The Knotted String

I was watching a program on TV where a little boy, aged six, was performing a magic trick.  He took a piece of string from his pocket.  It was about eighteen inches long.  Making a fist with his left hand, he pushed the piece of string down between his thumb and forefinger.  With a big smile and declaring his magic word of “abracadabra,” he waved his right hand over the left and then pulled out the string.  It had several knots tied in it.  The boy then took the knotted string and pushed it into his fist and shouted the magic word again, “abracadabra!”  He pulled out the string and it was once more a string without knots.  The little boy smiled at the applause.

I thought to myself that the piece of string is a lot like our lives.  We would love the paths we take to be smooth, without any knots of difficulty along the way, but life’s roads are filled with bumps and ruts.  Why does God allow difficulties, we may ask ourselves.  I find it interesting to note that, not only does God allow the crooked places in our roads, but He often designs them.  We read in Ecclesiastes 7:13, “Accept the way God does things, for who can straighten what He has made crooked?”  Do you find that concept difficult to accept, especially when we know that God does all things well and for our good?  Why would He design a difficult path for us to take?

Have you ever trained for a marathon?  Have you enjoyed watching the skilled olympians during the Olympics?  If you’ve been in the armed services, you will be well aware of what boot camp entails.  Does anyone reading this watch American Ninja?  What amazingly difficult obstacle courses for those athletes! To gain anything worthwhile in life, there are deliberately planned barriers and hurdles along the way.  Why?  They make us stronger.  They sharpen our skills.

It’s the same with anything we purpose to do in life, whether we want to sing, or act, or dance, or teach, or practice law or medicine.  Without the exhausting, and at times, seemingly impossible tasks to conquer along the way, there would never be success.  Isn’t that a daunting thought?  It really is true, the old saying, “no pain, no gain.”

It’s no different in our spiritual worlds.  If we never had a struggle in life, then how would we know the strength of our heavenly Father?  How would we ever know the joy that He lovingly gives to us in times of emotional upheaval?  How would we know the sweet relief of His peace if we never knew a broken heart?  It is through the pain, that indeed we gain, sweet trust that emotionally equips us to get through anything.  It’s like that favorite song of mine by Andrea Crouch that reminds us, “If we never had a problem, how would we know that God could solve them?”  It’s an amazing joy that cannot be measured, when we experience our God changing the impossible into everything feasible.  It’s such experiences, after times of slogging through the knots and ruts in our road, that puts the ecstasy in all the crooked places of our personal worlds.

When You Want To “Slap ’em to China!”

Have you ever been in a discussion when it was difficult for the majority of the group to get a word in because of one dominate person doing all the talking?  Isn’t that irritating?   I find it especially frustrating when the dominate person speaks as if he or she is the expert in the subject, when it’s obvious that they know very little.  Have you ever just wanted to, “slap ’em to China,” as my mother would say?  Whew!  I can feel my anxiety level rising with the very thought of such an exasperating person!

Even so, what about that verse in Philippians 2:3, where Paul instructs, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.”  This verse is often misunderstood.  I have watched people over the years beat themselves up for not remembering to think of themselves as almost despicable.  What?  When we ask Jesus into our lives we become sons and daughters of The Almighty Holy One.  Is that a lowly, despicable position?  Absolutely not!  To think of ourselves as a  lesser human being than the people around us is not what this verse is teaching.  It’s about respect.

Respect was not what the person in our illustration was exhibiting.  That person was thinking way too highly of himself, not giving honor to the others in the group.  When Paul was instructing that we think of others as better than ourselves,  he was teaching that we must not automatically assume that we are the most intelligent, the most skilled, the most liked, etc.  It could just be that someone else knows more than we do, is more skilled in a particular area, and is more popular than ourselves.

My father would often say that “balance is the key.”  I have found that balance is the key in all areas of our lives.  A balanced diet is the most healthy for our physical bodies as is a balanced exercise regime.  A balanced use of our time, in our waking and sleeping hours, promotes a quicker thinking in our minds, a sense of well-being, and an energy that is otherwise lacking.  A balance in our spiritual world where we use our time wisely, whether praying, playing, working, meditating on the things of God, spending time with family and friends, honoring them and respecting them, makes for a well rounded person.

