Tag Archive | Christian living

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.

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A Job Well Done

file0001984548061My husband, youngest son, and I are putting our house on the market. This means all those repairs we’d neglected–we are working on those. All the clutter we stopped seeing ages ago–it’s time to open our eyes and deal with it. It’s taken an insane amount of time, which is one reason this blog has been sitting in silence for a while.

When we moved into this house we were a family of five. Our kids were ages 4-9. Within a year another one arrived. Most of my kids’ childhoods happened in this house.

Now, this post is not a walk down memory lane. Truth is I’m not all that sentimental about houses. But I remember what it was like to have little kids and a house, and I wanted to spend more time dealing with the kids than the house. The house was background, and the family within was foreground.

So now, nearly two decades of semi-neglect later, I’m trying to get my house ready, and I want it ready fast. I’m not very patient. My first instinct is to cut corners. Make it look nice, even if problems are hiding under the surface. So what if the whole place falls apart in a year? As long as it looks good enough to sell…

Right. I’m trying hard to think about the family that will move into this house. It means I might spend a little more than I want for things I’m about to leave, like the new kitchen faucet, which should last forever without dripping. Some young mama living in this house doesn’t need dripping faucets. Or the floor I’m putting in the laundry room because I didn’t bother a year ago when the water heater blew out–it’s true I got cheap flooring, since that’s all I could manage, but I’m doing everything I can to make sure it’s put down well so it won’t be a problem for a long, long time.

The fight between my impatient self and my kind self has been rough. I fear that I’ll finally get this place ready to go and all the houses I’ve been watching will be gone, and I’ll be homeless. But I know I need to do my best. No, my work isn’t the same as a professional, but I do my best within the budget I’ve been given. And I won’t fix everything, but I’ll be honest about what works and what doesn’t. The problems won’t be huge, like hidden mold in the basement or a colony of bats in the attic. Whoever moves in should be able to focus more on the people within these walls than the walls themselves.

God has talked to me in the silence while I lay tile or paint walls. And more than once He’s had to say Do that again. That’s the sloppiest trim painting job I’ve ever seen. What’s wrong with you? or Don’t you think they deserve a laundry room floor that isn’t peeling in the corners? And I laugh and sigh and put on another coat or lay another tile. I work for Him. And that means a job well done, even when the last thing I want to do is put up yet another coat of trim paint.

Fat Caterpillar Times

fat-caterpillar-timesIt had been a strange week in our house. First, we had raccoons. For a few nights they were under our house in the crawl space. I heard them banging the underside of the bathtub and rattling around the pipes. I was really afraid they would ruin the pipes and I would hear free-running water under there.

A couple days later they were in the attic. Sounded like they were doing gymnastics up there. I would love to have a video camera set up to see exactly what a raccoon does in an empty attic. Our cats kept wandering the house staring at the ceiling, because raccoons are not quiet. They don’t seem to have any kind of stealth technology. When they were under the floor, I would find all of our animals sitting in a circle staring straight down, like they were expecting a demon to come up through the floor at any moment.

Meanwhile, we also got a letter that week from the water company. It was addressed to Occupant, and I almost threw it away. Glad I didn’t. They wanted to inform me that they realized water was coming into this house, and since we weren’t water company customers, that water would be shut off soon. We’ve paid a water bill in this house for seventeen years now. We were definitely water customers.

Except we weren’t. The computer said no, they’d never heard of us before. So, my husband paid a small fee for us to become brand new water customers. It was completely surreal.

That week I also started my twenty-first year of homeschooling. I have two years to go before I graduate all four of my kids from home. In years past I had more of a support network than I do this year. I am one of two home school moms in my church–the other is doing pre-school–and it’s very strange. I definitely keep my feelings on education to myself. Teaching at home is a lifestyle that touches everything we do, and it’s hard being alone in that lifestyle. Cultures clash sometimes. But since I’m the minority, I take the silent role. It’s a shift, but it’s not a big deal. Just something to think about as I deal with people in my immediate community.

Life ebbs and flows. Good days, bad days, strange days… It’s always new. Always an adventure. God sets our days up, and we live them out. Sometimes life can be devastating and filled with grief. And then some days the biggest threat is a raccoon punching through the roof. I don’t really mind the raccoon days. They’re the breathing times, when the rhythm of life is slow and lazy. Right now we’re experiencing a lazy time in our lives, and I rather like it.

