THE FRAGILE GIFT AT CHRISTMAS

The Presidential Prayer Team devotional for December 15, 2015 is entitled “Shaking Not Necessary”. It is an excellent devotional thought that begins with the Christmas gift exchange experience of shaking the package and wondering what it contained. I would encourage you to read the devotional for yourself, at http://www.presidentialprayerteam.com/devo.

Christmas tree
Decorated Christmas Tree with Presents scattered underneath.

 

When I read the opening paragraph, my mind immediately went back to a Christmas almost 30 years ago when my daughter was trying to guess what her present was. I was wrapping gifts in the bedroom with the door closed and she was on the other side asking if she could “help”. As parents, you would understand that the help being offered was actually an attempt to see if she could identify her gifts early.

 

I declined her invitation and she wanted to know why. I told her I was wrapping her gift and she then began a barrage of questions about what it was, how big, etc.   Finally, in frustration, I told her that she should not bother me anymore because I had to be careful. When she asked why, I said it was fragile and I didn’t want it to fall off the bed while I was wrapping it. She was quiet and I finished wrapping the gift.

 

When the wrapping was completed, I opened the door to find her sitting on the floor, leaning against the door, waiting to carry her fragile gift to the tree. The irony was that this was not her only gift, nor was it the most expensive. But because it was the one that I told her was fragile, it was the paramount gift under the tree as far as she was concerned.

 

She scooped it up, v-e-r-y slowly and with great care. Holding it out in front of her as if it were nitroglycerin and walking with “baby steps” so it would not be jostled. She went down the stairs and arrived at the tree.   After putting the precious gift on a chair, she knelt down and made a space under the tree so that her fragile gift would not touch anything else. Then she placed the gift under the tree.

 

Each day before Christmas she would look at the tree, check to be sure that nothing encroached on the space she had cleared, and her fragile gift was intact.  Her brother would move packages around so they would almost hide THE gift, and she would patiently move everything away so that nothing would harm the fragile gift being given to her.

 

Seeing her concern made me sick at heart. I was proud of her care for the gift, but the reality was that her gift was a just plastic bottle of bubble bath, obtained from Walgreen’s, and it now had the cherished place under the tree. I even asked my husband if we should switch packages and get something that actually was fragile. Holding the course, the package remained.

 

On Christmas morning, it was the first to be opened. And the family had an incredible experience watching her realization that she had been tricked – it was not a fragile gift at all. Even today, if someone mentions a fragile present, my daughter’s cheeks flush and she gets her ire up and the whole story is retold.

 

Clearly, I did not intend to hurt her feelings and I apologized profusely after she opened the package. The statement was made when I was tired, frustrated about wrapping presents, and as attempt to stop her incessant demand to come into the room.  [She did, by the way, get several very nice presents that year, but the only one that is remembered is the giant bottle of bubble bath.]

 

Christmas nativity scene
The Nativity Scene on a cloth that my daughter and I made as well as represented by figurines above, Mary is holding the Babe.

 

My daughter’s gift was not fragile. The gift that God has given us is not fragile either – it is as strong as the Almighty God’s love and mercy.

 

Her gift was cheap bubble bath.  In contrast, God’s gift was not cheap, it was His priceless Son, born as a Babe who ultimately died as our Sacrifice.  God’s gift ultimately provided salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, the Savior whose birth as a babe is celebrated at Christmas.

 

The gift at Christmas from God is not a joke. It is not something that looks good on Christmas day but breaks or shuts down the next day.

 

The gift of God is Salvation – eternal life with God Himself.

 

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Ephesians 2:8-9

 

Praise the Lord for His grace, mercy and love that was extended to us when Christ was born, and which was completed when Christ was crucified and raised again from the dead. His death atoned for my sin; so the salvation granted by the Lord is, indeed, a gift for which i am eternally grateful.

 

Praise Him, this holiday season. Remember the babe in the manger, but remember too that the babe is our Savior and Lord.

 

Father, thank you for your saving work through Jesus Christ our Lord. Thank you that you have given us salvation through faith in Christ. Thank you that you have sent the Holy Spirit to seal our salvation and to bring us into right relationship with you. Thank you for your love, mercy and grace. May you be honored this Christmas Season.

UNRUFFLED AND SIDELINED … A LESSON WHILE HEALING

Bellingrath Gardens long bridge and swan (C)
Long bridge with beautiful swan at Belingrath Gardens, Alabama.

 

There are times that nature moves quickly and with an intensity that man can only watch and admire. But, nature can also move slowly and with a deliberation that allows us peace and unruffled living. The swans at Bellingrath Gardens, in Alabama, provide a peaceful scene in which quiet contemplation is possible.

The swan must exert herself under the water so that she can majestically glide over the water, but she is able to do it with truly “unruffled” feathers.

Swan
The majestic swan — unruffled even while working!

How do we respond to things that upset our schedule or which create a problem for us to overcome? Do we have peace? Are we unruffled? While we might have to work at the response to the situation, do we worry and fret all the while?  What about while we are at work or have family troubles, do we stress and complain or do we have peace, even in chaotic circumstances? What about healing? Do we squirm because we are not as physically able as we want to be? Are we willing to submit to His loving care and see what He has for us, even if that includes physical pain?

