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Monday, September 11, 2017

When Waters Rise

The last few weeks, our country's attention has focused on hurricanes and the incredible damage they do.  In both Texas and Florida, residents will be literally picking up the pieces of their lives for weeks and months to come.

A good friend of mine has been extremely fortunate, considering the flooding her home experienced.  Unlike many of her neighbors, she has a second floor on her home.  Not only was she and her dogs able to get to safety, she took in a few neighbors and their accompanying beasties.

While she rebuilds, her dogs have been transported up here to the kennel.  They are in for a nice long visit.  Tilly is thrilled.  They don't seem too upset.
Hurricanes are funny things.  You can see them coming, but no forecasting can predict exactly the path it will take.  Millions of people have been glued to the news, waiting to see if disaster would unfold, and if so, how bad would it be?  Even with improved technology, it's hard to say for sure what will happen, leaving residents and visitors wondering whether they should evacuate and if so, where would they go that is safe?

To me, life is like a hurricane.  You have a calendar in front of you, and most likely you'll live those days.  But you don't really know what's going to happen.  You can plan, and maybe your plan will unfold just as you hope.  Other times you can map out and organize every detail of your life, only to have it blown out of the water.  

I don't know about you, but I kind of like predictability.  However, I'm learning to embrace the waves more.  After all, it's lovely to look at the water and maybe even see what's below the surface.  But it can get dull, and waves can be spectacular.

There was this one time when Jesus took a nap in a boat with a bunch of his friends.  A huge storm kicked up and the waves were crashing over them.  Death loomed. Jesus' friends were freaking out and they woke him up.  I imagine Jesus wiping the crusties out of his eyes and wondering what all the fuss was about, staggering up the steps to see the storm and saying, "Enough of this - stop it!" (that would be my paraphrase) and it stopped.  

Jesus doesn't stop every natural and man made weather event, but His power is irrefutable.  When we face our personal disasters, He is nearby, wading through the deep waters with us.  Life can be messy, and picking up the debris isn't any fun.  But when we trust God, we can trade our ashes in for beauty and mourning in for blessing (Isaiah 61:3).  I don't know how He does it, but I know why.  He loves us and wants us to turn to Him.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Grading on a Curve

Some kennels give owners doggie report cards to inform the owner how well (or poorly) the dog did at the kennel.  There is much I can say about this, but I will try hard to stay on point.  In the interest of full disclosure, this isn't something I've ever done at my kennel and there is no plan to adopt it.


Here's the report card Emmit and Matilda got after their stay at a local kennel when I was gone in the Spring.
Now I'm definitely not saying that the fine folks caring for my dogs were lying.  But I will say that I know my dogs.  I know kennels.  I know how my dogs act in kennels.

They are not A students.

Some owners ask me how their dog behaved while they were away, and I give them an accurate picture of the dog's behavior, especially if something is out of the ordinary.  Owners sometimes miss small changes in their dogs when it is minor and they see it day to day.  If I am familiar with the dog, the change stands out to me.  

What I generally skip in the conversation is "normal" dog behavior like jumping on me, resisting going back into their kennel run, or sticking their heads into another dog's food bag and sneaking a few bites.  When away from home, dogs aren't perfect.

I hope you are sitting down for this - I'm not perfect either.  I'm just as disappointed as you are.  It seems like I should be a spiritual giant but I see how often I fail.  I jump into conversations I shouldn't have, I resist changing my less desirable behaviors.  I eat what I shouldn't given the opportunity.  

We are far away from home too.  This world isn't the end.

None of the dogs I've owned were perfect.  But they were mine.  And if you belong to God, He isn't concerned with your behavior, He's concerned with your heart.

Forget about your perfectionism, your defeatism, and any other ism that crushes your spiritual soul.  All you need is Jesus, who is just waiting for your heart to return to the safest, most pure love  we can have, that frees us for abundant life here, and eternal life after.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

I Will Go With You

This past weekend, a new dog came to the kennel for her first stay here.  She did very well, but she was very hesitant to go back in her kennel run.  This, of course, is not unusual.


