SITTING VIGIL

It has been eight days since our 100-year old Mimi was rushed to the hospital with seizures.  The ER doctor told us she expected that Mimi would go sometime over the weekend, yet here we are, eight days later, still sitting by her bed and waiting.  The hospice nurse says that death is now imminent, but we thought that before.  This dying process is taking a long time and I am learning quite a bit in the process.  It is a lot like giving birth.  

Her type of death usually takes about four weeks, and looking back, I know when it began.  She began to withdraw from people and activities, and was eating less than her normal bird-sized meals.  Things were beginning to shut down.  There was a scary ambulance ride to the ER.  Then a CT scan revealed a large brain tumor.  We thought we would lose her within hours but she “rallied,” a word I have never associated with dying.

It was during this rally that God drew back the curtain of Heaven and gave her a sneak preview of her eternal home.  And she told us all about it.  Oh the sights she saw!  Even the hospital staff was in awe.  I will be forever grateful for that time with her.  Since then she has been mostly sleeping. 

She has been at Clarehouse since Monday, and what a blessing it is that they had a bed available.  She has a beautiful suite, but the smell of death hangs heavy.  It clings to my hair and my skin, and I wonder how long it will last.  So I moved to the deck outside her room that overlooks a creek and a copse of trees.  Occasionally a butterfly from the butterfly garden flutters by.  An owl sits in a hollow tree behind me, his nocturnal eyes closed to the bright daylight.  A light breeze blows.  In the distance I can here the sounds of cars; life goes on around us, oblivious to the eight or so people here who are transitioning from this world to the next.

I have been praying for months that God would take her peacefully in her sleep.  I guess I should have been more specific.  My idea was that she would go about her day, go to bed, fall asleep, and wake up in Heaven.  I wasn’t planning on eight days and nights of sleep!  But God is in charge and I am not.  Scripture tells us that all our days were ordained by God before we were ever conceived. He knew the day we would come into the world and He knows the day we will leave.  

People tell me that they understand that sitting vigil is hard.  Well yes and no.  There have been some hard moments, some sad moments and some long moments.  We leave for bits of time, but feel like we should come back. And when we are here we feel useless. it’s a good deal of waiting. But mostly, it is my honor to sit here with her.  She has lived a good long life.  Everyone has said their goodbyes and said what they needed to say. I am so grateful I get to spend these last hours with her. 

THE MESSY MIDDLE

It has been awhile since I have written anything.  It’s not that I haven’t had ideas that have come to me.  It is because my writing time has been absorbed by a hobby.  It all started a few years ago when I was introduced to Bible Quilt Journaling, created by my friend Dianna.  Briefly, this is a method of journaling and meditating on scripture in an “artistic’ manner.  I put quotes around artistic because believe me, I am no artist.  In the beginning my pages could have been done better by a first grader.  But over time I got better at it.  

Bible Quilting has nothing to do with sewing for those of you who may be allergic to sewing machines, but it does require some supplies.  Since I have never been a crafter, I didn’t even have a decent set of colored pencils, so I started acquiring a few things.  Those who know me well are laughing at “few things”, because this pursuit has taken on a life of its own, and I have acquired a lot of things I never knew I needed.  Along the way I discovered beautiful papers and fell down a rabbit hole!  I wanted to learn different ways to journal and find ways to use up all this paper I was ordering.  

Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, I started making all different kinds of journals…jot journals, gratitude journals, pretty daily journals for every season…and then, I discovered junk journals.  That was when the little space I was using in a spare bedroom became too small.  I got rid of all the bedroom pieces and created a craft room.  All that paper and those supplies take up a LOT of space!  

