Monday, April 29, 2013

When Strengths aren't so Strong

It's Roxie the Bulldog! Get up Roxie!
Roxie is not built for speed, but she is sturdy. Bulldogs were bred to do what their name implies - bait bulls. With that frame, they were sort of like linebackers. However, the same frame means they aren't good for other things, like swimming. Or, in Roxie's case, if she didn't want to move, she just laid down. Effective, but not great.

Last week, a company wanted feedback on a product line. Let's just say I let my opinion be known in specific and snarky words. I'm really good at being outraged. However, I'm not very good at being calm and loving.

When we invite Jesus into our lives, our character changes - for the better. The Holy Spirit, when we're willing, supernaturally makes transformations that are often imperceptible to us.

Next time I hope to check my words, rather than dash off something cool-sounding.  What God values is often very different than what our culture appreciates. What God cares about should be more important to me.

What about you?  What area do you find your strengths might get you in trouble?

Friday, April 26, 2013

From a Brutal Life to a Beautiful Life

Here's Brute.  He's back for his second visit here.
The first time Brute was here, he'd only been with his new owner a couple of months.  Having been rescued from a situation of neglect, Brute had a few things to learn about proper doggie etiquette.  Happily, he's come a long way in a short amount of time.  It is clear that he has thrived in his new home and is loyal to his new owner.

Some of us get a tough start in life.  It is very hard to undo the harshness we may have experienced.  Yet doing the hard work and relearning our behavior results in a better life.

Changes are hard and we don't like to do that work.  Sometimes we don't even know what that work even is!  I once heard an old Bible teacher say that even if you didn't believe in God, living God's laws are the best way to a peaceful life.  That's true, since those guidelines are for OUR benefit, and not because God needs us to behave ourselves. 

Yet doing life with God, with faith, is even a better life.  It is a little taste of Heaven - a beautiful thing!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Spring 2013, the Season that Won't Stick

Every time I write a post expressing dismay that winter persists, I think it's the last.  But no, it is not.  There is snow in the forecast.  While snow in April (or even May), is not so unusual, it is when there has been essentially no break.  Sure the forsythias bloomed and the tulips are making a valiant attempt, but that's based more on daylight than it is warm temperatures.

So what are the choices when the weather seems to be identical to what C.S. Lewis described regarding Narnia in its pre-Aslan days, "Where it is always winter but never Christmas."
Perhaps you've been beaten down by the relentlessly alarming news headlines.  It seems one disaster is "over" (or at least its time as grist for the newscycle is through) when another equally upsetting incident occurs.
Life without hope is always winter, with no hope of Christmas.  Christmas is when Christ showed up, bringing with him the hope for the broken world.  People have many spiritual beliefs.  However, there is only one who offers true hope, true forgiveness, and restoration from personal, national, and world disasters.  You don't need to be cleaned up and perfect to fall on your knees. 
Only then can we look upon desolation and see beauty and peace.

Or a Kooky Chicken.

Monday, April 22, 2013

To Tell the Truth

Would you want to know if you were doing something that would lead to disaster?  Do you tell others if they are heading for a brick wall?

It's puzzling (sorry).

Last night I read something about how truth can only be told when there is an atmosphere of love and that when you tell the truth, it should hurt just as much to say it as it will be to hear it.  In other words, if you enjoy telling someone what they are doing wrong, you probably shouldn't say it.


It's frustrating when you can't trust your friends to tell you the truth.  It's how the remarkably untalented end up on national television auditioning for singing competitions.  It's how books receive rave reviews because friends don't want to tell a friend their writing isn't so good.  Not only is the singer and writer not hearing constructive feedback, but the listening and reading public suffers.

"The wounds of a friend are faithful," reads Proverbs 27:6.  Another translation states it as "The wounds of a friend can be trusted." 

When God's Holy Spirit convicts us, we are wise to heed the correction.  It is, in fact, a kindness to keep us on track.  When we ignore that "voice" repeatedly, we will no longer hear it.  God corrects us for our benefit as well as those around us.

Pride gets in the way.  I admit it.  As much as I may feel disappointed that a friend may conceal the truth, I'm not very good at telling others they are headed for a brick wall.  And do I even hear God's loving Spirit, guiding me away from my own issues?

Blech!  It's enough to make me fall on my knees.  That's probably where He wants me to be to begin with, isn't it?

What about you?  How are you at receiving feedback from a friend?  How does it differ from hearing it from your boss?  When you've lovingly confronted a friend, how has it been received?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Plans Change

This is Dinah and Shelby.  Aren't they the two cutest pups?  They were scheduled to come to the kennel this weekend, but the weather cancelled their owners' plans.  While the owners are disappointed, I suspect Dinah and Shelby are glad to be at their home.

