Broken-hearted Joy

“Our hearts ache, but we have joy.”

How can people say they are experiencing joy when their hearts are breaking? These are two opposing emotions and seemingly impossible to coincide together in one person at the same time.

This phrase “Our hearts ache, but we have joy” comes from Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians 6:10, couched in his list of hardships endured by himself and his co-workers on their various missionary travels. It appears that the Christians in Corinth are having some struggles with holding to their faith in Christ because of a particular man among them and they are now mistrusting and doubting Paul and his teaching. Paul is urging them to continue to trust God and to trust himself as well. We learn this from phrases Paul interjects throughout this 2nd letter to the Corinthians, such as

“it is God who enables us, along with you, to stand firm for Christ” (1:21)
“the man who caused all the trouble hurt all of you more than he hurt me” (2:5)
“don’t team up with those who are unbelievers” (6:14)
“come back to God(5:20)

Paul longs for reconciliation, often expressing his love for them as in

“we want to work together with you” (1:24)
“I didn’t want to grieve you, but I wanted to let you know how much love I have for you” (2:4)
“you are in our hearts” (7:3)
“There is no lack of love on our part but you have withheld your love from us. I am asking you to respond as if you were my own children. Open your hearts to us!”(6:12)

Paul also explains himself and defends his authority, particularly in chapter 10, but “with the gentleness and kindness of Christ” (10:1).

“We are not like the many hucksters who preach for personal profit. We preach the Word of God with sincerity and with Christ’s authority, knowing that God is watching us” (2:17)

Among other things, Paul also corrects and encourages the Corinthians to “strengthen (them), not tear (them) down.” (13:5)

“Forgive and comfort” this person (who caused the problems) so he won’t be “overcome by discouragement…reaffirm your love for him”
“Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine” (13:5)

How can Paul have joy in the midst of this obviously complicated and difficult relational challenge among people he has brought to faith? He has labored, suffered and loved much. Now they are breaking his heart.

“Because of our great trust in God through Christ”, Paul reveals, he and his co-workers are confident that the ministry among the Corinthians was enabled by the Holy Spirit because it is the Spirit who “gives life.” (3:16)

Paul is looking beyond the situation to his trust in God through what Christ has done. He has experienced personally the power of the Holy Spirit in his own life and witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit giving “life” to many others through his ministry, particularly to these beloved believers in Corinth. Paul repeatedly points back to God’s work in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is where his hope is.

Reflection:
Dear friend, is your heart aching? I encourage you to reflect with God on 2 Corinthians Chapter 4. Paul attests to the power we have from God in spite of all our troubles. He describes it as a “light shining in our hearts” even though we often feel like “fragile clay jars” (4:7). Paul definitely was not ignoring the problems, but he wasn’t letting them rob him of his joy and confidence in God. May you find that true for yourself as well.

I end with Paul’s last words in this 2nd letter to the Corinthian believers,
“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (13:14)

Cultivating Quietness

Truly my soul silently waits for God. Psalm 62:1

My soul, wait silently before God alone; for my expectation is from Him. Psalm 62:5

In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength. Isaiah 30:15

Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him. Psalm 37:7

Finding silence and quietness in this day and age is a challenge.  So many things compete for our attention that we have to be intentional to cultivate silence. Yet finding a space where we can be alone, remove the technology, shut the door, and be silent before God is critical for our ability to abide in Christ.

Quoting from Andrew Murray in “Abiding in Christ”, “”It is a soul silent before God that is best prepared for knowing Jesus.”  He also writes,

“Quietness is blessing…Quietness is strength…Quietness is the source of highest activity – the secret of all true abiding in Christ. Cultivate quietness as a means to abiding in Christ and expect the ever-deepening quietness and calm of heaven in the soul as the fruit of abiding in Him.”