When people ask me to describe junk journaling I usually direct them to a video on YouTube, but junk journalers are all over social media platforms.  It is hard to describe, but basically it involves using bits of this and that, things you would normally discard, and using them to create journals.  I started to think twice before throwing things away.  Suddenly the most exciting thing about an Amazon delivery was the packing paper. (Unless the box contained craft paper or washi tape).  I found a group of talented junk journalers that I follow regularly.  They are mostly in the UK and I love listening to them talk as I work on my journals.  Several of the artists have formed a consortium and they create challenges for their followers.   Currently I am about to complete Junk Journal July, and my journal is getting nice and chunky.  There is a journaling prompt for every day of July, and I am almost at the end.

I could go on and on about journaling, but that is not the purpose of this post.  This morning I was working on the prompt, “stencils.”  The medium you see in the picture is a yummy concoction called stencil butter.  I had to pause to let it dry and I was thinking about what else I want to add to the page.  Right now I am in the messy middle.  I really don’t know what the finished page will look like.  My pages seem to gradually come to be on their own.  I have learned to trust the process.

It hit me that most of us live in the messy middle.  We move from one situation to another, and on a larger scale, one season of life to another.  We may have entered adulthood with a plan for our lives, firm thoughts about how things should go.  And God laughed.  Things rarely go the way we think they should.  In fact, I spend a good deal of time with my therapy clients helping them to let go of the “shoulds.”  It’s not that our plans and ideas are wrong.  It is just that life has a way of moving us from one messy middle to another.  It is sometimes hard to see how things will turn out.  And it is in the messy middle that we develop our trust muscles.  We may not know how our current page is going to turn out, but God does.  We just trust Him and trust the process.  

It is fine to make a life plan, to have goals and dreams.  But God has dreams for us too.  We become much less frustrated when we discover God’s plans for us and get on board with them.  We find true fulfillment when God’s desires become our desires.  It is then that we are in sync with our Creator, the Artist of our lives.

You know what I really love about junk journaling?  It is the taking of something of no value, something discardable, and turning it into something lovely.  That is exactly what God does.  He takes the mess of our lives and repurposes it into something beautiful.  

 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. Prov. 19:21

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Jer. 29:11

PLAYING FROM VICTORY

In my previous blog I wrote about Cooper Kupp, the LA Rams wider receiver who went from being a zero-star college recruit to Super Bowl 56 MVP.   But there is more to the story of this remarkable man.  In 2019 the Rams lost Super Bowl 53 to the New England Patriots.  The score was an embarrassing 13-3.  Kupp had to watch helplessly from the sidelines due to a torn ACL, but he was just as devastated as his teammates as they walked off the field in defeat.  But then something happened 

Kupp says as he was walking off the field toward the tunnel something caused him to turn around.  In that moment God gave him a vision: the Rams would come back somehow and win a Super Bowl, and Kupp would walk off the field as the MVP.  He kept this vision mostly to himself, revealing it only with his wife, because obviously this was not the type of thing you could go around sharing.  People would think you were nuts!  Or a braggart.  But when he talks about it today he gets choked up, giving all the glory to God.  He says he saw it as clear as day.  And when this postseason began, Kupp says he began to play differently.  He believed.  “It was written already and I just got to play free, knowing that I got to play from victory, not for victory.”  

 I got to play from victory.  I have been thinking about that statement for days.  What would it be like if we lived our lives from victory and why don’t we?  Because if we are Christians, if we really believe what God has revealed to us in His word, then we know that Jesus has already won, and we get to share in His victory.  What if we didn’t worry about all the millions of things we humans worry about, and just did our best, knowing that we are assured of victory?    

Now just because God gave Kupp a vision of winning didn’t mean it was going to be a piece of cake. There would be setbacks, busted plays, tackles, sacks, and plays that didn’t work.  The opponents would score some points.  And there would be some hard hits with bruised and sore bodies the next day.  And that is just like life.  Even if you are a Christian, even if you believe and trust God and His word, you are going to take some hits.  You may lose ground, get bad calls, and have to endure trash talk.  We are not immune to the sufferings of this life, and we will all experience difficulties and loss.  But playing from victory means we are able to live with the end in view no matter what hardships life gives us.  

