THANKFUL

I awoke this morning to a chilly reading on the thermometer and a light dusting of snow on the ground and housetops.  With Thanksgiving less than a week away, I decided today would be a perfect day to make my dressing.  The house is redolent with the aromas of freshly baked cornbread, along with celery and onions sautéing in a bath of melted butter.  Short of a turkey roasting in the oven, I can’t think any smell more evocative of Thanksgiving.  Even though it is a gray day outside, the lights from the Christmas tree create a festive atmosphere indoors.  The sounds of glorious Christmas music fill the air while the dishwasher is hums along as it gives my holiday glassware a good cleansing, necessary after a year in my Great Aunt Fannie Belle’s china cabinet.  This is my happy place and my heart is overflowing with gratitude.

We will have 18-ish at our table this year.  It’s a moving target, but there will be plenty of food for anyone who shows up at the last minute.  We are grateful for everyone who can make it, and will miss those who cannot.  With grown children and mostly-grown grands, we have a lot of moving parts now.  I try to stay flexible, thankful that I can host this holiday and mindful of my days getting shorter.  Next year is not guaranteed.  I can remember my grandmother saying the same thing at holidays in the passed.  I dismissed it as something an old woman says, but mostly because I just could not fathom a holiday without her.  Oh how I wish she could be with us this year.  

As I think back over the year, we have many reasons to be thankful on this day of thanks.  Has it been all lollipops and roses?  Absolutely not!  But Jesus has walked with us every day.  There have been days of laughter and fun, but also days of tears and grief.  We have had days that surprised us with joy and days that kicked us in the gut.  Days of celebrations and days of terrifying uncertainty.  There were nights that robbed us of sleep as we gave way to fear. And there were days that left us scratching our heads in dismay.  Although we don’t enjoy the bad days, they make the good days all the more sweet.  And there were more good days than bad! 

If I try to list all my blessings I will certainly miss some, but here is a start.  I am grateful for an enduring marriage and my husband Jerry who survived a near-fatal illness a few years ago.  Every day one of us says, “We got another day.”  We know these are bonus days and we don’t take them for granted.  I am so thankful for my growing family, and grateful for extended family scattered across America.  To those who can’t be with us, I wish you a very happy thanksgiving.  We have an empty chair at our table this year as our Mimi left us to join her beloved husband in Heaven.  Mindful of others who have left us, I can still say God has blessed us.  

When I think of all our friends, my heart could almost burst.  We have precious life-long friends, and those who have come along more recently.  I am grateful for a Bible-teaching church and a fellowship of Believers who hold the ropes for each other.  I am thankful for 48 years of affiliation with Stonecroft Ministries and the opportunities to share the Gospel.  I love my Tulsa Woven girls!  I am blessed to attend Community Bible Study, where I have deepened my relationship with the Lord and made deep friendships.  Bible Quilt Journaling and the ladies who are a part of it bless me with a different method of meditating on Scripture.

It is noon and the alarm on my watch has just alerted me to pray for America.  I have thought many times how grateful I am that I was born in the USA.  Oh how I love this beautiful land of ours, and how I long to see another Great Awakening.  Jerry and I have been blessed to see a good deal of America, but there are still National Parks we hope to explore.  I am grateful for the freedoms we have, and for those who died to protect those freedoms.

Most of all, I am thankful for the privilege of knowing God and His Son, Jesus Christ.  He has provided me with everything I need, and kept every promise He has made to me.  I don’t know what the future holds, but I know the One who holds the future.  And for that I am indescribably thankful.

I will be your God throughout your lifetime— until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.  Is. 46:4 NLT

IF I HAD A HAMMER

Last night a lively group of women met at the historic Campbell Hotel for a fun-filled evening with the fabulous Amber Welch and her equally fabulous mother, Jere Welch.  It was our October gathering of Tulsa Woven, and if you are not a part of us you really should be.  Amber and her mom own the amazing Amber Marie stores, including their spectacular new Christmas store at Utica Square.  Amber was with us not only to share her story, but also to teach us how to make bows.  If you have ever been in her store you know she makes the most beautiful bows!  Mine are more of the Target stick-on variety, so I was especially excited about this activity. 