I wrote a book where a character called these the Fat Caterpillar times, those times when we munch on leaves and don’t worry about much. In the book the character suggested using the lazy times to grow. Spend more time during those days reading the Bible, praying, creating a solid foundation. Because harder days are always on the horizon. My character said every one of us on the spiritual path will eventually become a butterfly, and change is hard. It’s those quiet munching times where we fatten up with everything we’ll need to feed us during the lean times, the shifting, changing times of hardship.

I’m not sad to be experiencing a fat caterpillar time right now. I have to work hard, though, to remember to cling to God during these times, to feed and drink deeply from His Word, to develop habits that will get me through the harder times, because they are inevitable. During the lazy, easy days of life it’s easy to let my growth routines fall into disrepair.

Meanwhile, we got the raccoons out of the attic. I need to keep an eye on the water account in case something strange is going on with our digital identity. I need to focus on this brand new school year with my final child and student, who is about to make big decisions for his future.

And mostly, I need to make sure I develop strong habits now to support me. Eventually I will need them, and times of change are so much easier to handle if this fat caterpillar has a belly filled with truth.

When the Vacation is Over

DSC01056My family just returned from a week in Florida, spent on Ormond Beach just north of Daytona. We had a great time, and I plan to post a few things about that, because vacations can be great times of discovery and clarity. Today, though, I feel the need to capture my feelings right now, as our vacation ends. Because I handle the end of a vacation badly. Worse than badly.

First, we had planned to take two days to drive home. So, when we said goodbye to the beach on Saturday morning, I was expecting to drive about six hours, find a hotel, have one last summer swim, eat someplace nice, and sleep on a soft, large bed. Then my son would eat waffles at a hotel breakfast bar, and we’d mosey on home, with one final trip to a fast food place before we returned and reality hit.

Halfway through the day, my husband informed me he planned to push on through and take the twelve hours all in one day. It would save us money on a hotel, and money was an issue. And it would get us home sooner. To him, that’s a good thing. To me, the housewife who also works from home, not so much. To him, it meant a couple days to hang around the house and do nothing before work Tuesday (this was a holiday weekend.) To me, it meant getting back to work a day early. I was not thrilled.

But he had the wheel, so we drove home. And I, the person who grieves the end of vacations anyway, grieved hard. I’d expected one more day. And it doesn’t sound like much. One day. But it felt huge. Summer was over. Reality was back. Instantly my mind began to churn through things I needed to do at home, how much work needed to be done, and how unfair it was that home has such different meaning to each of us. Instead of easing myself back into the pool of life slowly, I’d just been shoved off the high dive into ice water at the bottom. Continue reading

Wooing the Prince

DSCF5974I read a marriage devotion recently, and I think, in a few simple words, it may have completely changed the way I look at my husband. And since he never reads my blogs (or my books, for that matter. Hey!), I can talk about it here.  (Don’t fear. That’s largely the end of me talking about my husband. He’s safe. This now selfishly shoots back to me.)

The devotion writer pointed out that the surest way to offend someone is to mistreat that person’s child. I know this is true. Just a few days ago at church a young boy was cruel to my youngest son, and I wanted blood. It doesn’t take much to bring out mama bear.

God is pretty fanatical about his kids, too. I mean, He sent his natural son to die so He could adopt a bunch of other sons and daughters. We have a lot of value to him. Nobody mistreats us and gets away with it, not long term. The Old Testament, especially, is filled with verses about how God will come for his people, sword out and battle ready. Nations that mistreated his kids went down, and they went down hard.

Those of you females reading this might be aware of the current trend for Christian women to think of themselves as princesses. In a world that body shames and life shames and passes cruel judgments, we need to be reminded that we are royalty, beautiful and beloved in the eyes of God. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

And yet strangely I was surprised when the devotion writer pointed out that I married a prince. If I am beloved and beautiful and special to God, so is my spouse. He’s the son of a King. That same God who comes with sword drawn to defend his princesses–yeah, you guessed it. He’s pretty enamored with his princes, too. And I have been entrusted with one. There is a special one in my home all the time, one who is flawed sometimes, clueless sometimes, wise and powerful sometimes, and always one the King loves deeply.

