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God Can Get Your Dog Out of a Tree

skye-watchingOne night this week my small cattledog Skye began to bark like crazy from the back of my yard. It was dark. It was raining. I called for her, but she wouldn’t come inside. No, whatever had captured her attention back there was much more interesting than I was.

I grabbed a flashlight and headed back. The back of our yard is filled with trees and scrub, so I had push through. I heard her, and I swung the flashlight all over but couldn’t see her. Then I saw motion overhead, so I flashed the light and found something black and white in the tree. Ah. A neighbor cat. Explained the barking. She loves to tree cats. Again I flashed the light under the neighbor cat, but still no dog, although I could hear her.

At this point I flashed up at the neighbor cat again. It was on a large, wide, broken trunk of tree, seven feet off the ground. Only it wasn’t the neighbor cat. It was my dog, over my head, in a tree, barking and whining like the world was coming to an end.

I thought she was stuck. I climbed over the back fence to the other side of the tree and began to coax her down. If she got close enough, I could grab her and pull her from the tree. She was still barking like the apocalypse was near. Then I happened to glance to my left, and I almost dropped the flashlight, because I was staring at a possum, six inches from my face at eye level, tucked into the crook of the tree.

I had no idea what to do next. Possums aren’t generally dangerous, but when you’re flashing a light in its face and your dog is above it barking like a wild monster–well, I would bite, too. So now I’m trying to coax my dog to the side while attempting not to get bitten by a terrified possum.

In the dark.

In the rain.

I yelled at the dog. I guess eventually I sounded angry enough to catch Skye’s attention, because she turned around, walked along the broken trunk (it was arched over the fence like a bridge, something I hadn’t realized until this very dark, very wet moment), and headed back down into my yard. I climbed the fence, grabbed the dog, and stomped into the house, both of us wet and tired.

The whole time I wished my husband had been there. I kept thinking if he hadn’t been at work, if he’d been here, he’d have known exactly what to do. I have known my husband more than half his life. I know for a fact he has no experience coaxing dogs out of trees while trying to avoid possums. In the rain. In the dark. But I also know for a fact he would have helped me. I always believe he can do anything. He’d have been out there in the rain with me because he loves me. Together we’d have figured it out.

As I was thinking about this, I came to a sad realization. It’s a truth I’ve posted about more than once this year, and I think it’s time to deal with this little problem. My husband loves me with an imperfect love. He doesn’t always have the skills to help, even though I tell myself he can do anything. And yet I trust he will always come and always help.

God loves me with perfect love. He always has the skills I need. And yet, I don’t always trust Him to come and help.

It’s a big deal right now for Christians to try to know their identity in Christ, to know what they mean to God. I realize I need to back up a step. Once again I am faced with the truth that I still don’t know God. Not very well. I’m pretty sure if I knew His character, understood His love, knew His real compassion and power and knowledge, I wouldn’t hesitate to call him to get my dog out of trees. I’d be able to trust Him with the souls of my children without fear. I could face ageing with a chronic illness without worry. I could line up my days with joy and not doubt.

So. This year I crashed and burned with my Bible reading. And I  think I know why. I need to simplify. Someone once told me I need to read a Bible passage and ask “What does this say about God? What does it say about me? How can I apply this?” Well, I need remedial Bible reading. For now, the question needs to be “What does this say about God?” And then I need to stop there.  Until I can answer that with some wisdom, until I can be consistent and stop falling back to the idea of God as angry or distant or unloving, I can’t possibly know myself or how to behave. (Okay, within reason. I’m not going to throw obedience to the wind. But the focus needs to be HIM.)

I have no idea how to keep our dog in the yard now that she knows she might find possums in trees. Now that she realizes she can climb trees. But at least now I know where to look if she goes crazy again. And I know who to call. Part of this is knowing God. Part of it is putting that knowledge to the test and calling on God all the time, for all things. He loves me. He’ll come. I never have to slog through the dark rain alone.

Never Quite Enough

never-quite-enoughI suspect everyone has days like this. Or weeks or months or even years. Those days when Satan sits at your ear and says, over and over and over, You’re not quite enough.

Not smart enough. Not pretty enough. Not good enough. Not outgoing enough. Not quiet enough. Not creative enough. Whatever it is, the message is that the best you have to offer the world doesn’t quite measure up. And that voice can get loud and harsh and so, so easy to believe.