It's very hard to roll with the punches when you expect to go have a fun mini-adventure and instead, you are forced to stare at the same four walls you see daily. 

There's something to say for adventure and getting out now and then.  There's also something to be said for ordinariness.  Sometimes we change our plans and sometimes they are changed for us.  Despite all these scenarios, is our focus on the plan or The Planner.

We have free will, but all that happens to us passes through Jesus' nail scarred hands.  Nothing catches the Triune Godhead by surprise.  Our finite minds rebel against what we can not know.  Yet what we see in a glass darkly now, we will someday see face to face, and have total clarity.

During a week that has been frought with tragedy, by intention and accident, it is good to know that somehow, this is not out of God's control.  He knows the plans He has for us.  Trust is hard, but that's the definition of faith in action.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Squandering an Opportunity

Tilly loves to chase this ball.  If I kick it for her, she gleefully attacks it and returns it to me.  When it's time to go for a car ride, she bolts out the door, grabs the ball and runs around the car in circles in some sort of doggie celebration dance.
As you can imagine from the dreadfully long winter we've had here, spending a lot of time outside is not on my to do list.  However, I do make at least four trips out to the kennel every day, usually with Tilly along.

For the last couple months, she has become distracted by scents of moles, where the cats have been, and the barks of neighboring dogs.  I call to her and say, "get your ball!" but she either continues with her preoccupation or gets it just before I step in the house.

Too late.  Playtime is over.

Sadly, I find myself doing the same thing.  There are things I enjoy that I don't get to do often - spend time with friends, read a good book, etc.  Yet sometimes I find myself seriously squandering my time.  In life there seems to be that "work time" and "play time" but there is for me also "stupid time" when I decide playing mah-jong on line is somehow better.  I know - stupid!

God says there is a time for everything - work and play.  I'm pretty sure no where is there a place for "stupid."  Praying for a well ordered day usually ends with satisfaction when I follow through with that intention.  That way, I don't squander the opportunity of each new day.

What about you - do you have "stupid" time?  What saps your focus?  How will you change this?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Rolling with the Punches

Here's Kobe, looking like a prize fighter.  Or perhaps a pony.  (Hi Kobe!)

When Kobe slipped off the boat dock and cut his paws up on the oyster beds within twelve hours of arriving at our vacation destination, it seemed like life was over.  Of course it was not.  Kobe's owner calmly took the dog to the vet and did all the hard work of keeping Kobe calm and preoccupied so he wouldn't chew on his bandages (too much).  Focused on vacation, even a small thing like a giant vet bill wasn't going to slow down her enjoyment of vacation.

Meanwhile, I quietly freaked out.

However, seeing how calm she was, I calmed down.  Kobe calmed down.  We all got about the business of serious relaxation.

"Be still and Know that I am God."  That scripture came to me often on vacation.  God does not freak out or is ever taken by surprise by our circumstances.  He is calm, in Him there is peace.  If I remember that, I can ask for that same calmness to fill my soul.  And if I'm on vacation, being calm and peaceful is just the place - though the practice is good for those rough, freak out moments as well.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Maybe It's Not So Bad Afterall...

Here's Millie - Wake Up Millie!
When Millie first arrives at the kennel, she looks me up and down, then tries to get back in her owner's car.  As the leash changes hands and I walk her toward the door, she throws desperate looks back at her "people", pleading with them to change their minds.

Yet once their car rolls away and she's inside the kennel, she wags her tail and acts like I'm her best friend.  She seems to enjoy the activity of the dogs coming and going.  But when her owner's return, I go back to being chopped liver.

Sometimes we need to make the best of hard situations.  Maybe if we can find a little bit of joy amidst the circumstances, we may even be able to smile now and then.  For me, I can not do this from my own forced attitude.  I need to ask for God's transforming power to change my heart.

It's been a long winter, but the last few days of rain has brought instantly green lawns.  It reminds me that there is hope, even in trying times.

What has tried you, and how have you handled it?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Security of Love

It's a lousy picture.  If you look really closely, you will see a terrified Newfoundland mix next to Santa.  Yep, that was our Guinness, afraid of strangers.

Guinness must have been abused before we adopted him.  He was a stray from the wrong side of the tracks.  In the seven years we owned him, he never experienced a reason to be fearful.  Yet he viewed strange noises and visitors as if he was under serious assault.  Even if a person was someone he saw regularly, he still greeted them with barks and circling the property, ready to bolt into the woods at any given moment (which he actually did now and then).

It was frustrating.  It was hard to keep loving him when he behaved so stupidly.  Of course to Guinness, there was nothing stupid about it.

When we meet people who seem ridiculous, often there is a story of deep pain and abuse that we can not determine.  Even that person may not be able to adequately explain the fears that drive behavior.