It may look hopeless sometimes; the Rams were behind with only six minutes left to play.  I recently had a birthday, and all my birthdays are now big ones now.  My friend Kay likes to remind me that we are in our fourth quarter.  But if there is anything this football season has taught me, it is how much can be accomplished with only a few seconds left on the clock.  Heck, I might even go into overtime.  As Believers we do not have to be anxious or depressed about our current circumstances because we can see that scoreboard and know that ultimately we will win.  And Cooper Kupp would be the first to acknowledge who the real MVP is.  Jesus Christ left it all on the field for us.

Christ suffered for our sins once for all time.  He never sinned, but died for sinners to bring you safely home to God.  1 Peter 3:18 NLT

YOU ARE NOT A ZERO

An article about Cooper Kupp caught my attention.  In case you didn’t watch the Super Bowl, Kupp is the wide receiver for the Los Angeles Rams who was awarded MVP after the game.  Now I’m not a big NFL fan, but I am a huge college football fan, so what really impressed me was learning that Kupp was a 0 star recruit coming out of high school.  Zero!  We college fans love our big-time recruits.  We want those four and five stars.  But for Kupp, it looked like his football days would end after high school, in spite of the fact that both his father and grandfather played in the NFL.  He didn’t have a single college offer until three weeks after his senior season, when finally, he received offers from Eastern Washington and Idaho State.  Not exactly blue blood programs.  

So how did someone with slim-to-no prospects become a Super Bowl MVP?  I don’t think he believed the lie that he was a zero.   He knew he was more than what the recruiters said he was.  His self-worth didn’t come from Rivals or ESPN.  He knew he could play football in spite of what others said.  His head coach at Eastern Washington was impressed from the start.  Kupp was the hardest worker on the field and he proved that he was worth so much more than 0 stars.   He won all kinds of awards in college including consensus All American and the coveted Walter Payton award.  After college he  was drafted by the Rams who were excited to land him.  Rams coach Sean McVay said he was one of the most pro-ready receivers he had ever evaluated.  Kupp has won numerous awards as a pro and has set all kinds of records.  Not bad for a kid nobody wanted.  

There is a message in Kupp’s story for all of us.  We need to stop believing the lies and start believing the truth about our value.  We are worth so much more than our bank account, what kind of car we drive, or where we live.  The numbers on the bathroom scales or what we shoot on the golf course are only numbers, metrics.  They are not a measure of our value as humans.  We are worth so much more than the number of “likes” on our social media page or how many followers we have. We are not the failures we have had in the past or even the successes we will have in the future.  

We need to cut out the negative self-talk.  Some of us need to stop listening to the voice of a punitive parent (or spouse, coach, or boss, or ex-spouse) in our head.  We are not the grade on our math exam, our GPA, or what the mean girls in the fifth grade said about us.  We are grown-ups now, and we can know the truth about our value.

Here is the truth: we are worth what God says we are worth.  And God doesn’t have any zeroes.  Go to the Bible and read God’s love letter to you.  He tells us how much He loves and cares for us, that He is always with us, watching over and protecting us.  The same God who feeds the sparrows and clothes the lilies, cares for and provides for us.  Because he loves us!   He takes great delight in us and rejoices over us with singing (Zeph. 3:17).  I often suggest to my clients that they meditate on Psalm 139, especially verses 13-16.  And if you only needed one truth about your worth, here it is: God loves you so much that He sent His Son to die for your sins so that you could be in relationship with Him.  He wants to have dinner with you!  (Rev. 3:20). 

Cooper Kupp knows these truths.  Even with all the awards and accolades, Kupp says his greatest joy comes from knowing Christ and living out his God-given purpose in life.  He knows he is not a zero.                            

THE BABY SHOWER

Last weekend we had a baby shower for my granddaughter who is expecting her first baby.  This little girl who is on the way is a much longed for and planned for baby.  We are all excited and looking forward to welcoming her into the world.  And when she gets here she is going to be well equipped!  It takes a lot of gear for a tiny baby!  And it’s all so big and takes up so much space!  I told my granddaughter she and her husband might need a bigger house.  