I recently had one of those weeks. Honestly, I haven’t quite worked through it yet. In my writing business, I spent a week insanely busy working on promotions with very little return for my time. I’m putting my house on the market, and no matter how hard I work, the to-do list doesn’t seem to get smaller, and it seems everything I loved about my house–all of that has to go. My tastes apparently will not appeal to another soul on this planet, so I’m leaching the personality from my house, and it hurts. A ministry I’m involved in had a rough month, and it seemed that if I just changed everything about the way I do this, then people will catch the fire and help me.

All I can do is my best. And with God at my side, or with God in the lead, the expectation is that my best will be enough. But how often that isn’t the case.

I hope it’s enough for God. I hope the Spirit, who chooses not to let my best always be enough for the world, has a purpose. I could be Midas, where with God’s help everything I touch turns to gold, but that isn’t how He planned it. We believers fail. We stumble. The world tears us up and breaks us down. Other believers tear us up and break us down.

The Bible warns us the world will hate us and we will suffer and life here, while a gift, is a bittersweet gift at best. And in the midst of it, spiritual battle begins. One of Satan’s favorite lines is You Are Not Enough. You Have Failed and That Means He Doesn’t Want/Love/Need You.

I attend a church that sings few traditional hymns, and lately I’ve been reading old hymn lyrics. Recently a hymn was printed on our song sheets at worship, and I compared the old hymn lyrics to the newer worship song lyrics, and I noticed something interesting, something that might help explain my fatigue and frustration and feelings of failure. (No, the songs themselves aren’t at fault, but maybe it points to a bigger problem.) Old songs seem to focus more on who God is. Immortal, invisible, God only Wise. Man of Sorrows, what a name. Praise to the Lord, The Almighty, the King of Creation. On and on. And the newer lyrics? An extraordinary use of the words I, my, me… More about who I am because of God and less about who God is just because of Who God Is. Different focus. And I think I let that focus follow me into all of life.

I understand the desire to make God personal and intimate. Make Him a little closer and easier to deal with. But sometimes that makes me feel a little bigger, maybe too big, like my failures can ruin things. But a big God, an immortal, invisible, mighty bulwark, the one who comes on the clouds with a mighty roar to rescue his bride… Suddenly my focus turns off of me and onto this mighty, amazing God who is infinitely bigger and more complex and more unpredictable and wild than I can imagine. This is the God David sang about in his songs. This is the God who can overlook my failures because they are so very small compared to His greatness.

That God is big enough to shut up the voices in my ears.

I haven’t quite puzzled all this out in my head yet. I’m still not enough. But that huge, wild God doesn’t ask me to be enough. He knows I’m frail, and he puts me in his hand and covers me with protection and simply asks me to hang on for the ride. I’m a child, small and limited, and He loves me enough that my failures mean nothing. My trust means much, much more.

In the world, my failures mean everything, because often the story is about me. They are a litmus of how God and I doing as a team, of how much growth I’m experiencing. But they’re not. The Old Testament, especially, is filled with men and women who were not enough, who crashed and burned all over the place. But God wove the tapestry of life around them, pulling them in and protecting them and making beauty of even the worst messes. He is the central player around whom the entire story unfolds. It has nothing to do with me or any of the rest of us.

I told someone this week I was tired of trying to be perfect. I am called to be holy through the Spirit. But in this world, I will fail more than succeed, and that’s okay, because I can simply sit in God’s hand and not jump out, simply trust that this amazing, giant God has it all figured out. My successes and failures don’t change one iota of the tapestry.

The world does not hinge on me or anything I do. And today, I’d love to sit and sing hymns about God. Today, I don’t want to matter in a personal way at all. I just want to focus on Him and leave myself out of it, just sit in the hand and peek through the fingers and be safe and loved and precious, and know my abilities don’t mean a thing to anyone. And I know it sounds crazy,  but it doesn’t feel crazy. It simply feels freeing. And there’s plenty of room in here, so feel free to sit with me for a spell and watch Him work His wonders in spite of us.

The (Unnecessary?) Agony of Decisions

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt my church I pray with people. A person can come to the back near the end of the service and ask for prayer, and we pray together. I’ve noticed a very common prayer has to do with decisions. A person stands at a crossroads and wants to know which path to follow.

We’ve been doing that in our life, too, my husband and me. We’ve had some decisions to make about where to live, what to do–big decisions. And yet, the more I think about decisions, the more I think most of us fail Decision Making 101.

First, we usually start with the assumption that there is both a right and wrong answer to every decision we make. Sometimes this is true. Should I cheat on my husband? That decision has some definite right and wrong answers. But we’re not usually asking whether we should sin or not. The question has to do with God’s plan–God, what do you want me to do? Should I choose door A or door B?  Or maybe we should admit it–the real question is God, which path will give me the most successful, least painful outcome?

