Ultimate Joy

Posts Tagged ‘wondering

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.

He stood surrounded by dogs desperately trying to locate mine. This amazing dog sitter harbors the dogs in his house rather than in kennels, also giving them free run of his considerable backyard. As such, he is in high demand and takes very few canines. Few being around ten. Trying to separate mine so I could take her home, all of the dogs swirled around his feet vying for attention. Finally, in desperation, he called me over to help. 

All I did was say one word, “Lily.” Immediately, my black German Shepherd, jerked her head up, removed herself from the pack, jumped over the gate delineating the “people” side of the house from the “dog” side, climbed over the owner’s living room couch to sit motionless at my side. It was graceful, fluid and sweet all at the same time. No obstacles were going to prevent her from joining me.

Fortunately, she was also quick. There are rules in this house; both husband and wife of this dog sitting couple are also Master Dog Trainers and quite strict. I was pretty certain Lily just broke about 10 of their doggie edicts! Thank goodness with all the commotion going on, the fellow wasn’t aware of Lily’s inappropriate behavior.

It set my mind to wonder:  I was created to pursue God. I was created to know God – to be satisfied in Him and Him alone. To worship Him and Him alone. But even as a believer, do I leave my pack and run to God the way Lily ran to me? Am I so content surrounded by the swirling demands of my schedule, my relationships, my activities that I’d fail to hear my Master’s voice and leave it behind to run to the true source of my satisfaction and hope?

One tiny word and Lily ran to me without hesitation or regret. John 10:27 says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.” She knew my voice and she wanted to follow me.

God turned a beautiful display of loyalty into a valuable lesson.  Lily left the clutter of the other dogs because she heard my voice. She recognized me as her Master, knew she belonged to me and longed to be by my side. Like her, I must turn away from anything that muddles my faith and place my trust in Jesus Christ. We were created to be set apart, to live set-apart lives and the only way we can live that kind of life is by spending time at His side.

Who or what are you trusting in today? Are you ready to show your loyalty to God by running to Him; by finding contentment just being by His side?

Today, may you feel the incomparable peace of your Master’s voice.

Clouds

Posted on: May 30, 2012

Sunny, southern California isn’t supposed to be like this. Especially not on Memorial Day weekend. You’d expect it to be bright and blissful and beautiful, abuzz with energy and life, but that’s not happening today. The clouds hang low, the sun is nowhere to be found and the temperature is hovering at 60! The natives are wrapped up at home complaining about the cold wondering where the warmth went.

As Christians, we often have the same reaction. We think life is always supposed to be bright and beautiful. Our paths should remain straight, happy and surrounded by fields of sweet smelling flowers. Yet, just because we have God on our side doesn’t mean we won’t face days like today – dreary, dismal and draining.

Most times I give into the day’s drabness forcing my countenance into a nose dive. But today, I see beauty despite the absence of the sun. That’s because I feel close to God today; He holds on to me with strength that is beyond my comprehension, telling me “Precious child, I’m still here. No matter if the sun leaves, I’ll still be here with you.”

But there are other days…ones where I don’t feel so near to God and try to muscle through life on my own terms. Or worse yet, times when the clouds hang around for days, weeks, even years. Then, in the midst of the dreariness, I wonder “Where have you gone God? Why is life this constant struggle? The burdens are too heavy for me to carry and it feels like you’ve left me.”

I’m sure the irony is not lost on God because He never leaves me; His blessings are even more abundant during my struggles. For wrapped up in the drama, God does something amazing. He reveals Himself in a way that isn’t possible during smooth sailing. He chips away at my defenses and reveals Himself – His holiness, His strength, His wisdom, His love, His grace. The ability to hold tightly to the everlasting God, to understand as God uncovers more of Himself to me undergirds the days when getting out of bed seems like a chore.

In my selfishness, I want to know God in the sun. I want to run to God amongst those fields of sweet smelling flowers, to have Him hold me, to speak tender thoughts to me. On cloudy days, my fear rushes up and I’m immobile – like the clouds unable to give way to the brightness of the sun.

And that’s when I need to remind myself – God wins.

All this fear, all this darkness, all the loss in the world, it doesn’t win. It doesn’t last forever. In the end, God wins.

Today, as the sun desperately tries to peak out from behind the clouds, the rays remind me my life is not for this earth. It lives here and thrives here and often times hurts here, but ultimately its resting place is beyond here. And that gives me confidence to face the next storm for I am never facing them alone. Better yet, I am on the side that wins.

Life’s battles are less frightening when God displays His power through them, as He slowly reveals His love to me. I need to embrace the gray days and God right along with them. Only in our amazing God do I find the strength to overcome my challenges with the abundance of God’s love.

Because, in the end, God wins!

Today is awful, confusing and brings with it a kind of pain difficult to describe in words. Richard left for Chicago yesterday, so again I’m alone. The house feels empty and cold without his presence. Even Lily, our dog, is wandering through it hoping to find Richard hiding somewhere, expecting he’ll be ready to play once she finds him.

The day after he leaves is always the toughest. It’s a profound hurt with many questions piercing my heart even deeper. Are we doing the right thing? When will we be together again? Why do we have to wait to be together? What will our future be like?

Self-doubt swirls in my brain until I want to scream out, “I can’t live another day like this. I can’t live without his touch, his help, his presence.”

I know. There are worse things in life than this self-imposed separation. When my attitude becomes too fatalistic, I think of military spouses who send their loved ones into combat zones. Last time I checked, Chicago was still much safer than Kabul. But we all have things we’ve dreamed of and longed for and not gotten when we wanted them.