It was so much fun watching her unwrap all the cute baby girl things, and to see all the interesting and useful gadgets new parents want today.  I think most of us do the best we can as parents based on what we know.  But the “best” I did fifty years ago would probably get me reported to child protective services today.  My seat belt was an arm thrown across a child riding in the front seat.  And my car seat was a flimsy metal and plastic thing with a toy steering wheel on the front that would impale a baby in a wreck.  But that was the best at that time.  We didn’t know.  As parents we all have hopes and dreams for our children, and we want the very best for them.

Did you know that God planned for you and had hopes and dreams for you?  Before God ever created the universe, before He ever said, “Let there be light,” He was thinking of you.  The Bible tells us in Psalm 139 that God has a book for each of us, and in those books He recorded every moment of our lives before time even began.  I think of it as my big planner in heaven. God was thinking about and making plans for us, and writing them down in our planners. The same Psalm says His thoughts about us cannot even be counted; they outnumber the grains of sand.  He has been thinking about us since before time began.

God knew the day we would be conceived, the day we would be born, the day we will die, and every day in between.  And all those thoughts He was thinking?  Those are His plans for us, our purpose for being alive on earth.  And He showered us with gifts, especially the gift of salvation, again, before the beginning of time.  Just as my granddaughter is gathering everything she needs for her yet-to-be-born baby, God had everything we would ever need to carry out our purpose in place long before we were born.  

Have you ever thought about why you are living at this particular time in history?  God has the answer recorded in your book.  That answer is your purpose for being here.  And He even promises to come along side us to help us carry out those plans.  However, we have a choice.  We can live our lives our own way, go about our business, and never even consult Him about His plan for us.  God won’t force us to carry out His plan.  But what if we miss out on the best life we could ever experience?  

You might be thinking that you don’t have time to carry out some grand plan because you have a job to get to, laundry to fold, children to care for, and groceries to buy.  Well those things could very well be God’s plan for you today.  Not all of us are called to be a Billy Graham or a Mother Teresa.  And not every day is going to be a grand mountaintop day.  But if you ask Him, He might just help you carry out a special assignment in the midst of your daily routine.  Or He might help you do the mundane with grace and love.   

Revelation 21:4 tells us that when we get to heaven, God will wipe away all our tears.  I have a friend who believes that some of those tears will fall when we see our books opened up, when we see what God had planned for us that we missed.  Even after all these years I have to remind myself every morning to consult God about my day.  I certainly don’t get it right all the time, but I want to.  I don’t want to miss out on my purpose.                  

GENERATIONS

For weeks the song, “The Blessing,”  has captivated me.  I keep listening to it over and over, and when I am not listening, the song goes on in my head.  If you haven’t heard it (and you might be living under a rock if you haven’t), you can listen here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9VL7AhXBKY

 

For the last few days I have been especially riveted to the lyrics about generations:

 

May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
Your family and your children
And their children, and their children

 

God has richly blessed Jerry and me with a large and active family.  We have three daughters, nine grandchildren, and we are about to welcome our second great grand, a little baby boy, in a few days.  Jerry’s 98-year old mother has been visiting so we had a family dinner the other night.  Five generations together!  My mother-in-law was a little overwhelmed by all the activity.  “There are so many of them!  And they all came at once!”  Yes, Mimi, that is how our family dinners go.  Loud and active.  Jerry and I pray the Lord’s blessing for all of them every morning, as well as future generations.

 

So I was thinking about a thousand generations.  I looked up several definitions of the length of a generation and found most sources accept 20-30 years as a generation.  If I accept 25 as a benchmark, a thousand generations would be 25,000 years!  Somebody check my math, but I think that is accurate.  Many Biblical scholars believe a generation is longer, say 30-35 years.  Genealogists have used the number 30 to estimate how many ancestors we would have if we go back 1000 generations.  In theory (and it can only be theoretical) I would have over a billion people in my family tree.  It is an interesting concept to research, but warning, you can fall down the rabbit hole!  And so much math!  And then there is the whole young earth/old earth debate.  Either way, I don’t think it would be possible to actually have over a billion people in my family tree.

