Friday, November 30, 2012

ANGELS AND ANIMALS ~ SUMMER DAISY

"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened."
~Anatole France

The house is so quiet. It's just shy of midnight and I can't sleep. Curled up at my bedside is our beloved cat Summer Daisy. This is her last night to be with us. If she makes it through the night, we will be saying our goodbyes in the morning.

Summer came to us eleven years ago, at the end of our daughter's eighth grade. She had wanted a white kitten. But when she saw Summer in the pet store, Kelly knew she was the one for her. So full of personality, an average name seemed insufficient. Summer Daisy Angelface Mayonnaise Socks became her given name, such a long name for the littlest cat I've ever known.

Summer remained petite in size, but her heart seemed larger than life. She always knew when someone (human or animal) was upset. She had the gentlest way of coming alongside us and bringing comfort. Her keen intuition and her tender demeanor had me convinced long ago that Summer was an angel in disguise. I've held to that belief ever since. Please don't try to explain theologically how this can't be true. You won't convince me. Some things are beyond our comprehension.

When our doxie Nathan passed away last year, Summer lost her best friend. She went into mourning. For weeks, she curled up on top of his blanket under our bed. It was the next best thing to cuddling her favorite four-legged pal. I believe Nathan is in heaven, waiting expectantly for Summer's arrival. I can see them now, playfully greeting each other, then finding a shady spot to curl up together.   

Our family has loved and lost dogs and cats. It's always painful to let them go. But it's the price we pay for pouring our hearts into our animals. As a family, this is what we do. We are animal lovers, and those we welcome into our home become family members.

I have a heavy heart as I say goodbye. Summer, we have quite a history together. Your love and affection have seen me through some rough seasons. I can't put into words the ways you have blessed me. I only hope you feel the same. I will miss you dearly, my furry friend. But you will always live on in my memories and my heart.

"Who can believe that there is no soul behind those luminous eyes!"
~Theophile Gautier

"Cats are angels with whiskers."
~Author Unknown

"One small cat changes coming home to an empty house to coming home."
~Pam Brown      

Thursday, November 29, 2012

DEAR BRAYDEN

"Every child born into the world is a new thought of God, an ever fresh and radiant possibility."
~Kate Douglas Wiggin

Dear Brayden,
Yesterday, you made your grand entrance into the world. So many hearts were bursting with excitement when you arrived. I admit I cried when I saw the first photos of you. Not to worry ~ they were tears of joy.

From the moment we heard of your existence, our hearts expanded to embrace you. When we learned about your special circumstances, they stretched and grew even more. Since then, you've been center stage in our hearts and minds. The prayers that we, and many others, lifted up on your behalf are too numerous to count.

And here you are. Beautiful beyond measure. Strong like your parents. And full of "radiant possibility".

I want you to know, you could not have chosen two more loving and capable people to call Mom and Dad. What's more, you have two beautiful sisters who will lavish you with attention. You have entered into a family who will pour more love and energy into you then you can imagine!

Brayden, you are a treasure to all of us, and we couldn't love you more. Our world is richer and fuller because of you.

Quoting your Uncle Daniel, "Welcome to the world buddy!"

"A little bit of heaven drifted down from above,
A handful of happiness, a heartful of love.
The mystery of life, so sacred and sweet,
The giver of joys, so deep and complete.
Precious and priceless, so loveable too,
The world's sweetest miracle...baby, is you."
~Author Unknown    

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

LOST AND FOUND

I was in tears. It was our first Christmas in a new home. I couldn't wait to deck the halls, decorate the tree, and bring a little bit of the holiday into every room.

But something was missing. Amidst the many boxes I'd brought from storage, I couldn't find our stockings. Had they been store-bought, I would have chalked it up as a loss and purchased six more. But the stockings hanging on our mantle every Christmas were labors of love. I had needlepointed each one over the course of four years. Though the kids were young, they seemed to have a grasp on the care that went into each stitch. How would I break the news to my family that the stockings were lost?

I pictured our Christmas treasures at a dump, buried under mounds of trash. Perhaps they'd been tossed out accidentally during our move. It would have been an easy mistake for someone to make. The stockings were stored in a heavy duty black trash bag to protect them from moths and other critters.

My husband walked into the living room and noticed my tearful state. I explained the reason for my mood. "Have you looked everywhere? Maybe they got tucked away someplace else. Think."

