Ultimate Joy

Posts Tagged ‘suffering

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.

Pizzazz.  That’s what I was looking for.  An attention getter.  Most importantly, I wanted the photograph to capture the special bond between me and my dog, Rascal – a picture illustrating the tight connection between us.  And in the process bring me comfort and healing since Rascal had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

It was a tall order, I admit, so I went searching for backdrops. Something to make us stand out, yet was in keeping with our personalities. When I found something that might work, I’d pester my husband to take a few pictures. Summoning every creative molecule in his body, he’d snap away, but the results would be less than spectacular.  Oh, I don’t blame him.  I was asking him to use a lens to capture a feeling, an insight into my soul all the while I was yelling at him, “Don’t get my butt in the picture.”

It seemed I’d never find the perfect backdrop to make Rascal’s black and white fur stand out and my blue eyes sparkle. Looking back it was an exercise in futility because although Richard managed to snap some great pictures, there was never one that truly stirred my soul. That’s because no picture could ever give me what the deep recesses of my heart longed for – more time with my canine companion.

When my life’s hurts become overwhelming, I don’t have to go searching for backdrops. Soothing comfort can be found in the backdrops God provides.  Luke wrote, “He will be a joy and delight to you and many will rejoice because of His birth.” (Luke 1:14)  In a lowly manger, God came to this world and other than the angels singing that night to the shepherds, his birth went widely unnoticed by the inhabitants of Israel.

Yet it was the beginning of many more backdrops – a merciless cross – an empty tomb and with that, eternity itself. His backdrops change everything about life. There are times when what He has asked me to do simply doesn’t make sense to me. But against that backdrop I found that faith is a matter of blind obedience, not human logic.

Life doesn’t lack the rough spots. But it takes storms to teach us that God is faithful and will provide the strength to stand firm.

Only when we sit at the feet of Jesus, surrendering our plans and dreams, do we discover that Christ came not to eliminate the storms of life. No, he came to fill those storms with His presence. We can always count on His joy in us when we face the storms of life – a truth that makes our hearts sing and our souls dance.

And with each storm comes the victory waiting to be claimed – the awesome privilege of clinging tightly to the hand of God.

I never thought I’d catch a cold living in California.  Compared to where I lived in Illinois, this is the land of perpetual sun and warmth.  Yet, here I am struggling with a cold. I guess germs live everywhere – even in Paradise.  The irony is for the past 4 years, I didn’t catch one in Illinois, but less then two months after arriving, here I am with hot tea, tissues and a blanket wrapped around my shoulders.

Occasionally a burst of energy will jolt me and I can complete some work – like finishing up this entry.  But I wonder if I’m being truthful to myself about how well I feel, since I just tried warming my cup of tea in the cabinet instead of the microwave.

Sadly my thoughts turn to all I am missing. Even though I’m still getting connected here, my life is extremely busy. There are meetings, lunch dates with friends, walks in the park with my dog Lily, travel plans and more.  That doesn’t include my daily responsibilities …cleaning the house, searching for employment and playing nurse to my dog that was just spayed.  It’s a whirlwind of activities to be sure.

Most of us like being busy.  We like being part of the team, experiencing new things, seeing the completion of our projects.

When you are not feeling well, you begin to see problems with busyness.

Sickness brings a laser-sharp focus to how busyness has overpowered your life and crowded God out.

Every day, the Holy Spirit prompts me to remember Jesus’ words, “Be still and know that I am God.”

But, I reply, “How can I possibly be still when there is so much living to do?”

But He repeats, “Be still and know that I am God.”

“How can I be still when life is overflowing with to-do lists, activities and friendships?” I answer. Regrettably, God’s small voice gets overrun by my priorities instead of His.

But when I am sick, when my body is exhausted and unable to go any further, I welcome the Holy Spirit’s promptings of “Be still and know that I am God.”

Being sick means raising the white flag: I can’t fight it anymore!  My body needs His stillness even more than sleep.  It is as if the Lord put a soothing cold compress on my feverish forehead and said directly to me, “Rest my child. Be still.”

Yesterday, I had one of those encounters.  I had about ten projects I wanted to complete before day’s end. Even though I was up and off the couch for part of the day, all I longed to do was curl up in a ball under my electric blanket and let the world pass me by.

Later that night, I prayed God would give me a relaxing, uninterrupted night’s sleep.  The last three nights were spent sleeping fitfully, if at all, taking care of Lily after her surgery.

I awoke this morning, much more rested, but still unable to take on the tasks of my overcrowded schedule.  “That’s okay,” prompts the Holy Spirit, “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

And that is my choice for today.  I’ll try to accomplish a few things scheduled for completion yesterday. But, I will also steal away to remember that God is in control.  And in that, I will be joyous.

Remember to take some time today and thank God for surrounding us with wonderful blessings.  Stop, reflect, slow down. It’s in these moments that God touches us…

My dream of moving to California is taking a little longer and the way is much harder that I ever imagined. If it were up to me, my car would be packed already and heading west.  Or better still, I’d be writing this from California.

When the dream seems distant, I’ve sat down and cried – big drippy tears.  And with great frustration, I’ve said, “I thought I could do this.  Why is it so hard?

What about you? I don’t know if your car broke down and your kids got sick. I don’t know if you got that job you wanted or found that inspiration you were looking for. I don’t know if someone hugged you tight or helped you cook dinner.

I don’t know if you had long talks with family or long walks with your dog. I don’t know if you went running, painting, baking or commuting. I don’t know if you ended the week giddy happy, dog tired or heart broken.

If I have learned one thing about my California dreams, it is this:  Never sit down and say, “I thought I could do this.”

You can.  You can do this!

Get back up.  Stand tall.

Look behind you and see how far you’ve come.

Look ahead and remember where you’re going.

Look next to you and see Who’s with you. Then take that step.

Just a small one.

Just the next one.

Then another.

That’s all it takes.

Not perfection. Just perseverance.

Not speed. Just stubborness.

You’re doing well. You’re going to make it.

You’ve got more strength than you know, and we’re cheering with Him, “Go, go, go!”

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.