Our price for the event included an EZ Bow Maker.  We were told to bring a pair of scissors and ribbon, or we could purchase some of the beautiful ribbon that Amber brought with her.  Here’s the thing about the EZ Bow maker…it comes unassembled.  As I took it out of the box I heard someone say, “Does anyone have a hammer or a mallet?”  Seriously?  Which one of these ladies is going to pull a hammer out of her Mary Poppins bag I wondered, although earlier in the day as I was cleaning out my own handbag, I found a Spode pie server.  How long have I been walking around with that?  But back to the question, does anyone have a hammer or a mallet?  Imagine my surprise when I heard someone say, “I do.  I have a hammer and a mallet in my trunk!  I’m a realtor!”  A first-timer at a Woven event, she saved the day by not only having the necessary hammer, but by quickly assembling 40-some-odd EZ Bow Makers.

As I have thought about last evening over my morning coffee, it occurred to me how just like God it is to provide a solution to a problem we didn’t know we were going to encounter.  The Bible tells us that God Himself personally goes before us.  We have no need to fear whatever may lie ahead.  And we can never be prepared for every eventuality, but God already has it covered.  One of my favorite passages in Scripture, Psalm 139, tells us that God has recorded all our days in His book.  Sometimes we find ourselves going to God with the big, macro events, but he is concerned with everything in our lives.  Even the small things.  And He has gone ahead of us.  All we have to do is trust Him.

The most important way God has gone ahead of me was to provide a Savior before I ever knew I needed one.  The Bible tells us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).  God provided a way for me to have a relationship with Him because He knew I would not be able to find Him on my own.   

The ladies who planned last night’s event planned and prayed.  We planned the best way we could and we asked God to take care of every detail.  We never imagined that we would need a hammer, but God knew all about it.  All we had to do was pray and trust.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.  Prov. 3:5-6 

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

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.                  

LOVE IS A CHOCOLATE PIE

A couple of days ago I posted this same picture on social media along with a little story from our very early marriage days.  The story was about my first pie, a chocolate cream pie, my husband’s favorite.  I didn’t have any background in pie baking but my thought was that the filling came from a box mix so that is what I used.  In this little story I related how disappointed Jerry was with the finished product because it didn’t taste like his mother’s pie.  Well the poor guy got hammered with comments and jokes at his expense which was not my intention.

Please don’t be hard on him.  We were newlyweds.  I told my appalled daughter that we were both learning; I was learning to cook and he was learning what not to say.  But it was actually much more than that.  We were learning how to do marriage, and that is a lifetime process.  When I was active in my psychology practice I often said that in an enduring marriage you are married to several different people over the course of the marriage.  And you have several different marriages.  We are not the same callow young adults we were in the pie story.  Thank God!  You grow, and you change, and you adapt over the years.  

This is February, the love month and God has been coming at me from all directions with lessons about love.  I often say He is a multi-media God.  It seems that everything I pick up or listen to has scripture passages about love.  I attend (thanks to Zoom) Community Bible Study.  This year, classes all around the world are studying the Gospel of John.  At first I wasn’t too excited about studying this book; I had read and studied it so many times.  But God’s word is always fresh and I amazed at all I am learning and the things I never saw before.  The big lesson for me is about loving and serving others.  It’s not optional; it is a commandment.  I have to tell you, service does not come naturally to me.  I am a word person.

We tend to think of love as a feeling, something we “fall into.” But the kind of love Jesus invites us to express is different.  This kind of love is an action verb.  I can tell Jerry how much I love him all day long, but that really doesn’t speak to him.  His love language is acts of service.  He hears “I love you,” when I do things for him.  In his book, Love Languages, author Gary Chapman tells us we tend to love others in the same way we wish to be loved.  He lives for the phone calls from his daughters that begin with “Dad can you, do you mind, would you please, I hate to bother you, but…” My love language is words of affirmation, so while I am writing these words telling you about the kind of guy he is, he is in the kitchen cooking a Valentine breakfast for me. 

My Valentine to him was an old fashioned chocolate pie, the kind his mother made.  The recipe comes from my bridal cookbook, the old Better Homes and Garden Cookbook.   That book has been revised several times, as has the recipe so I am including the original below to save it for posterity.  