I dried my eyes, though my heart was still racing with emotion. Think! Where else could I have put them? My mind travelled to two cupboards in the hallways. But when I looked, I came up empty-handed. Then I remembered, I had stored some seasonal items under our bed. I darted to our bedroom and began pulling out garment bags, storage boxes, and a black trash bag. The shape and feel to the bag spelled success. I'd found my missing treasure. I ran to my husband, clutching the six stockings to my heart. "Look! I found them!"

I know how it feels to find something valuable you thought was lost. A timely revisit to Luke Chapter 15 reminded me ~ So did a shepherd who lost one of his sheep. And the woman with ten silver coins who lost one knew, too. More importantly, God knows. When one lost soul is found, there is unimaginable rejoicing and celebration. It doesn't matter the condition the person is in when He finds them. He smiles with arms open wide and exclaims, "My child was lost, but now he's found!"

I watched my daughter hang our stockings on the mantle this week. I couldn't help but reflect back to the day when I thought they were lost for good...and the joy I felt when I found them. To know that God, my Father, experienced even greater joy over me is too wonderful to grasp. I was so lost, then I found my way into the arms of God. No treasure on earth can compare to that.

"When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: 'Father, I've sinned against God, I've sinned before you; I don't deserve to be called your son ever again.' But the father wasn't listening. He was calling to the servants, 'Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We're going to feast! We're going to have a wonderful time! My son is here - given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!' And they began to have a wonderful time."
~Luke 15:21-24, The Message

  
 

Friday, November 23, 2012

A MARY AND MARTHA THANKSGIVING

"An open home, an open heart,
here grows a bountiful harvest."
~Judy Hand

Mary and Martha were sisters. When Jesus showed up at their home for a visit, Martha went to work, zealously attacking everything that needed to get done. Mary, on the other hand, curled up at the feet of Jesus and soaked in every word. Martha was understandably annoyed. Why should she have to do all the work?

Martha couldn't hold in her frustration. She aired her complaints to Jesus. Then she told him to straighten her sister out. But his response to the scenario involved a gentle rebuke for Martha. "Mary has made the better choice," he explained. "I won't deny her simply because you've chosen the busier path."

Gulp... These words spoke volumes to me yesterday before I jumped into my hectic Thanksgiving routine. There was much for me to accomplish, but I didn't want to make the same mistake of Thanksgivings past, and allow the busyness to rob me of the "better" part of the day.

Maybe it helped that I'd just re-read a book on having a welcoming home. "Hospitality is much more about the condition of your heart than the condition of your home," wrote author Karen Ehman in her book  A Life That Says Welcome. This timely reminder nestled into my spirit like a breath of fresh air.

I still found myself knee-deep in things to do. Preparing a feast takes much concentrated effort for this old bird. And I wanted our home to be clean and inviting. But my thoughts kept wandering back to Mary and Martha, and how their day with Jesus played out so differently.

I'm not the manic Martha I used to be. But looking back, I see I could have been more engaging with my guests and less concerned with the mountains of dishes. That's okay. I did my best to keep my heart in check. The Martha in me took a back seat, and let more of my Mary take over. It's amazing the change we can see in ourselves when we sit at the feet of Jesus. And for that, I am truly thankful.

"O Lord that lends me life,
Lend me a heart replete with thankfulness."
~William Shakespeare

"Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving."
~W.T. Purkiser
  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

COME IN!

They stood at the door, gazing inside the banquet hall. A sense of inadequacy washed over both. They felt so out of place in their dirty jeans and faded shirts. Tossled hair and dark circles beneath their eyes made them even more self-counscious.

"We should get out of here," the young man whispered as he took his wife's hand.

"Just one more minute? It's all so beautiful. And it's warm in here. It's going to be freezing outside." Her pleading expression spoke louder than her hushed words.

"Okay, but just a minute. Then we're going. I don't want someone seeing us, and asking us to leave." He put a protective arm around his young bride. There was little else he could do. Times were hard. With no work, they'd lost their apartment. And the few possessions they'd managed to keep had disappeared while they slept at a shelter the night before.

Both stared longingly at the contents and people filling the room. Candlelight and exquisite floral arrangements made the atmosphere so welcoming and inviting. Music, laughter, and jovial conversations poured from the room and into the hallway. Every face was smiling, and all were dressed in elegant attire. China plates were piled high with foods they could only imagine tasting. But the aromas wafting into the hall were enough to give them a "taste" of what they were missing.   

