This is my blog where I write about my daily walk and lessons learned as I change from a caged gerbil into a loved dog at the Master’s knee. Come back soon to read my latest lesson.
My newest writing endeavor is about a doctor who is confronted with death and dying. It seems that he has an anti-Midas touch; everyone he touches dies. The story deals with the age-old dilemma of suffering. If God is good, merciful, kind, abounding in love, then how can he allow all of this pain and suffering? Why doesn’t he answer us when we beg for healing and life?
I don’t have an answer. Not a good answer anyway. There are trite answers. There are answers that shove pain and misery under the covers as if their lumps can not be seen in the deathbed.
What I do have are examples of how to behave when we suffer.
+Begging is permissible: Hannah begged for a son and her cries were answered with the birth of Samuel. David begged with every fiber of his being that his baby son would be spared death. The child died. Yet, a “No” to David’s pleas did not mean the turning of his back and neither can it mean ours. Begging is permissible while opportunity exists. Faithfulness is mandatory no matter what the begging achieves.
+Grief harbors compassion: Jesus, the embodiment of God, looked upon suffering and death often. He responded with healing and life, with words of comfort, and with instruction. When his good friend Lazarus passed away, Jesus wept. When he imagined his mother’s pain at his death, he provided a caregiver for comfort. We are not left alone in our dungeon to cry out into unfeeling darkness. Even when it feels we are alone, the truth is that we are not.
+ Suffering is not a punishment: Sometimes God punished the Israelites and other people with suffering. They disobeyed his commands and they were stricken with sores, snakes, famine, disease, and war. But other times there seemed to be no disgrace in the suffering. The most famous of these examples is of course Job, but there was also Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers, Sarah and Rachael’s barren years, and in the New Testament there is Paul. Paul originally was a tyrant to Christians, but he became one of the leading apostles in spreading the news of Jesus and salvation. Certainly he should not have had to suffer imprisonment, floggings, shipwrecks, and health issues.
But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” Acts 9:15-16
Did you catch that? Sometimes we are chosen for suffering. It may seem terribly unfair, unjust, even unrighteous and unholy, yet we may still be chosen. Perhaps that is where we can draw the line and see God’s good, merciful, kind, abundant love. He has chosen some of us, perhaps you, to suffer so that his name will be glorified so that others might be saved.
But suffering was the ultimate gift of Jesus. Through his suffering we are each allowed to enter the holy presence of God. Would you be willing to suffer so that others can join you in the eternal praise of heaven?
“These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams. But God is the ocean.” Jonathan Edwards
Our dog, Captain, is a step-dog. His first family had to give him up because they were expecting a baby and Captain had showed some aggressive tendencies. We were a year past the loss of our first dog, and our son Amos needed a comforter. So Captain came to live with us.
The problem is that Captain’s first family allowed him to get on the furniture. I do not approve of animals on my furniture, so he has been relegated to the ottoman. It is my concession to him.
“On your stool,” we command, and up he hops, circles three times and lays down for a snooze.
But if we are not looking or we aren’t nearby, Captain will jump up on the couch, love seat, office chair, arm chair in the guest room, or on the bed. The boys are not as demanding in their “No Furniture” commands and so Captain often trots up the stairs to sleep on the couch undisturbed in the dark family room.
If I am in a close room and I hear Captain head toward the living room, I call out, “On your stool,” and he obeys. But should I be out of ear shot, he will nearly always give in to his desires.
I get frustrated by this behavior. We have had him for nearly three years. He knows the rules. He knows what makes me happy. He knows being on the couch means a reprimand and being on the stool means praises and cuddles. Yet he continually jumps up on the couch when he thinks I am not watching.
“You have been in my family how long?” God asks me.
“27 years,” I mumble as I hang my head.
“Then why don’t you follow my rules? You know what happens when you jump on the couch. Just go to the stool and I will cuddle and praise you. Life will be better for you,” he reprimands.
I tuck my tail and jump off the couch. When will I ever choose correctly?
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. Romans 7: 15-25
From the day they are born, cameras flicker all around them. Pictures are instantaneous, numerous, and shared with everyone. Stopping to take a picture is an expectation, a requirement, in their lives.