 

Over the years my siblings and I have had the conversation, “Who prayed?”  You see, we were not raised in church, or even in a Bible-teaching household.  There was a period of about two years or so when we went to church, but that collapsed along with my parents’ marriage.  And yet, all of us are Bible-believing, born again, evangelical Christians.  Someone, in a previous generation, received the blessing and passed it on through prayer.

 

That doesn’t mean coming to Christ happens automatically, like a bequest in a will.  One has to have a personal encounter with the Lord and make a decision to receive Him as Lord and Savior.  Scripture teaches us that we have all sinned (Romans 3:23), and because of that sin we deserve death (Romans 6:23).  However, God loves us so much that He sent His Son to take on our sins and die in our place (John 3:16).  If we truly believe this in our hearts and confess it with our mouths, we are saved (Romans 10:9-10).  This is what I did when I was 18-years old, and Christ came to live in me and has never left me.

 

Now fast forward to my old age (And the years did go by so fast!).  I now have the privilege of praying for my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.  I also pray for the generations to come, those I will never meet.  I pray for their health and prosperity, for their future mates, and for a life of purpose.  But the most important thing I pray for is their salvation.

 

Now as I write these words I pray for baby Brodie Alexander who surprised us all by deciding to be born yesterday.  Lord, I ask your blessing upon this child.  I pray for him, as I pray for all my children, these words from Ephesians 3:14-19

 

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

 

Lord, please extend the blessing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Lessons from Obedience School, Part 2

 

We had our second obedience class with Max and Ruby last week, and Jerry and I are learning as much as the doggies are.  As we have been discussing our lessons, we have realized a large part of getting our dogs to obey lies in giving clear commands.  They are really quick to respond when we use the commands and techniques our trainer Merit has instructed us to use.

 

When we pulled up to Top Dog Ranch last week, Max and Ruby jumped out of the car and ran eagerly to the door.  “Oh good,” I thought.  “They like it here.”  Well the fun stopped right at the front door.  I have to preface the explanation by describing the facility.  It’s really big, nice, and new, and it is built something like a gym, with high ceilings, a large open space, and hard flat walls and floor surfaces.  Perfect conditions for loud, reverberating noise.  Our dogs are having private lessons so we didn’t notice the sound much on our first visit.  But this time Merit was finishing a lesson with a large dog with a BIG bark that ricocheted off the walls and had the effect of stopping our dogs (especially Max) in their tracks.  They put on the brakes and did an about face towards the car.  So that fear set the stage for the rest of the session, but it was very instructive for us to observe.  Max immediately wanted to jump in my lap, but following Merit’s instructions from our previous lesson I told him, “off!”

 

Sidebar here: In full disclosure if we had been on our own, I would have let Max stay in my lap and would have cuddled him to sooth him.  I misunderstood something Merit told us in our first lesson, so I addressed it with her.  I thought she was telling us we loved on our dogs too much.  After all, I told her, they were “hired” to be lap dogs, and that is one thing they do really well.  She clarified that we can love on them as much as we want, but while we are doing training (at home or at Top Dog) they need to be obedient and we need to be the leaders.  So Max and Ruby have to keep four paws on the floor at Top Dog.

