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Abundant Joy

 

You know the verse well, Precious Child:  “In [my] presence is abundant joy” (Psalm 16:11).  One day you will know the full abundance of My joy, when you arrive in heaven and experience the totality of My absolute perfection.

But today I invite you to meditate on the abundance of delight available to you here and now.

Do you know it is possible to greatly expand your joy–just by sitting with Me in solitude and silence?

It’s true.

So come away by yourself to a quiet place. Close your eyes, slow your breathing, and simply acknowledge My Presence. When you come near to me, I immediately come near to you and we become as close as a vine is to the branch. There is no separation between us (1).

 

 

Visualize My strong arm of comfort and protection around you. Remember: I will never let you go. You are perfectly safe and secure in My omnipotent care (2). Lean on Me, Child.

Note My right hand holding yours, infusing you with sustaining power that upholds, encourages, and affirms. In addition, My right hand is filled with righteousness (3)—kindness and compassion, provision and protection, wisdom and guidance, grace and mercy—all for your behalf. I am continually giving My best for you.

Do you see how I look at you, My Beloved Child, with love in My eyes and a warm smile of approval? Never will I condemn you; never will My love for you diminish. It is everlasting and lavished upon you day after day (4).

 

 

I am wholly devoted to you, therefore I will supply the wherewithal to overcome whatever you might face. In fact, My perfect love can drive away your every fear (5), because “all that you need is found in all that I am” (Unknown).

Never forget how important you are to me.   I love you so extravagantly I sent my only Son to die for you (6).  No one loves you or cares about your welfare more deeply than I do.  I will help you, hold you steady, and keep a firm grip on you.

Hear my soothing words of comfort, encouragement and peace, listen as I share great and hidden things you haven’t known before, open the ears of your heart to the trustworthy instruction and hope-filled promises of My Word, and you will find the joy of your heart amplified (7).

 

 

Can you perceive how intently I listen to you? My ears are open to your every prayer. In fact, before a word is on your tongue, I know what you’re going to say, because I’m perfectly in tune with your spirit. You can also take joy in the knowledge I’m already working on the answers to your prayers (8).

All these blessings and more come to you as we sit in companionable togetherness. You’ll soon discover:

 

“The joy of living in My Presence

outshines all other pleasures.”

–Sarah Young, Jesus Calling

 

So come, dear _______________ (Insert your name in the blank). Come into my presence and experience all the joy-filled delights of quiet yet exultant repose with Me.

 

 

 

Notes:

  1. John 15:4-5; James 4:8; Romans 8:38-39
  2. Deuteronomy 31:8; Psalm 121:7-8
  3. Psalm 18:35b; 48:10
  4. Romans 8:1; Jeremiah 31:3; 1 John 3:1
  5. 1 John 4:18
  6. Isaiah 41:10 MSG; John 3:16
  7. Psalm 119:76; Isaiah 41:10; Philippians 4:7; Jeremiah 33:3; Psalm 119:137-138, 162; Psalm 119:11
  8. 1 Peter 3:12; Psalm 139:14; Isaiah 65:24

Photo credits:  http://www.canva.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.canva.com; wwwldailyverses.net; pixabay.com.

 

The call came at 5:34 a.m., waking Steve and me from sound sleep. Immediately he thought, This is it. My brain hardly registered a phone ringing.

Within moments, however, my body was in high gear, preparing to leave for the hospital. This day—December 19, 2018—Steve would receive a new liver, the only long-term solution for his liver cancer, caused by non-alcoholic cirrhosis. He had been on the transplant wait list for six months.

That predawn phone call became Miracle #1 out of at least twelve over the next two weeks. Steve’s name had only been moved to the top-tier twelve days prior.  (Some patients must wait a year or more.)

Upon arriving at the hospital, Steve underwent two-hours of surgery prep. And then we waited, and waited some more, until the orderlies finally came and wheeled him away.

Miracle #2: Much of the day I waited alone, although Hilja (our daughter-in-law and a physician at the same hospital) sat with me as she could, especially in the evening. But God’s peace that transcends all understanding absolutely guarded my heart and mind the entire time.  I knew all would be well.