For much of my youth and early young adulthood I only sought God when I had a problem or disappointment. Periodically I would attempt more of a devotional life, but it usually dissipated when life was “good.” I wasn’t taught how to be silent with God and therefore did not receive the benefits from silence and waiting on God.  I forged a path through life based on what others thought or what I wanted, and asked God to bless it.

Through a series of several severe trials, I found myself progressing from angrily questioning God’s goodness and my desire to remain connected to God, to searching the scriptures to see if I had missed something. In my searching I realized I had some wrong ideas about God. By God’s grace, this opened my heart to see God’s provision for me and my perspective began to change.  Several subsequent losses found me surviving only by turning to God and spending time with God, particularly in the Psalms, listening for God’s words for me. God met me and I found answers to my questions, comfort for my fears, and a changing perspective to see that I was not in control, life was unpredictable, yet with God there was peace and hope.

My experience of God’s comfort and love during trials led me to wonder how I could continue to seek after God in times of joy and prosperity.  The journey since has not always been straight forward as I am prone to wander.  Yet I have found that somehow, when I take time to be silent before God on a regular basis, God is working mysteriously in me to bring about what Andrew Murray describes as, “the ever-deepening quietness and calm of heaven in the soul” making it more possible for me to abide in Christ throughout my day, even in the midst of difficulties.

So how to cultivate quietness with God?  Here are some practical suggestions.

  1. Look for a quiet space in your home, place of employment, or somewhere in nature. If you can’t find one, consider how you can create one.
  2. Be intentional about a time of day you go to that space.
  3. Start by spending a few minutes in silence with God before you go on to reading and reflecting on scripture or whatever devotional material you are using.  Expand that time of silence as you are able.
  4. In the silence, focus on God’s loving presence with you. Other thoughts may pop up.  Quietly acknowledge them and let them go.  If they are troubling thoughts, silently release them to God for God’s care and go back to focusing on God’s loving presence.
  5. If you are able to find a quiet space and time, yet continue to struggle with silence or troubling thoughts, consider reaching out to a trusted friend, pastor or Christian spiritual director for support.

 

Pruning

I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.  John 15:1-2

Recently I was given a copy of Andrew Murray’s devotional book entitled “Abiding in Christ”.  There are 31 brief chapters full of Murray’s rich reflections on the John 15:1-12 passage.  I’m not sure why I had never come across this book before since it was originally published in 1895!

In the past few weeks I have tried to read a chapter a day. Funny how sometimes real life provides reinforcement for the things God is emphasizing to me.

A few weeks earlier I had severely pruned a house plant that had become unusually tall. It started as a desk plant for my husband’s office probably 15 years ago.  This “Money Tree” was moved to our home nearly two years ago when my husband’s company relocated to a new building and there was no room in his office for this plant.

plant whole

The Money Tree occupied this corner in our home until we needed to move it to paint the room.  I researched on line how to prune this type of plant to make moving easier, and found that it was advised to prune only halfway down the plant, which is what I did, leaving the shortest stem whole.

For several weeks, the plant showed no new growth.  In fact, my daughter suggested I toss it out.  Then, last week we noticed little tiny green buds, and soon new growth popped out all over!   We were so excited!

plant growth 2

plant growth

plant growth whole

A gardener has two choices when fruit is not prolific, or not even evident in a plant; the plant can be pruned to see if more will come forth, or it can be pulled out.  I’m sure gardeners can explain scientifically why it is that a plant will do what ours did after it is pruned.  Pruning seems like the more desirable option.

In our lives, pruning feels like death at times.  It feels like loss.  It is painful.  Life as we know it has abruptly stopped.  This is where I was when I broke my leg almost exactly a year ago.  Life was reduced down to managing swelling and pain; then submitting to surgery in which  a plate and 8 screws were applied.  11 weeks of sitting on the couch or in a wheelchair followed after surgery.  Ambulation was difficult as I could put no weight on that leg.  I needed assistance to do the most basic things we all take for granted. All my plans were scrapped.

postsurgeryxray

So in my next blog post, I will be picking up my series, Scraps of Life, to continue that journey with you, focusing on the new growth that has come from this pruning.