 

We worked on two things during our lesson: walking without pulling and sitting on command.  We have always used retractable leashes because we thought it would be a good chance to let our dogs run.  We have a very small yard so there is not a lot of opportunity for exercise except for treeing squirrels.  Car rides do not count as exercise.  Max is the worst at pulling and lunging on the leash, and when he does, he invariably gags and hacks.  I am afraid he will someday hurt himself, and he has never made the connection, “When I lunge at the leash it chokes me.”  Or sometimes they lag behind and we have to tug at them.  So at Merit’s instruction we bought six foot mesh leads, and oh my gosh, do the four of us get tangled doing it that way!  Hence, the need for lessons.  The idea is for the dogs to walk with a loose leash at our sides.  In order to facilitate this Merit had us buy anti-pull harnesses that squeeze their chests when they try to pull ahead of us.  When that happens, we are to stop, creating an anchor.  When they realize we are not going forward they will turn and look at us.  At that point we praise them for looking at us (‘Good look!), and walk a few steps forward before giving a treat.  We are introducing the command, “Easy,” and the goal is, as they improve, we will only need to say “easy” to remind them to stay by our sides.  (Well, at least that is the theory.)  If they lag behind, we stop and use the “Let’s go” command.

 

This lesson is packed with spiritual implications.  How much easier life is when I walk with Jesus, at His side.  Not lagging behind, being stubborn, or wanting to go off in my own direction.  And not getting ahead of Him.  That command, “easy,” really spoke to me.  I was reminded of the verse in Matthew 11:30 where Jesus tells His yoke is easy and that His burden is light.  I’m thinking a yoke must be a little like that no-pull harness.  It won’t squeeze as long as I am staying by His side.  The previous verse speaks to me as well:

 

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soulsMatthew 11:29

 

We are to accept His yoke and to learn from Him.  He is not harnessing us to hurt us or to make life more difficult; quite the contrary.  He wants to make our walk with Him easy.  Not easy in the way the world would define easy.  But when we stay close to His side, and keep our eyes on Him, even the hard places become easier, and we can find rest.

 

I noticed that when Merit would take Ruby by herself, Max became anxious and kept looking for her.  That reinforced Merit’s conclusion that Ruby is the alpha dog.  I used the commands we learned last week, “settle” and “look,” to get him to relax.  And remember, the stage was already set for anxiety by the big barking dog.  “Just look at me, Max.  I’ve got this.  You are safe.”  Isn’t that what Jesus says to us?  “I’ve got this.  Just settle and keep your eyes on Me.”

 

After walking, we worked for a while on “sit.”  Again, part of the lesson is getting them to keep their eyes on us.  When they look at us and sit, they get a treat.  Ruby caught on really quickly, but Max not so much.  He kept standing.  Merit explained that when a dog is anxious he wants to stand, to be ready for action.  And she said when he is anxious and standing, it is difficult for him to hear our commands.

 

Wow.  When I am anxious it is harder to hear from Jesus.  Because my own anxious thoughts keep filling the airway.  And even though I may be sitting, I am standing on the inside.  I am plotting my next move to get me out of the situation that is causing the anxiety or discomfort.  And my ideas are not the best at these times, because I am in fight or flight mode.  But I have learned that if I settle, keep my eyes on Jesus, and wait for Him to speak, I then know what to do.  He will lead me to the place I need to be.  I love Psalm 23 in the New Living Translation.  Look at verse 2:

 

He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.

 

This is what He wants for me.  He doesn’t want to hammer me with a bunch of commands and rules.  He just wants me to walk easily beside Him and keep my eyes on Him.  Life would be so much simpler if I would just learn to obey.  I wonder what I will learn in our next class.

 

Lessons from Obedience School

 

Last week Jerry and I began something we should have undertaken a long time ago.  We started a series of obedience lessons with Max and Ruby, our two rescue dogs.  Now just look at those little faces for a minute?  Do they look like trouble?  While we love these dogs dearly, they have some bad habits.  Habits that have gotten worse during the quarantine.  As a psychologist, I was curious to see if causation is at work.  Are others noticing behavior changes during this time?  Sure enough, a quick Google search revealed that I am not alone.  Animal behavioral specialists are taking a good look at what is going on with our animal friends.  So we decided that we needed to enroll in obedience school.  Even if Max and Ruby don’t get trained, WE can learn some new things to do.

