Like a dog

 

 

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Our dog is my fourth child. Dog lovers know what I mean. She curled up into my heart as much as she curls up in my lap. She is such a joy. Recently, she injured herself and we have no idea how. One minute she was fine, running around and playing with her favorite toys. The next minute she had her right hind leg pulled up and was hopping on the other three legs.

What?

When she tries to walk on her leg, it looks as if someone took a Barbie doll, removed the leg and put it on backwards. She won’t bend the knee and the leg looks dislocated.

We took her to the vet and he determined it is muscular – either a pulled or strained ligament or muscle. I am relieved it’s not something worse, but it is so sad to see her struggle around the house on her peg leg. His prescription is two weeks rest and daily puppy ibuprofen.

She is our family’s dog, but truly is my shadow. She follows me everywhere – and I mean everywhere. If I leave my desk for a glass of water, here she comes. If I go to the bathroom, she’s right there (whether I like it or not). She follows me upstairs, to the mailbox, in the backyard, and all over the house.

She picks her resting spots determined by where I will be. She has a bed under my desk, sleeps in a chair in our bedroom, and has a pillow strategically placed on the floor in our family room where she can see me in three rooms at once. She stands beside me while I do the laundry and rides with me in the car.

Right now, however, things are different. She is slow. She is in pain. After lying down for a while, her leg becomes so stiff it juts out to the side. It’s pitiful.

We encourage her to keep her leg flexible, but dogs simply don’t understand why they shouldn’t run, jump and play when hurt. We carry her outside to go to the bathroom so she doesn’t have to navigate steps. We carry her to her food bowl. We carry her upstairs. We lift her up and down from the chair. Why? Because she needs help doing the things in life that need doing.

Sometimes, I need to leave the room for just a second. I look at her and say, “Stay. I’m coming right back.” And I really am coming right back. I pass by her only to hear her limping behind me. I turn and tell her, “Please. You don’t have to do this. I’m coming right back.”

Her stubborn love for me will have it no other way. She follows me no matter how much it hurts.

Although her body may be in pain, and is holding her back from her active life, her will hasn’t budged an inch. I’ve been thinking a lot about her tenaciousness toward following me and think about what this looks like in my relationship with my Father in heaven.

When our hearts are broken, our plans ruined, or we’re too tired to move an inch, how do we respond to God?

I can throw a big ol’ pity party with the best of them and am quite good at it. I can also get mad. So mad my jaw clenches shut and I give the world the silent treatment. But does the tough stuff in life have to separate us from God?

We already know that nothing can separate God from us. Romans 8:38-39 –

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

But like a chess game, we can move farther from Him if we let ourselves. That’s called free will. And, it doesn’t have to be tough stuff. It can be an abundance of good things. Take the wealthy man Jesus had a conversation with in Mark 10:17-22 –

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Or how about the blessing of family? Luke describes two conversations Jesus had –

He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:59-62 

Both passages could be discussed at great length. My purpose for including them is, do we look for excuses not to follow Christ when it’s not convenient or is unappealing or uncomfortable? Do we struggle letting go of what we think is ours to have open hands for what’s His?

My entire life I have dodged-and-weaved God’s commission in one way or another. It wasn’t the right time. I had dreams to pursue. I had an agenda for life. The work seemed too big. Too small. I didn’t want to let go of things, tangible and intangible, that I was afraid He’d ask me to give up.

I took the bigger picture He was painting and framed it in a frame three sizes too small because I couldn’t see His vision.

On the more intimate side, I skirted His pursuit of me. I was used to not trusting people. Anyone. I had such a low self-image you’d have to lift your shoe to find it. I didn’t think I was worthy or worth it.

All these years, I missed the obvious. God wants fellowship with us because He loves us. Wholly and completely and unconditionally. He wants to do life with us. What would it look like if we loved Him the same way?

I’d look like my little dog who thinks I walk on water. She just wants to be with me. Nothing else matters. She simply longs to go where I go and be a part of what I am doing.

Oh that I could have a heart like that for my Savior, who really did walk on water. To be content resting at His feet; walking in His shadow; involved in what’s important to Him. Content to just be with Him because His presence is enough.

My quirky little dog is an inspiration to me. I am reminded, as I carry her through the necessary parts of the day as she heals, that God, too, will carry me by either buffering me through a situation or equipping me for it. However, even with the injury she will not be deterred. She will follow me anyway – on three or four legs, limping or not.

So what’s causing our limp today? What have we been using as a shield, an excuse? Will we willingly follow Him even when it hurts? Can we lay down our baggage so we can pick up our cross and follow Him?

And (Jesus) said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Luke 9:23-24

I felt some of that today and, to my surprise, more than the hurt I felt His hand on me, welcoming me as His sojourner. Whatever it costs – He is worth it and His presence is the jewel in the journey.