Christ said to love our enemies.  He said that the downcast were blessed.  If our hearts are to be aligned with the heart of God, we've got some serious work to do.  I don't know about you, but that's not something that comes naturally to me.  And I'm not so great at faking it either.  The only hope is to ask God to do the changing, in my heart and those around me who are broken and in pain.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Answered Prayer can be Messy

When you love your dogs and cats, sometimes you have more than one.  When you live in the country, people think that if you have a cat, what could one more hurt? 

A lot.

Dealing with cat disharmony is annoying.  I've often wished for fewer cats.  Then Saturday night, two of my guys wouldn't come in the house.  Around 2:30 a.m., a huge cat brawl woke me.  I'm not sure what attacked who, but my favorite little guy came limping in the house, went straight upstairs, and fell asleep on the bed.
As I examined him for any open wounds, I cried.  It made me realize I didn't want fewer cats at this cost.

Last Wednesday, I woke up overwhelmed with things to do.  I felt a still small voice "say" something has to give.  I prayed it wouldn't be my ankle.  Over the next few days, something did give, but it was not in a very pleasant or happy way. 

When I thought about it more, I realized that if it didn't end in such a messy way, I may very well have not gotten the "give."  I'd still be clinging to it.

Turns out, that sometimes God has to pry things from our hands.  If it is His will, it is for our good, even if it isn't pretty.  Somehow, I must find a way to be thankful, even as I sweep up the debris of answered prayer.

Have you ever had this happen?  Do you have to have things pried out of your hands or do you give them willingly?  And if you are a pet lover, how many do you have?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Reviving the Sagging Spirit

While a friend is sorting out her various demands in her life, her pups are here for an extended stay.  Lately, they've gotten a bit antsy, so right now they are in the house romping with Tilly. 

It's like a barrel of monkeys.  Or more accurately, gorillas.  I've hidden the bananas.

However, they need the break to revive their sense of well being.  We all need that.

Yesterday I read an article about "why our nation is not experiencing revival."  The writer made a very valid point that Christians talk about how much we want change, how revival among believers is where it begins, and how we must pray.  But, the writer states, God knows our hearts.  And our hearts don't REALLY want revival.

Revival historically come at a very high social and economic cost.  If I examine my own heart, I don't think I really want my bank account to take a hit, to have conversations that result in me labelled all kinds of unpleasant things, and suffer a bit.

Yet we cheer that Paul stood up and preached Christ and Christ crucified despite ship wrecks, prison, and many beatings.  We admire him.  We cheer him "Go Paul!"  Yet do we want to be like him, to endure what he did, even if it means bringing a person closer to Christ?  What am I willing to give up, at what cost, for a friend (or enemy) to have their life changed from desperation and anger to hope and peace?

It makes my heart hurt, to think maybe I don't want disruption in my quiet, safe routine.  Maybe what my prayer needs to be is "help me want that - no matter the cost - change my heart."

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

How Can I Please You?

Dogs work hard to please their owners.  It's what most dogs live for, from the moment they wake until they put their heads down at night.
Even when dogs are asked to do things they really don't want to do ("stop eating that cat stuff" "down!"), they still obey because more than anything, they want to please their Master.

(There are some who refuse to use the phrase "Master", but that might be another blog post, for when I'm feeling testy.)

Recently I had a conversation with someone regarding doing things we don't want to do.  Life seems to require us to do just as much stuff that we don't like as we do like.  In our culture, doing what we want - being completely sovereign - is an idol.  We have to go to work, eat healthy, exercise, drive within rules, etc.  Yet we balk at having to visit grandma, pick up our dirty socks, and be nice to strangers in line at the grocery store.

Yet doing what we do not want to do, what is contrary to our human nature, is just another discipline to shape our character.  When we follow what God says is good for us, even if we don't want to, we please Him.  If we are saved by faith in Jesus, we already please Him - we need not "do" anything, but there is much evidence in scripture that seem to imply that now and then, He may smile a little broader when we go out of our way to do difficult things.

What difficult thing are you avoiding today?  Is it having that tough conversation, even though it will invite conflict and loss of popularity?  Is it doing something that is out of your comfort zone.

My prayer this morning was that God will change my heart that all I do will be what pleases Him, and to ask for the courage to do it.  It's my prayer for you as well.

Monday, April 1, 2013

No Foolin' - There's Reason to be Joyful

In the early hours of the morning, I got up and stepped in something gross one of the cats left for me.  I suspect it was Olive.
She was probably reading about April Fool's pranks.

Then I went out to get my newspaper and noticed this:
That's RIGHT - the flowers are coming up - see those green shoots? to my now useless mailbox (thanks guys).

It's Easter Monday, a time to remember the empty tomb that proves death is dead and forgetting the horror of the cross.  It's a time to focus on Jesus who gives us new life and ultimate joy.