 

 

Miracle #3: The first hours in ICU are critical for any patient. God chose a special nurse to care for Steve, one that a colleague had highly praised to Hilja. In addition, Steve was her only patient for about six hours.

Miracle #4: Hilja insisted on spending the night in ICU. As Steve’s blood pressure and some bleeding became an issue, she was there as an extra set of eyes and ears, ready to advocate on his behalf. (Her expertise and support have been invaluable for the entire nine months since Steve’s diagnosis. She’s even attended some appointments with us.)

Miracle #5: The next day, the breathing tube was removed, and Steve was able to sit up in bed. His voice sounded raspy, but he wasn’t groggy, and soon Steve was joking with the nurses, Scot and Mac (What delightful, attentive young men!). By afternoon, they had Steve walking around the nurse’s station. His progress toward healing amazed us all.

 

 

On Day 3, Steve was transferred to the step-down unit where Laura and Katie took over his care. Again, such kind, helpful nurses. In fact, we’ve been highly impressed by the expertise and compassion of the staff at University of Cincinnati Hospital.

Steve continued to make rapid progress, sitting up in a chair for longer stretches of time, circling more laps around the unit each time he walked.

An added blessing those first few days: a young mom from our church babysat for our granddaughters so our son Eric could run errands and visit Steve.

Pastor Michael came to see Steve that day, stopping short upon entering the room. “This is not what I was expecting!” he cried. Although Steve was in bed, he was sitting up, looking perfectly healthy and alert.

 

 

 

On Saturday, Hilja, Elena (our five-year old granddaughter), and I were supposed to attend The Nutcracker. I expected to miss the performance, with Steve only three days post-op.

But because he was recuperating so well, because Laura and Katie were taking such good care of him, and because Eric could keep Steve company for part of the time, I felt confident all would be well in my absence.

Eric was even allowed to bring Maarit, our almost two-year old granddaughter, with the understanding that hugging, kissing, and sitting on Papa’s lap would be forbidden. That was okay by Maarit. Papa’s walker provided great fun.

Meanwhile, we three girls enjoyed the ballet performance—glorious moments of respite.  (God knew I’d be ready to lose myself in the Land of Sweets!)

 

 

Miracle #6: Steve was released the afternoon of the 24th, just five days after surgery.   Christmas Day we reveled in the granddaughters’ gift-opening at our home—not at the hospital.

Miracle #7: Our younger son and his wife arrived the 26th, our daughter and older granddaughter flew in on the 27th. They had all planned to visit anyway, but what perfect timing God supplied! For ten days they provided gracious help.

Miracle #8: Insurance is covering a visiting nurse on Thursday, so we only have to go to the hospital for post-op check-ups once a week.

Miracle #9: Steve has experienced very little pain. Within twelve days he was taking only Tylenol at bedtime. Now he’s not even taking that.

Miracle #10: The discomfort of acute swelling caused the most trouble after returning home. The doctor told us the edema could take up to three weeks to resolve, but within one week it was much improved.

 

 

Miracle #11: Transplant patients almost always require insulin until the medications that raise blood sugar can be reduced. Steve’s insulin dosage has already been lowered, and only several times has he needed extra insulin beyond the once-daily dose.

Miracle#12: The huge outpouring of love, support, and prayer throughout this entire process have contributed greatly to Steve’s healing.  Many of you reading this post are part of this miracle.

At Tuesday’s post-op check-up we were told his platelet and white blood cell counts are continuing to rise. “Your new liver is happy!” exclaimed the physician’s assistant.

Needless to say, so are we.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     * 

Just these past three weeks, O God, You have done such great things for us! “Our hearts brim with joy.” Now may your unfailing love rest upon us, even as we put our hope for the future in you.

 (Psalm 126:3; 33:21a MSG; 33:22)

 

(Nutcracker image from http://www.flickr.com.)

 

Post Christmas Praise

Many of you already know that 2018 became a year of challenge as Steve received the diagnosis of liver cancer in March.  In May, July, and August he underwent three procedural surgeries to eradicate two lesions, and in September was declared cancer free.

However, the development of tumors was likely to continue.  The only long-term solution was a liver transplant.  Steve qualified for the list in June, and was told that surgery was likely to occur mid-January 2019.