"Everything looks so good," she sighed. A server brushed by them, his platter nearly empty, but not quite. She saw her chance and grabbed it, not caring what her husband would say. "Excuse me, are those extras?" She ignored the tighter grip of her husband, knowing he would give her an earful after they left the hotel. She didn't care. It looked too good. And she hadn't eaten in over twelve hours.

"Sure, help yourselves." The server handed them two plates piled high with a colorful array of tasty morsels.

"This isn't right. What if they catch us?" The young man looked over his shoulder nervously.

The server chuckled at his response. "Relax. No one is going to mind. In fact, there's a table to the right when you go through the door, and it's empty. Go sit down. Enjoy."

"You're kidding! They don't want the likes of us in there, mingling with those rich people. They'd kick us out!" Clearly the server was new, and didn't understand the ways of the world yet.

But the server smiled at the man. He knew something this couple didn't. "Go, Sit down. Trust me. This is a banquet to raise money for the homeless. If anything, you'll be the guests of honor. Go! Sit. Enjoy yourselves."

Clutching their dinner plates, the two looked at each other, then into the banquet hall. "Come on, dear. We'll sit over here." He led his wife to a dark corner in the hallway.

"But the server said we could go in," she responded.

"Look at us. We don't belong in there. Come on. At least we have food. And we've got a warm spot to sit. Maybe they'll have mercy on us and let us sleep here tonight...since it IS a banquet to raise money for us homeless people."

They sat on the plush carpet and ate their meals in silence. It tasted so delicious. When had they eaten like this? She couldn't remember. She was glad for the food, and for the refuge from the cold. But what about tomorrow? And the day after that? Why them? Why were they the ones in the hallway? Why couldn't they be among those who were enjoying the festivities in the banquet hall?

With full stomachs and a wall to lean against, they huddled together and closed their eyes. The distant murmurs of the party lulled them to sleep.

We may not be homeless, but many of us find ourselves just like this couple. We are standing at the door, gazing in at a life of beauty, splendor, purpose, fulfillment. And we can see it all before us. Because the doors are wide open ~ to all the glory, majesty, healing, deliverance, transformation, and freedom. We see it, and we acknowledge it. But we only stand at the doors looking in, as if that is sufficient...or out of fear we don't belong. Instead of going in, we hold back, choosing to stay in the familiar where we feel safer.

If only we'd take that first step, and walk through those doors. The joy that would greet us...the peace that would flood us! It's ours. If we want it. We only need to take that step of faith, and walk through the door.

"Enter in. Come," He says. "Don't be afraid. Don't be shy. Don't believe the lies that you don't belong. Come in! Look at all I have for you. What are you waiting for? Come in!"

"O taste and see that the Lord (Our God) is good! Blessed (happy, fortunate, to be envied) is the man who trusts and takes refuge in Him." 
~Psalm 34:8, Amplified Version

"Man finds it hard to get what he wants, because he does not want the best. God finds it hard to give, because He would give the best and man will not take it."
~George McDonald

"An infinite God can give all of Himself to each of His children. He does not distribute Himself that each may have a part, but to each one He gives all of Himself as full as if there were no others."
~A. W. Tozer

"Only God can fully satisfy the hungry heart of man."
~Hugh Black

"God does not come to us in nicely defined, rationally explained, thought categories. God does not fit Himself into our theological text books. The Hebrew God breaks all the rules. He is near, yet transcendent; clothed in human form, yet holy; more terrifying than can be imagined, yet compassionate; invisible, yet revealed; judging, yet merciful; sovereign, yet humble. No matter where you look, God breaks the molds."
~Skip Moen
                 

Monday, November 12, 2012

SACRED MONDAY

My Monday began like most days. Alarm set, I was eager and energized to jump in and tackle my to-do list. Our home has felt a bit neglected lately, as aging parents have been needing more of my time and attention.

"Where do I begin?" I asked myself. So many things were calling to me. Chores, errands, and pets all seemed to be screaming at once, begging to be first on my list. I reminisced about a time in my life when I was able to multi-task. I could accomplish several things at once so effortlessly. Not anymore. Lately, if I am not completely present in whatever the task at hand is, I get distracted and drop the ball.

But with the beginning of a new week upon me, I opened my eyes with an optimistic outlook. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," I reminded myself as my feet hit the floor. I'd been chanting this verse to myself all weekend. Now it was time to put action to my words.

