Sit, Stay, and Leave It!

 

Some of my friends have asked how obedience training is going for Max and Ruby.  I have to tell you, it has exceeded all our expectations.  We went in with a pretty low bar; Jerry thought it was going to be a complete waste of money and I just hoped we could curtail barking and jumping.  We are still working on jumping.  They get so excited to see us!  We could be gone for fifteen minutes and they act like we have been deployed to Afghanistan!  And company??  Forget it.  But barking is getting much better.

 

So currently we are continuing to perfect the “sit” command, and learning “stay” and “leave it.”  Ruby learned “sit” right off the bat, but Max has stubbornly refused to sit on command.  For several weeks I have had to gently press on his hindquarter to get him to sit, but finally he has learned it.  What was so hard about that Max?  And when they sit, they are to look at our eyes before they get a treat.

 

As I write these words I am remembering how long the Lord had to work with me to get me to sit in His presence.  I was far too busy, I had an important to-do list, or I was too tired.  But God wanted me to be still and spend some quiet time with Him.  Even when I learned to physically sit still, my mind would still race.  It took a good deal of discipline, but finally I got it.  Sitting first thing in the morning is probably the most important thing I do all day.  It is when I turn my eyes on Jesus.  No one in the history of the world had a bigger agenda than Jesus, but He still found it necessary to get alone with God early in the morning (Mk. 1:35).  How much more important it is for me.

 

We haven’t practiced “stay” nearly enough, and it is something I want them to learn.  The event that prompted obedience training in the first place happened a few weeks ago when they suddenly darted out of the front yard and across a neighborhood through street.  I was so afraid a car would hit them.  I want them to learn “stay” for their own safety.

 

You can probably see where I am going with this.  God wants me to stay in communion with Him and WAIT for direction.  Oh how often I jump ahead of God with my own plans and ideas.  Waiting is so hard!  And again, it involves not just physically waiting but mentally waiting as well.  In fact, training my mind to wait is probably the most important part.  When we feel as if we must be taking some action, and that waiting is a waste of time, Isaiah 40:31 reminds us that in waiting we actually renew our strength:

 

but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

 

There are many other verses that instruct us to wait:

 

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.  Is. 26:3

 

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; Ps. 37:7a 

 

Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. Ps. 33:20

 

“Leave it!” is the most recent command we have worked on.  Our trainer, Merit, dumped a pile of objects onto the floor…items that would be novel to a dog and therefore interesting.  She had items from her purse, small household items, thinks that jangled such as keys, and things that slid across the floor.  We were to keep walking Max and Ruby with the clear command, “Leave it!”  She told us to use a sharp tone with a sense of urgency.  After just a couple of trips around the floor, the dogs got it.  I have to say they caught on much quicker than I have.  God is still commanding me to “leave it!”

 

Scripture is full of the things we are to leave behind after we receive Christ as Lord.  We are to leave behind the things in the past; those past sins that would cause us to be covered in shame, a past lifestyle, and sometimes even good things as we move forward with the Lord.  Jesus told His disciples to leave behind everything and follow Him.

 

Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9: 62

 

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Cor. 5:17

 

I actually found a list of 78 things we are to leave.  78!  (You can find the list here: https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/misc/putoffon.cfm)  We are to leave things such as bitterness, pride, jealousy, impatience, gossip, and the list goes on.  But good news!  The Bible tells us what we are to pick up instead: forgiveness, humility, patience, and edifying speech.  When I tell Max and Ruby to leave it, I am looking out for their own good.  They don’t always recognize the danger.  Sometimes things look intriguing, but they are to walk straight ahead.  These things that God tells me to leave are things that ultimately hurt me, and I can imagine He is speaking to me with an urgent tone.  “Don’t even stop and look, Fran!  This is not good for you!”  He is not a punitive God; He wants what is best for us.  The problem is, we don’t often discern harmful from good.