To respect others, to build them up, to urge them on in their goals and aspirations, to encourage them where they are weak — that is thinking of others as better than ourselves.  It’s simple recognition of truth; truth that says we must all know what our gifts are, and equally we must know what they are not.  We must be willing to heed to the experience and knowledge of others with the attitude that we might learn something of value from them.

We must be careful, guarding our hearts, when we find that we are beating ourselves up as if we are the lowest of the low, because our Father loves us dearly.  Equally, be careful of developing an over inflated head — best to let someone else do the complimenting of our knowledge and skills.  If we do it ourselves, we could end up being the exasperating people that others want to “slap ’em to China!”

When To Walk Away

I was listening to a mother tell a story about her little boy who is in the second grade.  She said that, earlier in the week as school was letting out, she was in her car waiting for her son to arrive.  He tossed his backpack onto the backseat and climbed in.  “How was school today?” his mother asked, the same as she asked everyday.  She was waiting for the usual response of, “Okay,” but that was not the case.  He pulled himself up straight, looked at his mother and replied, “I had to leave the playground and that wasn’t fun.”  His mother’s first thoughts were, oh no, was he misbehaving?  Is that why he got sent off the playground?  “What happened, Buddy?”  she asked.  “A really mean boy wouldn’t quit calling me names.  He said I was a baby because I don’t like being pushed high in the swing.  I told him it wasn’t true; I just feel sick when I go high.  He said I was a liar and a baby.  He wouldn’t stop, so I just left the playground.”

The mother was proud of her son.  I was proud of her son, too.  At seven years old, he knew something that many adults don’t know — when to walk away.  When we find ourselves in disagreements or misunderstandings, we rightfully want to explain ourselves.  We want those involved to understand the truth about a situation and to believe it.  Sadly, in this world, that doesn’t always happen.  Is it okay to explain ourselves?  Of course.  Is it okay to engage in endless conversation about it?  Yes, if you want to spend your time that way.  Is it okay to argue and shout and call names back at the person?  Never.  Sometimes, when you have exhausted your explanations, it’s best for your own peace of mind to simply walk away.

It’s sad to say but there are people in this world who seem to thrive on argument.  The possible reasons as to why are too numerous to list.  Perhaps it’s due to the person’s own sense of low esteem, seeking to make someone look weak so they will look strong.  Perhaps it’s due to some degree of mental illness.  Perhaps it’s a spiritual matter of evil fighting good.  It’s like a tangled ball of wool that becomes impossible to unravel.  It’s best left alone.

Scripture tells us in Romans 12:18, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.”  Sometimes, having done all we can, the only thing left is to walk away.  I take another encouragement from Proverbs 18:1 which reads, “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.”

We must guard our own hearts, taking care not to let bitterness set in.  By all means, hold the person in prayer, hoping for the best.  Ask Father to keep your own heart and mind in peace.  His peace weathers any storm.

It’s fun on the recreation field of life when everyone plays fairly.  However, when a bully takes over, when trying to live in peace doesn’t work, when even gentle answers are ignored, it might be time to simply — leave the playground.

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

I know the term “comfort food.”  You probably do, too.  When I get frustrated or down in the dumps, my mind pulls from its photo file a snapshot of a golden brown, grilled cheese sandwich and a steaming mug of tomato soup.  In my mind’s eye I have made the first step on my road to recovery from the doldrums.  Second step — preparation.  The smell of the sandwich in the frying pan reaches my nostrils, telling my tongue to wake up because something good is coming!  The red tomato soup simmers, its steam playing havoc with my now rumbling tummy.  My taste buds tease me with longing! All of my senses are on standby for what promises to be well worth the wait!  Third and final step – devour, sit back, enjoy.

I like to dip my grilled cheese into my soup.  As I dip and chew and drink I can feel my body releasing its stress.  The frustrations of the previous moments take a backseat.  Feelings of downheartedness fade — all because of satisfaction to my culinary senses.  The world indeed seems a better place when I’ve had my grilled cheese sandwich and mug of tomato soup.