Honestly, God has used hardship in my life. Often. I have made decisions–and not sinful ones, just regular day-to-day decisions–that have led to hard consequences. And it’s easy to think that means I made the wrong decision. A good decision results in a good outcome, and a bad decision has a bad outcome. So we ask God to help us make the decision with the best outcome, even though He might want the bad outcome because there are lessons to be learned. His views of success and mine aren’t always the same. So it’s not easy to know even in hindsight whether we did the right things or not.

Also, I get the feeling most of us have this idea that God has it all planned out, and if we make the wrong decision, we mess up the whole plan. If I move to the country and I was meant to live in the city, God has to rewrite the entire script. In truth I suspect my decisions, even the huge ones, don’t cause God to scramble and rearrange history.  I can’t unravel the tapestry by living in the wrong place or taking the wrong job or going on the wrong vacation, not when they all have the same moral weight and aren’t sinful. He will weave our current circumstances into the tapestry regardless.

Sure, we can ask God’s direction. And sure, we can look for answers. As my husband and I make decisions here in the future, we’ll look to godly people for advice. We’ll weigh pros and cons. We’ll talk to God and see what he puts in front of us. But in a lot of cases, there won’t be one solid winning path. Then we simply walk forward and remember God is with us always.

Takes some pressure off to know I don’t have to read God’s mind to stay in His will. I have to love Him, obey His commands, and simply keep moving. A wrong step can’t destroy the fabric of the universe.  And sometimes what seems like a wrong decision in the eyes of the world may be exactly what God wants to use to grow me closer to Him.

So. There’s my views on making decisions, in a nutshell. We have to seek God’s direction. But seeking it and finding that He still gives us space to choose–that’s okay. Not every decision has a clear winner. God can use any decision we make to help us, to help the people we love, to help people around us. And that’s a relief. God doesn’t want us to agonize and second guess every time we have to make a decision. Now to put that into practice…

When Someday Might be Soon

sun-on-mist-through-treesAnyone who knows me knows I have always wanted to live in a country setting. I want to look out the window and see beautiful scenery and not just neighbors. It’s never been feasible for us to move, mostly because of money, so it’s just a dream. Someday, I say. Someday.

A couple weeks ago a few events happened that made me rethink the someday part of that dream. I saw a couple houses in our price range that had land and beautiful scenery. My son got married, and another is closing on a house, so our family is shrinking fast, meaning we could do with smaller spaces, which might be more our price range. My husband’s job is in a location that makes it easy to head out to a country setting without him spending half his life in the car.

So we talked to an  agent and decided to put our house on the market. I’m painting and repairing and working myself to death to get it all ready. And while I do, I worry. And I doubt. And I question the wisdom of this. We have a perfectly fine house. It’s on a pretty lot, considering we live in the city. There is no reason for us to move except that I want to. It will be expensive, and it’s work. My husband and son couldn’t care less, so it’s happening just because I want it to, and wow. It’s been hard to tell myself this is okay.

My husband isn’t happy with his job. It doesn’t use his skills, and the pay is much lower than his last job (he was an engineer who lost his job about eight years ago), and it’s second shift, which has been hard. When we decided to move, he stepped up his job search, thinking maybe he could find a new job before we move, and then we could simply move to his new location. I’m fine with that. I hate for him to feel trapped and not to be challenged by his work.

So I’m worrying about finding a new house and whether it’s worth a move just because I want it. Feels decadent. And he hopes to find a job before I find my long-awaited country house, because he would hate to find a job three days after we settle and force us to move again.

Today he got a call from a recruiter about a job that’s close to us but far enough that it would make a country life easier. The job would make more money, and it is in a small, rural town close enough to our big town that I could easily keep my son involved in his life. It would be the best of all worlds. It would be amazing.

And my thoughts about this? It could never happen. That isn’t how God deals with us.

God must get so tired of me for doubting His goodness and His love and His power. I fall into this same pattern of thinking over and over and over. And yet the Bible makes it clear He isn’t tired of me. He doesn’t get frustrated and make my life hard just because I expect it to be hard. His love is huge. Of course He could give us a good job and a good house at the same time. He’s done it for other people. It’s not an impossible dream. And if He does or doesn’t do that, it doesn’t change His love for us. He isn’t a big meanie who doles out blessings like a miser.

So where does the doubt come from? I’ve had plenty of things in my life work perfectly. Healthy babies that grew up to be healthy adults. A roof over our heads even after months on unemployment. A great church. We have cars that run and toilets that don’t. So where do I get this idea God puts a limit on how good things can get?