My heart floods with doubts and with them the desire to run back to bed, pull the covers over my head and forget the world exists. The questions intensify –

“Will things ever go our way?”

“When will my life get better?”

“Where is the confidence I had when I made the decision to move to California?”

Through the pangs of loneliness, I cry out to God knowing I can’t live without His touch, His help, His presence. And in His word, I find comfort, “Then you will know that I am the Lord. Those who hope in me will not be disappointed.” (Isaiah 49:23) Slowly, my qualms evaporate since it is not possible to dwell in God’s hope and still cling to doubt.

And then God reminds me, I moved here with a confident heart because He was in my decision. He provided the hope life could be abundant, even when Richard and I are apart. God doesn’t want me to doubt now because it would erode my success, community and belonging.  And that’s not the way He wants me to live my life.

No, instead He wants my life to reflect back His strength and power. He simply desires that I throw my doubts back to him and cover myself in His strength. For only then can my confident heart move forward united with God’s loving promises to me.

It’s that time of year, when we rush to the store to purchase our turkey, potatoes and stuffing in preparation for a delicious meal on Thanksgiving.  Are you the type of person who likes watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade?  Or maybe you prefer the football games? Or do you go to sleep early in preparation for all those alluring Black Friday sales?

Sometimes, though, in all the wonderful, amazing rituals of this American holiday, we miss the reason.

Thankful, are we really thankful?

Even though I think of myself as a half-empty/pessimistic type of gal, I’d say I am generally thankful.  When I take a second, stronger look, though, I’m not that sure.

To be totally transparent, I’m thankful as long as it’s convenient.

I’m thankful for all the gifts I’ve received. And I always thank the giver.

And, for all the comfortable, pleasant and awesome things God has showered on me, I lift up the occasional prayer of thanksgiving.

But then I delve a bit deeper: What about the painful experiences?  Have I ever thanked God for my struggles?  When I am in the midst of them, all I want to do is hightail it out of that situation.  Even when looking back at how God orchestrated great personal growth during my battles, I rarely say, “Thank you, Lord, for making my life an awful mess.”

To me, it sounds a little silly:

Thank you, God, for the untidiness of my house.  The dog hair, the unwashed dishes, the lack of organization.

Thank you for the struggle to pay the bills.

Thank you for being out of work and all the difficult and inelegant interviews in order to find work – that is, if I even get the interview!

Normally, we are thankful for only the blessings.  Support, gifts, abundance.  We are thankful then because it’s easy.

The sad truth of being human is discomfort is the only way we grow.  Yet how many of us are thankful when we are sitting in the “valley of the shadow of death?”

My normal reaction is to cry out to God, expressing my displeasure, imploring Him to act quickly to get me out of my distress.

But I am not changed when all is going my way.  I’m not transformed when my burdens are light.  I don’t learn to trust God in those high-flying moments.

I am moved to trust God only when I’m faced with such difficulty I have no where else to turn.  Those are the days when God strengthens me, holds me up, refocuses my attention on Him, then asks me to trust.

I’m grateful to Him for thinking so highly of me to use difficulties to craft me into a kinder, more beautiful person.  Past unhappiness now brings a personal sense of wonder. Because of my wounds, grace and sympathy towards others is just a bit easier.

And while at Thanksgiving, I do want to thank God for all He has done to make my life easy – a warm bed, the glow of a fire in the fireplace, a satisfying meal and a fulfilling marriage – I also want to thank him for the struggles.

That involves making a choice – one I am making today – to taste the goodness of God even in the darkest moments of our lives.

Won’t you join me?

I stopped dead in my tracks – sadness washing over me, pain searing my heart, helplessness booming in my chest.

Lily and I decided to enjoy the brilliant morning sun with a walk through the  neighborhood.  All was well until I saw it – a lost dog poster. How miserable his owners must be!  Lily was secure at the end of her leash; still I identified with the devastation of losing my dog.

We’ve all been there.  We’ve all lost someone or something precious to us.  Life hands us so many legitimate reasons to break down, to remain hurt, to stay a victim.

Human nature encourages us to stay stuck in our grief…to be unwilling or unable to let go of it.  We can live so long in anguish that our lives become a miserable pit of desperation.

And yet – whole comes only after broken.  Healing comes only after wounds.  The sun shines much more brilliantly after the storm.

Jesus experienced the pain of being human.  He wasn’t supposed to be a carpenter – He was a king…to be served and not to be a servant.  But it is precisely because of the work He finished on earth that we are no longer lost.  He reached down from heaven so we’d experience the joy of being found.  To be rescued from a world filled with dangerous turns and welcomed into the safe embrace of His arms. His story wasn’t complete until He brought grace to the world by dying on the cross.

Ephesians 2:10 declares, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus.”  You can’t create a masterpiece without dark and light, harmony and dissonance, uncertainty and resolution.  Even in our difficulties, God is only perfecting His masterpiece.

God made the world and then He came to change it. As an artist, He creates us to be masterpieces full of His love and grace.  Sometimes, racked by grief and despair, we impede God’s refining.  And when we stop short, things seem extremely unjust.

Difficulties are part of the masterpiece we are…the opportunity to learn to see life not as it is, but as it will be.  The world provides darkness with its heartbreaking ways.  God knows every part of our masterpiece – even those dripped heavy with pain.

Make no mistake; there are times we need to grieve deeply.  But with God’s strength, in time, we can take a step back, examine the masterpiece God is creating in us and fall deeply, passionately in love with the Creator.

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!”