Ultimate Joy

Posts Tagged ‘life

As Christians, we often talk about the broken world. Since the 4th of July, I’ve personally experienced this when my body broke down. For a few days, I thought I’d caught a common cold until the symptoms were no longer common and eventually drove me to seek medical help. As the doctor patiently explained how sick I was, she also brought the good news that I’d be feeling better soon.

naturepathObviously her definition of soon and mine aren’t the same because here it is almost seven weeks later and I’m still ill. Getting better, for sure, but still reeling from the fatigue, from being numb to the world, shut in from enjoying things I love and trying to understand why this illness caught me.

There were nights I prayed to God mostly to reach out and grab hold of Someone who could heal. In the darkness, I’d question Him. “Why?” I’d cry out struggling sometimes to breathe through the coughing, focusing solely on myself and my needs.

Despite my self-absorption, God was always there. I’d feel the warmth of His love in those moments of despair. His love covered me in the middle of my doubts, when the voice inside told me I will never be well, even during the times I tried to reason away His love, He was still there.

There were times when I didn’t like the person I was during this illness. They balanced out the times when I liked myself more – when I was more patient, more empathetic, more thankful for the health of earlier times. But in the illness, I learned you have to keep running to your Maker. Even when I was afraid for my life, that there was only this illness and very little else, God was with me whenever my fear seemed overwhelming.

Isaiah 55: 12 – 13 says, “There will be no more sickness or dying, and all that’s sad will come to an end. You’ll hear it then—how the mountains will shout for the everlasting joy being born, the thorns in the thickets will no longer grow, and all the trees in the field will clap their hands.”

Even though this world is broken, and I along with it, it is still good. There is beauty here. God is glorified throughout the day. I found Him in the phone calls from friends, the offers of food, the cards, the prayers. Despite how my illness miniaturized my world to my bed, I never had to go hunting for the joy of His ways.

My apologies to you that I haven’t written since early July, but I also thank you for your grace of letting me heal, of sweet recovery and most of all, of experiencing Jesus as doctor – the one who heals not only my broken body, but my broken soul. The fallen world is still fallen and we as the Body of Christ cannot stop it. But when we show up, when we shine our shaft of light through the darkness, when we bring the warmth of a greater love, we show the world that wounds can be openings to the Beauty within us.

Today, I am praying that you will keep showing up, keep looking up, keep courageously letting your life be a spark for God’s glory.

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My brown thumb deeply saddens me. I love flowers. Sweet are the moments spent in gardens and parks. The fragrant smell of nature ignites a passion in my soul and fills my heart to bursting mostly because I lack the gardening skills to keep plants alive.

So standing in the middle of a southern California vineyard last week almost brought me to tears. The earthy smell of the grapes, the lovely shades of the green vines, yet the order in the rows of vines all combined to remind me of the richness of God’s grace. And of course, made me remember John 5:15, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”DSCN2467

One reason I make a lousy gardener is I hate to prune. I don’t mind cutting away the dead shoots or blooms past their prime. However, it seems mean to cut off healthy growth. It is difficult to snip away a lovely flower even knowing in the end it will make a much healthier plant.

Pruning, which means to cleanse, removes the unhealthy part of the plant, but also eliminates the cobwebs, dried leaves and fungus that can collect on a plant. It is difficult, not only in the garden, but in real life. The Master Gardener uses circumstances in our lives as tools to trim, snip and prune us. It hurts to undergo the process. But I’ve learned if I don’t cooperate, I become self-absorbed, greedy, unloving, angry – a person who has lost track of the bigger picture of becoming a beautiful bouquet.

I learned in the vineyard that day a vine left to itself produces what are called “sucker shoots.” Sucker shoots will never bear fruit because they suck away the life-giving sap on its way from the vine to the branch. They will grow leaves abundantly, but they will greatly reduce the quantity and quality of fruit the true branches can bear. To give off the heady fragrance of a woman sold out to God requires pruning the areas in my life that are not producing fruit.

When I am feeling weak, drained, weary or unproductive, it is time to pray asking God where the sucker roots in my life are sapping my strength. Removing them is usually a very unpleasant process because I cling to my opinion of how life should be. I grab desperately to the things I feel are important. But in order to bear fruit, I must stay attached to the Vine.

Cooperating with the Master Gardener’s process means leaving those things behind in order to become more firmly rooted in Him. A vine cannot prune itself or another. The job of shaping me is God’s alone. If I surrender to His plan for my life, there will always be growing pains. At the same time, with God embedded in me the future seems less scary. Even though I’m imperfectly making these God-directed changes, fumbling and relearning the lessons He wants me to learn, I submit. Because I am firmly convinced His pruning is changing my life into a beautiful bouquet.

It wasn’t a flood by any means. But the wetness in the ceiling meant something was happening up there. Richard poked a couple of holes to determine the source of the dripping. Thinking he found the problem and corrected it, he returned to Illinois. It was highly evident the problem was not over when the ceiling leaked for another week. Drip, drip, drip into the bucket below.

The plumber I hired was skillful. However, to fix the leak required cutting a large hole in the ceiling and an even larger in the wall outside the master bath. Normally that type of deconstruction would make me nervous, but I knew it was necessary to eliminate the problem…one that could cause even greater damage down the road.DSCN2432

Everyone has areas in their lives where a little more finishing work is needed. Isaiah 64:8 states, “You are our Father. We are like clay and You are the Potter. Your hands make us all.” Under a potter’s skillful hands, the clay is stretched, molded, pounded and shaped according to the vision of the artist. The same is true of us. We are constantly under construction by our God so we can accomplish His perfect plan.

God desires for us to live out His mind-blowing plan for us. To become all God desires of us, we must remain pliable in his hands – to lay ourselves open to the deep, transforming corrections necessary. If I had tried to fix the house leak on my own, I would have failed miserably. But in the hands of a Master plumber, the leak was repaired quickly and correctly. So it is with God! He wants to create something eternally beautiful with us. He wants to make us more like Jesus. And He can accomplish all this with less pain and damage than we ever could.

The dual problems of trust and pride constantly get in the way. I’m not sure I trust God when His shaping hurts; doubting He can do better than anything I could do. But we all have rough edges that need to be removed. Our lives may be so off track we need to be broken and crushed so the Potter’s hands can begin again. Despite this construction work, there are many times in my life, when I look back and can honestly say, “The beauty God created was worth the pain.”

With no agenda, no preset conditions, total surrender demands placing ourselves in the Potter’s Hands. And like the Master Craftsman He is, the bending, breaking and changing under his hands guides us to a life of worth, meaning and joy.

Directing our own lives and agenda only leads to discontent and frustration. Our souls were made for more, so our hearts cry out, “Is that all there is?” But if we surrender our lives to God, allow His loving hands to shape us, God can relive us of our burden of our anxious striving. The truth is nothing can bring us the peace and joy we’ve been searching for but Him. Are you ready to surrender your broken life into the Potter’s Hands?

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.

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!

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?