His stubborn love for us will have it no other way.

 

 

 

Staring Down the Giant

 

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…”Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you…” Deuteronomy 1:29-30

Every morning, the same feeling of dread washes over me. I have to pass a house that has a terrifying German Shepherd stalking its backyard. I am a huge animal lover, but we’re talking about a giant, beastly creature with long white teeth and incessant barking that reverberates in my chest. He lives behind a 6-foot privacy fence, but that doesn’t stop him from intimidating all who walk by.

Every time I pass his property, he jumps up and down barking with his head, full of snarling teeth, bobbing, running back and forth along the fence. I feel one day he may jump just high enough to clear the fence and come after me.

Each time I approach the house, I feel my blood pressure rise. Even if I’m talking on the phone or jamming to my favorite tunes, in the back of my mind I am hoping this isn’t the day he jumps the fence; hoping the fence gate is shut – and locked. Hoping this won’t be the day…as I read the “Beware of dog” sign posted nearby.

Recently, I turned the street corner with my dog and was distracted by something that had caught my eye. I looked forward and staring back at me was this beast – standing in the middle of the road, staring me down. With four legs braced, neck stretched forward and head bent low, his eyes locked onto mine.

I froze in my step and lost my breath.

There was nowhere to go. I know better than to run the other way. I’m not into playing chase, me being the fetching toy. I was stuck in the middle of this lonely road, just my dog, this beast, and me.

I had to walk past it. I puffed up my posture and squared my jaw. Holding my head high, with palms sweating, I prayed – hard. As my dog and I got closer it didn’t budge, not an inch. Visions flashed in my mind of this beast attacking my dog who is no match for him; visions of me getting tangled up in her leash and being caught in the middle of the two dogs; visions of it coming straight for me, and this dog stands as tall as me (easy) on his hind legs. I felt faint.

Walking slowly toward it, I prayed more and more and more.

Just as I approached it, the dog’s owner appeared from his garage. Nervous relief swept over me, and I felt a cold chill run down my spine as I passed by this beast. He called the dog inside and it reluctantly followed, but it never took its eyes off of me. I don’t think I drew a breath until I hit the next block.

Life is like this sometimes. We’re just doing our daily thing and wham! out of nowhere stands our Goliath. Like my fear of the beast getting loose, our worst nightmare comes true before our very eyes. A bad medical report, the pink slip of unemployment, a spouse packs up and leaves, a prodigal child disappears, death of family and friends, physical and psychological threats to us, our family, our country and there we are standing alone, staring at Goliath. It’s real. You can see it, hear it, and feel its presence.

Running the other way doesn’t make Goliath any less real. We must approach it.

What changed for me in that moment was the beast’s owner making himself visible. Instantly, he was the one in control of the situation because he controls the beast.

As a believer, we are not left to fend for ourselves in this big, scary world. We have God who fights for us, Jesus who intercedes for us, and the Holy Spirit who encourages and comforts us. We are never alone.

Bad things happen to everyone, but nothing happens without it passing through the Father’s hands first whether we understand it in this lifetime or eternity. If we live, may we live for the sake of Christ’s salvation. If we suffer, may it not be in vain, but be a testimony to others that God alone is enough and Jesus is worth it. After all, He believes we are worth the suffering He endured. If we die, may it not be for nothing, but somehow God will get the glory through it so others would come to know Him as their one true God.

Believers don’t get a pass on the bad stuff. We endure illness, unemployment, broken hearts, loss, and betrayal. We suffer, get angry, wrestle with forgiveness, feel lost, get frustrated, and question the future. But, God is right there, every step, talking us down from our ledges. He is our sanity in this insane world. Christ is hope. Courage. Joy. The Holy Spirit is right there to remind us of times that God was faithful to us, even when we were unfaithful to Him.

What’s your Goliath today? If you’re staring it down by yourself, ask God to come to you through the saving grace of Christ. Let Him go before you. Whether or not He calls off the dogs, you will not be alone.

No matter how big our Goliaths are, God is bigger. He is stronger and His strength in us is enough to stare down our giants.

God is always fighting for us. Sometimes He battles our giants for us. Other times He calls us onto the battlefield with Him where we overcome – not only our giants – but our own fears and weaknesses as well. And that, friend, is a double victory.

With God, we can look past the Goliath standing in front of us and focus on our hope in Christ.