The past two years have been an exercise in waiting for me.  I retired so that we could have time to do things like travel and visit family around the country.  Nine months later, I had a left ankle break that required surgery and over 9 weeks of non-weight bearing; then there were months of physical therapy as I healed from that event. I then had meniscus repair surgery to my left knee with resulting physical therapy, and I am just now beginning therapy after having surgery for a total right knee replacement. Each of these medical situations has found me, at times, accepting and, at other times, frustrated.

My schedule was stopped cold. Now all I had to do was to heal.  Wait, and yield to the caregiving provided to me … frustration and humiliation at not being able care for myself, even in fundamental ways, had to be let go so that I could appreciate the effort and care being rendered on my behalf.

As an example, I came home from the hospital on Thanksgiving Day and the next day my daughter Liz and my daughter-in-law Mandi prepared an incredible Thanksgiving Day meal for 12 people, served in our dining room, and all I had to do was to get up the steps and walk to the table. This was the first time that I had relinquished the holiday meal to others.  I praise these two wonderful women for their efforts which were absolutely successful, and I am thankful for the great celebration we had together. (The day of our Thanksgiving Day meal was our wedding anniversary, so it really was a celebration!)

Then too there is the wait for the doctors to practice their skill with still more waiting for the healing to come. Multiple doctor office visits and many more physical therapy sessions, with even more to be scheduled and endured. Wait, be calm and do the therapy so that healing will be complete.

There have been times when I wanted to scream “Doesn’t God know that we had plans?  Doesn’t God know that this is messing with what I thought He wanted me to do?  Doesn’t God care …?”

Of course, the answer is that “Yes, God does know. In fact, He knows everything!” That is the very definition of omniscience! What I need to know is that He is sovereign and He is in control of everything. That is the definition of omnipotence!  And, God does care — the cross is our confirmation of His love, mercy and grace for us.

                 What I need to remember is that I am not God.

This time of testing has a purpose, unknown to me, but important to God. Perhaps He has something that I am to learn about Him, about my life in Christ, about myself and the best way for me to do that is to experience this diversion that I would not have selected on my own.

In Mark 4:39 Jesus was with His disciples in a boat on the Sea of Galilee when a storm arose. His disciples were terrified and they woke him pleading that He help. Scripture says:

“And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”

This became a teaching moment for the disciples! It should also be such for us, for me.

The Almighty God who spoke the world into existence (Genesis 1) and His Son, Jesus Christ, who could stop the storm instantly by commanding “Peace,” has promised to provide peace to us in our time of need through the third person of the trinity, the Holy Spirit.

Isaiah 26:3 instructs:

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.”

Jesus promised that we would have divine help through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

John 14:25-26.

We are not guaranteed a life of ease as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, but we are guaranteed eternal life with Him and His presence through the Holy Spirit in the here and now. Such peace will transcend the frenetic pace of the world and calm our hearts if we read His Word and listen to the Holy Spirit’s instruction. If we turn our eyes upon Jesus, He will help us to learn the lessons that He has ordained, and He will encourage and support us even as we go through the difficulties attendant with those lessons.

Blessings to you. May you find Peace through your relationship with the King of Peace, Jesus Christ our Lord and may His Spirit reside within you to comfort and strengthen during difficult times, even physical therapy!

Father, thank you for loving me so much that you are working in my life to transform me into the image of Jesus. Forgive me when I rebel and don’t want to go down the road you have ordained. Help me to remember that I am yours and that you are sovereign and in control of all things. Thank you Heavenly Father for your Son, my Savior and Lord, and thank you for sending the Holy Spirit to instruct, guide and comfort as we go along our way, even if it is to physical therapy.

 

 

 

OBEDIENT LOVE FOR THE LORD AND FOR OTHERS.

Obedience … it is a hard lesson for children to learn and often we, as adults, still have difficulty accomplishing it.  Obedience comes easy when it concerns something that I want to do anyway.  When the task being asked of us is fun or something we are interested in, obedience is not hard at all.  It comes, almost, naturally!

Obeying, when doing something you are interested in, is fun!
Obeying, when doing something you are interested in, is fun!

But when it relates to something that is difficult or outside my own comfort zone, then it is hard to obey.

As a child, I remember telling my Mother that I loved her.  Then, later in the day, when she asked that I do something for her, I hesitated and waited until it suited me, rather than her.  At bedtime, I said I loved her and she replied: “Really?  That surprises me.”

Her statement caught me off guard and my eyes teared up when I asked “Why, Mommy?”  Her reply echoes in my heart even today: “If you loved me, you would do what I say rather than ignore my direction or argue with me.”

In the Gospel of John, Jesus talked about love and obedience when He said:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

John 14:15 [ESV]  He continued on with this thought in verse 21:

“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

John 14:21 [ESV]

So, what are Jesus’ commandments?  While there are a number of things that He said we should do, they are summarized in Matthew’s Gospel where He says:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Matthew 22:37-39 [ESV]

In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes it even more pointed – incredibly, He tells us we are to have the same love for others that He has for us.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35 [ESV].