My spiritual world is a better place, too, when I’ve fed my anguishing heart.   Jeremiah 15:16 tells us, “When I discovered Your words, I devoured them.  They are my joy and my heart’s delight.”  As physical food comforts us, gives us proper nourishment and strengthens us, so does spiritual food for our daily journey.

When we devour God’s Words, we are reminded of truth that sets us free.  We are given guidance to show us the way, we are buoyed up to stand against winds of despair.  We are anchored to God’s loving hold on us.  We are filled with hope in the midst of all odds.  We are nourished so that our eyes see clearly in the fog of our questioning minds that would have us look away from God to what the world offers as hope instead.   Our ears are kept sharp to detect the smallest whisper of God speaking comfort into every crevice of pain and disappointment.

God’s comfort food is always on the stove ready to be served.  Just eat.  It is pleasing and nourishing to all our senses, providing fortitude to replace weariness, determination to press on and upwards, tenacity to relish even the difficulty of the race, knowing a prize of God’s joy and peace awaits!   Devour, sit back, enjoy.

Kitty Waits and Waits and Waits

Many of you who have been reading my blogs over the years will be familiar with Kitty, our partially blind cat, who lives on the front closed-in porch.  That is her world. She is happy there, never wanting to go out into what she cannot see or understand.  What can she see?  Me.  She knows when I’m there.  She holds her head up waiting for me to stroke her head and softly tickle beneath her chin.  She adores my attention.  She trusts me.

Every morning about 7:00am I open the door, knowing she will be right there, staring at the door, waiting for me to bring her breakfast.  It’s the same everyday.  She never waivers in her waiting for me.  What amazes and touches me deeply, is how long she will wait — until I open the door.  Most mornings I am right on time but there have been days when, for various reasons, I have been late.  I remember one such morning when I was an hour late.  Oh, no!  I thought to myself, poor Kitty!  I imagined her being upset, perhaps panicking about her breakfast, but no such thing took place.  Kitty was waiting  at the door.

She did not appear to be worried at my delay.  In fact, she behaved as if everything was as it should be.  She sat and waited as I closed the door behind me and stooped down to stroke her head and tickle her chin, just as I always did.  Then, on cue when I stopped the petting, she walked over to her food bowl, looking up expantantly.  I could tell that there was no doubt in her understanding that she would be fed that morning.  There was no despair in having to wait to be attended to; she trusted me, and she waited for me.  In her little cat’s mind, she knew I would come and all would be well.

Oh, if only we humans could display such trust in our Heavenly Father.  He tells us in Psalm 27:14, “Wait on the Lord; be of good courage and He will strengthen your heart.  Wait, I say, on the Lord.”  We don’t like waiting.  We want what we want, and we want it now!  Our Father knows what we need and He knows when we need it.  When he delays, it is not because He has become disinterested; it is because He loves deeply, waiting for our own good.

You and I can be delayed because we forget, or we’re feeling non-motivated, or we are providentially hindered.  That is never the case with our Father.  He never forgets, He is always motivated in His sweet love for us, and it is impossible for anything to stop Him.  He knows what troubles us.  He knows when we hurt.  He knows the longings of our heart.  Therefore, with perfect timing, He will bring about His purposes in our lives.  At the right moment He will open the door to deliver His blessings just as I open the door to bring Kitty her breakfast.

Father is always on time, so let us wait with trusting hearts.  Let us wait with peace reigning in our minds.  Let us not engage in despair which can lead to anger, but let us wait, as Kitty does, knowing beyond all doubt, the door will open and a breakfast of goodness will be served.

What Does A Thief Want?

It stands to reason that a thief would never attempt to rob anyone who had nothing of value.  Breaking and entering only takes place because the thief wants the something of value that you possess.  John 10:10 informs us of two things:  First, it tells us that “The theif’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy.”  The Christian will know who the thief is; the thief is our arch enemy, Satan.  Since we are categorically told that his purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy, that fact is enough to let us know we need to pay attention.

When soldiers prepare for battle, a part of their training is to know the enemy.  Be aware of tactics used.  Know what they want.  It’s no different in spiritual warfare.  What does our enemy want to steal and kill and destroy?  He wants to steal your joy, kill your inner peace, and destroy your effectiveness in God’s Kingdom.  He will do whatever it takes to accomplish his purpose to steal, kill and destroy.  He lies and deceives.  He whispers words of hopelessness.

