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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.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Stumbling Upon the Sacred

A couple weeks ago, some friends and I went hiking.  We enjoyed some striking views.

Slowing down, we found some fascinating fungi (or whatever it is - don't judge me).
As the border collie of hikers, nipping at my friends' heels to hurry them up of their enjoyment of nature (my usual not slowing down to appreciate the little things...blah blah blah), I was in the lead of the trail.  While my friends marveled, I paused to figure out just where the next trail marker could be.  Then I saw it, just before I was three steps on top of it.
I started doing that thing you do when you want to yell to everyone to shut up and dash immediately to where you are except you can't because that completely would defeat the purpose.  Instead, I did some strange pantomime that somehow my friends understood. While I pointed and gasped (somewhat quietly), we gathered as close as we could and beheld this one or two day old fawn.

The only word any of us could come up with (later, because we were rendered speechless not out of necessity, but out of awe) was "holy."  There was something about this unexpected find that was a treasure beyond the others.  To me, it was the visible breathing of this sleeping creature, vulnerable, and amazingly beautiful.

In the nearly two weeks since this event, I've pondered our collective reaction to this tiny life.  It makes me wonder what it was like to live in ancient Israel, going to the market or the well for bread or water.  It was difficult, every day work to secure food and water.  Then one day some of these people stumble upon this guy (who was described as physically NOT attractive) in the market, or at the well, saying these wondrous things.  Most people kept going, eager to go about their business.  But some paused, hearing a message that was unexpected, life-giving and beautiful.  "I am the bread of life."  "I am Living Water."

In the twenty-first century, those of us in the United States give little thought to our bread and water.  We get upset if we can't find the exact kind of marbled rye we like, and may drive to more than one store to get it.  Our choice of water is ridiculous.  Yet culturally we suffer from discontent beyond reason.  It's not enough to be physically satisfied. We want to be happy and by happy we mean our extremely specific definition of happy.

I'm fortunate enough to have some contacts on social media who live in Uganda.  They message me, ask how I am, pray for me and my needs.  They tell me what they need - and their requests humble mine.  They understand God's provision in a way that I honestly can not.  They are satisfied and even thankful in a way that defies my understanding.  Sometimes I think they live most days in that emotion of wonder and appreciation that my friends and I experienced with that day old fawn, an experience that was unique and rare for us.  Our "western culture" falsely leads us to believe we are the comfortable ones, but in reality, we are blinded by a poverty of spirit.  We don't know what we don't know.

If there is anything I am good at, it is to manufacture discontent and ingratitude.  Frankly, it's embarrassing.  Fortunately, I feel that God is getting through to me on this matter.  The conversation goes something like this, "What is your problem?"  Sure, Jesus is gentle, but He knows I need a clubbing to the head to get through to me, so the blunt question pierces my soul.  "Yeah, I know.  It's not easy to be this hard headed, and mostly hard hearted.  But help me, okay?"

And He does.  And He can help you too.

Not every hike is going to reveal a wonder as powerful as this most recent.  But that doesn't mean I can't be satisfied with every day provision that is beyond reason, and so much more than what I deserve.  It's not just bread, water, and wonder, but forgiveness, redemption and grace.  That's what stirs my soul to overflowing, to a deeper satisfaction than I can find on any shelf in any market place and at any well.

The Living Water awaits to provide refreshment, I just need to jump into it.






Saturday, June 3, 2017

When Your Dog is NOT Lassie

There she is.  The little darling.

About two and a half weeks ago, I fractured my shoulder while trying to get my Tilly and Emmit in for the night.  It was dark, there was a tree and I landed on the trunk shoulder first.  Several people asked me what the dogs did while I was writhing in pain and trying not to pass out.

Answer:  they went back to doing the annoying behavior of ignoring me, which is what brought on my impatience in the first place.  They didn't swarm me with their paws on my arm, remorseful and sad for my pain.  In other words, they really didn't care.

Then four days later, Emmit lived his last day.
More questions, "How did Tilly react?"  My response, "I'm not sure if she's noticed."

The truth is we want our dogs to be in tune with us, to react to our pain, our grief, and our joys.  And there are those (very few) dogs who, like Lassie, show sympathy and enthusiasm in appropriate measure.  But the reason Lassie was the iconic dog of bravery and valor, saving Timmy from the well, guarding people and property in unusual fashion, is because it is so rare.  Reality, lest we forget, is a lot less than the stories we like to tell.

To be fair, I'm not exactly the owner that inspires Tilly to act more like a candidate for MENSA. Very generous friends describe her as "full of joy."  She's full of something alright. 
After walking around in a sling for more than two weeks, I've spent plenty of time being impatient with not just Tilly, but with God too.  The merry month of May brought more than its share of challenges and I was pretty irritated about it and I let my feelings on the matter be known.  I found myself wishing God was like Lassie.  I wanted a visible champion, protecting me from pain, and staying close by my side while I went through the frustrations.

After exhausting myself with my mental prayer complaints, I remembered.  While the Lord of All may not be One I can see with my eyes, His presence is there, even if it seems elusive.  I just let the pain chase away that little fact. Anger blinded me from remembering God is FOR ME, not against me.  He allows the challenges for reasons I rarely understand.  But what I do understand is His economy is very different from ours, and the means He uses to bring me back to Him (even when I'm resentful) are not bad. 

I may be an imperfect dog owner (and I am), but God is the Perfect Keeper of my soul, and my Protector.  The challenges of May are nothing compared to past difficulties, and certainly not unusual to living on earth.   "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." (II Corinthians 4:8-9).  Or, the Chumbawamba paraphrase I fall back on, "I get knocked down, but I get up again.  Ain't nothing going to keep me down."

Tilly has never been Lassie and will not turn into Lassie.  And I'm not worthy of being Lassie's owner, so there's that.  While I may be disappointed in my little dog, and more disappointed in myself, I can't be disappointed in God.  Well, I can, and I have been, but there's no truth to it. 

After all, He is for me.  And He's for you too.  Don't forget.