What is His love for us like?  It is overwhelming.  It sent Jesus to the cross as a substitute for our sin so, if we believe in Him, we could live with Him forever.

The cross of Christ tells of the magnitude of His love for us.
The cross of Christ tells of the magnitude of His love for us.

Do we love others like that?  We can’t be their substitute for sin because we also are sinners.  But, do we live our life in such a way as to put others first over our own desires and wishes?

  • What about starting with our family members – surely we can love like Jesus loves when we are talking about those to whom we are related!  Too hard to do?
  • Well, perhaps we can love strangers who don’t know us, and who we don’t know. Those people we could love like Jesus loves us!   Maybe, but probably not!
  • Well then, how are we ever going to love those we don’t like if we have difficulty loving those in the two categories above? The difficulty of it is irrelevant — the command is still there.  We are to love even those we don’t like. Think of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Luke 10:30-37.

In fact, Jesus even went one step farther — we are to love our enemies!

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:44-48 [ESV]

Obedience – we show our love for our Savior by the way we obey His commands.  Not just the convenient ones or those that are easy.  We are to be obedient to all of them.  I recognize that we cannot do it in our own strength.  Indeed, this is totally against our human nature and we need to have His Spirit flow through us to enable us to love like this.  When we fail, we must confess that failure and seek His grace for the power to love as He commands.

What if people could see, on a daily basis, evidence of our relationship with Jesus by how we love others?  At home, at work, at school?  On the bus, the playground, the elevator?  In the grocery store, the mall, the post office?  Do we exhibit love to our boss or our co-workers or to the server at the restaurant?  Do we show love to the person next to us on Sunday morning?

Beloved, what has been your response to His love?  Has it made any difference in your life?

Do we have obedient love for our Lord and Savior?  Do we obey Jesus’ commands?

Does our love to our neighbors reflect our love for Jesus?  Jesus said that it will.

So, I guess the real question is

“How much do we love Jesus?”

Father, may I express my love to your Son, my Savior Jesus Christ, by ministering to those He loves, whether they may be among my friends or not.  May I express my love to you, Father, by studying your Word and praying, listening to the Holy Spirit urge and direct me as I walk the path you have provided for me. Thank you Father for your love and presence in my life, and for your Holy Spirit who comforts, encourages and strengthens me.  Forgive me when I have turned a blind eye and ignored pleas for assistance.  Please give me grace that I may love others as you love me, through the power of your Holy Spirit and to the glory of God the Father. 

THANKSGIVING DAY IS FOR MORE THAN TURKEY!

In his Thanksgiving Day address to the country in 1963, President John F. Kennedy said:

Let us therefore proclaim our gratitude to Providence for manifold blessings–let us be humbly thankful for inherited ideals–and let us resolve to share those blessings and those ideals with our fellow human beings throughout the world.”

Indeed, Thanksgiving Day is a time for us to remember the many ways that we have been blessed during the past year.

In years gone by, the traditional day was celebrated with the best china, glassware, linens and, of course, the best food that the family could afford.

Family holiday table from years past.
Family holiday table from years past.

It was also a time for the family to gather, from various parts of the city, state, or country, to celebrate together.

When I was a child, we went to my Great Aunt and Uncle’s home for the dinner.  It was a special time when relatives from another state would come and the cousins would sit at the “children’s table” in another room.  Now that I am a parent and grandparent, I realize this is what you did so the adults could have a grand conversation which was uninterrupted and without hassle, usually about those who sat at the “children’s table”.  The children liked it because we did not have to sit and be quiet!

Even in our home today, the Thanksgiving Day meal is more formal and “dressy” than the normal fare that we consume the other 364 days of the year.

The Thanksgiving Day meal table set for celebration.
The Thanksgiving Day meal table set for celebration.

Of course, in school we learned that the Thanksgiving meal was in celebration of the harvest and of the bounty that the country afforded the Pilgrims.  So, in keeping with the “bounty” part of the holiday, we have food that is a traditional part of the celebration as well as a few new things to try.  One year I tried a recipe of acorn squash with raisins, brown sugar and a number of spices cooked in the slow cooker.  To quote my Beloved, “This is a keeper!”

New recipe for Thanksgiving Day meal.
New recipe for Thanksgiving Day meal.

In our home, although there are other foods prepared, the centerpiece of the meal is the turkey, all bronzed and tender.  I recognize that it is not too good from the turkey’s point of view, but I know that it is exceptional for the family’s enjoyment.

The holiday turkey ready to go on the table!
The holiday turkey ready to go on the table!

Before eating, we “say grace”, a time when we thank the Lord for the manifold blessings that he has provided for us, focusing primarily on the food we are about to eat!

Then, after gorging ourselves with the meal, we visit and talk about what we are thankful for.  Often the list includes friends, family, health and frequently the children will add thanks for their toys, pets, good grades at school, etc.