When one of God’s children blows it, our arch enemy doesn’t want you and me to dwell on the truth of God’s grace; He whispers that God’s wrath will create a living hell for us for the rest of our days.  He whispers that life’s circumstances are nothing more than God’s anger; belying the fact of God’s love and forgiveness.  The arch enemy doesn’t want you walking in the daily strength of God; he wants you wallowing in self pity.  The arch enemy doesn’t want you focused on God’s plan for your life which leads to contentment no matter life’s troubles; he wants you blaming God for your woes, leading you away from your Father rather than snuggling secure in Father’s arms of love.

Satan hates you because He hates Jesus.  He will never be anything to you and me but a thief with the sinister purpose to steal, kill, and destroy.  His constant attacks on our mind is tiring, causing us, in times of discouragement to want to throw in the towel.  I urge you, don’t dare surrender to the master thief.  Don’t give victory to his purpose; concentrate instead on God’s purpose, which is the second part of our verse.  Let’s read that verse in its entirety:  “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy.  My purpose (God is saying) is to give a rich and satisfying life.”  While the arch enemy seeks to steal away all that is good; your Father seeks to give you riches of satisfaction for all the days of your life.

When we want to keep out a thief, we lock the doors.  It’s no different in our spiritual world.  Lock  the door with declaring the truth of God’s Word, with praises for His goodness, and with prayer that calls upon God’s strength.   When we lock the door to our mind and heart with God’s truth, the lies of the thief cannot enter, rendering him useless in his goals to steal, kill and destroy.  When the Christian chooses God’s truth; the arch enemy’s lies cannot take a hold on our inner peace.

Let’s lock the door to the enemy and walk in God’s purposes.

In The Presence Of Jack’s Enemies

Our puppy, Jack, has now been with us for three weeks.  The first week I discovered that he was afraid of loud noises.  I cranked up the riding lawn mower; he took off, tail tucked, giving me a look over his shoulder that said, “have you lost your mind!”  My mother quickly called to him and soothed him.  He visibly calmed in her presence but still kept an unbelieving watch on me and the monster mower.

The second week he ran for cover when a tractor came to plow the field next to our house.  Then there is the weed-eater and the leaf blower.  The most horrible scare came last week when a helicopter flew low over our house.  We have a friend who is a helicopter instructor.  Every now and again, when he’s taking a student out, he flies our way, comes low and hovers over the yard until we come out and wave.  Mom and I have fun waving; Jack just trembled in terror at the alien in the sky.

There is something else I’ve observed about Jack.  The first two weeks, when we fed him, he would gobble it up in seconds, as if he feared this might be the last meal for a long time.  However, this week he has slowed, enjoying each bite, even glancing up with dancing eyes as if to say, “thank you for this.”

Jack has come to a point by week three that he knows his food bowl will be filled daily and he’ll have plenty of fresh water.  Throughout each day, Mom and I take time to play with him, tossing frisbees and balls, giving him much loved tummy rubs, and playing tug of war with a rope.  It’s been delightful for us to watch Jack simply calm down.

I sometimes wonder what it was like for him the weeks he spent alone in the woods. He was hungry, and no doubt, afraid.  In our area we often hear coyotes howling and yapping at night.  There are wild boar and bobcats, raccoons and deer.  Of course, there are snakes!  How terrified Jack must have been — but not now.

Now, Jack seems to realize he is safe.  He still doesn’t like the riding lawn mower, but last week, he merely eyed it with suspicion instead of running for his life.  The other day when we were playing frisbee, he stopped short, a look of panic on his face when a tractor chugged by, but when I called to him, he forgot the tractor and continued our game of fetch.  It occurred to me at that moment — Jack feels safe in my presence. What a wonderful feeling of happiness came over me, too, to know Jack trusts me with what makes him afraid, allowing my presence and care to melt away all that would otherwise paralyze him with fear.

As I observe Jack, I smile in thanksgiving that we also have someone who is with us in the presence of things that make us afraid, too.  Our Heavenly Father never leaves us, watches over us, loves us and soothes our fears in the presence of everything troubling in our lives.  He never leaves us and always offers His own courage and peace.