Over the years, I've learned that taking a dog by the collar and forcing it doesn't work for many reasons.  Not only does it scare the dog, it's physically difficult.  What does work is to take the dog by the collar and walk into the kennel run with the dog.

Facing uncertainty alone can be scary.  If someone is by our side, it's not nearly as bad.  

Maybe today you need someone by your side.  Or maybe you need to be by the side of someone else.  Either way, we are showing the love of God, who promises to be with us, when we show up in person to face the fears. Sometimes we can't share our fears with another person.  Even then, we know our great God knows and walks by our side.

"Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you."
Hebrews 13:5 (NIV)

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Losing the Good Ones

Mid-May, I said goodbye to Emmit.
This past Wednesday, I said goodbye to Franklin.
Emmit was around 13 years old, though he was in my home for only 18 months.  Frank was dumped here as a kitten, and was closing in on 14 years.  Emmit had a tough start in life, but he ended well.  Frank pretty much had a good life since he landed here.

Even though it seemed they lived a full life, their presence has been missed.  Another element that makes their loss a little more poignant is that they were, well, normal.

You see, the dogs and cats I've had since living in the country strongly resemble the Island of Misfit Toys.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, do a search and see.  I've had an abused dog that was so scared of everything it was an embarrassment.  At the same time, I had a three legged cat and not one but two other cats that had one eye.  And let's not forget Tilly, who, I can not stress enough, is the worst greeter of any dog ever.  

But Emmit was calm and good natured.  Frankie was mostly a dog-cat, greeting everyone, not intrusive.  Basically, my normal, likable pets are gone.

And while I feel their loss and illusion that my life is normal, if I'm honest, loving the difficult pets is not so different from loving the difficult people of our lives.  In fact, likely I am one of those difficult people.  And maybe you are too.  We don't really have a 100% likability rating (Sorry).  Maybe some of us can hide this better than others.  Maybe some of us really are more likable, but we all fall short.
In God's economy, there are no misfits, no land of unwanted toys.  We may view some people (never ourselves) as the lowest, trash, hopeless. 

But God's specialty are the ones others scorn (and even ourselves).  He even asks us to take care of them.  Who wants that job?  We are called to love the unlovable, because we're not always so lovable ourselves.  God hasn't banished us. When we run to Him, His arms are open, just waiting for us to finally figure out He's been there all along.

Having "just one dog and three cats" is ALMOST like an average pet owner number.  I haven't had this few pets in......I'm not sure how many years.  But I will pull in my flawed, four legged friends, brush aside their less charming traits, and continue to love them for however many years I may have with them.

I'll remember that God does the same with me.  



Thursday, July 27, 2017

Generosity - Is It Contagious?

See those cute little bandanas around the necks of Spike and Bert (those are the dogs)?  That's where it began.  With patriotic bandanas.
Spike and Bert belong to some neighbors, who were away from home while picking up their daughter, who had just completed Marine Boot Camp.  Impressive.  A different neighbor decorated for their return home, including giving me the bandanas for their dogs so they were decorated as well.  As you can imagine, it was a festive time.

Actually, it didn't really begin with bandanas.  The neighbors I have out here on the Gold Coast of Hardin County are wonderful at looking after each other.  When I broke my shoulder in mid-May, I was the recipient of much kindness and help.

But this story began with those bandanas.  The generosity just flowed, and the next thing I knew, my lawn was being mowed (not by me), and then limbs were removed and brush was pulled.  Work I couldn't physically do even with two good shoulders.  As I watched this work, I had that rare heart-warming feeling, the one you get when someone is being amazing.  It shouldn't be rare, but it is.

I became aware of a few other instances of generous spirits pouring out, their actions done quietly.  And those are just the ones I knew about.  Even little things, like when I was cleaning my windows and one popped out and I could not move.  Fortunately a neighbor responded quickly and helped me get it back on track.

Maybe it is the "little things" that seem of no consequence, but these little things translate into a big attitude shift.  When we experience another's generosity, we very well may pass it along to the next person.

Dogs know no limit when it comes to pouring out their love and affection.  Perhaps we can start doing the same.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Emptiness

Accidentally, I typed, "Emptymess" and thought...yeah, that's about right too.