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  1 John 4:7-8 NLT

Chocolate Cream Pie

1-cup sugar

1/3-cup all-purpose flour or 3 TBL. cornstarch

¼ tsp. salt

2 cups milk

2 1-oz. squares unsweetened chocolate, chopped

3 slightly beaten egg yolks

2 TBL. butter or margarine

1 tsp. vanilla

1 9-inch baked pastry shell

1 recipe meringue

In saucepan, combine sugar, flour, and salt.  Gradually whisk in milk and chocolate.  Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture boils and thickens.  Cook 2 minutes longer.  Remove from heat.

Stir small amount hot mixture into yolks; return to hot mixture; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla.  Cool to room temperature.  (To prevent crust from forming, put clear plastic wrap or waxed paper directly on top, touching surface of the hot pudding clear to sides of pan.)  Pour into baked pastry shell.  

Meringue Beat 3 egg whites with ¼ tsp. cream of tartar and ½ tsp. vanilla till soft peaks form.  Gradually add 6 TBL. sugar, beating till stiff peaks form and all sugar is dissolved.  Spread atop pie sealing to pastry.  Bake in moderate oven (350 degrees) about 12-15 minutes, or until meringue is golden.  Cool.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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!           

THOUGHTS FROM MY GARDEN

It has been a beautiful day here in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  It was so chilly when I came out with my morning coffee that I thought about going back in for a blanket.  But it has quickly warmed up, and I believe the weatherman when he said this is the beginning of our summer.  I can already feel the heat, as well as those pesky biting flies and the no-see-ums.  I decided that this would be a good day to tackle some gardening chores I have been putting off.

I love our garden.  We purposely bought a house with a tiny lot, and my husband has turned it into a little slice of heaven.  I have to give him the credit, because he does all the heavy lifting.  I’m just on clean up.  Our subdivision was built on what was at one time a pasture.  It was almost completely devoid of trees, but thanks to our deed restrictions we now have many.  When we first moved in we could barely sit on our patio because of the wind.  Like the song says, Oklahoma is where the wind comes sweeping down the plains, and our backyard was like a wind tunnel for about five years until our landscaping matured.  Now it is a very pleasant place to sit and we have even installed some ceiling fans to stir up a breeze.  Time changes things.

My primary task this morning was to pull up some of the weeds that have begun to pop up.  While flowers and shrubs need a good bit of care, the weeds need no encouragement, even in a manicured garden such as ours.  It takes constant vigilance or they will take over.  Weeds are the default, landscaping takes care.

It occurred to me that our hearts are a lot like a garden.  It takes constant vigilance.  Those little sins can pop up almost unnoticed and take over if we are not careful.  We have a natural bent towards sin.  It is our default.  Those of us who are Christians have two competing natures: the old sinful nature (or the old man) and the new nature that is controlled by the Holy Spirit (new man). 

At the moment of conversion, the Christian receives a new nature. It happens instantly.  The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us. However, sanctification is a continual process that lasts a lifetime.  It is the process of becoming holy, more like Jesus, and over the lifespan there will be many victories and defeats.  But the good news is our new nature has the capacity to resist sin, something we did not have before we were saved.

This new nature takes cultivation, just like my garden.  Although I have walked with God for many years, I still feel a bent towards sin.  Even the apostle Paul felt it.  In Romans 7 he writes about the battle that takes place within him.  He doesn’t do the good he wants to do, but instead he does the very evil he hates.  This battle is one that we will fight as long as we are here on earth.  It is a lot like fighting weeds.  That is why we are told to “get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language, (Colossians 3:8).”  We have to pull these sins up by their roots, and still they come back.  

I have learned that filling my garden with “good” plants is one way to choke out weeds.  But I can’t just plant them and forget them.  They must be watered and fertilized in order to grow and flourish.  Similarly, I must cultivate my new nature with Bible study, prayer, and worship.  When I neglect those things, the weeds (sins) pop up.  The old nature wins the battle.  

As believers we are encouraged to put to death the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13), to put to death those things that make a Christian sin (Colossians 3:5).  Even though we still have two natures, the old and the new, the new nature needs continual renewing (Colossians 3:5). This renewing is a lifetime process, but we are no longer under the control of sin (Romans 6:6).  And ultimately Christ will rescue us from “this body that is dominated by sin and death (Romans 7: 24).  The weeds will be permanently gone.  Thank you, Jesus!

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