Often, while the ladies are cleaning up the kitchen, the children and gentlemen will go in the backyard for the holiday football game.  For the grandparent, there is no tackle, but for the elementary school child the adult will not be penalized when he is picked up off the field, as long as a hug follows and the descent to the ground is not a drop.

Family playing football after holiday meal.
Family playing football after holiday meal.

Holiday traditions and stories are important to keep us together and to define who we are.  Traditions and stories play a critical role in our life before God as He states in His Word.

For example, the Passover Meal is a time when the story of the Exodus is retold each year, even today, thousands of years after the event.  Scripture admonishes us to teach our children about God’s acts in our life.

The act of thanksgiving is described and discussed often in the Scriptures.  The Old Testament described the peace offering that was made to God in thanksgiving in Leviticus 7.

In 1 Chronicles 16:7 we read that David appointed that songs be sung in thanksgiving to God.

“I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving.” – [Psalm 69:30]

Psalm 50:4 tells us to:

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High,” [ESV]

Scripture tells us that “grace” is more than just saying a quick prayer before the meal, although grace and thanksgiving are frequently paired.  In 1 Corinthians 1:4, Paul states:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you.”

Paul is giving thanks to God for the grace given to the Church in Corinth, a church that he established, counseled, and nurtured.

I remember learning the term G-R-A-C-E by the phrase “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.”   But, grace is so very much more than this trite phrase defines.

  • Grace provides us with God’s love.  Paul says: “and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 1:14
  • Grace enables us to do the will of God.  1 Corinthians 12:4-6 tells us: “”Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.”
  • Grace provides forgiveness of sin.  “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,…”  Romans 5:20
  • Grace enables Christians to love others.  “We love because he first loved us.”  I John 4:19.
  • Grace provides us with the opportunity to fellowship with God.  “”Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power…. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.”  Ephesians 3:7, 10-12.

I pray that we are thankful daily not just for the material blessings we have from our Father but also for the grace given to us by the Lord. We should think about this marvelous gift of grace from God and include it with humble gratitude in our prayers of thanks to God our Father.

Father, we thank you for your love that you extended to us while we were yet sinners, before we could even think of loving you. Thank you for Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on our behalf, and thank you for the Holy Spirit who indwells us and is transforming us into the image of your Son. Thank you for our country and the freedom to worship that is provided. We pray that our leaders and those in authority over us would look to you, Father, for wisdom, guidance and discernment as they lead us in these difficult times. Thank you, Father, for your presence and for your mighty hand.

HOW MUCH DO YOU LOVE ME?

It certainly is no secret that a new baby in the house upsets the applecart for parents as well as for older siblings.

Newborn baby ready to come home from hospital
Newborn baby ready to come home from hospital

It sometimes is a stressful time with the older siblings wondering if Mom or Dad have enough love to go around.  This is especially true given the emphasis (rightfully so) on the newborn baby which has now taken the place of priority over that of the older children.  “Mom, do you still love me with all your heart?  You love me more than the baby, right?”  Of course Mom would respond that she loves both the children with all her heart. Then she is asked: “How can you love both of us with all your heart – you have 2 hearts?”  Math and biology have now become real issues!

Child looking at infant sibling
Child looking at infant sibling

We smile at the question, but as adults, don’t we sometimes wonder how much we are loved, whether it is by our spouse or our children or our friends?  Sometimes, during hard times, we even wonder if God still loves us … if He did, surely He would have prevented “X” from happening.  [You fill in the blank.]

When it comes to God, I think the answer to how much God loves us is encapsulated in the saying:

“There is nothing that I can do to make God love me more than He does; and there is nothing that I can do to make God love me less than he does.”

I believe that this saying captures the definition of divine security.  Human love is strong, but it is sometimes fairly conditional.  Not so with God.  Scripture teaches that His love for me began even before I was born and it will continue throughout eternity. I did not earn it, I did not merit it, and I cannot lose it.

In Psalm 139, the Psalmist describes God’s creation of his being and the intimacy of God’s knowledge of him personally.

You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.  You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely.

Psalm 139:2-4 [NIV]  (Emphasis mine)

The Creator of all things knows me so intimately that He knew the number of my days even before I was born, before I “came to be”.  Further, He knows what I am going to say, even before I say it!  [That thought is difficult for me to even put into a post – praise Him for forgiveness!]

The scope of God’s knowledge of us and of His love for us is beyond my comprehension; I can only bow in thankful praise and abject submission to this God of love who sent His Son to be my Savior.

Easter at Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England
Easter at Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England

The depth of His love is shown by Calvary and the tomb; and, His power over death is shown by the Resurrection!

Philippians 2:8-11 describes Jesus’ sacrifice like this:

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  [ESV]

Praise the Lord that He has reached out and has adopted us into His family, by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.  We are children of the Sovereign Almighty God.  We are members of God’s family, and we are sisters (and brothers) of the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.  See Romans 8:15-17.

There is no question that God loves His children.  His love is more than sufficient for His children; it is perfect and guaranteed by the Holy Spirit.  We read in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 that:

And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. [ESV]

Thus, the real question is “Do you love Jesus?”

