Tuesday, June 25, 2013

MY FOUR-LEGGED INSPIRATION

"Let every living, breathing creature praise God!" ~Psalm 150:6, The Message

"Everyone is as close to God as they want to be." ~Joyce Meyer

When I was a child, too young to really remember much, our family had a basset hound named Archie. With two siblings and several years between us, I relied heavily on my four-legged companion. Archie was my closet friend. We'd nap together, share his doggie treats (disgusting, I know), and had daily play dates. For such a distinguished breed, Archie was a good sport. But he possessed a spiritual side to him I knew little about.

Archie lived during the era when dogs were allowed to roam free. This was long before communities went hog wild on leash laws. During many of his solitary excursions, Archie would amble over to the church on our street.

I've heard many stories over the years of him cruising down the church aisle, settling next to one of the pews for some quiet, reflective time. Those who worked at the church became well-acquainted with Archie, and seemed to welcome his many visits. There were days Archie hesitated to come home when we called his name. My family members took many walks over to the church to fetch our beloved canine.

Memories of Archie inspire me. Do I possess the same yearning for the sanctuary of God? Do I grab every chance I get to mindfully enter into His presence and commune with Him?

Honestly, I am more apt to become distracted by worldly stuff. I put unnecessary pressure on myself to accomplish things that don't really matter in the grand scheme of things. Of course, most of those things need to be dealt with. But the trouble begins when they move up above God in my list of priorities.

When I allow this to happen, I forfeit the peace of focused fellowship. Time after time, my mind and my heart become divided by external forces.

It wasn't that way with Archie. It's true, he was my faithful companion. But he didn't allow his family duties to deter him from the deeper longings for his sanctuary time.

Maybe Archie had other reasons for loving church so much. Perhaps he was enticed by treats from the local priest. Or maybe he needed a little peace and quiet now and then. Who's to say what went on in his heart and mind when he walked through those doors? After all, the same God who created us also made Archie.

Being human, I am different. I can think through what drives me, and I can address the distractions pulling me away from the greater path. I have choices. Will I put God at the top of my list? Or will other activities come before Him?

I shouldn't become neglectful of family, friends, home, work, health, and hobbies. But I should follow Archie's example and make it my priority to enter into the sanctuary of God and spend time alone with Him every chance I get.

Who knew a basset could be so inspiring? I guess this old dog can learn something new from a childhood memory of a faithful friend. Good dog, Archie!

"If I put God first in my life and my time, everything else will work out." ~Joyce Meyer

"I love those who love me; those who look for me find me." ~Proverbs 8:17. The Message        

Monday, June 17, 2013

FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS

"Old as she was, she still missed her daddy sometimes."
~Gloria Naylor

I rummaged through my collection of old photos, hoping to find pictures of me with my dad. I ended my search frustrated. Dad had always been the one behind the camera, eager to capture the memories. With the exception of one polaroid shot, I was left empty-handed.

When I saw my sister's post on Facebook, I wrestled with conflicting emotions. There she was, arm in arm with our dad, both clothed in wedding attire and radiating joy. He had been there to walk her down the aisle, and he lived to meet her children. I was happy for her memories, but felt cheated at the same time.

"When does the sadness go away? When will I be able to experience days like Father's Day without a lump in my throat?" I asked my counselor years ago.

"Never. There will always be a melancholy undercurrent. Especially given the tragic way he died."

It wasn't what I wanted to hear. Never? I did not want to carry this cloak of grief the rest of my life.

"It will get better," she encouraged me. "Some years, you may not even notice it that much. And good things will spring up from this, if you let them. You'll develop compassion and strength you wouldn't have known otherwise. And appreciation for the people who still occupy your life."

Yesterday was Father's Day. I wanted to celebrate my husband, and the many ways he has poured his life and love into our family. When I asked him how he wanted to spend his special day, I was taken back by his response. "I hate Father's Day. I'd rather not do anything."

"Why? You still have your dad. And a family who wants to honor you." I wondered if it had anything to do with our newly married daughter, and the fact that she'll soon be moving to another state. I know his heart, and how much he's going to miss her. Though we are fortunate to have our three sons closeby, there's just something unique about fathers and their daughters.

"It's because of your dad. And the pain it causes you every year," was his unexpected reply.

I was stunned by his words. I had no idea the impact my own grief was having on him, too. "We need to change our perspective. We are blessed with so many loved ones. We need to make them our focus. Let's enjoy them while we can. Life is too short and unpredictable."