 

So as our dogs continue with obedience training, so do I.  As I said before, for me, obedience is a lifetime pursuit.  I press on.

THE RIPPLE EFFECT

 

We all have seen or experienced the ripple effect.  In the simplest example, think of a stone dropped into a pond, how it spreads concentric circles of waves of decreasing intensity as they move out from the center.  It works inversely also, as sometimes a small action (or inaction) can create a big ripple.  I’m thinking about Rosa Parks here.  But this morning I am thinking about a big event that has created many ripples in all of our lives.

 

The coronavirus is the enormous boulder that dropped in our pond earlier this year.  The virus alone has been catastrophic, but consider the ripples that have followed: the lockdown, businesses closed, jobs lost, bills that go unpaid, and we could go on and on about the ripples.  It is a very small micro-ripple that has tugged at my heart since yesterday.  My 10-year old granddaughter, Olivia asked her mother when they would get to shop for back to school clothes.  My daughter told her they were waiting until they knew for certain that school would actually have in person classes.  The district has a plan to reopen, but things are very fluid in every district right now.  Then Olivia asked if they could at least go shop for a new backpack.  My daughter had to explain that there would be no backpacks allowed at school this year.  That made me so sad for little Olivia.  One of the biggest days in the Kid Year is the first day of school with a new outfit, new backpack, and new school supplies.  And the obligatory snapshot on the front porch.

 

This has been one ripple too many for me, and yet I know more will come.  There are the things we don’t think about.  This same daughter needs a new washing machine because her old one broke down.  Did you know that you can’t go into a store and buy a washer right now?  There are none.  It’s a supply chain issue.  When factories shut down, supply stops.  My teen grands will not have lockers this year, or be allowed to carry a purse.  Our college grands have been instructed to come with emergency COVID bags packed.  If a fever is detected they will be immediately whisked away to some undetermined location (infirmary? gulag?), and will need to have a bag packed and ready to go.  Our college freshman will be allowed only one parent to help her move into the dorm.  And sorority rush will be mostly virtual.  Our pregnant granddaughter can only have her husband at the hospital with her.  We will have to wait until she comes home to meet the new baby.

 

These are minor inconveniences, but they are cumulative.  When they are piled atop the larger ripples mentioned above, life becomes even more stressful, wearing.  Many of us are walking around with sub-clinical depression (or maybe full blown) because of all the ripples.

 

Psychologists have studied the ripple affect as it pertains to emotions.  That is, how the emotions of one person in a group can trigger the emotions of the entire group, like a row of falling dominos.  It even has a name: emotional contagion.  You have probably noticed it, maybe how one person’s anxiety in an office can set off everyone else, or one family member in a bad mood can set the tone for the entire household.

 

But it can work the opposite way also, with a kind word, an act of consideration, or an expression of love.  I would like to be a carrier of hope during these trying days.  I would like to be, but some days are hard for me too.  That is when I need to go to the source of hope, God’s Word.  Honestly, I can barely make it through the day without my morning dose of hope.  Hebrews 6 tells us that when we turn to God and take hold of the hope he offers, that hope acts as “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”  That same passage tells us that God cannot lie, that His words are truth.  I can spread hope with confidence because I am sharing the truth, and truth is a hard commodity to find in 2020.  I can be an encourager, one who inspires hope and courage.  I need to be mindful of my words because I want to create positive ripples, contagions of hope.

 

Lord, help me to be a carrier of your hope today.

THE HALLMARK FIX

I have a confession to make: 2020 is beginning to wear on me, and I suspect I am not alone.  I’ve really noticed it for about the last two weeks or so, and it is so vague it I can hardly describe it.  Ennui comes to mind…weariness with the world in its current state.  I feel irritable and out of sorts.  As a psychologist I have tried to check my thinking because I know how much our thoughts influence the way we feel.  But why do I feel so down about things?  Because for the most part we are now living our lives as normally as we can.