Jesus asked this very question of Simon Peter, the disciple who often seemed to put his foot in his mouth before thinking.  The impetuous Peter had affirmed his devotion to Jesus in the Garden before Judas and the guards came … then, during Jesus’ “trial”, he denied that he knew Jesus, not just once but three times.

After the resurrection, Jesus was with Peter and he asked “Do you love me?” three times – paralleling Peter’s three denials.   The story is told in detail in John 21:15-19.

Peter said that he did love the Lord and Jesus’ response was to direct Peter to “feed my lambs”, to “take care of my sheep”, and to “feed my sheep”. [NIV]  In other words, saying you love Jesus is not the end of the inquiry … you have a job to do.  In Peter’s case, it was to be a missionary feeding, caring and tending for the Lord’s sheep, and ultimately dying a martyr’s death.

That may not be what Jesus calls us to do … but He does call us to do something for which He will equip and provide direction and strength.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:10 [ESV]

So, how much do you love Jesus?  Enough to obey Him?  Enough to be a witness for Him wherever you go?

Father, help me to be a witness for my Lord.  Give me strength when I think I cannot go on, and give me wisdom to know when I should simply express love.  Help me to let Jesus shine through me in all things for your glory and praise.

DOCTORS, HOSPITALS, PETS AND FEARS

Cuddles and Snickers are at the doctor’s office today.  Normally they are in the family room, balancing on the recliner while looking out the window through the blind slats … not at all sure what they can see, but they are intent.

But today, they are at the vet’s office for their various shots, tests, nail clipping and baths.  While it sounds routine, it is anything but routine for Cuddles.

Apparently, at some time in her past, she was abused in and around her paws.  When she first arrived at our home, we tried clipping her nails and could not get her to hold still.  She violently pulled back — never snapped, but clearly was terrified.

She is not terrified to look out the bedroom window at the birds feeding just a couple of feet away.  So we don’t know what caused her terror at having her claws clipped.

I see you, birdies; I just don't want to get out there, that's all!
I see you, birdies; I just don’t want to get out there, that’s all!

So, we did what anyone would do, we took her to the groomer’s and asked them to clip her nails.  They were successful in “grinding” some of them, but could not get all of them done and none of her claws were significantly shorter than when we left her for the grooming.  And, again, she was clearly terrified.

Cuddles with her long nails
Cuddles with her long nails

Next stop on the journey for reducing nail length was the veterinarian.  Surely, with all the staff, equipment, etc., he will be able to clip her nails and we will be on our way.  Cuddles disappeared into the back of the animal hospital with the smiling vet carrying her, assuring us that it would be a simple task for them.  [You can read into his expression “You poor guys, can’t even get the dog to hold still for a minute!  We’ll take care of it.]

About 8 minutes later, a very harried vet returns carrying Cuddles — nails are no shorter and he is significantly humbled by the strength of our little MinPin.  And, as per previous encounters, she is clearly terrified.

“We were not able to calm her sufficiently to do the job.”   He then said that our only option was to bring her back on another day and have him operate on her … just put her under anesthesia for about 10 minutes and they would clip and cauterize her nails.  She would not be declawed as that is not a good thing for a dog, but the nails would be very short and it would take several months for them to grow.  Of course, the operation costs money, as does the anesthesia, treatment, etc. and it would be an, almost, all day affair for her.  We had this as one option — the other option was to have our limbs shredded when our skin comes in contact with her paws.

Needless to say, we have taken her to get her “nails done” today so that when we bring her home she will no longer shred our legs with Samurai sword claws when she jumps up onto our lap.

We don’t know what terrified her so much when it comes to her feet.  She has been with us almost two years and there certainly has not been anything here to foster that kind of reaction, but it matters not because her fear is visceral and there is no way to prepare her for the normal clipping procedure.

So, is this post about our travails with Cuddles nails?  Yes, but just a bit.

I want Cuddles’ experience to cause us to consider what terrifies us.  I am fairly confident that there is something in each of our lives that has hurt us, burned us, or abused us whether the injury is physical, psychological, mental or emotional.

When I was a very young child, I had polio and it resulted in scoliosis that showed up before I started school. Because the doctors warned that the severity of the curve would claim my life by the time I was 25, my parents opted for experimental treatment that involved spinal fusion surgery and over a year in a body cast.  I turned 10 years of age after surgery and 6 months in bed in a body cast that went from my head to my knee.   The Lord was gracious, the scoliotic twist was not cured but it was halted, and I was able to live a normal life, including having two children.

I tell you this to say that, even though I credit the Lord as the Great Physician and his messengers, my human doctors, for sparing my life, the horrors of the treatment and body cast were imprinted on my heart and mind.  But, I never thought of them until a doctor suggested that one of my children might have scoliosis.  All at once my greatest fear was staring me in the face.  All the memories that I thought were gone came crashing down and I was wailing, sobbing and utterly drained.

My beloved husband kept repeating that decades had passed since my surgery and the traumas that were associated with it, but I could almost touch my fear it was so real.  I had to come to the point where I could say, truthfully, that my children were the Lord’s and that, if He wanted them to go through this, I had faith in Him that He loved my children even more than I did and that He would handle the situation according to His plan for them, and for me.   As it turned out, there was no scoliosis diagnosis from any orthopedic or neurosurgeon specialist and the children are now adults, both of whom tower over me in height!