<<CLICK HERE for this blog’s Tunes page for a great song to see hope, not Goliath, in life’s scariest moments.>>

 

* photo credit

 

 

 

Love is…

Our daughter is pet sitting an adorable, energetic lab this week. His favorite toy is an old beloved polar bear. He loves it to pieces. Literally. polar bearSo my girl has asked me to sew his broken arm because she felt sorry for him. We’re talking about the dog’s toy (and he’s not even our own dog). Well, of course I said yes because moms can be guilted into a lot of things. 🙂

Polar bear is all better… polar bear 2 It’s almost a tie as to who was more happier, my girl or the dog. polar bear 3 It was a grand reunion. He ran all over the place with his dirty, slobbery, sticky bear. And I thought to myself on a muggy Monday summer’s night, This is what it’s all about. Life’s sweetest blessings come in the most unexpected moments. A mom, her girl, a neighbor’s dog, a polar bear with a broken arm, and a needle and some thread. That’s all I need to make a good night.

Love is not only helping my girl make our neighbor’s lonely dog feel better, love is recognizing the moments in life that matter, savoring them and being thankful.

 

What a mom feels like at the end of the school year

After two separate 2-mile walks in the same day, I sat at my computer to take care of a few things when something unusual caught my eye. I looked over my shoulder and there, in the middle of the darkened hallway, laid our little dog completely passed out.

She kept the pace with me through both exercise sessions and was a real sport, but somewhere between her dog bed in the family room and her other dog bed under my desk, she just couldn’t walk another step and plopped onto the floor – mid-journey – to take a needed nap.

The good, bad and ugly all in, I looked at her and thought, If I could describe what being a mother feels like by the end of the school year… This. Is. It.  

A picture really is worth a thousand euphoric, exhausted, hopeful, disappointed, excited, anxious, relieved, frustrated, happy, sad, and proud mamma words. It’s all worth it.

Now for that nap…

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What salvation looks like

As we walk through this Holy Week and approach Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, my thoughts stay on Christ and His sacrifice for us. Recently, I saw two videos I cannot get out of my heart. I watched them a few times, but couldn’t wrap my head around why I was so drawn to them.

One night, out of nowhere, I had an epiphany. These two videos are a visual picture of what Christ has done in my life.

Click here and select “Fiona’s story” (top right video in the library) and “Miley’s story” (top left video in the library – also the cover story) and watch these two short, 3.5 & 4 minute videos – warning, they are not what you may expect.

When they found Fiona, she was living in a pile of garbage in an abandoned building. Blind. Terrified. Helpless. Voiceless. Paralyzed in her circumstance. Miley was also living in garbage – literally, a garbage dump. Sick. Hurting. Weak. Dazed.

The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. Psalm 18:4-6

In each story, the rescuers were gentle and approached with care. They understood these dogs were in crisis and what they needed was immediate help. For one dog, it was food. For the other, it was being shaved and bathed to escape the unrelenting flea infestation. Both needed medical help.

Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Psalm 31:2 

In both cases, the rescuer went to where they were. These rescuers didn’t wait for Miley and Fiona to find them, they went looking for these precious dogs. They weren’t afraid or disgusted at where they found them. Their hearts were moved to help.

The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The LORD protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me. Psalm 116:5-6

One thing about Miley’s story that reminds me so much of God, our Redeemer, is that when Miley knew nothing else but to return to the filthy pillow among the heap of garbage, her rescuer, realizing what she was doing, kindly said, “No, no, no, no we’re not sitting down again.” He cared enough about her to know that the life she had known was not good for her. In fact, it was dangerous and led to imminent death. He knew that if she sat back down, returning to her life, it may be the last time she would ever get up.

Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 103:2-5

His compassion for Miley was heard in his expressions about her condition.

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

He offered her food from his hand. He wasn’t afraid to touch her and let her touch him.

 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. Psalm 63:8

This rescuer personally led her out of her circumstance. He walked her out of one life and into another, better one, waiting – a life that she didn’t even know existed.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul. Psalm 23:1-3

He didn’t mind getting messy – not him or his nice, clean car. He welcomed her into his car, and watching her circle and settle, my heart skipped a beat as it had been so long since she felt something so soft. Clean. Safe.

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. Psalm 91:4

 He got her the help she needed.

Lord, you know the hopes of the helpless. Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them. Psalm 10;17

He understood Miley was exhausted in every way, and needed time to heal and rest. She could do so knowing she was finally safe. She could let her guard down and heal.

My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He who watches over you will not slumber nor sleep; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. Psalm 121:2-3,8

He continued to feed her and care for her while she healed.

The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Psalm 9:9

The rescuer had earned her trust and forever gratitude and Miley came to a place where she could show him just how much he came to mean to her.

My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you— I whom you have delivered. Psalm 71:23

As her strength grew and wounds mended, the trust she gained from the relationship with her rescuer gave her confidence to comfort another dog in crisis. These two became quick friends – finding comfort and friendship birthed out of two dogs who were once alone, now bonded forever.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

For Fiona, when they realized she was blind, they let her smell them. They, also, were not too clean or too proud to go to the hard places to rescue her. Fiona sat speechless, helpless, as they reassured her by gently petting her head.

