Ultimate Joy

Posts Tagged ‘surrender

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 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?

I hate my fingers. They are small, stubby and by no means beautiful. Not at all the long slender ones belonging to models that move through the air with such beauty and finesse, poets could write sonnets about them. But maybe it is better mine are so short because they fly over the computer keyboard when recording the creative musings of my mind. Could that be why God gave them to me?

What it is about your body, personality or life you dislike? Doesn’t it make you just a teeny bit frustrated when reminded you are made in the image of God? You wonder “What was He thinking when He imagined these fingers, or this nose or this hair?” When I look closely at my body, it is sometimes hard to believe He took time to create the chaos that is me. But He did and in that, I can rejoice. And you should, also.

You see, the world needs you. You and only you. God fashioned you so that you can reflect back His glory, light and love in a way no one else can. Not anyone else on the face of this earth now, in the past or in the future.

Christ came to set you free to be all He created you to be. A healthy self-image is not rooted in pride. That’s because success happens not because we place ourselves above others. It only comes when we give Him permission to make us exactly who He created us to be. Celebrating our uniqueness requires that we blossom into the incredible, exceptional individuals God made us to be.

By focusing on our identity in Christ, we allow His handcrafted individuality in us to flourish.  As we thrive in our identity, we come fully alive. That happens only when we let our lives reflect the hope of Jesus Christ. His sacred hands behind the scenes molding us with His love and grace.

We have a role in this celebration, also. When we accept our distinctiveness and hold tightly to who God made us, we can soar above self-criticism, other’s judgments, feelings of low self-esteem and a posture of unworthiness.

God tells us in Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure that God who began the good work within you will keep right on helping you grow in his grace until his task within you is finally finished on that day when Jesus Christ returns.”  Knowing who we are in His eyes, covering ourselves in His grace leads us to a life of peace and purpose.

Christ in us furnishes the ability to rise above fear of rejection or failure. Because of His sacrifice, God sees us all clean and sparkly. We are an empty canvas waiting for the precious strokes of a loving God. Only He can paint our lives anew with beauty, quality and brilliance.

It is only through Christ that we can walk well together in value and worth – and lead others to do the same. Isn’t that worth celebrating?

Great drama always comes boiling to the surface at the Olympic Games.  The 1992 Games in Barcelona were no exception. A British runner by the name of Derek Redmond had his sights set on winning his 400 meter semi-final heat and running in the finals.  About 250 meters from the finish, Derek’s hamstring snapped and he fell to the ground.  Medical personnel rushed over to help him, but he waved them off and grimacing in pain, got up and hobbled down the track desperately trying to finish his heat.

His father, seeing all this and knowing his son needed help, barged past security, ran down to the field, wrapped his arms around his son’s shoulders and walked with him to the finish line. Once Derek crossed the finish line, the crowd of 65,000 rose to give him a standing ovation.

In 2 Timothy 4:7, Paul writes:  “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (NIV) There are days when we all long to quit. When life becomes just too difficult, too painful to move. Yet, we pick ourselves up and we keep going. Sometimes, there are friends and family cheering us on.  They walk the entire course with us providing support, “Come on, you can do it!  Don’t give up,  you are almost there.”

But then there are other times when you look around and you are all alone. There is no one with you, no one at your side and no one cheering you on. Loneliness and discouragement set in.  It’s easy to give up on those days. We become so discouraged we lose sight of the finish line.

But rather than giving up, it is on those days, I need, we all need, to listen more closely, more intently to the still small voice of our Heavenly Father. Like Joe Redmond, Derek’s father, God is there to pick us up when we fall, there to hold us when we cry, hug us when we are lonely, cheer us on when no one else wants to take on that job.  Even more importantly, He loves us just as we are; whether we win the gold medal or are disqualified like Derek Redmond. (Since Derek was helped across the finish line by his father, this officially disqualified him.  Olympic records state he did not finish the race.)

Our Heavenly Father is cheering you on.  He’s saying, “Keep going. Don’t give up! You are never alone. You are precious to Me. You can do it. I will help you every step of the way.”

We need to pay attention to the times God whispers just how much he loves us and is for us. It is not a matter of whether or not he speaks these words to us.  It is always a matter of whether we listen or not.

 

The humidity is shocking today.  I’m sitting in front of my computer sweating without doing anything but typing. That’s usually my cue to turn on the air-conditioning, but my sense of frugality tugs at me and the unit stays off. “Why turn it on,” I reason, “when the sun will be going down soon and the evening temperatures will cool the house?”

I think back to my childhood.  I’m old enough to remember (gasp!) those days when central air-conditioning wasn’t considered necessary.  People went to the movie theaters to cool down, or their basements, or just sat with a cold lemonade on their front porches. Cars didn’t even have it, unless you called the breeze through the open windows air-conditioning.

Talking about air-conditioning seems trivial compared to the days when women had to get up at the crack of dawn to start the fire, get the vegetables from the garden, tend the animals, make their own soap and clothes, knead their own bread. The work day was a long one – from dusk to dawn -and often not everything got accomplished.

We live in a society where our wants often become confused with our needs. While I’m typing here complaining about the sultry humidity, I think about today’s women who live in huts, still drawing water at their well, going to the river to clean their clothes and tending their gardens to make dinner for their families – all in stifling heat and humidity. 21st century women whose only relief for the heat is the shade of a tree during the day and a cool breeze at night. Women in today’s world without the modern conveniences I take for granted.

God used today’s humidity to remind me how easily selfishness creeps into my life. Do I really need air-conditioning? How about my washing machine? Could I live without running water and a working toilet? When was the last time I thanked him for those things? The things that make life so much easier.

Later this evening, I’ll take my dog out for her last walk of the day. In the cool of the evening, I can always hear the soft melody of crickets. In the darkness, that noise calms me, soothes me, relaxes me right before bed. It is in that quiet portion of the evening, under the moonlight, I thank God for what He gave me that day, for the blessings of family, friends, house and dog. It’s a time for my heart to leap with joy for I am truly blessed by Him.

Maybe sometimes we surround ourselves too much by technology that we can’t hear God’s still small voice drawing us closer to Him! Crickets, simple little crickets echoing through the night call me to unplug and pray…lead me back to God.

Something I could never hear over the noise of an air-conditioner…