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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Coming Out Of Your Cage

This is Tiger the cat.  Tiger has made it pretty clear that being in the kennel is not his idea of fun and most certainly I am EVIL.
We're approaching three weeks' stay and only today did Tiger venture out of his crate in my presence.  He allowed me to pet him. But he kept his hair raised, just to remind me that I am EVIL.

While most dogs and cats in my care eventually come around to seeing that I am for them, not against them, there are those, like Tiger, who are reluctant to trust.

And who can blame them?  When we are scared, nursing a broken heart, and/or resistant to trusting, we often choose our cage. 

"To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness and the willingness to remain vulnerable."  Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I'm sorry...the "willingness to remain vulnerable"?  Maybe you're that brave but I often forget that remaining open to all the benefits of love far outweigh the tragedies.  Life will break your heart.  Being broken isn't bad, especially when you can heal stronger than before (having a broken shoulder at this moment has me hopeful of a better healing).  But pain often causes us to retreat to our cage, where we perceive we are safe.

God is for us, not against us.  But we don't trust him.  We may act like we do, but keep our dander up, just to show we aren't pleased with how things are going.

Like Tiger, I think that tiny crate is where my safety is.  Maybe it is safe, but it isn't freedom.  God calls us to live free.  Taking that step out of our cage is scary, but love awaits, with all its scary risks.  And with all its magnificence.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Kindness of Ireland

That adorable dog on the left is Ireland.  That lunatic on the right, that's my Tilly.
Ireland the Dog is partially responsible for why I recently visited Ireland the Country. 

For reasons I won't go into, I didn't have a lot of time to make the decision to go.  I'd been dithering about committing and was running out of time.  Then Ireland's owner called, on the last day I had to choose, and made an appointment for her dog.  Decision made.  I committed.

Then, nearly instantly, I had buyer's remorse.  As much as I chide others to challenge their comfort zones, putting myself in the situation of the Unknown and Uncontrolled is extremely difficult for this introverted control freak.  And making small talk with strangers?  Not really my thing.  But I sensed I was desperate for an adventure.  I reluctantly listened to my own advice, in conjunction with the serendipity of Ireland the Dog's kennel appointment.

Each winter, I focus on a subject and read and watch as much as I can relevant to that topic.  Past subjects included WWII and the History of Abolition.  Bleak subject matter for the darkest months, right?  But I enjoyed reading about the heroics of people like Corrie Ten Boom, Bonhoeffer, and Wilberforce, et al.  However, I just knew educating myself on Ireland (of which I was woefully ignorant) would be refreshing.  Well, not really.  Turns out their history is also one long story of persevering in the face of tragedy.  Frankly, I can relate.  Maybe you can too.

I also read message boards about travelling to Ireland, the sites, the tips, etc.  Over and over, visitors to the country raved about the friendliness of the people.  "Great," I'm thinking, "Maybe they will be more understanding if I really fail the whole driving on the other side of the road thing."

But it was so much more than that.  Three examples.

1.  The lady from whom we rented our little cottage offered to light our peat fire stove if we were out all day sightseeing.  And two nights, she did just that, allowing us to enjoy a long day and still come home to cozy warmth.  The one time I'd rinsed out a few pairs of wool socks and hung them by the stove to dry.  When we came back, not only was the fire stoked, but my socks had been moved to the fancy drying rack.  I don't know about you, but hanging up someone's stinky socks so they'd dry better isn't the sort of thoughtful thing that crosses my mind.  Ever.

2.  After asking the lady at the front desk for directions somewhere, I asked if it was "the road behind  the hotel, then turning right at the third intersection."  After hesitating for scarcely a moment, the lady responded, "You could go that way, or you could use this road in front of the hotel and get straight there."  See what she did there?  She didn't say, "No, you're wrong" which would have been fine because I'm obtuse enough that I need very clear communication.  But she didn't dismiss my misguided notion and just told me the better way.

3.  On the non-stop bus from Galway to Dublin, a woman approached the bus driver for a quick conversation.  Fifteen minutes later, the bus pulled over, the driver got up, went to the restroom, ascertaining that the door was, in fact, NOT stuck, and returned to his seat and got us all back on the road.  But as he was buckling in, the woman who'd approached him spoke (in her Irish accent), "Now everyone will know it was me that stopped the bus and the door wasn't even stuck."  Another woman, not with the first, said (in her Irish accent), "We all needed a little break."