We did not have to wait that long.  On December 19, early in the morning we received the call to head to the hospital.  The rest of the story is told (and will continue to unfold) on https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/steveruegg/journal.

In a nutshell, we’ve been moved to tears numerous times the last eight days as God ministered to us, and blessed us profoundly through the kind and attentive care he received at University of Cincinnati Hospital, and the love, prayers, and practical help proffered by family and friends.

God has also included delights we never would have thought to ask for, like Christmas at home with our older son, daughter-in-law, and two granddaughters.  No hugs or kisses for Papa, but at least we could be together.  Our younger son and his wife arrived yesterday, our daughter and older granddaughter arrive tonight.  (Yes, the Lysol wipes are kept handy!)

 

 

(From the Inside Out will be on hiatus for at least a couple of weeks so I can focus on caring for Steve.)

 

 

 

A Christmas Overture

 

This weekend, my daughter-in-love, five year-old granddaughter, and I will attend The Nutcracker. It will be little Elena’s first performance, and I’m looking forward to watching her reactions, even as the overture begins.

Maestro Tchaikovsky chose only the strings and woodwinds of the higher registers for the opening, bringing to mind a music box. And by so doing, he created a fanciful foreshadowing of what’s to come: the Nutcracker’s kingdom called the Land of Sweets.

Another overture, much more sublime even than Tchaikovsky’s, is actually found in scripture. It’s not an overture of violins and flutes; it’s an overture of words—words that entice us for what’s to come: the glorious truth about God’s kingdom and its Lord of lords, Jesus Christ.

That overture opens the New Testament gospel-book of John.

 

 

“In the beginning was the Word,

And the Word was with God,

And the Word was God.”

–John 1:1

 

If set to music, this powerful introduction would surely require heralding trumpets, French horns, and kettledrums. Listen as the majestic music unfolds.

“Jesus is the Word—God’s means of communication to humankind—the very expression of God’s thought” (William Barclay).

 

 

As a follower and intimate friend of Jesus, John was in position to see and hear those numerous expressions of God’s thought over a period of three years. Later, the Holy Spirit inspired him to record those expressions, so we would understand:

Jesus’ life did not begin with his human birth. He always was and always will be (John 1:1).

John recognized that even though his Master was fully human (he ate, he slept, and even cried), he was also the eternal God. John and others caught a glimpse of his eternal glory when Jesus glowed as bright as the sun. I wonder if the disciples had to shade their eyes?

On the same occasion, Moses and Elijah—men who had died many centuries before–appeared with Jesus.  They, too, glowed with the same dazzling light (Matthew 17).

Only Jesus:  fully man, fully God.

 

(The Transfiguration by Giovanni Ricca, 1641)

 

Jesus brought light to everyone (v. 4)—and still does.

The One who created light became the Light of the world.

And just as natural light contains the full spectrum of color, so the light of Jesus contains a full spectrum of attributes: love, grace, wisdom, peace, joy, comfort, and more. All of which he radiates upon those desirous of his Light.

 

 

And, as if that wasn’t enough,

Jesus longs to bring every person into his family, to make us his children (v. 9).

His sons and daughters enjoy incredible benefits:

  • No one can snatch us out of God’s protective hands (John 10:28).
  • He is our perfect Abba, our tender and attentive Daddy (Romans 8:15).
  • We are heirs of God’s promise (Galatians 3:29) for a future so grand and glorious, we cannot begin to imagine its splendor (Romans 8:18).

 

 

John’s introduction to his gospel-book does not conjure up visions of angel-messengers or a guiding star in the East. He left that to Matthew and Luke. Instead he has given us an overture of cosmic proportions, presenting the radiant glory, grace, and truth of Jesus (v. 14).

With lyrical, transcendent words, John entices us to consider what has already come to us—to those who have received the Savior of the world (v. 12).

As December 25 draws near, may all these Christmas overture themes gloriously resound in your heart!

 

(Art & photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.picryl.com; http://www.www.flickr.com; http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.dailyverses.net.)

