Ultimate Joy

Posts Tagged ‘purpose

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.

Yesterday, I attended a moving prayer service at Saddleback for Matthew Warren, Rick’s 27 year-old-son who committed suicide on Friday. I didn’t know Matthew, but I am on one of Rick’s teams and one of Kay’s. I’ve come to know both of them and I know their hearts are breaking. Could you say a prayer for them, but also for anyone who has been devastated because of suicide?

Myra+Rick2Richard and I had a very close friend who committed suicide. This happened in 2010 and I still often think of her often. We have always operated with an open door policy on our home; we feel it is God’s, not ours. As we processed our friend’s death, we wondered why she never shared her troubles with us, never picked up the phone to call us or come to stay with us. With all the questions we asked ourselves in our grief, I can’t imagine how a family member recovers from this shock.

Tom Holiday, Rick’s brother-in-law and Matthew’s uncle, gave a profound message this weekend. He issued a call to action: to attack evil with good. So, please take an extra moment to be kind to those around you. Hug your family and friends. Let people know how much you love them. Ask Jesus into whatever grief you are carrying because we all have grief in this life. Only He can completely transform a situation. Nothing, absolutely nothing is hopeless if you invite Christ into it. His very presence covers us with an all-encompassing love and a radiant hope to fill our lives with energy and purpose. So go out of your way this week to become a living, breathing, walking display of His glory.

Let me start: thank you for all the kindness you have shown me through the years. All of you, my readers, have gone out of your way to encourage me and make me into a better writer. I appreciate your acute intellects and wonderful suggestions on how to improve. You are awesome and amazing. My writing has vastly improved because of you.

Thanks for all you do! Now, please say a kind word today, tell someone that you love them or bring a smile to someone’s face with a word of encouragement. Let the world be brighter today because of you.

The symptoms hit me during a Saturday morning meeting. A low grade headache, nausea and muscle aches came on suddenly. All I wanted was the comfort of my bed. It wasn’t the onset of the flu. No, I recognized the symptoms as burnout brought on by a long, busy week. Because of the frequent times I operated outside of my comfort zone that week, my body was simply telling me, “I need some rest.”

Not wanting to give in to my fatigue, I did the next best thing or so I reasoned. When I got home I grabbed a good book and laid down on the couch. My thought was to read a chapter or two, then get up and tackle my list of chores. But you know the story…I got comfortable, warm, contented. Quickly the book was put aside and I took a much needed nap.

When I woke up, my body felt rested; so much so I also didn’t want to get up. I was cozy, relaxed, ready to camp out on the couch for the rest of the evening. Only one problem, though. I had signed up to serve communion that evening at church. That’s when my contentment started speaking to me. “You don’t really have to go. It’s a big church. They don’t need you. They have plenty of volunteers. Someone else will do your work.” I snuggled even further under the blanket lingering longer on the couch.Trays of Bread and Wine for Communion

Yet the Bible is very clear about situations like this. Matthew 5:37 tells us, “Let your ‘yes’ by ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’” A war began stirring in my soul. I didn’t want to get up. I simply didn’t want to go to church that evening. I wanted to savor one of the few moments of rest I had that week. “I don’t want to go,” I explained out loud to my dog curled up on the floor at my feet.

But I had given my word.

Reluctantly, I rose from the couch and drove to the service. There I discovered the most interesting dynamic: God didn’t tell us that our word should be our bond to be mean. No, He told us that to safeguard our character. Had I stayed on the couch that evening, I doubt anyone would have noticed. But I would have sold out my reputation, my integrity for a few extra moments on the sofa. In the long run, it just wasn’t worth the price.

After distributing the elements, I returned to my seat and held them preciously in my hands. They offered me redemption of another kind; soul redemption, an eternity with my creator. Having struggled to be there, I saw the sacrament in a new light.

When you say ‘yes’ to God, you become a living, breathing, walking display of His glory. All of us are just one step of obedience away from the next great, godly adventure and the mountaintop moments that follow. Are you willing to abandon what makes you comfortable to embrace what makes you fulfilled? Are you ready to exchange cozy for the confidence He provides?

Not only did God love us enough to die on a cross, He loved us enough to send a roadmap to a more joyful life. All we need to do is let our ‘yes’ by ‘yes.’

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?

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?