I don’t know why I never thought of it this way, except I think our culture can be hard on men. I say this as a mother of three boys and one girl. Sometimes girls are taught it’s okay to abuse boys verbally. It’s okay to be hands on and play rough with the boys. Teasing boys and making fun of the entire sex–that’s acceptable. The boys are supposed to respect and love the girls as the princesses they are, and yet the girls aren’t always taught that it’s not a one-way street. They aren’t taught to see those boys as princes, sons of the living God as much as they are daughters, and just as worthy of respect and honor. It breaks my heart, because sometimes it breaks my boys, who will one day be men.

When we got married, my husband asked me not to play the wife game where we women get together and bash our husbands. He’d heard women do that, and it bothered him. It was a strange request, because he doesn’t ask things like that. This mattered immensely to him. He needed me to be on his side both when I was with him and when I was with others. (Okay, I lied. I’m talking about my husband again. But it’s good things!)

I’ve never forgotten that request. My prince, the son of my King, is vulnerable. I think most of God’s princes are. He wants to succeed at parenting, husbanding, life in general. But sometimes he’ll fail, and he needs to know I’m on his side. I’m not perfect, either, and sometimes when I’m hurt or angry I might slide into the wife game where we compare our husbands’ imperfections, but I try to guard my mouth and heart and protect him. He does the same for me. Both of us have royalty to protect and cherish. It’s a beautiful thing.

I married a prince. His Dad is a Big Deal. Am I acting like I care? Do I respect both the prince and his Father? Whether or not my husband respects his princess isn’t the question here (although, FYI, he does.). This is about me and how I perceive the man gifted to me. Do I focus on his moments of imperfection, or do I focus on his growth, on his journey to become the man he will be for eternity, a completed, mighty, grown son of his Father?

Of course, I can’t forget I’m raising little princes and princesses, too. The people in my world are important. They matter more than I can comprehend, just like I matter more than I can comprehend. I’ve been entrusted with a huge job, raising, loving, guiding, protecting such important people. It’s amazing to me that God put so many of his precious sons and daughters into my care. I pray I take that charge seriously and treat them as their Father wants to see them treated.

 

The Charmed People

cloveYou know them. Maybe you know a lot of them. Homes paid off in their thirties. Kids with Ivy League scholarships. Jobs that always lead to promotions and better jobs. Loved at church. Loved by the world. When they lose someone, it’s an ancient great-aunt (who left a huge inheritance), never a spouse or child or sibling.

They’re charmed. It feels like they won a cosmic lottery. And these people are so, so hard to deal with. It’s that season on Facebook when people post their graduating seniors and point out how perfect they are–their lives, dreams, ambitions, scholarships–and another charmed generation goes forth. Or they show photos of their new dream houses or dream cars, because this is the time of year people move and change, here at the beginning of summer. And I struggle. I am not a charmed person.

Matthew 20 is a parable about workers who are paid a day’s wage. Some work all day, and some work only an hour, but all receive the same wage. Those who worked all day felt this was unfair. Personally, I struggle with this parable. At the end, the landowner says “Are you jealous because I am generous?”  And I find myself, with much shame, saying Yes. I get jealous when God is generous. It feels unfair.

I tell myself that the charmed people will one day be tried by fire, but that might not be true. I know charmed people whose lives felt charmed to the very end. I ask myself if God loves them more. Maybe he loves them less. Maybe I’m special because I can’t eat food and buried my brother and live in a house that’s falling down around me. But maybe I’m not special for those very same reasons.

I realize this is a ridiculous post. God loves people in India who survive by living in trash yards. I have been given so much more than that. God loves people in China who are imprisoned for their faith. I have struggled so much less than that. I am charmed, too, because that silly phrase always indicates a comparison, and I will always come up a winner over many people. And a loser to others. There’s a reason we’re not supposed to compare. I am ashamed that I do.

The Matthew passage points out that the wages are equal. In truth, compared to the laborer who is in prison or martyred, I deserve very little in the way of wages, but I will receive Heaven as much as that person. And yet, I struggle to turn that around and be happy that some will get that reward with less struggle than I’ve endured. It is shameful. And yet I continue to struggle.

In Romans Paul tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Sometimes it’s easier to weep than rejoice. And it’s especially hard to rejoice with those who rejoice if my circumstances currently have me weeping.

I have four kids. I love them all. I have more than enough space in my heart for four kids. Sometimes I don’t have enough time or resources to give everyone I love equal treatment, but love–yes. I can love a whole lot of people at once.

And so can God. I don’t know why I forget that. He isn’t playing favorites. He can love all his children at once. Unlike me, He also has the resources and time to love them all well. Nobody is forgotten. Nobody is left out. And the fact that the plan is different for me than for anyone else–?  It’s his plan. His special plan just for me.  And the reward is good.

