones or computers. They battled disease at every turn without antibiotics, X-rays or vaccines.

And yet, every Sunday, they stopped everything to worship at the Mission. For the early inhabitants, life revolved around God. They listened to the Mission’s bells calling them in from the fields at night, gave up working on Sundays to partake of the Eucharist, spent years building the church – meaning they hauled stones sometimes by hand from over 6 miles away! Which started me wondering if I merely tack Christ on to my busy life? Is He just another app to get me through the day? Or do I give Him everything I am?

Their Christianity was not a half-in existence, nor should mine be today. Christianity is all-in, devoting your life to Him and Him alone. They knew making Jesus the Lord of your life requires dedicating all you do to Your Heavenly Father. Jesus warned his disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25.

As a Christian, He becomes your life. This is sometimes hard to determine in mine given my unwillingness to find the time to daily study His word, prioritize solitude to be with Him and listen to His still small voice. I don’t ever wish to make my relationship with Christ something that I just check off my list and neither should you.

Because when I allow Him in, when He truly becomes the Lord of my life, when a true union occurs between Him and me, – when I hand my life entirely over to Him – a sweetness like none here on earth pervades all my life. I want Him to have all of me!