I spent the morning productively cruising through the first section of my list. How good it felt to check off item after item on the paper. Laundry got done. The kitchen was cleaned. Even the refrigerator got a bit of a makeover. I ran my errands and planned our meals for the week. And in the midst of it all, I managed to take the dogs for a walk.

Mid morning I looked at my handwritten notes and all that was checked off. Why did I feel so unsatisfied? Was it because I still had things left to do...and more than I could hope to accomplish in one day? No, that wasn't it. Something was missing.

I sat down with my cup of tea and grabbed my devotionals, my Bible, and my prayer list. My spirit was hungry. And as I refreshed myself in His Word and in quiet praise, I was reminded how much I need and want Him in every moment of my day. Errands, chores, and projects are of value. But they become sacred when I invite God in and welcome His presence as I go about my busyness.

With my arms elbow deep in dirty dishes and while scrubbing the kitchen floor, I can consecrate ~ set apart for God ~ every hour of my day. I don't have to be idle or silent to walk that holy path with Him.

The day isn't over. But I must say, it's been a blessed Monday. As I continue to chisel away at my overly optimistic goals, I am energized. Because I know that whatever I accomplish or fail to do, I am in the best company. However it plays out, my day is well spent if I stay in step with Him.

"There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God."
~Brother Lawrence

"The time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were on my knees."
~Brother Lawrence

"You have said, 'Seek My face.'
My heart says to You,
'Your face, Lord, do I seek.'"
~Psalm 27:8              

     

Friday, November 9, 2012

WHAT HAVE I DONE?

It was just her in the room now. The intrusiveness of the bright lights overhead caused her to feel exposed. She wanted nothing more than to escape the reality of what had happened on that table moments ago. But the truth was sinking in. No door existed that could remove her from this new place of regret.

The doctor had reassured her. It was only tissue they'd removed. There would be plenty of opportunities to begin a family. She was wise to wait until she was older, more mature, married, financially stable. It was the right decision.

Then why did it feel so wrong? Why was she mumbling apologies through a rush of tears to a container on the floor? Only tissue. Isn't that how her life had begun?

This was supposed to bring an end to a bad situation. But now she was realizing, this was only the beginning. A new nightmare was unfolding. There was nothing she could do to stop it.

Regret. Grief. Shame. Emptiness. These were her new companions. And as they introduced themselves to her, a darkness penetrated her spirit that no bright light in a doctor's office could penetrate.

The nurse returned and rested her hand on the girl's shoulder. "You can get up and get dressed. You'll be a little crampy. Here's a prescription that will help." She placed a piece of paper in the trembling palm of the girl's hand.

Once again, she found herself alone. She sat up slowly, oblivious to the physical discomfort the nurse had spoken of. There was a new pain to contend with. It reached far beyond her womb. And no medication was going to ease it.

She shed the gown they'd given her to wear, and slowly dressed herself. She tried to be mindful of the simple act of putting on her clothes. She wanted nothing more than to drown out the words that kept replaying in her mind. WHAT HAVE I DONE? WHAT HAVE I DONE?

A soft tapping at the door temporarily interrupted the chanting in her spirit. "Come in," the girl said, trying to choke back her sobs.

Her friend's face spoke volumes. She knew. She'd been on that table herself. "Are you okay? They said you can go."

She nodded yes, but every fiber of her being was screaming no. No, I am not okay. No, I cannot go back to life as I once knew it. No, nothing will ever be the same.

She made it to the door, then paused. "I'm sorry, baby. I'm so sorry."

My heart aches for every woman who has had this experience. Women walk this path everyday. Some are young girls overwhelmed by an unexpected pregnancy. For others, it's a matter of convenience, finances, timing. Some are trying to cope with the trauma of rape or abuse that led them to this place. And some women have had to make the heart-wrenching decision to preserve their own health and life, knowing the high risk they face if they proceed with the pregnancy. There is no perfect scenario. All are tragic. And all leave scars.

And the babies? There simply aren't words. Heaven is surely full of these young lives. May God forgive us, and may He have mercy on this nation that treats the sanctity of life so casually.

If you are struggling with the aftermath of abortion, there is hope and healing. I encourage you to find a godly counselor who can walk this path with you, and help you find wholeness again. My prayers are with you!

"I've noticed that everybody that is for abortion has already been born."
~Ronald Reagan

"Only half the patients who go into an abortion clinic come out alive."
~Author Unknown

"If it isn't a baby, then you aren't pregnant, so what are you aborting?"
~Author Unknown

"You are the one who put me together inside my mother's body...with your own eyes you saw me being formed. Even before I was born, you had written in your book everything about me."
~Psalm 139:13, 16    

Thursday, November 8, 2012

I BOW DOWN

I was a young adult, searching. I had a void in my life I longed to fill. I knew I was missing out on something larger than my little life had experienced. And whatever it was, I wanted it.

