Ultimate Joy

Posts Tagged ‘winter

The saying goes: “Silence is golden.” And yet, to me, silence is confounding. In one sense, it is beautifully laden with potential and possibility. But is also a void – mysterious and empty – waiting hauntingly to be filled.  ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Lately, I’ve been thinking how my silence on this page has been perplexing. To be sure, a lot happened since my last blog entry months ago. I spent most of the time freezing in Illinois, had deep, moving conversations with a great group of friends, worked diligently on a house project and after too many wintry, sunless days, learned that I honestly can’t live without that magnificent, warming orb.

Quite frankly, the days were rich with inspiration for writing. But I never felt compelled to sit down at my laptop and pound out a blog entry. I’d like to say I was just too busy, but somewhere between the bitterness of my confusion and the sweetness of God’s redemptive tenderness, I became afraid of the cursor.

Most writers have it: the fear they’ll finally make time to sit down to write, open a document, but then stare, maybe for hours, at a blinking cursor deeply frustrated that the words won’t come. But for me, starting a new entry has always been exciting. It felt freeing to fill that page with juicy words, ripe with meaning. There was always a hidden joy of tapping into my internal creativity. And even though God’s fingerprints were all over my life these past months, opening myself up was impossible. I was empty and fragmented from the intense dilemma I created for myself.

You see, being a writer requires you become more skilled with each work: richer imagery, better phrasing, more precise word usage. It demands your creativity become rounder, deeper and open-hearted. That’s part of the hard task of writing: to hone your voice to one worth listening to in increasing measure with every page. Writing requires both the very methodical skill of grammar and syntax and a burning passion about the story.

And all that means every time you sit down to write, you grapple with your own sense of worthiness. And in the deep silence of a northern Illinois winter, I just didn’t feel worthy.

That’s when God, more than me, said “Enough!” He reminded me of something fundamental I had forgotten: You can’t get better if you don’t write!

And so I finally am sitting down to write with renewed passion hoping to find the words to say that will bring hope and joy to someone else. That will make them feel like they are one tiny bit less alone, to erase their unworthiness and scream what I learned during this confounding spell of silence, “You are not wrong for being who you are!”

The Christmas rush is on! Many of you are still looking for the perfect gift, wrapping presents, baking your famous sugar cookies or packing the car for a long trip

Stop right where you are! Take a deep breath and travel back with me to a time when there was no hope and no celebration. I can’t imagine a world without Jesus and yet, many times I live my life as if He doesn’t even exist. A trial comes and I try to handle it on my own. Loneliness floods my heart and instead of reaching out to Him, I withdraw into the darkness.MH900399587

He then interrupts my life and fills each black corner with Light. His love flows over the pain like a soothing balm and once again, I experience the manger. Once again, He steps into the smelly, unlikely and very ordinary existence that is mine to change everything – everything!

Jesus could have come to us in many ways, but He chose to interrupt the very ordinary with the most extraordinary. He could have chosen to be born in a palace. After all, He was a King. Yet His life on earth began in a manger housed in what amounted to little more than a dirty, smelly barn. The simplicity of His birth is one of His most precious gifts to me, and one of my most profound life lessons.

Every year I am reminded of the very heart of Christmas — Emmanuel, God with us. God wants to be involved in the simple, ordinary happenings of daily life: where we go and what we do, the smile we give the harried stranger and the patience we exhibit in the crowd of impatient shoppers, the love that prompts the secret gift and the heart that constantly celebrates His birth through every sparkling light, every beautifully wrapped gift, each special meal, every card, phone call and visit.

Celebrate Him and His birth in everything you do. Have a birthday party for Jesus. Bake Him a huge cake and invite neighbors to join in the celebration. Adopt a family in need. Reach out to the lonely. Look for Him in the crowd. Emmanuel, God with us!

Prayer:  Father, today we celebrate the reality of Your presence in our lives. I celebrate Christ’s birth, His life, His death and His resurrection. And as we celebrate, Lord, help us be “God with skin on” to those in need around us. Open our eyes and let us see them as You see them! We love You. Happy Birthday, Jesus! In Jesus’s name, Amen.