I’ve been like this forever. It’s something God and I hash out over and over and over, my doubt that He cares about the little things, that He works in the details. The big stuff, sure, like salvation and justification. Heaven. I have no doubt he loved me enough to send Jesus. So why do I think a few details are beyond Him? And where do I get the idea that He wants me happy, but not too happy. Life can be good, but not too good.

I don’t have answers for that. I have the feeling the next few weeks are going to shake a few things loose. I’m a mom who’s spent the last quarter century putting myself second to my family, and right now I’m asking my family to sacrifice so I can see trees. You bet I have some things to learn here. And my marriage–whatever happens with the house and a job, we’re about to make some changes. We’ve not moved in seventeen years. And in more personal ways we’ve been pretty stationary, too. Big changes in our outer world will mean big changes in our relationship. And that’s exciting and scary.

So. We’re putting our house on the market. Simple words. People do it all the time. My son is a mover, so his entire livelihood depends on people moving from place to place. But it feels huge and strange, and it’s bringing up a whole lot of emotions and shaking loose a whole lot of wrong thinking. And God is there waiting, smiling, urging us to seek Him and work through it all and maybe for once get a real picture of His love, maybe one I can keep hold of for a time.

I’m excited. I’m terrified. And as the words of this blog leave my fingertips, I know this is God calling me to come closer. Whatever happens, He stands with outstretched hands and beckons me to come close so He can take the burden and work through the questions and grow me into the person he wants me to be. City, country, good job, bad job–He can and will work through whatever He has planned for us.

Step of faith? Step of selfishness? Doesn’t matter. He’s part of it and loves me, whatever the motives, whatever the path, whatever the outcome.

Refrigerator Prayers

sorrow bwI have friends who are preparing for ministry overseas, and recently they distributed prayer cards. If you’ve been in the evangelical world for any length of time, you know what I’m talking about–those cards that look like photo Christmas cards with a photo of the family and then the family’s specific prayer needs. I put them on my fridge so I’ll remember them.

Because this family is in preparation mode with another year or two here in the States, the card was filled with prayers that might apply to anyone. Prayers for family unity, marital unity, spiritual growth, financial needs to be met, and transitions to go well. Now, lest I sound like I’m putting down these prayer cards or the specific prayers, I’m not. However, as I read the card, I wondered what it might be like to have a prayer card for everyone in my church.

The idea behind the refrigerator card (my term, by the way) is that a family that’s out of sight is out of mind, and we need to see them to remember to pray for them. Makes sense. But a lot of my church family I see on Sunday and no other times. I have to admit I fall into the out of sight, out of mind mentality a lot. Sure, my body rallies around one another in times of need, but sometimes, in times of regular life, we’re absent from each other’s lives. I don’t like it, but that’s the culture we live in.

I wish I was better at regular, organized prayer. I get that Satan hates us praying, and it is one of the most intense battlefields out there, but I am a child of the King, and I should be able to overcome. Too often, though, I get lazy and don’t include regular prayer in my life.

But what if I did? And what if I had a prayer card in front of me for every family in my church? What if I knew my church family had a prayer card for me? What if once a year I could let someone know what struggles are forefront in my life, and I could know that maybe once a week or once a month or even just once a year everyone in my body would lift those prayers to God on my behalf?

My friends’ prayer card is on my fridge. I need to find a better place for it, a place devoted to prayer, a place devoted to God. I need to arm myself and fight for my Bible reading and prayer life. My friends will soon head into a new world with new difficulties, and they need to count on my prayers to get them through. Right now, I’m not reliable.

And in lieu of a booklet of prayer cards for the rest of my church family (Wouldn’t that be awesome?), I need to find a way to keep each of them in prayer. Not just during the times of struggle, but during the mundane times. Why do I limit my prayers to big items and not pray for my friends’ children’s salvation, their marriages, their personal walks with God? And how can I remind myself and push myself and be the prayer warrior my church family–and my biological family needs?

We just had a wedding at our house, and in a few weeks my oldest will be purchasing a house, so two of my crew will be leaving. Only three of us will be left here. My life is going to slow down. I will have even fewer excuses than before for the lazy state of my life with God. As we transition, I hope and pray that I will put new safeguards into place and once again reorganize my life around my main priority, the God who loves and rescued me. The armor has slipped, and it’s time to cinch it up, get serious, and head back into battle. I’m not sure what that looks like since I fail more than I get it right, but I have to try again. Every failure must be followed with another try. I’m so glad God covers us with grace so we can always, always, always start again.