Cuddles trusts us — she, in her own doggie way, knows we would not intentionally harm her.  But her trust is not sufficient to overcome the fear that some other event had imprinted on her psyche.

Cuddles and I are different; however, because while my fear knocked me down, it could not overcome my Lord and Savior. He is sovereign and trustworthy, and I am in His hands.

“And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.” 

Psalm 9:10

We are repeatedly admonished in Scripture to trust the Lord.  For example, the Psalmist compares objects of trust in Psalm 20:7 where he affirms:

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”

And, the writer of Proverbs says:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.

Proverbs 3:5

The God that is described in the Old Testament as being trustworthy is the same God we serve in the New Testament body of Christ.  The writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 13:8 that:

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

So, who do you trust when you come face to face with your fears?  Do you trust in human wits, Oprah, psychology, or tabloid suggestions? Or do you trust the Creator of the Universe, the omniscient, omnipresent God who sent His Son to be our Savior?

May we say, along with the prophet Isaiah:

“Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.” 

Isaiah 26:4.

Father, forgive me for the myriad of times when I let my fears and insecurities rise to the surface so that they distract me from living my life in victory in the power of your Son through your Holy Spirit.  I praise you for being an everlasting rock upon whom we can trust.  I praise you, also, that you have never forsaken me even when I have tried to run and when my fears turned my eyes away from your beloved Son.  Thank you for your overwhelming love and protection, despite my fears.

COMMUNICATION AND HOW OLD IS GRANDMA?

I received an email from a friend that told the story of a grandson talking to his grandmother about current events. The grandson asked his grandmother what she thought about the shootings at schools, the computer age, and just things in general. In reply, the grandmother thought about what was different when she was a girl of about the same age as her grandson.

The list was extensive, but here are some of the things she listed for him …

I was born before:

  • television
  • polio shots
  • Xerox
  • contact lenses
  • Frisbees
  • credit cards
  • laser beams
  • ball-point pens
  • dishwashers
  • clothes dryers
  • space walk or space station
  • computer dating
  • day-care centers
  • group therapy
  • FM radios or tape decks
  • Videos, CDs or DVDs
  • electric typewriters
  • Pizza Hut
  • McDonald’s

The email story went on with many more examples of the differences and then she asked her grandson – “How old do you think I am?”

From my perspective, she was not very old!   She was born in 1952 … I would have been 4 years old when she was born!

House in Shrivenham, England
House in Shrivenham, England

The email was humorous when reading it but profound in its message … changes have come to us so rapidly that we have not been able to really adjust to one set of conditions before new situations are presented to us.   Take the iPhone for example; phones are hardly used for phoning someone anymore; they are computers, cameras, calculators, internet browsers, maps, and games and new generations of them are issued before we know how to use the one we have!  

Or consider the family.  Rarely do you find entire families in the same city or state. There are many families with children and grandchildren hundreds or even thousands of miles away from grandparents, a situation that was rare 60 years ago.  Each of the pictures in this post reflect just some of the locations where our children and family members have lived.

Coastline at Myrtle Beach, South Carollina
Coastline at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

As I was thinking about this email and the changes that have developed in such a short time, I looked through a box that my husband brought to the house after he cleaned out a storage room. When I opened it, there were a number of things that had been retained for no specific (or good) reason. But then I saw a large envelope and, when I peered inside, I saw numerous letters and cards that had been to me sent as an encouragement during a spiritual retreat 20 years ago.

I opened and read several but had to stop when tears made it too hard to read the handwriting. Reading words of encouragement written so long ago by loved ones and dear friends, many of whom are now with our Lord, blessed my heart and soul more than I had anticipated, and surely more than they could ever have expected. A loving gesture of writing and sending a note, that was discovered anew 20 years later, still had the power to evoke strong emotion and thankfulness to our Lord for the blessing of the friendship and thankfulness to them for taking the time to send the note in the first place.

Welcome sign at the Texas state line
Welcome sign at the Texas state line

Then I thought about how I communicate with others, today. The family is spread out over hundreds of miles. We send an e-card for birthdays, anniversaries, and general greetings. It is a reminder that we are thinking about them on their special day, and we may even type in a personal note, but that’s it. What about notes to family members, encouraging them and letting them know that, even from a distance, we love them and are thinking of and praying for them. That too is most likely an email.

Communication is easier today than it has ever been. But it is temporal and evaporates at the end of the day.

In Bible days, there was no email or e-card to alert people that David had instructions for the troops.  No, he sent a letter.  See 2 Samuel 11.   The King of Syria sent a letter to the King of Israel along with gold, silver and clothing when he wanted the man of God to heal his servant Naaman.  See 2 Kings 5.  When Nehemiah was rebuilding Jerusalem, he received numerous letters from his adversary, Sanballat.  Nehemiah 6.  Handwritten letters allowed communicating with those who were not with you physically.

Jefferson Monument in Washington, D.C.
Jefferson Monument in Washington, D.C.