 

Let me give you a little background information on Max and Ruby to add context.  When the last of our Shih-Tzus died, we decided that we would not have any more dogs.  We knew it would be hard because we have always had dogs in our home, and most have been Shih-Tzus.  And actually, having no pets turned out to be a blessing in disguise because about six or eight months later Jerry became very ill with necrotizing pancreatitis and was in the hospital for months, mostly in intensive care.  I spent hours and hours with him and having a pet that needed care waiting at home would have been an additional burden.  Finally, Jerry was able to return home and gradually began to heal.  After he had been home for a while, he was well enough to take some doctor-prescribed walks.  It was then that we thought maybe a dog that also needed walks might be good motivation.  We decided that this time we would rescue rather than buy from a breeder.  That turned out to be a great decision because in spite of these behavior issues, Max and Ruby have been wonderful dogs.

 

We knew two things going in: we wanted an older dog and we did NOT want a male.  We ended up with not one but two puppies, a female and a male.  We knew that the mother dog was a Shih-Tzu and we are thinking dad must be some type of terrier.  We wondered if they might be a little intimidated coming from living in a crate at a vet’s office to our house, but no, they trotted in like they were finally home!  It was like, “What took you so long, Mom and Dad?”  It’s like they think they chose us.

 

In the beginning we thought Ruby was the alpha dog.  She was bigger, although Max soon passed her in weight and height.  She also seemed to be bossier.  But after a few months we decided Max was the alpha dog.  From the beginning they have been barkers and jumpers.  And we haven’t been able to curb those behaviors at all.   Barking at the windows, barking at the front door.  If a leaf blows by we have to bark at it.  Evidently yelling at them to shut up and quit barking only exacerbates the problem, because they think, “Oh good, now we are all barking!”

 

Over time Ruby became fearful of almost everything, especially men.  And especially men carrying equipment.  Our yard guys and any type of service men send her into a barking frenzy, with Max joining in.  She will NOT go out in the back yard without us, because she was once dive-bombed by a hawk.  So anything with wings (bird, housefly, butterfly) scares her.  Max loves the back yard but wants us to keep the door cracked so he can come in at will.  But Ruby won’t have it.  Don’t we know a giant condor might fly in and kill us all?  She also hates the vacuum cleaner, thunderstorms, and well any kind of loud noise.  Don’t even say the word “squirrel” out loud; in fact, don’t even spell it.  And she gets very anxious if we leave her for a trip.

 

These are the behaviors and traits we described to our trainer, Merit Day, on our first visit.  She had some interesting observations after listening to us and watching them.  First surprise: although Ruby is the most anxious, she is actually the leader.  And according to Merit, some of her anxiety is due to her need to protect us.  She feels like most of the burden is on her to alert Max, and then us, to danger.  So Merit gave us some new rules and I have to say, we are already getting results.

 

We worked on getting them to look at our eyes, even while we were holding a treat.  She wants them to respond to the command “Look.”  They are to keep their eyes on us and not be distracted by the treat.  The next command was “Settle.”  This was said in a gentle, but decisive voice while we pressed firmly on their shoulders.  We are to stand between them and whatever stimulus is bothering them.  This is best done with outstretched arms while telling them to settle.  We are to provide direction and demonstrate that we are in control, especially when they perceive danger.  They need to know that we understand the situation and that we’ve got it covered.  She also instructed us to provide daily times when they are to physically follow us.  It’s amazing how quickly Max and Ruby are responding to these new commands.

 

I was sharing all of this with my daughters when Kristie said, “That’s just how we are to be with God.”  Bam!  Why didn’t I see that right away, but of course she is correct.  God doesn’t want us to live in fear and anxiety.  I have heard it said that “fear not” appears 365 times in the Bible.  That’s one for every day of the year.  And He expects us to follow Him.  God will stand between me and danger.  Deuteronomy 31:8 instruct us this way:

 

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

                

 

There are many passages about keeping our eyes on the Lord.  But a famous example occurs in the gospels relating a time when the disciples were caught in a nighttime storm on the Sea of Galilee.  The see Jesus in the distance, walking on the water, and in a bold move Peter asks Jesus to tell him to come to Him.  As long as Peter kept his eyes on Jesus, he was doing well.  But when he began looking at the waves he began to sink.  In Hebrews 12:2 we are told to fix our eyes on Jesus as we run our earthly race.  In the original Greek that word “fix” means to look away from something else and look distinctly at Jesus.