In school, I remember being told to keep my eyes on my own paper. I have to remember that in life, too. When it comes to obeying God and earning my wages (and take that as I mean it, simply doing what I’m called to do for God, not actually earning his favor), I need to do what I’m called to do. And my wages are amazing. Life everlasting. Peace. Joy. Fulfillment. To be fed, to be loved, to be whole. What else could I possibly want?

Lord, when you have to whisper to me–again!–that question, Are you jealous because I am generous? I want to say no and mean it. I’m not there yet. Remind me that I am loved enough. That I was not made on an assembly line where I can compare myself to others. I am original, as are all those around me, and I have a unique story, written by you, that only I can live out to delight you. And then, fill my heart with love for all those with their own stories.

I don’t want to be jealous because He is generous. If He weren’t generous, I wouldn’t have any reward coming to me at all. This is about Him, not me, and this is about His sacrifice for me that makes my worst days look like a parade. It’s time for me to look to my own job, my own duties, and delight in my own wages, without acting like an insecure child who fears her dad doesn’t love her like he loves the rest.

 

 

The Brokenhearted

Portrait of sad little girl sitting near  wall in the day timeI struggle to sleep. My husband works second shift, and it messes with things enough that I stay up too late, and yet I can’t sleep in. Even dark curtains in the bedroom don’t help. When the sun gets up, even if I can’t see it, so do I.

It’s gotten to the place where I am considering seeing a doctor. Maybe there’s more going on here. But the idea gives me hives. I dislike seeing doctors. I have anxiety attacks in the waiting room. I agonize waiting for even the simplest test results. I have to be near death to see the doctor, and even then, I go with very low expectations.

I wasn’t always like that. My doctor fear isn’t unfounded. Just over a decade ago I walked into a doctor’s office and was told I had a chronic illness. I was a type one diabetic. And at that point, the role of the physician in my life changed. A doctor will never heal me. I see the doctor to manage my condition. I go hoping to die a little slower. But healing? No. The medical profession won’t heal me.

I forget that a doctor might be able to heal something else. If I’m sick, a doctor might be able to heal that illness. But I expect only bad news in the doctor’s office, something that will shorten my life or make it difficult or change my lifestyle. Again. And so I hate to go.

I realized recently that my expectations of God are similar. Sometimes I avoid the Bible, because I fear it will simply show me my illness–all my sin and failure–and offer a way to manage that, but not healing. I don’t expect healing from any corner. And I don’t mean physical healing, but soul healing. Emotional healing. The ability to turn away from deep-seated sin toward holiness (sanctification, if you like big words.). The ability to succeed today in areas where I failed yesterday. The ability to do God’s will and see fruit in areas where I’ve never seen fruit before. The ability to hope where I used to fear. I don’t come to Jesus expecting those things.

I should.

I love the Psalms. Two Psalmists, including David, speak of God’s dealings with the brokenhearted. And that’s where I don’t trust him. I don’t expect full healing of my spirit when life gets difficult. Even diabetes–it’s the fear in my spirit that causes me distress, expecting bad to get worse. The illness itself is a pain, and it will likely shorten my lifespan, but the real weakness is how I respond to it. That results in fear and hopelessness, not the level of sugar in my blood.

And yet the Lord draws near to the brokenhearted. (Ps. 34). He delivers the righteous from all affliction. He doesn’t condemn. He heals the brokenhearted (Ps. 147) and binds up wounds. He gathers outcasts. He delights in those who love him.

Doctors have limits. I have passed one of those. Certain issues of health are outside the realm of medical healing. But I need to remember I haven’t passed a limit with God. I’m never so tired or broken or hurt that he can’t heal, for he is greater than all my weaknesses. And physical weaknesses don’t have to translate to emotional or mental distress, because he’s got those under control. If not here, then in the next life all of it will come together, and all will be healed.

But for now, I can pray for and expect wounds to be bound. I don’t have to bleed out from anguish or brokenheartedness. I don’t have to bow to fear or loss or any other human infirmity, any other weakness or imperfection.

No, physical healing may not happen today, but every day I see more and more healing of my spirit as God delights in me and teaches me and draws me closer with his Spirit. The more I become like Jesus, the more I can expect his peace and comfort and fruit in my life. And that’s what I want most of all.