The kennel has been unusually quiet for June the last two days.  Time to do some extra cleaning (and yard work because yes, that is a weed wacker back there, charging)
Life can be empty too.  It is unsettling.  It can easily be a step on a downward spiral.   We were created wanting to fill our lives, and often we choose quick fixes, empty promises, band aids over gaping wounds....you get the idea. 

We make terrible choices.  Maybe we'll feel better if we pursue that job, that person, that bag of Oreo cookies.  We may feel full for five minutes or even a few years, but ultimately, our attempts to fill our lives with happiness, or just momentary easing of pain, fail.

Before grocery stores and vending machines, people had to spend a large portion of their day growing and making their own bread.  When Jesus showed up and told them "I AM the bread of life", people were eager to know what kind of sustenance he was offering.

Now if our vending machine runs empty, we can go to the next one, or go to the store, or have something delivered.  It's really easy.  Except we often treat our spiritual lives the same way. If we don't immediately feel satisfied or have answers in religion, we shrug our shoulders and move onto what must really work.  We thirst for more. Then Jesus said, "I AM Living Water."  What?  A well that doesn't run dry?  Is not distant?  Why yes.

Often we think that if we choose to follow Christ, we'll have to give up all the "good stuff." And we don't.  We may want to at some time, but that's not the point.  We don't ditch our vices because they make us bad people, it is because those vices enslave us in the way that Jesus wants to set us free.

And freedom is what He gives.  Free indeed.

In a few short days, the kennel will be overflowing with dogs for the holiday weekend.

The Good News is that we can choose a life that overflows with goodness, mercy, forgiveness, and deep peace.  We may still be a mess, but not an empty one.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Scratching that Itch

This is what happens when you jump on the kitchen counter.  "I told you 'no!'"
Poor Franklin.  After a stray cat's bite became infected, Frank wouldn't stop scratching the wound, resulting in the Cone of Shame.  It caused quite a stir when he first had it on.  Captain wouldn't stop staring at him.  Tilly growled.

I might have laughed.

Frank seems embarrassed, but without this drastic, visible barrier, his wound will never heal, resulting in a much worse infection.

There are those times when we can't seem to stop going back to a bad habit.  Whether it's tackling a bag of Oreos (there may be some personal experience involved here) or dwelling on difficult circumstances, sometimes we can't break the cycle.  As a result, the initial problem becomes worse.  Our minds and bodies can become infected with a poison that grows.

Sometimes it takes an intervention of friends, a barrier put up around us, a whispered word of hope, before we can stop making a bad situation worse.

Perhaps we dismiss God's word as being outdated, a fairy tale, or just impractical for our circumstances.  Yet God's people from the beginning regarded it as a kindness for how to live successfully.  As far back as Proverbs, we are told, "As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly." (Proverbs 26:11).  I don't like to admit my own level of foolishness, but unfortunately plenty of my own notions and actions have proved out this warning.

Don't get me wrong, not all our pain is a result of our foolishness.  We may find ourselves in the pit of despair through no (or little) fault of our own.  Recently I saw a group that expressed concern for those in emotional distress.  This was great, I thought as I read it. Then I saw the gist of the rest of their message was, "We don't have an answer but we do have a distraction."  Having been in the pit plenty of times myself, I found it difficult enough with the knowledge that God was with me.  It seems that despair would be twice as deep after the temporary distraction if that is all there was to offer.  When we go back to scratching our bad itch, we need someone to pull our hand away from it forever, not for a moment.

As I write, Frank is laying on my lap, purring and dozing, even with the cone uncomfortably around him, seemingly at peace with this scratch deterring measure.

A reproof to turn us from folly doesn't always come in the form of a plastic cone around our neck.  But sometimes it's visible and embarrassing.  Maybe some will laugh, stare, or become hostile, rejecting us.  But there are those who will run toward us and our pain, sitting by as we endure the difficult steps of healing.  That's the kind of person I've needed, and it's the kind of person I want to be, because that's the kind of God we have, great in compassion and mercy.