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:13-14

She was terrified. Panicked. She wanted to run away, but had nowhere to go and no sight to lead her there. The only solution was to scoop her up in their arms and carry her – away from her sightless prison of garbage and a malnutrition-ravaged world. The only world she knew.

…I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. Isaiah 46:4

 They took her into their space, not caring about the fleas and whatever else could soil their clean bathroom.

Praise the Lord; praise God our savior! For each day he carries us in his arms. Our God is a God who saves! The Sovereign Lord rescues us from death. Psalm 68:19-20

They carefully shaved her matted, dirty, flea-ridden fur coat and gave her a bath that she visibly enjoyed. She was clean. So clean that who knew this grey dog was actually white!

He gives a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. Isaiah 64:3 

They got her the medical help she needed and she received sight back in one eye!  Just imagine seeing again. And, seeing a world she didn’t know existed. Beautiful. Loving. Safe.

The LORD gives sight to the blind. Psalm 146:8

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12

The footage of her riding home from the vet’s looking out the window makes my heart overflow. A car ride with her rescuer. The sunlight shining on her skin and in her eyes.  Imagine what she must have been thinking. Feeling.

Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you. For you, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living. Psalm 116:7-9

Her rescuer fed her by hand. Not afraid or too good to touch and be touched by Fiona. They gave her a safe place to sleep. Heal. Rest.

I lie down and sleep; I awake again, because the LORD sustains me. Psalm 3:5 

Watching her run, pounce and play was so cool. Moreover, watching her rest in her rescuer’s arms, leaning against his chest in total peace and contentment, there’s nothing else like it.

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. Psalm 62:5-6

She was adopted! Never again homeless. Never again alone. Never again hungry or thirsty.

(Jesus said) Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. Psalm 107:8-9

Combine these two stories and you’ve just watched my story of Christ’s salvation and God’s grace. As images of these dogs’ stories flash through my mind, I am reminded of where God found me and how He rescued me. I feel His mercy, love and compassion all over again. I feel His strong arms and determined heart to not abandon me. I feel His desire to call me His daughter.

All of this was only made possible through the sacrifice Christ gave for us and our sins on the cross. These dogs were victims for sure and endured terrible circumstances under life’s plight. I can relate. If your story looks like mine, where God found me was at the cost of other people’s decisions and choices, as well as being caught in the middle of circumstances beyond anyone’s control.

However, all people are guilty of sin and I came to a place where I had to own mine. Even one sin is enough for eternal separation from God. Not because God is an angry, invisible entity that sits and waits to smite us in our wrong-doing with lightning bolts and curses – getting some sick and sadistic pleasure out of watching us toil and suffer, but because He is holy. Holiness cannot share space with sin. There is a great divide between God and us, and that divide is our sin. We need a Savior.

If you can relate to Miley or Fiona, and you want to be rescued, God is looking for you. In fact, He already knows exactly where you are. He is there with you and His hand is reaching out to you. Will you take it?

Through accepting Christ as your Lord and Savior, you can be reconciled to God once and for all. Talk to God – right where you are. Whatever your life looks like. He’s not afraid to get messy. We don’t need to clean up before approaching Him. His arms are strong enough to carry you. He knows the way to life. He is life. He will never abandon you. He loves you forever and always.

Talk to God. Tell Him what’s going on. Tell Him who you believe (if you truly believe) Christ is – Savior and Lord, God’s only Son who died on a cross and rose again so we can live forever with God. Tell Him you’re sorry for the sins you’ve done. Make intentional effort to stop doing them. However, try as we might, we will all continue to sin because we’re not perfect. But God’s grace and forgiveness is a never-ending well from which we can draw from for the rest of our lives when we seek Him. His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). Commit your life to God and accept Christ’s free gift of salvation. Tell Him in your own words. He’s listening.

This Easter, Miley and Fiona are beautiful visual reminders of the lengths God will go to rescue us. Christ went so far as to take on our sin for us, suffer unspeakable torture, and be heartbroken over feeling forsaken by God – all so we won’t ever have to.

Easter is so much richer than chocolate bunnies. It is so much more beautiful than colored eggs or tulips or dainty little dresses with skirts that twirl freely in circles. Easter is so much deeper than the celebration of Spring as our culture has embraced.

It is the celebration that Christ, in fact, suffered and died for us, and then rose again to prove every single last word, deed and prophecy is 100% true. He lives today and is preparing rooms in His Father’s house for all who believe.

I hope to see you there.

Questions? Feel free to ask. Questions are good. God isn’t afraid, intimidated, angered or annoyed by them. After all, He IS the answer.

“…But while (his son) was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Luke 15:20