I was curious about God. But the little bits of information I accumulated confused me. The pieces of this vast puzzle weren't fitting together. I couldn't find reasonable answers to questions that lingered. One in particular tripped me up every time I tried to find a path to faith in God. If He is the One true God, why would He need people to bow down to Him? What was the point of worship? My skewed thinking led me to wonder if He was the ultimate ego maniac. It didn't add up.

Thankfully, I put those false notions to rest. And as I got to know Him, I came to realize that His love for us is at the heart of why He calls us to come ~ bow down ~ and worship.

God knows if we aren't bowing down to Him, we will be bowing to something or someone else. He knows the act of worshiping Him keeps us from worshiping others. And He longs to spare us of this. Because He knows what we don't. The other things...and other people, will never satisfy. They are a temporary fix to an unending need that only He can fill in us.

It's  a daily decision. Who or what will I worship? Today, I bow down to the King of kings and Lord of lords ~ in awe, in praise, in thanksgiving.

How about you? Who or what do you exalt in your daily life? Yourself? A family member? A paycheck? Your home? A leader? An image? Or God? Friend, only He can fill the void. Only God deserves to be on the throne. Only He can satisfy.

Come, let us worship and bow down...

"Worship changes the worshiper into the image of the One worshiped."
~Jack Hayford

"Whatever people worship, that is what they inevitably serve."
~Daniel Fuller

"Worship is our innermost being responding with praise for all that God is, through our attitudes, actions, thoughts, and words, based on the truth of God as He has revealed Himself."
~John MacArthur

"Come, let us bow down and worship Him;
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!"
~Psalm 95:6

"So here I am in the place of worship, eyes open, drinking in your strength and glory. In your generous love I am really living at last! My lips brim praises like fountains. I bless you every time I take a breath; my arms wave like banners of praise to you."
~Psalm 63:2-4, The Message

"Exalt the Lord our God! Bow low before His feet, for He is holy!"
~Psalm 99:5

       

Monday, November 5, 2012

MY HEART'S DESIRES

"Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of life."
~Proverbs 4:23

"Be careful what you wish for...you might get it." I used to blow this comment off as a cynical remark. I couldn't see past the tone to find the gift woven in the message.

But the truth is, the desires of our hearts often dictate the course of our day-to-day lives. You can usually tell what matters most to someone by looking at how they spend their time and resources.

With only one life to venture through, I want to keep a close watch over my heart. The true desires of my heart have nothing to do with accumulating more stuff or taking extravagant trips. But these frills can look so intriguing. If I'm not careful, they can mask as my heart's desires, and take me off course.

The desires of my heart go much deeper. And they've been a part of me for as long as I can remember. From the time I was a little girl, it's been the same three things ~ being a wife and mom, being a blessing to others and the world around me, and being a writer.

I look back at my life and see how short I have fallen on all three paths. I love my husband and children, but what I wouldn't give to turn back the clock and do a better job as a wife and mom.

Blessing others and the world around me? Sure, I have pulled this off from time to time. But I am more apt to drop the ball and look back, wishing I'd done more.

And being a writer...this is perhaps my greatest challenge because I can't force the doors open to a writing career. All the books and devotionals I have written don't carry with them the promise that I will become a published author.

It's when I let myself give in to frustration, regret, and doubt in these three key areas that I find my heart wandering. It goes to something more tangible and attainable. But the truth is, those secondary longings never satisfy. Because they have nothing to do with the true desires of my heart.

"Be careful what you wish for...you might get it." One can hope! Or go a step further. And jump in. With both feet. And give it all you've got.

Proverbs 4 warns to "be careful", "keep vigilant watch", and "guard" our hearts. Our heart's desires are too precious to do any less. And when they've been a part of us our whole lives, I believe they'll surely come to pass.

"Walk with the dreamers, the believers, the courageous, the cheerful, the planners, the doers, the successful people with their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground. Let their spirit ignite a fire within you to leave this world better than you found it."
~Author Unknown

"You will always gravitate to that which you secretly most love. Men do not attain that which they want but that which they are."
~James Allen

"If you want to know where your heart is, look where your mind goes when it wanders."
~Author Unknown