That's it. No public lynching or berating took place like you know would have happened in the U.S.  At that moment, I wanted to stand up and yell, "Do you know how awesome you people are?!"  But I didn't because 1. it would be weird and 2. tears were stinging my eyes.

Some people may describe me as nice.  And I know how to be polite.  But I can't honestly say that my reflex nature is kindness.  I'm so concerned juggling all the balls in Lynne World that considering the needs and comforts of others rarely makes my peripheral vision, let alone my priority.

Sure, it was only six days in Ireland, with limited exposure to people who didn't work in the service industry.  But it was clear that the nature of kindness runs deep. And while I often wanted to ask, "What do you do with existential angst?" that wasn't exactly appropriate to ask Tony the car rental guy (told ya I was bad at small talk).

It won't be photos or video I treasure most from my visit to Ireland.  It will be the overwhelming desire to "be ye kind, one unto another, tenderhearted...." (Ephesians 4:32).  I left wanting to be the type of person who lifts up others, putting their needs before my own.  As much as I love to bask on a Florida beach, I can't say I've left wanting to be a better person.

When Ireland the Dog comes for her next visit to the kennel, I will remember the role she played in visiting a country of kindness.  But I won't give the owner a big hug because 1. it would be weird and 2. tears will be stinging my eyes.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Restraint and Why We Dislike It

What is the feeling you have when you see this little guy?  Pity?  Sadness?

You're probably not feeling relief or contentment.

Here, little Luigi is being "restrained" from running free.  That seems bad, right?  But if we think of him as being restrained from the dangers of running loose, it is a good thing.

Luigi is in the kennel so he's cared for, not so he can run the streets while his owner is gone.

The dictionary defines restraint as "a way of limiting, controlling, or stopping something."  Boo!  Who wants to be limited, controlled or stopped?  Not us!  We want to do what we wish, listen to our feelings, follow our bliss.

The dictionary also defines restraint as "the act of holding something back."  Hmmm.....

If we believe in an All-Poweful God, that means God can intervene in areas that are dangerous.  Yet tragedies happen.  But what if God is restraining His own behavior in order that we experience something deeper.  Maybe our physical and mental well being will be threatened, harmed or damaged, but our spiritual health will be enhanced.  Maybe that cage we think we're in is for our own safety.

Maybe things aren't always as they appear. 

When dogs come to the kennel, I give them the benefit of the doubt that they are a Good Dog until proven otherwise.  While that's not always as easy with people, it's a good rule of thumb.  While I've had my share of unwelcome events in my life, I can say that ultimately they led to an uncomfortable and even painful stretching of my faith.  What we have on earth isn't forever, but what we can't see is. 

If we believe in an All-Loving God, we can imagine that Jesus longs to swoop in and spare us pain.  He shows restraint when something bigger is at work.  If God holds something back from us now, it is only because it is for Our Good and His Glory.  It isn't always fun and it isn't always easy.  But, it's always good.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Misplaced Devotion

Last Saturday, a friend of mine noticed a dog at the end of her rather long driveway, hanging out by the road.  The dog won't let her get near him.  She's given him food and water, contacted the local animal control, and still the dog stays at the end of the driveway.  It is classic dumped-dog behavior.  The dog is foregoing the minimal amount of food in favor of waiting for his owner to return. 

Five days he's waiting.  Five days he's ignoring someone who wants very much to care for the dog and get him to safety.  But he can't stop focusing on what is no more despite a much rosier future.

Aren't we often like this?  Personally, I'm sort of a master at staring at the door slammed shut in my face rather than the window open right by me, from where fragrant winds blow (or today, hurricane force gales). 

Too often we approach God with a clenched fist, unable to open our empty palm and let the God of love fill it with the good gifts He longs to share.

The dog doesn't know what's coming, which is a chilling cold front.  My friend does, and is eager to get him to safety.  But the dog refuses, longing for the love of the owner that undoubtedly has rejected him forever.

It's painful to imagine this dog's misplaced devotion.  It's sad what the dog is missing from what my wonderful friend has in store for him, which is Hope and a Future.  Instead, the dog paces, runs away, and looks at the empty, dirty road.  He has settled for a poor definition of love.

Sometimes we think our idea of what God is like is better than who God really is.  We have an idea of what our good gifts should be, and how our future should look.  But we don't know the Cold Front is coming and our God does.  We don't know that we're looking at a lonely and dirty road, when a street of gold could be our destiny.

