Ultimate Joy

Posts Tagged ‘Rescue

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.

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.’

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.

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!

Last night, I sighed as I opened my front door, returning from a vacation that was more a marathon than an opportunity for recreation. There was no rhythm to my time away, just rush, rush, rush. Ran from one activity to the next trying to see it all, do it all, visit with as many people as possible.

The trip reminded me of an early childhood memory. My family loved car trips. These were pre-Internet days, so at evening’s end, instead of searching the Internet, we searched the “vacancy” signs in front of motels. We were greatly disappointed when we found a fairly decent-looking one, but the “no vacancy” sign out front was lit.  

That memory came wafting back to me because while I was gone, my soul began to feel vacant since I had hung a “no vacancy” sign on my life. For nine days, I spent almost every waking moment involved in my overbooked schedule with little time spent in sacred communion with God.

All sorts of activities vied for my attention to the point I experienced a broken union with Christ. One of the first things I unpacked was my journal, but it sat right where I placed it on Day 1 until I packed it up right before I left for home. While I did pray every night before I went to sleep, that isn’t really enough, is it? We need more than that to deeply fellowship with our Creator.

Yet, while I wasn’t seeking God, I was overcome with joy because I strongly felt His presence in all my activities. That’s because He lives in us, so His sacred love permeates all we do. He was right beside me while I was visiting with friends, in the dentist’s chair or even trying in vain to clean out the basement. All I needed to do was acknowledge His presence.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 says simply, “pray without ceasing.” For many years, I struggled with that. Imagining that meant being down on my knees with my hands folded together, I never thought unceasing prayer was possible.  How does God expect us to pray every moment of every day? That question haunted me until these overbooked days where one activity ran into another ended and the truth slammed me. Our lives should be one giant prayer to God.

I’m not saying to forget about those private extended times alone with God.  We most certainly need those. But by acknowledging God’s presence in every aspect of our lives, we will experience His sacred love in everything we do.

God’s love is powerful – enough to pervade the nooks and crannies of our lives. That includes visiting with friends, cooking dinner, doing the laundry or even packing up your suitcase. I might have forgotten to welcome Him into my presence, but He never forgot to stay with me; that’s how much He loves me.

Those nine vacant days were a wake-up call. My time away taught me I want my life to be more Him, less me. From now on, I want to spend my days acknowledging Him, striving to follow Him even in the busyness of life.

What about you?

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.