Reflection

Perhaps you are in a season of pruning as well.  You are waiting, and waiting, and waiting. Are you experiencing pain, loss, frustration, anger, confusion, sorrow?  I invite you to view this season not as a waste, and not the end of the story.  Instead, see it as a time to go inward with God.  What does God want to reveal to you, and grow in you?

 

Arrest in the Garden

In the garden

in the middle of the night

Jesus rose from his wrestling prayer

with God,

these words on his lips,

 

“Not my will but yours be done.”

 

Moving through fear into love,

The battle was over.

 

Resolute, calm, facing towards his destiny,

he waited and watched

as tiny pinprick lights of torches grew larger,

a crescendo of swords clanking and hushed whispers,

footsteps approaching.

He stood to greet the unruly and armed crowd that had materialized

out of the darkness

in the garden.

 

Startled out of their deep slumber,

the disciples jumped up awkwardly,

rubbing sleep out of their fearful eyes,

blinded by the torchlight.

They watched in stunned silence.

A kiss.

A sword.

A rebuke.

Jesus, the only calm one in this scene,

is betrayed, arrested.

 

He did not resist.

He did not call out to His Heavenly Father to defend him.

Strengthened by love,

he gave himself up even more

than he already had.

 

He let the unfair actions against him play out

as the arrest took place

in the garden.

 

“Have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though He was God he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges, he took the humble position of a slave….he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal death on a cross.”

Philippians 2:5-8 NLT

 

 

Grief in the Garden

It was a dark and stormy night.

Maybe not outwardly stormy,

but it was night and dark,

and there was something stirring in the garden air.

 

“Sit here while I go over there to pray,” Jesus instructed his disciples.

Peter, James and John,

the inner circle,

were invited to walk further with Jesus.

 

“My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

 

Stunned by their beloved teacher’s seemingly sudden anguish,

Peter, James and John watched as Jesus,

silhouetted in the moonlight,

staggered a little ways away

and fell prostrate on the grassy earth.

 

A gripping sense of impending doom

struck the hearts of the three disciples.

Overwhelmed by the sight of the

agonized figure writhing on the ground before them,

the three quietly fell back on each other.

Confused, they had no words for what they were witnessing.

 

After furtively glancing about,

the three eventually fixed their silent gaze on the stars twinkling in the sky,

and took in the faint scent of olive trees mixed with earth.

Hearing snatches of tearful prayers from their distant teacher,

the fear rising up inside them was palpable.

They were unable to move,

though the cause for concern was not yet visible.

 

Slowly the night hours ticked by,

and one by one, the weary three leaned against a nearby tree

and gave in to sleep,

joining the other disciples in their slumber,

exhausted by grief

in the garden.

Matthew 26:36-40 (NLT)

 

Scraps of Life, Part 3

Surgery and After

Finally, after interruptions and another surgery, I am back to writing this series.

It has become harder, the farther away I am from this time of my life, to remember things accurately. I didn’t realize that until months after my initial surgery. One day, when I was recovered enough to get around, I found a bedpan in the laundry room and had no idea why it was there.  I had forgotten much of those first weeks between breaking my leg and following my surgery. My memory loss was more than likely due to the fact I was on pain medication and was sleeping a lot. My spot was flat on my back on the couch with my ankles iced and highly elevated. Yes, ankles.  My right ankle was sprained as well as my left broken, making it difficult to get to the bathroom, among other things!  Thus the need for a bedpan….

bothankles

My view from the couch.

When I came home from the emergency room late that night, we were sent home with the name of a surgeon they were passing me on to.  I was very concerned that I would not get in touch with the surgeon and get the surgery done quick enough.  So I called on Monday to get a hold of someone, and then found we were sent to a different surgeon.