Today I hope the dog chooses safety.  Today I hope I remember to unclench my fist.  Today I hope you choose to turn to the One who longs to hold you in the palm of His hand.

May none of us settle for a poor definition of love.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Being Left Behind, and Why That's Just FIne

Jay was the lone wolf in the kennel for more than two weeks.

As the other dogs went home over the holidays, Jay was left behind.  Yet, the sudden disappearance of all the other dogs didn't seem to bother him.  He ate fine, went for his walks, played, no distress.

Perhaps it is because Jay knows full well he is loved.

A friend once told me, "You just need to find your tribe."  At first I wasn't sure what that meant.  It seemed odd, and maybe included rejection.  Then I realized that it was a great kindness.  The most caring thing you can do for someone is point them in the right direction when they are headed in the wrong one.

I had to tell Jay's owner he was heading in the wrong direction.  It wasn't an easy conversation.  But both and Jay may benefit from a correction.

I certainly benefitted from a careful word (or a hit over the head as I'm often too dense to "get it.") that put me on a better path.  I didn't like it at first.  I even resented it and suspected the Corrector had got it all wrong.  The Corrector's idea was terrible while mine was really good.

Except mine wasn't really good after all.  It was fruitless and frustrating (and other "fru" sounds).  While I was feeling left behind, I found a new place filled with new people and new activities, directed there by the kindness of The Corrector.

I'm not really sure what's going to happen with Jay and his owner.  I know I did what I could and wish it had gone better.  But you can't make a person see a clear picture when they are so busy looking at that murky one that has clouded their vision for decades.

I pray I can have my vision unclouded, and stay on a clear path.  To do so, I need to remember that I am greatly loved.  And so are you.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Evidence of Cat Dancing

For years when Dooley was young and the pond was frozen, I'd catch him chasing leaves (or imaginary fragments of fascination) over the ice.  He seemed to take great joy in sliding, pouncing, and creeping up on his prey on this unusual surface.  But like so many cats, if he suspected anyone witnessing him frolicking with such abandon, he stopped and acted like he would never participate in such undignified behavior.  Sort of like Fonzie.

But Dooley is older now and he doesn't go outside much.  Yet Tuesday I noticed these:

A definite pattern led up these random paw prints on the ice.

Perhaps Dooley is out there dancing when no one is looking.

It's easy to feel jaded about Christmas.  Maybe we think if we believe such an unlikely story of a virgin giving birth to the Messiah of the world, we'll be seen as undignified, incapable of doing something so very ordinary and silly.

But who would make up such an outlandish tail?

Doesn't our heart yearn to have wonder and mystery?  To think maybe there is in fact a God so very powerful that He does miracles?  A God so loving that he would sacrifice his own son for a bunch of ungrateful people?

Love can make us dance, just as wonder tickles our toes with chilling sensations.

So go ahead.  Dance.  No one is watching.

And wonders of His Love..

And wonders of His Love...

And wonders, wonders, of His Love.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Racing Out on Uneven Ground

Before I could stop her, Tilly raced out to chase the birds resting in the field.
Recently, the farmers tilled up the soil, and it was extremely lumpy.  However, Tilly, being a dog who doesn't exactly evaluate conditions, assumed the ground was as even as it's always been and set out at high speeds to pursue the birds.

While Tilly is generally terrible at listening to me, the one command she obeys well is the "Come" command.  I yelled and she stopped and returned, but not before knocking her doggie elbows and came back with a limp.  Fortunately, there was no lasting damage.  I knew this immediately because Tilly is a wimp and very vocal about any pain she has.  And since she wasn't wimpering and being dramatic, I knew she'd live to annoy me another day.

How many times do we pursue something at a dead run, not considering the terrain and consequences?  I don't know about you, but occasionally I toss my normal level headed thinking in order to pursue some "flights of fancy" (as a friend put it).  Inevitably, this results in a figurative twisted ankle and pain.  And yet I don't seem to recall this the next time opportunity arises.  I set out on uneven ground.

Unlike me, an almighty Savior knows about our temptations and trials.  He knows what it is like to be weak.  While Jesus withstood the most unfair situations and the most alluring temptations, He remembered what His Father was about, kept His mission in mind, and thought of Others (that's us, y'all) before Himself.

We may be weak, but we are understood by our Creator.  He evens out the tough trials, even when we've raced out in front of Him.

There is Thanksgiving.  There is Christmas, the Joy of New Life. 

May it be yours, as much as it is mine.