This was true, also, in the New Testament. In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas were sent to Antioch with a letter from the church leaders admonishing the people to listen to those being sent to them.

Paul often wrote a letter to one church and then directed that it be read by the other churches in the area also. The letter to the Colossians is an example of this:

And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.

Colossians 4:16.

Letters were read and cherished by the people in the church and then sent on to the next church so that all were instructed, admonished, encouraged and strengthened by the Apostle’s words.

Moses commanded the people, when they left Egypt and the feast of unleavened bread was instituted:

You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.”

Exodus 13:8.

Coming into Albuquerque, New Mexico
Coming into Albuquerque, New Mexico

We are commanded, numerous times in Scripture, to instruct our children in the ways of the Lord and to tell them of how the Lord has guided and strengthened us during our lives.

Given this migration away from family togetherness, how do we communicate our faith to the children and grandchildren?

One way that we, in the 21st century, can communicate our faith with our children is by letters. It is easy to send texts and emails, and we can even Skype and see them, but perhaps, at times, we should return to the communication of Scripture and send some letters. Letters can be read, and reread, years or decades from now, after we are no longer able to communicate with anyone.  Perhaps we should send

  • Letters that tell of the Lord’s wondrous love for us.
  • Letters that describe the Lord’s guidance and strength during a hard time.
  • Letters of instruction and encouragement in the Lord, that say “It is because of what the LORD did for me when ….”.
  • Letters that witness to our love for Him and of our love for the recipient of the note.

May my life be an open letter of love for my Savior, and may I communicate that love to those within my sphere of influence in a way that is beautiful and pleasing to my Savior and in a way that will last, perhaps even beyond my own self!

Lord, give me wisdom as I try to communicate my love for You and my love for my children, parents, grandchildren, friends … help me to create a witness that will last and encourage those reading it to renew their focus on You, as You alone are to be glorified.

OF BILLBOARDS AND BANNERS!

Every fall, college football reigns supreme in Knoxville where the University of Tennessee football team, the Tennessee Volunteers, face off with the visiting team while over 100,000 people fill the stadium for a home game and they cheer, scream and watch every move made.  This does not only apply at the home game – such dedicated watching includes all televised away games as well, but then we don’t have the stadium cheerleaders, so we have to find our own!

Our own private cheerleader for U.T.
Our own private cheerleader for U.T.

In an earlier post, “I will give my all …”, I talked about seeing the billboard for the football program that challenges the players to give their “all” to the program.  The billboard has the shape of our state in the background and, in the University’s colors of orange and white, the words on the billboard say that we will give our “all for Tennessee today”.  The billboard not only has that slogan in print, it also has a giant hand coming up from the foliage under the sign as if to touch the sign as an imaginary player passes beneath, a subtle reference (for those who know the history) to the sign on the player’s locker room wall that says the same thing and which, according to tradition, each player touches as they run through the T into the football stadium.

Scripture tells us that God demands wholehearted devotion.  Deuteronomy 6:5 contains the following commandment from our Holy God:

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

That pretty much sums up “our all” doesn’t it … heart, soul and might.

But in case we missed the message there, Deuteronomy 10:12-13 follows up on it and says:

And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?

Talk about our “all” … God is saying that we are to serve Him with our whole being, not to serve Him half-heartedly.   Of course, Jesus also reiterated this command as being the first and greatest commandment that we are to follow.

Even for us in 2015, this commandment clearly extends to us as believers of our Lord subsequent to his crucifixion and resurrection.  He gave His life for us; how can we even think of giving anything less than our “all” to Him?

Going back to the billboard about the team giving their “all” to Tennessee football, in the prior post I pondered if I would be willing to have a sign in the front yard saying that I would give my “all” for Jesus, and if that sign would make a difference in my life.

As I came down the stairs thinking about that post and the billboard, I looked up and … low and behold … we do have such a sign in our house.   Actually, it is a banner placed over the primary exit door of our home which reads:

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Banner of Joshua 24:15
Banner of Joshua 24:15

That, of course, is taken from Joshua 24:15.   I remember when we bought this banner many years ago; I have always loved that verse in Joshua and this was a beautiful representation of it.  And, it encapsulates the commandment in Deuteronomy and the thoughts about obedience and allegiance to God that runs throughout Scripture.

I mention this because our banner has been hanging there quite a while, and I am afraid that it has become part of the room décor – sort of a statement of “ambiance” rather than a statement of intent for any of us when we exit the residence.  I am not certain that we notice it at any time other than when we have to dust it before company comes over (okay, maybe not even then).

In fact, if I were to ask our grandchildren about what the banner across the door said, they probably would have to go to the living room to read it, even though it has been there for years and they pass under it each time they exit the house.

