Tag Archives: surrender

Nothing Else in the World

I never questioned her loyalty until that day. Since the time I purchased her, Lily, my German Shepherd, had developed endearing qualities to proclaim her loyalty. One of my favorites always remains the time she and my husband, Richard, were walking through our neighborhood. Driving past them on my way home from the grocery store, I stopped for a second to call out a hello. With that accomplished, I resumed driving home until in my rearview mirror, I noticed Lily hated my departure. She was pulling my husband up the hill in attempt to catch up with me. In order to prevent Richard from having a heart attack, I stopped and waited until both were in the car.

On that day at the doggie park, Lily wasn’t showing any loyalty. It was her favorite spot on earth, and she did not want to leave. So instead of obeying my command to come, she bolted away. For over 15 minutes, I pleaded with her to obey or at least get close enough for me to grab her collar. She was so disobedient that even went I left her alone in the park, she wouldn’t come to the gate so we could go home.

I sometimes can see myself in Lily’s behavior. I have a tendency to want my own way, to be disloyal to my friends when it suits me. Which isn’t to say I’m a back-stabbing traitor. No, it means sometimes I miss out on the joys of being a reliable friend.

Lily and I have a strong bond, yet she hurt me. I wanted her close by me, to listen to what I said, to enjoy following me. That’s what friends do. You stick close by, you listen to what your friend says, you laugh when they laugh and cry when they cry. Being a loyal friend means your relationship makes you stronger than you would be without it. You love harder, laugh louder, live richer and become more together than you could ever be by yourselves.

This isn’t for the faint of heart, much like trying to train a dog – which I sadly found out that day. Life is full of twists and turns and staying in step with someone else is not easy. We struggle to be vulnerable to another especially when the way we want to go isn’t the same as our friends. We battle with ways of feeling safe, secure and significant with another all the while trying to get our own needs met. We tend to want our hurts to be addressed rather than helping others through theirs. It is so difficult to lay your heart into someone’s hands and say, “I trust you with all of this,” and have that person do the same.

There are times in our friendships when we must heed to the other person’s instructions. Lily lacked the perspective I did. A treat was awaiting her at home, along with her dinner and an evening of warm snuggles. It was time to leave the park to enjoy some of these other delights.

Proverbs 18: 24 tells us, “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Friendships never just happen – they are forged. They are knit together by leaning into each other, by staying close, by experiencing life’s bitter and sweet moments together. And it means standing by one another even when disappointment sets in.

I eventually got a leash on Lily and we went home to an enjoyable evening. Despite her unfaithfulness, I remained loyal to her, but I learned to create a fulfilling friendship, sometimes you have to work at it – sometimes you have to chase after it. It’s worth it, because being close to another human being matters like nothing else in the world.

Stop, Seek, Care

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”        Luke: 8 – 12 (NIV)

Working for a major hotel chain after graduation from college, I came to adore the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Right after Turkey Day, holiday decorations transformed the lobby from a normally utilitarian meeting spot to a glowing, sparkling space to celebrate community. Throughout the month, the guests changed from road-weary, often cranky business travelers to happy singles and delighted families visiting loved ones in the area. I’d generally request to work on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day even after I had the seniority to have them off. A magical shimmer floated in the air those days and I wanted to share it with as many guests as possible.

More than you’ll ever know, I miss that stimulating feeling of expectation. I still enjoy the Christmas season. There are cookies to bake, parties to attend and all those Christmas cards I mail out. But while I decorate the tree, I don’t sing as many Christmas carols. Even though my life goes into overdrive this time of year, most of my activities are solitary – not part of an amazing team and not for such a large group of wonderful people.

My Advent has changed from something boisterous and exhilarating to a calmer, introspective time. Maybe that’s a good thing, though. Advent is a time of preparation, remembering His coming and yet longing for His return. It begs us to still, to hush, to quiet our souls so we can focus more deeply on the One whose birthday deeply transforms us and the world.

mangerJesus came quietly, slipping unnoticed into a little town. He arrived in the middle of the night, in the dark, but suddenly there was the Light among us. And this Light brought with Him hope. His newborn cry broke the silence that had lingered over the world for 400 years. And while most inhabitants of the world were asleep, the earth could not contain its joy. Angels appeared, the Christmas star illuminated the dark sky and I imagine even the animals in the stable knew something momentous had just happened.

The following day, most folks went back to the hustling of their lives. They wouldn’t know the beauty and magic of Christmas for many years to come – not until Christ’s death on the cross, if even then. The birth announcement was there that morning, but to catch it, you had to care enough to watch for it. Most didn’t, staying blissfully unaware of the miracle in their midst. The day’s joy was swallowed up instead by mundane activities. I suspect our lack of rejoicing exists to this day for much the same reason. When we hurry and rush, if we’re honest, we fail to rejoice.