 

 

 

Years ago Steve’s Aunt Louise gave us a little ceramic church music box.  With its drab gray walls, greenish-gray roof, and standard steeple, the church did not grab attention. But the arched windows on each side were filled with tiny chips of colored glass, and when lit from within the little church sparkled with glorious light.

Sometime when our three children were young, the church was broken by “Not Me.” Fortunately, the pieces were large and Steve was able to glue them back together.   When the light was turned on, the cracks didn’t even show.

But as the years passed, the glue began to discolor and turn dark. The poor little music box became a sad sight, and I was about to throw it away when our youngest son–probably in high school by this time–said, “Oh, Mom! You can’t get rid of the church! That’s been my favorite Christmas decoration since I was a little kid!”

So Jeremy saved the music box from destruction.

 

 

He finished college, married a sweet girl from our church, and moved twice more while attending seminary. Somewhere along the way the music box disappeared.

Each year as he and his wife Nancy decorated for Christmas, he’d remember fondly that little ceramic church and wonder what happened to it.

Seminary graduation came and went, four years at his first church appointment also passed. While settling into their second parsonage, Jeremy finally unpacked a carton labeled “Memorabilia” that had been sealed up since he left our home.

Buried at the bottom was a sealed shoebox. Jeremy sliced through the tape with his pocketknife, lifted the lid, and brought into the light a lumpy, tissue-wrapped object.

 

 

Within moments Jeremy held in his hands that precious, long-missing ceramic church. And joyful tears stung his eyes.

He quickly found a new bulb and plugged the cord into a nearby socket. The windows instantly filled with glorious rainbow light. Jeremy didn’t even notice the fissures or dark, crusty glue.

Isn’t it amazing to consider that, just as Jeremy loves that damaged music box, God loves us—scarred, and imperfect as we are? We too were just as lost as that little church—sealed up in a box of our own prideful independence.

 

 

But Jesus came looking for us. He brought us into his glorious Light, and filled us with the Light of his inviting, benevolent grace.*

Now, we have the privilege to shine with gleaming Light just like that little church—in spite of our scars.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

God of all grace, I thank you for rescuing me from mere existence in my self-made box, and bringing me into a rich, full life with you. Even though cracks and blemishes remain in my being, what you see is not what I have been but what I am becoming—holy and blameless and filled with Light—for that day when I see you as you are!

 

(John 10:10; Ephesians 1:4; John 8:12; 1 John 3:2)

 

 

 

*Often defined by using an acronym: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense

 

Scripture references: Luke 15:8-10; John 8:12; Colossians 1:27; 2 Corinthians 9:8; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 3:24; Matthew 5:14.

 

(Photo credits:  Jeremy Ruegg (2); http://www.flickr.com; http://www.heartlight.org (Ben Steed); http://www.verseaday.com.)

 

Everything Christmas

No doubt about it.  Our senses are bombarded with stimuli during the Christmas season.

Decorated trees, wreaths, and garlands; figures, swags, and fairy lights festoon building after building, home after home.

 

 

Carols and holiday songs accompany every errand run and shopping excursion.

The scent of cinnamon, pine, and gingerbread; peppermint, vanilla, and clove urge us to breathe deep—frequently.

 

 

Velvet dresses, satin bows, and cloud-soft batting; feathery bird-ornaments, and fuzzy teddy bears beg to be touched.

Grandma’s stuffing, Butterball turkey, and squash casserole; Wassail, snowball cookies, and cranberry coffee cake all tantalize the tongue.

 

 

Some days, however, we practically drown from total immersion in everything Christmas. What is a worn out sensory system supposed to do?

If you Google “strategies for stress relief” you’ll be presented numerous options from the experts.  Some suggestions require more time than many of us can sacrifice during December. Examples include working on hobbies, getting a massage, or taking a vacation.

 

 

I can hear you through my computer screen: “NOT gonna happen this month!”

But there are other strategies we can weave into our days no matter what the to-do list requires. And SURPRISE! The experts often echo what scripture has taught all along.

We can calm ourselves through:

 

 

Meditation

Not mind-numbing exercises that supposedly elevate us to euphoria, but meditation on scripture, God’s works and mighty deeds (Psalm 119:97; 77:12). For me, that includes starting each morning with him and his Word, to set the tone for the day.