 

We were pretty strict about being locked down when the quarantine first began.  After all, we are supposedly in the high-risk group.  But I got really tired of not being able to see my family, so on Mother’s Day I declared that our house was “open” and the whole clan came over.  Being with my family helped immensely.  Then slowly we began to find our new normal, although there is nothing that feels “normal” about wearing a mask.  We are coming and going, doing things like grocery shopping, eating out, trips to Lowe’s and the nursery, but we haven’t been in any large crowds.  I’m not sure there have been any large crowds to be in.  Our church has still not completely opened, but we are moving in that direction.  We have only been physically to church twice and maybe that is part of what feels so off, even though we have stayed connected electronically.  My friend groups and other organizations are meeting via Zoom, and I have met friends for occasional lunches, coffees, and dinners.  So why do I feel so off kilter?

 

I don’t have to tell you what is going on in our country.  Just turn on the news (something this former news junkie can hardly do any more).  The level of hate is something I have never seen among fellow Americans before.  It just makes me sad, and I don’t see any end in sight.  So one thing that has lifted my spirits is Hallmark’s Christmas in July.  Yes, I have been watching Christmas movies, in fact, I just finished one.

 

What is it about those Christmas movies that make me feel better?  The same 20 or so actors regularly appear in plots that are so predictable (and unrealistic) even I could write one.  Boy meets girl, they usually don’t hit it off at first but later begin to fall in love (with an almost-kiss) until there is some sort of misunderstanding that sends one of them packing.  However during the last fifteen minutes they get things straightened out, have a real kiss, and it snows.

What I love the best are those charming, picture-perfect Christmas towns.  There are quaint main streets filled with mom-and-pop shops (or shoppes), carolers, cider, and always snow.  Not dirty, slushy, day-old snow, but pure and pristine snow that doesn’t even make the cars dirty.  The part that always gets me are the Christmas Eve pageants, choir performances, or school plays.  Don’t these people have to be at Grandma’s on Christmas Eve?  Doesn’t anyone leave town?  This is where Jerry reminds me, “It’s only a movie!”

 

There is a psychology to why these movies make us feel better; in fact there is a psychologist who has studied it.  Dr. Pamela Rutledge is the director of the Media Psychology Research Center at Fielding Graduate University.    Dr. Rutledge says one of Hallmark’s cinematic shortcomings is the thing our brains love: predictability.  And oh, how we crave predictability in these chaotic times we are enduring.  And we forgive the unrealistic story lines because they allow us to suspend our own reality for two hours.  These movies allow us to experience a variety of positive emotions such as connection, empathy, love, warmth, and compassion that serve as a buffer to the stress of real life.

 

However, the feel-good doesn’t last very long.  As much as I love me a good Hallmark Christmas movie, there is something much better.  I know what to do when these negative emotions start to get to me.  I go to the One who has the answers.  I turn to the Bible, prayer, and my spiritual books.  I have been reading through a beautiful little devotional book, The Red Sea Rules: 10 God-Given Strategies for Difficult Times (thank you, Paula Carter).   There are study questions at the end of each section, and one reached out and grabbed me the other day.  “If you knew Jesus was literally standing beside you right now, how would you feel differently about your current Red Sea problem?”

 

That question has made a big difference, because of course, Jesus is here right now, in the person of the Holy Spirit who lives in every Believer.  Nothing about the world situation has caught Him off guard.  He’s got this.  When I feel worried or depressed it is usually because I have forgotten that He is present, right here with me.  Yes, the world is stressful right now, and may become even more difficult in days to come.  But Jesus is walking with me.

 

I did a little Word study on the presence of the Lord.  Here are some of the verses that spoke to me:

 

The Lord is near to all who call on Him… Ps. 145:18

 

The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything.  Phil. 4:5-6

 

Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.  Gen. 28:15

 

These verses and many more allow me to reset, to gain equilibrium.  The world may seem to be spinning out of control, but I can rest.  I feel much better.  God is right here.