The accident happened on Saturday; surgery was scheduled for Wednesday of the next week. I was eager to get on to the healing part, but it was a strange feeling to submit my leg to someone who I did not know anything about.  It never occurred to me at that time to Google and get that info! After my initial surgery to repair the broken bones, I learned that my surgeon had a reputation in Wichita of being a premier trauma ortho surgeon.  Thank you Lord!

My husband and I arrived at the hospital on surgery day by 5:30 am to check in. It was a bit of a shock to find out what we owed financially before surgery could happen (Gulp!  Thank goodness for HSA accounts.) I was wheeled away to get prepped for surgery and soon my family joined me in waiting.

When the surgeon arrived he informed us that in addition to the two broken bones at my left ankle (tibia and fibula) my ligaments were badly torn so he could not guarantee that they would fully recover.  He didn’t outright say it – I had to ask a few questions after he implied it (a man of few words) – and that gave me pause to realize that this may be a game changer for me.  How much would my ankle heal? And always the concern, how will I respond to anesthesia?  Yet as I lay there getting ready for surgery, something I have not experienced before, God gave me peace as I maintained my focus on Jesus by praying the Jesus Prayer,

“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”

A version of the well known quote by Julian of Norwich was also on my mind,

“With God all is well and all will be well.”

I gave myself into God’s care, safe no matter what the outcome. After a short ride to the OR, sliding onto the surgery table for the 1 1/2 hour surgery, I was out in a few minutes. Before I knew it, I was waking up in recovery.

Reflection:

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

We live in a broken world,  a world marred by sin.  Accidents, illness, harm happens to all of us sooner or later.  Suffering occurs.  I am one that has spent a great deal of time trying to avoid suffering in my life.  As a young adult, during a “wilderness” time spiritually, I ran across (was guided by the Holy Spirit) Jesus’ words to his disciples quoted above. When troubles come, Jesus says, we should not be surprised. Strengthen your heart!  Jesus has overcome.

What troubles have come your way?  Are you discouraged?  Weary?  Full of anxiety?

I invite you to turn to Jesus in the midst of whatever you are experiencing.  Sometimes, however, we simply can’t prayer.  “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” is a form of what is sometimes called the Jesus Prayer, Centering Prayer, or Breath Prayer. It was first prayed by a man who was blind, Bartimaeus (Mark 10:47), as he called out to Jesus. Consider praying this prayer to center your thoughts on Jesus, particularly when you are feeling the weight of your troubles.  It can help to focus on your breathing. As you pray, “Lord Jesus Christ”, slowly breath in, “have mercy on me”,  slowly breath out.

The actual quote by Julian of Norwich is, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well…you shall not be overcome.”

 

 

 

 

Awake O Sleeper!

What a few weeks it’s been!

Once again I have not been able to continue my blog series “Scraps of Life”.  Instead, I have been helping my parents in Canada, as my mom prepared and moved to a nursing home there last week.  It’s a lovely Christian facility and she needs their care.  We are also supporting my dad as this change is hard on him.

mom

Me with my mom on her first day in the nursing home.

me in ND

After a week in the winter north land, I found spring had sprung in my yard when I returned to Kansas.  I enjoyed working in the sunshine yesterday, fertilizing, cleaning up debree in the yard, and loving that the pansies wintered over in my greenhouse so well!

It turned out that on the first day of spring, as I went around to see what plants were beginning to recover from winter, and which ones weren’t, the words “Wake up oh sleeper” came to mind.

spirea bushes

Spirea bushes are pretty sleepy yet.

rose

Rose bush barely waking up.

IMG_4268

Daffodils ready to bloom.

hydrangia

Hydrangea is leafing out.

pansy

Glorious pansies!

“Awake, Oh sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light!” Ephesians 5:14

Reflection:

Spend a little time thinking about ways in which God might be inviting you to “awake”.  Where do you need Christ to give you light? Talk with God about what you notice.