Jesus came into the chaos and mess of life. In the midst of it all, He brought hope – the ability to reconcile with God. He wasn’t loud. He never appeared to be in a hurry, but that never stopped Him from entering in and saying, “Here I am. Emmanuel. God with You.”

We can’t pause life, though we’d like to try. But we can purposely pause in this season, to hush, to still, to advent. To take the time to be left breathless by the awe-inspiring work of God all around us – the endless treasures that come to us through Him. This is what the Advent season is all about: looking with anticipation toward the Christmas child. We only need ask our Father in heaven to clear space in our hearts so we stop, seek, care. Advent gives us liberty to implore God to help us reveal in the gift of the Christmas child coming to earth in humble glory and splendor.

The very best thing you can do with your life is build one with hope. So take some time to slow down, open your hands and your heart to the only one who can offer that hope. This God who came to us as a baby in a manger takes broken, hopeless hearts and gives you His. Not just during Christmas, but always.

May the infinite love of Jesus bring you hope, peace and joy during this season and throughout the coming year.

Silence is Loud

I was exhausted. Not the kind that is easily remedied by a quick nap. For several weeks, I’d faced one stress, one disappointment after another. I was pushed to the limits tired. Stressed. Drained. Completely used up.

730So, the timing was perfect. I’d signed up to attend a silence retreat months ago, before the line of dominoes fell creating my personal sense of overwhelming fatigue mixed with hopelessness. As an extrovert, I approached a day of complete silence with its own sensation of apprehension. No talking for hours upon hours? How would I ever survive? Because I like to talk so much, my friends laughed and doubted I’d complete the day, but my heart promised I needed this. (And besides, I reasoned, if I really couldn’t handle the silence, I knew where my car was parked and could beat a hasty departure.)

At first, it wasn’t easy – just sitting alone. I had positioned myself in the warmth of the bright sunlight near a beautiful fountain. As I closed my eyes listening to the water gurgle from one level to the next, I felt lonely and a little angry with myself. A silence retreat isn’t about loneliness, it is about solitude. It wasn’t about remoteness from God; it was about wrapping yourself in the nearness of God. Why didn’t I feel God near?

At the beginning of the retreat, the director gave us some suggestions on activities that would assist us in making the best of our time. One of them was to concentrate on a verse, just one verse. Frustrated with my isolation from God, I picked one of my favorites: Ephesians 3:20 – 21: Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask of imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

My first thought was selfish – “I don’t know; I can imagine and ask for a lot…” But then it struck me. The simple truth was my exhaustion can’t be solved without God. And even though concentrating on one verse was the goal, my mind couldn’t help but wander through a host of people in Scripture who lamented about their tired souls. David, for example, wrote countless Psalms about being weary. Elijah got so exhausted after standing up to Jezebel’s gods, he sank into a deep depression and prayed for death. Even Jesus often went off to a solitary place to pray.

Opening up my eyes to watch the regal palm trees sway in the wind, a thought softly landed in my heart. On my journey of faith, Jesus is the only one who gives unconditionally, expecting nothing in return. The more I ask of Him, the more He gives. Silently I cried out to Him and imagined myself sitting exhausted at His feet. But instead of feeling drained, I felt Him filling me up with His love. Throughout my life, God has taken everything I have brought to Him – the screams, the questions, the tears, the lack of confidence – and handled it. He gave me grace. He brought me strength, He fashioned a way out of torment into His peace. And even though I hadn’t originally felt Him with me that day, He was there. He has always filled my days with His presence for nothing can separate us from His love.

While my exhaustion had deep, physical causes, I also realized a component was a lack of trust in God. When I’ve approached Him with reverence, when I’ve honestly told him the concerns of my heart, God has shown me time and again, He is faithful and true no matter what is happening in my life. During the hardest moments in my life, I’ve felt Him enfolding me. During my emotional letdowns, I’ve learned if I trust Him, He gives me insurmountable peace and joy.

And on that day, the silence wasn’t dreadful, but inviting. For in my solitude with God, He reminded me He will use my story, with both its heartbreaks and victories, to bring glory back to Him. He will use my life as a blessing to others. He will teach me how to live freely and lightly in every challenge by focusing on Him.

The day ended far too soon. The silence had been loud. For I left encouraged knowing God will make my paths straight and use me for His purposes. With my eyes wide open and my heart receptive to Him, I will rest in my Heavenly Father despite what life may bring.