I am not against photos. I have taken my fair share, but when I was a child photos were saved for special times. There a few pictures of us at the beach, or surrounded by cousins at a family reunion, or with our new orange station wagon. I remember trips to the beach with my unmarried aunts, my parents, and my brother. I don’t have a daily scrapbook portraying all we did, but I know we had fun, that I was loved. I remember family reunions with cousins at every turn, picnics in the mountains or at the home place surrounding the large table groaning with food. The orange station wagon arrived in second grade and I thought it was stunning. It took me across the country where I saw Old Faithful spout off, climbed a mountain with snow in July, and played in the shade of the great redwoods.
I don’t need photos because it is all in my memory, the sights, the sounds, the faces, the love.
Last week on our vacation I purposely chose not to take pictures. The glowing orange orb suspended below the horizon seemed to rise gradually and instantaneously as the sky changed from orange to pink to light blue to bright summer heat blue; day had dawned and warm water rushed around my feet as a gull swooped gracefully across the waves. Dolphins played leap frog and tag in the pink-painted waters. A pelican glided by searching for breakfast. And everyone stood posing for their cameras.
The people looked happy, the children loved. But I wonder if they noticed the smell of the salt water hanging in the dissipating fog of morning. I wonder if they noticed the sound of the pounding waves trumpeting the start of another day. I wonder if they recognized the power and strength and largeness of the ocean compared to themselves. Did they leave their vacation with a memory or only with a thumb drive of pictures?
Take pictures of your life to share with others, but don’t forget to take memories of it to share with the future you.
“Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.” L.M. Montogomery, The Story Girl
We have a lawn mower that has seen better days. Last year we put so much money into repairs that we decided as soon as something goes wrong this year we will buy a new one. Several weeks ago, after one swipe around the goat field, the mower blades disengaged and refused to continue. It was time to put the mower out to pasture.
The new mower cost more than the first one. It has a floating deck, which means that no matter how bumpy the ground is, the blades will float over top of the terrain. The turning point of the mower is easier and smaller so the lawn doesn’t have large misshapen areas anymore. The grass looks great. The extra cost was worth the expense because the work is performed better with the right equipment.
I have been painting rooms in our house all year. I am not exaggerating. Every month since December of last year I have painted something in our house. Paint brushes and rollers are not all made alike. I enjoy a particular brand. It has a smaller handle with curves that fit my hand well. The bristles are soft and angled just right so that fine lines around the trim are easily painted. The brushes cost more, but they actually save me time and paint in the long run. I am actually more efficient when I use the right equipment.
I have several types of nail polish. The cheaper brands look good at first, but they chip the first day of application, and truth be told they run when I apply them. The more expensive nail polish has a better brush, is a thicker liquid, and lasts much, much longer. The right equipment stands up to the pressures of living and makes everything look better.
Are you getting the picture? Whether you are talking about mattresses, tissues, paper towels, cars, or dog toys, the right equipment makes a difference. And the right equipment always costs more.
You can still get the job done with inferior equipment, but it won’t be as good. Either it won’t last as long, won’t look as nice, or will be harder to complete. Paying the extra price is worth it.
We can do the work of this life with the equipment we have or that we can purchase. We can be successful in our jobs, our parenting, our marriages, our relationships, but without the right equipment it will be more difficult, and truth be told, it won’t look quite as good.
God has given us his Spirit so that we will have the right equipment. I know, I know. The right equipment is expensive. Don’t worry. Jesus already paid the bill.
But the Holy Spirit will come and help you, because the Father will send the Spirit to take my place. The Spirit will teach you everything and will remind you of what I said while I was with you. John 14:26 CEV
Normally a vacation for me is a time to see new sights, try new experiences, and go full speed ahead. I come back from my vacation and need a few days to recover. This time I didn’t even visit a cemetery. We rose early and walked on the beach to watch the sunrise. We spent time in the hot tub spa, swimming in the adults only pool, and sitting on lounge chairs enjoying good books. I read every single day. We walked to restaurants once a day, and ate easy, simple meals in the room the rest of the time. We wandered the streets listening to performers, singers, jugglers, trombonists, guitarists, a symphony, and a saxophonist. We took naps. Lots of naps.
I am back at work now with a long list of things that need to be accomplished. But I am rested, relaxed, fully aware and present. It seems God knows what he’s talking about when he tells us to rest.
Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves. Psalm 127:1-2
Captain is supposed to be a beagle, but he has the look of a basset hound. Whatever he is, he is ruled by his nose. He escapes as often as he can, gluing his sniffer to the ground and running recklessly, completely at the mercy of his instinct. Always his escapades end with a wee hour of the morning bark demanding to be let in to sleep off the night’s carousing.
Except he has been gone a couple of days now and there is no bellowing at the door. And now I am melancholy.
Captain is the last dog. I know, I know. Kelly was going to be the last dog. But three years ago Amos was still just a boy and a boy needs a dog. Now Amos is a senior in high school, completing college applications, and busy at work when he isn’t at school. The dog days of boyhood are over.
Instinct tells me to push ahead, enjoy this next stage of life, look at the future with hope and expectation. But the morose mother thinks of Captain’s own instinct to run away from home. And again I am melancholy.
There will be no more dogs, no more science experiments, no more silly jokes or before bed cuddles. No more moles smuggled in pockets, no more tree houses, no more half-finished projects mounting in the bedroom.
Today I am melancholy, but I will shake it off soon. There is too much barking at the door to think this is over just yet.
Children are a gift from God; they are his reward. Psalm 127:3
Update: Since the writing of this post Captain has been recovered. Now he is in trouble for running off and might not live survive my fury at having to pay $60 to get him back. Funny how fickle our feelings can be.
Matt and I were told just a couple years into our marriage that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for us to conceive children. Our plan was to try for a few years when the time was right and then to adopt. So a few years before Matt finished his doctorate we started “trying” to have a baby, thinking that after he graduated we could adopt. Two months later we were pregnant.
We were moving across the country to a new seminary. Neither of us had jobs. There was no insurance. It was not the right time to be pregnant, but pregnant I was.
By the time we moved and settled into a place I was five months pregnant. I found a clinic that would see me and had my first obstetrical visit. It went something like this:
Clinician/Nurse: Have you felt the fetus move?
Me: Not that I can be sure of.
C/N: Do you plan to keep the fetus?
C/N: We need to measure your belly to see how the baby is growing.
It has been nearly twenty years since that conversation took place, and I have forgotten all of the questions the nurse asked, but I have not forgotten the abrupt change in terminology. It was shocking, intentional. I felt like I had encountered perversion in a dark alley. No one can tell me that abortionists don’t know what they are doing.
There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death. Proverbs 14:12
To be brutally honest, I believe I could have aborted the baby. I knew he was a baby, not just a fetus, an embryo, or a clump of parasitic cells. But I had not felt movement. I had no insurance. We had no jobs. Life was scary and uncertain. I completely understand how some people can consider abortion. It was only my belief that Jonathan was already Jonathan and that murdering him before I met him was still murder that stayed my resolve to “keep the fetus”.
In our country there is health care for everyone. There is supplemental aid like WIC and food stamps. There is federally-funded housing. I know first hand that these aids are there. I have used all of them. So though they are not ideal, there is a way for a family to survive. Abortion is not necessary.
And that is the part I cannot understand. How can a physician, who has been trained to save lives, even lives in utero, commit murder? Physicians take an oath to save and not harm the life of the patient. Both the mother and child are the patient. We know that is true because surgery can be performed in the womb, because women are not to take certain medications or undergo particular treatments while pregnant for fear of harming the child. Both mother and child are under the care of the doctor.
Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter! Isaiah 5:20
I have only one answer to the dilemma our country faces. Not the dilemma of whether to support Planned Parenthood. Not the dilemma of whether abortion should be legal. Not even the dilemma of charging and sentencing all of those involved in this scandal.
The true dilemma is that our country does not recognize the value of each life. The Creator of life, the Father, the Holy One of Israel is the only answer big enough to cover the multitude of sins each of us is facing. Each of us is guilty, whether we have been a part of an abortion or whether we just kept quiet during a time of crisis.
Join me in asking for God’s forgiveness, his mercy, and his strength to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
Open your mouth for the speechless, In the cause of all who are appointed to die. Proverbs 31:8 NKJV
I have several weddings occurring among my friends and family this year. I was sharing with a friend that I have no need to worry about weddings when the time comes for our family because I have been blessed with two sons. That relieves me of any duty other than a dinner after the rehearsal. I’m thinking a cookout; I hope they don’t marry in winter.