The other day a bright orange and black Monarch butterfly flew right across my path darting to and fro enjoying the geniality of the sun.  I had to pinch myself when I first noticed it.  The calendar read December and in the snowy Arctic wasteland where I’m originally from, no self-respecting Monarch would be there now.

Observing it for several minutes brought such joy.  Butterflies speak beauty to me. This majestic one reminded me of an abundant Creator, who lovingly sprinkled His creation with such fragile splendor – just for us to enjoy.

So far, I’ve suffered little homesickness; though to be honest, I do miss my friends and some very savory Chicago food. But as I more and more enjoy a southern winter, I’m left with a better understanding of what Jesus meant in the story of the little children.  Recorded in Luke, “People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth; anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

There is wonderment all around us!  Too often all we see with our eyes is too much work, too much Facebook and too much responsibility.  Seeking the beauty in our world sustains hope and joy.  Finding God in the little blessings makes resting our Herculean problems in the arms of the Master Problem Solver so much easier.

I want to receive the Kingdom of God like a little child – shrieking with delight with hopeful eyes sparkling.

But usually, I don’t.  My prayers are rushed, hurried.  There are times I don’t believe God can help.  Or that He chooses not to fix my concerns.  Too often all I bring to God is a pressured desperation to mend my life.  No praise, no thanksgiving, no joy.  Just God sandwiched between a thousand responsibilities until a little butterfly drowns out this crazy world for a few moments of hushed communion with its Creator.

When did I lose this sense of discovery and curiosity with God?  At what moment did I begin to see the world as just laptops, freeways and tasks?  Why can’t I depend on the Lord with child-like trust?

This winter, I pray I will come to the Father seeking childlike hope and joy. Won’t you join me?

My heart has been pierced today with sadness, withered and dry.  It doesn’t help that blizzard conditions exist here in Chicago – 40+ mile per hour winds, snow on the ground and bitterly cold temperatures.  Still I know that God is up to something.  There is change in the winds and I want to be in the middle of God’s plan.

My husband and I are taking the day to clean out some long-overdue places within our home.  I’m tired of the junk pile.  I grow weary from the long-forgotten things that somehow remain hidden deep in the closet where no one can see.  I wish that the snowplows outside my door would just whisk all the junk away so I wouldn’t have to deal with it.

My emotional junk causes me even bigger problems.  Cleaning out that would lead to an even bigger mess.  Yet, God sees my personal failings and He is not afraid to deal with them.  He sees the pain and the baggage from my past.  And despite all that He comforts me and gives me strength to grow beyond the ugliness in my heart.

That’s because it is in these cold, stinging places that I hear God’s softest voice.  In the heaviness of the heart, God is there to lift me up.  In my loneliest hour, I sense His closest companionship.  In this season of winter, that I sense His gentle, warm touch; in the harshest rejection that I know His deep embrace.

I have several decisions that are weighing me down.  Some life-changing; others significant, but less dramatic.  An internal voice feeds my insecurities…my inability to lean into God’s plan.  I want to be obedient to Him, yet sometimes I stay stuck in my messiness unsure of where to go next.

Still, God sanctifies me; He ordains me to do His work.  I take comfort in his words, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm, plans to give you a hope and a future.”  (Jeremiah 29:11)

I don’t know where His great love will lead me.  I do know that God does not mean to leave us in defeat.  And so while I feel withered, I know that He will lead me through this current storm; He will take me through every storm.  So as the snow piles up outside, there is really only one path:  trusting in Him.

For some unknown reason, my family never used electric blankets when I was growing up.  It wasn’t until I was an adult that I was introduced to the magic of an electric blanket.  I love their luxuriating warmth on a cold winter’s day; the ability to lose yourself in the tender coziness is almost beyond words.  I inherited my husband’s old blanket, well loved when I received it and getting even more loved as time goes on.

 When I snuggle deep within the folds of the blanket, I can’t help but think of God’s tender warming touch to my cold, foreboding heart.  When His spirit entered my heart, it changed me offering comfort and contentment – much like my blanket.  Hearing the truth that “God loves me” is like turning the heat on my electric blanket – I feel excitement, anticipation and contentment will soon be coming my way.