When tractors of turmoil plow the fields of calm in our lives, uprooting our inner peace, our Father is there.  When helicopters of fear hover in our world, whirling wild thoughts of what the unknown may hold for us, our Father is there.  In the midst of any danger, perceived or real, our Father is there, “letting us rest in green meadows; leading us beside peaceful streams.”  Psalm 23:2

Psalm 23:5 tells us that our Father prepares a feast for us in the presence of our enemies.  What kind of feast?  A feast of courage and peace, joy and calm, hope in exchange for despair.  Everything we need is provided, even in the presence of everything fearful and shattering in our lives.  No matter what makes us afraid, our Father is there.

Intense Desire

I looked up the word “passion” in the dictionary.  The definition is: having an intense desire or enthusiasm for something.  The reason I looked up the official meaning of the word is because of a verse I came across this week that touched something deep within me.  It’s found in Exodus 34:14, “God is passionate about His relationship with you.”  When we take time to meditate upon these words, the depth and height of its meaning is sheer ecstasy.

God so loves each one of us that He will do whatever it takes to reveal that love to us.  We may see His love through nature, contemplating the making of a tree or how a bird floats with outstretched wing in the sky.  Sometimes we catch a glimpse of the heights of His love when we gaze upon the ultrasound of a child, toes and fingers forming, eyes, nose and mouth all there.  At other times, as we call upon God to quieten the anguish of our hearts and the fury of our thoughts when turmoil attempts to choke to death all hope and peace, we begin to understand the passion of our Father.

You see, His love is so vast and pure that He will use all of life, the good and the terrible, to bring us to a place where we look up and find the resources to get us through each day.  We read in Ephesians 1:3 that God “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms…” In other words, He has given us a treasure chest filled with everything to get us through anything, and all because He is passionate about us.  He knows when we look up to Him, we will find the fingers of His love ready to wipe away all tears.  We will find a trove of His abundance to fill us with peace in the midst of grief, or hope in times of despair, or guidance when we know we are lost and can’t find the way for today, which makes tomorrow a formidable thought.  When we look up to Him, we find courage to endure the unfathomable and strength to reach out and lend a hand to another even when our own hearts are breaking.  As we begin to soak in the passion of God’s love for us, we become overwhelmed with fresh understanding of His intense desire for everything good to come out of everything bad in our lives.

There is no sweeter hope than for one to look up, discover His love, take hold of His hand, and dare to walk with Him into the darkness, for it is then that we are swathed in the light of His passion for us.

He’s Eating The Porch

My mother had been outside playing with Jack.  She comes in and calmly announces, “Jack’s eating the porch.”  “I know,” I replied, equally unperturbed, and added, “Did you see the decorating that he’s doing?”  “Yes,” Mom sighs with a smile, “I guess he’s both decorating the porch and doing some landscaping with that tree stump he brought in.”  We laughed, totally understanding that these things are to be expected when training a puppy.

Today I filled in a hole that Jack dug next to the patio, lifted the lawn chair he flipped over, mopped up the water from his bowl that he stepped in, turning it over, too, and threw away the doormat that he shredded.  In spite of his antics, I’m very proud to say that he has already mastered the game of fetch, actually retrieving and bringing back the ball, and he understands the words “stay” and “sit.”

Interestingly, he seems dumbfounded with the word “no.”  Even so,  I find my love for this little dog just as strong whether he’s being obedient or being oblivious to the things I’m teaching him not to do.  I know my love for Jack is never ending, no matter what he may or may not do.

It occurred to me that if I, an imperfect human, can love my sometimes obedient and sometimes unruly dog, then I can rest in the confidence that my Heavenly Father loves me irrevocably, too.  Like Jack, we can all  learn the things that pleases our Father.  Like Jack, we can also disregard them in an instant.

Why do we humans so often do the things we know we shouldn’t?  When you make a decision that you know isn’t the right one,  do you fall into despair?  Do you get angry at yourself for failing yet again?  It’s easy for us to beat ourselves up.  We can even succumb to the erroneous thoughts that God doesn’t love us anymore.