In fact, where I come from the life of the mother of the groom is very simple: Show up, Shut up, and Wear beige. Three easy rules that I can handle. That is if they marry girls from where I come from.
My friend told me that is not acceptable in the South. No one is to wear beige because it is too much like white, which is of course reserved for the bride. Hmm.
There have been lots of issues like this over the years. Matt and I have moved all over the country and each place has had ideas, traditions, and customs that were foreign to us. I suppose it isn’t surprising if you consider that our country is nearly the size of a continent. Each state is like a mini country with its own peculiarities.
It’s the same sort of issue that the church has. Each branch of the family tree has different beliefs and “druthers” about the way things ought to take place. Some of us look at branches and say that is all wrong, or we cling tightly to the branch we are on and refuse to see it from any other point of view.
Jesus said, “I am the vine. You are the branches. If a man remains in me, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) He gave us some latitude in our traditions and customs. He allows us to show up in beige if we desire, or to wear a tie-dyed t-shirt if it suits our fancy. No matter what I choose to wear to the wedding, the one main factor that doesn’t change is that the bride and groom are married by the Father of us all. Just like the church is the bride of Christ, no matter which congregation you attend.
So whether you wear beige at a wedding, pull to the side of the road for a funeral procession, or sing at family reunions, or even leave meat out of your chili, know this:
“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. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:14-21
Have you seen the recent videos of people cracking open watermelons using rubber bands? One by one the bands are placed around the watermelon until the combined pressure of all the bands squeezes the watermelon in two.
Part of most orthodontic treatment includes wearing teeny-tiny rubber bands on the brackets in order to pull the jaw into alignment. We are in the second year of braces at our house and these minuscule pieces of rubber are found all over the house as they go flying out of my son’s mouth throughout the day. Today I vacuumed a couple of them out of the couch.
Rubber bands, no matter the size, do not look all that valuable or vital on their own. They are limp, wobbly, and light-weight. But when put to work, their focus is so forceful that they can become dangerous. The work they accomplish is none other than extraordinary.
Perhaps you have been feeling a bit limp, wobbly, and light-weight lately. Don’t let that distract you. Keep your focus and your tension taut. You are made for extraordinary work.
Never be lacking in zeal but keep your spiritual fervor serving the Lord. Romans 12:11 NIV
Several weeks ago I was craving some cookies, so I pulled out the Ritz crackers, peanut butter, and chocolate chips. They have to be one of the easiest, and tastiest, cookies to make. After I was finished, Amos asked me why I made Christmas cookies. “No reason,” I shrugged, “I just wanted some.”
Later when I told Matt about Amos’s comment, Matt laughed. “I wouldn’t know what to call Christmas cookies,” he said. “Any cookie could be a Christmas cookie!”
My mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and I have a tradition of making the fake “Tag-alongs” when we are all together for Christmas, so Amos thinks they are Christmas cookies. My husband’s grandmother made cookies for gifts at Christmas for many, many years. She would start in October, freezing them for later packaging and distribution. In December her daughters and niece would spend an afternoon cutting wax paper into circles, layering cookies into used Danish butter cookie tins, and tagging them for the recipients. Grandma would make over sixty types of cookies by the time packaging day arrived.
Grandma made cookies with purpose and intention. She pored over recipes, tucked them away for future baking trials, and offered her wares to any guest or visitor. Grandma made many types of cookies with different fillings, frostings, and flavors. She made them with no intention of consuming them herself, but to provide pleasure to others.
Grandma is more like God in her cookie making than I am. I make very few cookies and I choose the quickest and easiest recipes. I make cookies when I am in the mood and craving something for myself. Seldom is my cookie making selfless virtuosity.
God created each of us with special delight. We are each uniquely filled, frosted, and flavored with the purpose of bringing others to God. God made you for just the place you are and for just the people you encounter. Will you fulfill God’s divine purpose for your life by letting others taste and see that the Lord is good? Don’t save your cookies for one special time of the year; share the sweetness of the Lord every day.
Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Fear the Lord, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. Psalm 34:8-10