Just as I struggle with the cold winters of Chicago, I resist fully understanding the depths of God’s love for me.  I pray consistently that the Holy Spirit will sweep into my soul and reveal to me the greatness, completeness and fullness of God’s love for me.

God’s love is one of the most exciting and life-changing truths I’ll ever know.  I want to wrap myself in the breadth of God’s love for me.  I want to feel the length of His mercies and the depths of Christ’s sacrifice.  I never want to go anywhere unless I am blanketed in the red hot fire of His love for me.  How could a God that loves me this much fail me in any way?

On those cold, winter nights when I’d rather be lounging on beach than snuggled up in my enchanting blanket, I thank God that I’m covered by His love. I nestle safe and secure in the tenderness of such an extraordinary God…one that moved heaven and earth to rescue me from the coldness of my own heart.

Often, it is impossible to avoid a storm. This week, Richard and I learned that as we hit a killer one during our trip to California.   From the west coast, it cut through a wide swatch of middle America with the triple threat of freezing rain, blinding snow and bitter cold.  There were only two options – face the storm or wait it out putting our dreams of California on hold.

Decisions like this are never easy.  The storms of life cause us to leave our nest of a comfortable spot to face fickle winds.  We have a choice – to fly or cling to our frozen, soggy nest.

Tenacity is an important characteristic when we’re asked to alter our course to meet our dreams.  It causes you to grow through discomfort towards your passion area.  In Oklahoma, we faced closed roads, treacherous, ice-covered open ones and downed power lines.  Literally we were left to our own devices amidst the blackness of an unlit prairie night.  We certainly didn’t feel like we were soaring like eagles (Isaiah 40:31), yet we also knew that God has not abandoned us, either (Deut 31:6 and others).

I sometimes feel as if God sends storms as a way to push up beyond where we’d push ourselves.  That’s the only place we see results.  The Holy Spirit leads us through the tempest; by the process, we become more refined.

Nervously driving through that awful Oklahoma night, I experienced the sovereignty of God in a way that I never thought possible.  He controlled the ice, the snow, the temperature and all I could do is revel or curse in His power.  That night in the car, these stirring words of Amy Carmichael comforted me, “Joys are always on their way to us.  They are always traveling through the darkness of night.  There is never a night when they are not coming.”

When my journey isn’t happening to my satisfaction, I stop, wait and consider.  Am I learning contentment, tenacity or patience?  Am I resting in the fact that God has me on a vastly different journey that anyone else?  And most importantly, is there rejoicing in the sovereignty of God to use the storms of life to refine me?

When my parents purchased the house that was my childhood home, one selling factor was its close proximity to a large city park.  That park became a quiet oasis for me.  I’d walk there during the spring to revel in the first blooms of the season, in the summer to touch the azure sky helped along by the swings, in the fall to watch football games, but winter was always special.  The football field was frozen into an expansive ice skating rink.  I’d spend hours and hours there, forgetting the cold and windchill.  My mother often would have to send my brother or sister to retrieve me for dinner and homework.

So it is probably the most ironic part of my life that, as an adult, I hate winter.  I loathe the cold, the inconvenience of snow and the dark, long days.  While many enjoy the hush of newly fallen snow, I see only the isolation of being forced indoors for many months.

 Human life is made up of bright rays of sunshine followed by stormy rain clouds.  Brightness and gloom, shadows and sunshine.  The warmth of summer followed by the harsh cold of winter.  Living an abundant life means finding joy in both.

During the bitter cold of disappointment, the presence of the Lord is the safest place to be.  Psalm 31:19 says, “How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you.”  It is through worship and adoration that we are drawn into God’s presence. 

The joy of winter is found in God’s abundant reminders of His love.  There is splendor, beauty, majesty and grandeur in these days.  Each unique snowflake is a wonder to behold.  The stillness of the air hovering over the new snowfall whispers God’s love.  The ice crackling underneath our boots carrys the song of the enormous care God has for us.

Winter from God’s perspective means exploring the fun and surprises He puts in the season.  It means seeing the adventure, savoring the moments and gathering the blessings. 

To me, it means reveling in the “wow moments” God brings to my life…even in the dead of winter.