And as we fix our thoughts upon him, God has promised to keep us in perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3). He is our source of equilibrium and tranquility, prosperity and contentment of soul. Daily he supplies what we need to accomplish what is necessary (2 Corinthians 9:8).

The rest we can let go.

 

 

Music

“How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him” (Psalm 147:1, emphasis added).

Sometimes that means a loud and majestic “Hallelujah Chorus.”

But when nerves are frazzled, the experts recommend slow, quiet music. And many of our favorite carols offer just such repose.

So, when tension rises, be ready to select “Silent Night” or “What Child Is This.”  Save “Ring Christmas Bells” and “Sleigh Ride!” until the stress subsides!

 

Prayer

We can allow all the sensory input to turn our minds toward Jesus “by praying continually–simple, short prayers flowing out of the present moment” (Romans 12:12 and Sarah Young, Jesus Calling).

Sentence prayers such as these:

 

 

Thank you, Jesus, for the laughter of children that opens my heart to your joy.

Thank you for the power of delectable aromas—like clove-studded ham, vanilla sugar cookies, and cinnamon rolls–that conjure up sweet memories of Christmases long ago.

Thank you for the family and friends represented in this stack of Christmas cards, who’ve left their love stamped upon our hearts.

 

 

Thank you for the familiar carols, reminding me of that wonder-filled first Christmas.

And thank you, Jesus, for lights that glimmer and candles that glow, celebrating you, the Light of the world, our Emmanuel.

 

 

They say it takes just three weeks to learn a new habit. With all the sensory reminders around us, this may be the most opportune time to become continual pray-ers.

And as we seek to turn everything Christmas into gratitude and praise, the joy of the Lord will surely follow.

 

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.goodfreephotos.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.doncio.navy.mil (photographer:  Diana Quinlan); Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.heartlight.org.

 

A Season of Light

 

Christmas is indeed a season of light.

Candles glow and twinkling lights glimmer from houses, buildings, and trees.

People love all the flickering and shimmering!  Some spend weeks decorating their yards and rooftops in spectacles of illumination.  If you asked them why, they might be hard-pressed to express more than, “They’re beautiful!”

 

 

But perhaps it’s more than just aesthetics.  Perhaps it’s a heart-response.

Light is symbolic for:

  • Beauty.  Light grabs our attention, whether it’s sparkling and dazzling or soft and luminous.

 

 

  • Safety.  Where there is light, we can navigate through our surroundings.
  • Comfort.  A nightlight offers just that for many a child who is afraid of the dark.
  • Hope.  Light gleams triumphantly in the darkness at the end of a tunnel.
  • Guidance.  Light illuminates the way.

 

 

Might it be that people respond to light, especially when associated with Christmas, because the human spirit is made to respond to the Light?

Jesus came from the Father who is Light (1 John 1:5), and proclaimed, “I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12).

But that statement is more than symbolic.

God the Son is our safety, because he offers eternal life.

 

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish;

no one can snatch them out of my hand.”

John 10:28-29

 

 

God the Father is our comfort, because he is loving and compassionate.

  

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,

who comforts us in all our troubles.”

2 Corinthians 1:3-4a

 

God the Son is our hope, because of his resurrectionWe will be raised from the dead because he was. 

 

“In his great mercy [God] has given us new birth

into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade—

kept in heaven for you.”

1 Peter 1:3b-4

 

 

God the Father is beauty, because of all his exquisite attributes.  And we have the opportunity to bask in that beauty.

 

“I’m asking God for one thing…

To live with him in his house my whole life long.

I’ll contemplate his beauty; I’ll study at his feet.”

Psalm 27:4  MSG

 

God the Father is guidance, characterized by wisdom, compassion, and readiness.

 

 

The Light of the world offers us all this and more.

I can’t imagine life without him, can you?

Let’s make time to linger in his Light during this Advent season.

 

 

Let’s be watchful for “Glory-moments, awash in his dazzling Light” (Sarah Young).

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *    *

 

How else might we expand our heart-response to Jesus?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

 

Photo credits: http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.tOrangebiz; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.canva.com (3).

 

(Revised and reblogged from December 2, 2013.)

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