I take grew pleasure in believing that Jack knows my mother and I love him.  He seems to already know that we will feed him, play with him, give him shelter, all the basic things he needs to live well.  How much more does our Heavenly Father take pleasure when you and I trust His love and care for us?  He feeds us, shares joy with us, gives us His own strength and courage to withstand all the world throws at us.

I love the promise in Psalm 118:1 that states emphatically, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!  His faithful love endures forever!”  In the New Testament, there is a verse in Romans 8:38, “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.  Neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow — not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.”  

It’s true that human love can actually fade away.  Promises can be broken and vows dashed to pieces, but God’s love for us?  It goes on and on!   Take comfort in the truth that He won’t give up on you.  He may, like a potter with a lump of clay, hurl you upon the spinning wheel for remolding.   The hurling may not feel good and the spinning on the potter’s wheel might seem too hard, but remain steady and trusting — God’s training is for our own good, just like my training for Jack; the end product will be beautiful.

 

His Name Is Jack

It was Sunday afternoon when my mother and I came across a thrown away puppy.  He was about 5 months old, a black lab.  He had been abandoned and was sitting next to a fence gate; a look of confusion on his face, but he immediately responded to our coaxing voices, letting us stroke him and pick him up.

I knew we couldn’t keep him for so many reasons, but my heart loved him the moment I saw him.  We took him to our place with the goal of finding him a home.  The little dog was so happy.  We gave him food and water which he gratefully devoured and drank.  He followed me everywhere I went,  rolling on the ground in playful antics, absolute trust and happiness shining from his eyes.  It was so touching the way he responded to the love my mother and I gave him.

Through the help of a dear friend who volunteers for Animal Tails Rescue in Luverne, Alabama, we were able to take this little one to them.  They are wonderful in finding forever homes for our furry friends who need our help.  If anyone is looking for a place to volunteer or to donate to a worthy cause, Animal Tails Rescue, a no-kill place of refuge, is most deserving.

It was so hard to let this little one go, and I had only known him for eighteen hours.   He clung to the car seat as I lifted him out, as if he knew I was giving him away.  I felt like I was betraying his trust.  My head was hurting from tears that wanted to burst forth but I determined to be brave. The helper who took him from me spoke soothing words and held him close.   That scene was sweet relief, knowing he would be cared for, but it did little to ease away the pain of my breaking heart.

As the hours passed, I thought of how quickly I had fallen in love with that little, lost dog. I began to compare it with how much you and I are loved by our heavenly Father. We, too, are lost without Him, like a stray pup longing for a home, hoping for a way out of our dismal situations.  Father God has loved us from the moment we entered into this world. When we come to Him with all our fears and worries, He cares — and — He always has a plan for us; a very good plan filled with hope and a good end.

God loves everything He has made.  He loves us more than we could possibly measure.  God loves the animals beyond what many realize.  Sadly, there are those who do not accept God’s animal love, even though it is plainly taught throughout Scripture; “The godly will care for their animals, while the wicked are cruel to them.”  Proverbs 12:10.   I also love the verse in Matthew 10:29 that reads, “What is the price of two sparrows — a penny?  But not a single sparrow will fall to the ground without your heavenly Father knowing it.”  God loves every living creature He has made.  He knows and cares when any animal suffers or dies.  He loves them so much that He has made us the animal’s caretakers.

Father God loves us even more.  From the very moment we are conceived, Father God is forever in love with us.  He cares about our suffering and about what makes us happy.  Our creator God loves us now, has loved us from the beginning, and will love us forever.  Father knows our names and everything about us.

Neither my mother or I slept very well Monday night.  Throughout Tuesday, tears kept jumping into my eyes.  In the late afternoon I commented to my mother about how much I was missing that little puppy.  Mom said the same thing.  We stared at each other for only a moment before agreeing together — let’s go get him!

We’ve had to reorganize things a bit because we have an older, rather ferocious dog, who doesn’t have the same sentiments toward our newest family member as we do.  Even so, we have found a way to accommodate them both, making them each know how much they mean to us.  It seemed impossible, but we made a way for this little lost pup,  reflecting how God does the very same thing for each of us, turning the unreachable into everything achievable.