 

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that God chose me, not the other way around.  By the power of the Holy Spirit I was able to respond to his call to me.  And He didn’t just choose me; he rescued me.  He saved me from spiritual death and gave me eternal life.  He placed me in a new family, gave me a new home.  All I had to do was accept His payment for my sin.    

 

As I think about these things I have decided that the Christian life is one long obedience lesson.  In these frightening times of coronavirus, riots, and uncertainty, I will do better if I settle, keep my eyes on Jesus, and let Him lead the way.  Stay tuned for next week!           

A COUNTRY IN NEED OF HEALING

What a year 2020 has been, and it is only half over.  It seems as if there is a new crisis every week.  Let’s just set the virus aside for a moment because I would like to look at our other issues.  If only the coronavirus were our only problem!   There is a revolution that is happening right under our noses.   Shootings, mass murders, vandalism, and riots are almost routine events now.  There are those among us who are destroying our monuments, desecrating our flag, and taking over our cities.  Our national anthem may be replaced.  And our police forces, the people who are there to protect us, now have targets on their backs.  What was formerly seen as evil is know declared good and acceptable; and what we many of us knew as good is now seen as bad.  The ends justify the means.  There is no longer polite discourse.  If I disagree with you that means I hate you.  Our presidential election is now upon us, and it is the most rancorous and divisive I can ever remember.  And there are some who don’t like either of our choices, but are just trying to decide which is the lesser evil.  We are a nation on fire.

 

With our world in chaos it is tempting to ask, “God, where are you?”  As I was wrestling with these thoughts this morning, I felt the Lord say, “Be still.  Come to Me.  Listen and be encouraged.”  He reminds me that He is still on His throne and is still sovereign over the universe.  We may go to our polling places and mark our ballots, but it will be God who decides this election.

 

He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.  Dan. 2:21a NLT.

 

God may decide to use the next election to bring America (and maybe the world) into repentance and right relationship with Him.  And I’m not saying I have any inside knowledge about how He would do that.  He is sovereign; He could use either candidate to accomplish His will.  As mere mortals, and as citizens, we can only try to make an informed choice and pray for the best.

 

But God could also decide that we should get the government we deserve.  Perhaps America is on a fast track to destruction.  Other nations have risen and fallen.  We may also.  I am reminded of the history of ancient Israel.  God set them up as a nation and gave them a land.  He promised to bless them if they would be obedient to His instructions.  For many years Israel prospered, although she was never fully obedient.

 

God’s plan for Israel was a theocracy.  God would be their ruler and protector.  But the people of Israel looked around at the other nations who had kings and asked for a king for themselves.  I Samuel 8:6-9 tells the story:

 

Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance. “Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.”

 

Although we have never been a theocracy, America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles.  Our oldest institutes of higher learning once proclaimed Biblical truths, but now they indoctrinate students in secular humanism (and charge a pretty penny to do so).  Like Israel, we have rejected God.  We think we are so much wiser.  And like Israel, we think we can make the best decision about who governs us.  However, God continues to remind us that His ways are higher than ours.  Oh America, I hope it is not too late for us.  I pray that we will repent and return to God.  But in any case, God’s plan will not be thwarted.  He is doing something in the world and He will accomplish His will.  Our job is to pray and trust.

 

Thank you, Lord for allowing us to live in this great land.  We acknowledge that we do not deserve your favor.  You have blessed us abundantly and we have turned our back on you as a nation.  We ask that you bring us back into right relationship with you.  Forgive our sins and bring revival.  And let it begin with me.

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