This realization raised some questions in my mind and heart:

    • I wonder if each of the Tennessee players think of what that sign says every time they touch it as they go through the passageway into the stadium, or if it is a gesture that gets lost in the excitement of the moment?
      • I wonder if our children and grandchildren think of the lessons learned in our home when they are outside of our reach?
    • I wonder if the coaches remind the team of the sign’s significant message before they run into the field for the sports conflict of the day?
      • I wonder what would happen if we reminded the children and grandchildren to remember our Lord as they face the world and its challenges when they left the security of our home each day?
    • I wonder if I reflect the message that banner has been expressing so eloquently all these years?
      • Do I serve the Lord?  Every day?  In all my activities? Whenever I leave the house?
      • Does my family serve Him?  Is Jesus Lord and Master of all those in my family?
    • I wonder if my cheerleading for the Lord is as driving and exuberant as the cheerleading for the football team?
      • Do my children and grandchildren know that I am on the Lord’s team?
      • Do the neighbors see an excited exuberance for my Lord or do they see someone who goes about “serving in the church” with a grumble and frown?

Father, forgive me when the cares of this world flood my mind and heart so that I am unable to even think about You or my Lord.  Forgive me when I am “too busy” to spend time with You in reading your Word.  Forgive me when I am so committed to my family, friends, work, entertainment, and even activities at the church, that I don’t take the time to pray or to listen to your Spirit.  Help me, today and for all the future todays that You give to me, to give You my “all”.  I pray this through the mighty name of Your Son and my Savior, Jesus Christ.

LIVE IN THE SEASON!

When I think of living in the season, the first thing my mind turns to is the Preacher in Scripture and his admonition that “for everything there is a season”.  Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 reads:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;…

In Psalm 104:27-28 we read:

These all look to you, to give them their food in due season.  When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.

Eating “in-season” … it’s Scriptural and, therefore, we should take a good hard look at it!

When we were in England several years ago, my Daughter-in-Love received a box every week from a nearby farmer with vegetables that were just then harvested by him.  Many of them I had never seen before, let alone eaten, but he put in recipes and directions about how to prepare the vegetables in the box.  I thought, then, that it would be fun to get vegetables from farmers instead of only in grocery stores.

Later, there were so many stories of Hep C, bacterias, and all sorts of illnesses traceable to tainted food, so I decided to check out getting produce from a nearby farm to minimize the number of hands that touched the produce that we ultimately ate at our dinner table.

Eggplant, Zucchini, Summer Squash and Acorn Squash from vegetable box.
Eggplant, Zucchini, Summer Squash and Acorn Squash from vegetable box.

I did some reading and discovered the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement.  Basically, you buy a share of the farmer’s crop by paying a monetary amount in January or February, thus becoming a shareholder in the crop for the year.  Then, when the farmer’s produce begins coming in, you receive a box of vegetables directly from the farmer once per week.  The box contains some of each of the crops ready for harvest so you are eating with the seasons.  And, you receive some vegetables that you may never have purchased in the grocery store, thereby expanding your culinary tastes to include more veggies than corn!

Juicy Tomatoes from vegetable box.
Juicy Tomatoes from vegetable box.

We decided to participate in a CSA and then looked for one we liked near our city.  We found The Colvin Family Farm.  You can learn about them from their website at http://www.colvinfamilyfarm.com.  The most wonderful surprise was that this is a Christian family-owned farm and they use the farm as a witness to the grace of the Lord and His providential bounty.  The farmer’s wife has a blog, fittingly entitled The Farmer’s Wife, where she details life on the farm for her big family,  where she describes the various crops are and how to use the vegetables in the box, and also where she provides a witness to her love for the Lord and His grace in her life.  (The blog for this week talked about living spicy, with various peppers!) http://tnfarmerswife.blogspot.com/

We received our vegetable box today and I was prompted to think about living in the moment.  Eating in season, eating what the Lord has provided today, not craving for what will be coming later.  Being satisfied with today’s provision.  For some, this is a very different mindset.

Cucumber, Curley Kale and Tomato from vegetable box.
Cucumber, Curley Kale and Tomato from vegetable box.

The Hebrews in the wilderness learned this lesson when the Lord provided manna and quails for them to eat.  In Exodus 16:15-26 we read about when the people were first introduced to manna.  It was found on the ground in the morning and they were instructed to gather enough for each person in their house to eat for that day.  They were not to save anything for the next day, unless it was the Sabbath – if they were to do so, in the morning they would find worms and decay rather than fresh manna.

In other words, they were instructed to eat one day at a time – and to eat what was provided in-season for them.  Later, when they were no longer in the wilderness, the Lord instituted the feast of first-fruits where the people were to offer the first fruits from the harvest to the Lord.  They still ate in-season.

In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus said that we should not worry about tomorrow, about what we should eat or wear, because our Heavenly Father knows that we need these things and they will be provided.

Eggplant, Cucumber, Yellow and Purple Peppers from vegetable box.
Eggplant, Cucumber, Yellow and Purple Peppers from vegetable box.

Eating our vegetables from the box has been fun for us and it has taught us a renewed appreciation for the variety that God has provided for food in His world.  I would encourage you to consider participating in a CSA.  Alternatively, I would encourage you to eat vegetables that you can purchase from farmer’s markets as they will be fresh and the variety from the crops will encourage some tasty changes to your family’s menu!

Praise the Lord for the provision of food that is found in abundance and in a variety that creates exciting mealtime adventures.