And that is how we spent our Father's Day. Honoring his dad, and my stepdad. Savoring the time with our kids. Swelling with gratitute for our grandkids who have enlarged our hearts in ways we couldn't imagine. And yes, even honoring the man I called Dad. How good it felt to put aside the garment of sorrow and celebrate him too, photos or no photos.



    



      

Friday, June 14, 2013

LIFE AND DEATH AT A FUNERAL

The visual was crystal clear. I was hovering over the funeral, but I didn't see who occupied the casket. I only knew someone I loved had passed away.

That mental picture haunted me for the next few days. When I least expected it, the scenario would pop into my thoughts and trigger a sense of foreboding. Was this some type of warning? Was I on the brink of losing someone near and dear to me?

I shared the vision from my dream with one of my "sisters". She didn't act surprised or alarmed, perhaps because I had told her of a similar experience weeks prior. Her gentle response caught me off guard. "Do you think it's because you're dying to SELF?"

Her words have been playing like a broken record in my mind. Die to SELF. Ever so slowly, I've been learning what this means on a much deeper level ~ emotionally, relationally, practically. The gentle nudge of the Holy Spirit to put SELF to rest has been with me all year.

Die to SELF. Set aside my own agenda, my own wants, my own needs. Free myself to live a higher calling. I am so slow to grasp this! I cling so tightly to my selfish amibitions, desires, and mislabeled "needs".

But I do myself and everyone around me a grave disservice. By going after the things I think are important to me, I keep myself bound by their elusive claims to a better life.

He is calling me to let go. Not to deprive me, but to free me. Only then can He fill me with a deeper, more satisfying life.

I can see the visual before me. People gathered around a wooden casket, a pastor offering words of comfort and eternal insight. But this time, I see my SELF inside that box, preparing for its proper burial.

For me, this is the most challenging part of following Jesus. But it's also the most liberating. If I am going to live my life dead to SELF, I have to make the choice every moment of every day.

SELF. It's been a road block, a hindrance, a weight. It may take a lifetime to bury, but I'm putting it to rest, one shovel at a time.

"Many deaths must go into reaching our maturity in Christ, many letting goes."
~Elisabeth Elliot

"For if you want to save your own life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for my sake, you will find it."
~Matthew 16:25            

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

PRUNED AND READY

When I asked what he wanted for our anniversary, I already knew his answer. "The best gift you can give me is to not buy me anything."

I had to come up with a gift that wouldn't cost me a cent. What's more, I wanted it to be something meaningful.

But I was distracted. I couldn't stop thinking about a discussion we'd had with friends about Jesus' parable of the vine and the branches. The neat and tidy visual I had carried with me was being challenged by various thoughts and perspectives.

My mind kept wandering to the theme that had struck the biggest chord with me ~ the importance of pruning. Just like the plants that grace our gardens, we have seasons where we are in need of some extra pruning. Even things that look good on the outside can actually stifle our growth and productivity if they aren't snipped away.

Midweek, the two meditations of a gift for my husband and the pruning principle intersected.

I got out my heavy-duty pruning shears, gardening gloves, and every vacant trash can I could find. I took one last gaze at the bushes bordering our driveway. This was going to hurt. Camelias that have proudly stood along our home for decades, perhaps older than me, have been a source of contention in our marriage since the day we moved here.

I love their heighth and depth, the privacy and shade they provide, and the abundance of pink blossoms during the months when much of the landscape is barren. My husband, on the other hand, despises the way their leafy branches stretch over the driveway, infringing on his space when he loads and unloads his work truck.

We have argued about the bushes more than any other subject. We've tried to find a middle ground. But my attempts at trimming are never satisfactory in his eyes. And his attempts have left me breathless with frustration.

As I stood in our driveway with shears in hand, I knew this was the gift I could give that he'd love. Better yet, it wouldn't cost me anything monetarily.

I pruned away, cutting deeply into the thickest inner branches. While I worked,  it struck me ~ pruning is painful! It's messy. And exhausting. But there's a higher purpose. As I snipped and clipped away at the camelias I love, I saw new dimensions to this chore I'd been resisting for fifteen years. The more I cut back, the freer I felt. I couldn't wait for my husband to see his gift.

The following day was our anniversary. We spent the afternoon giving much needed attention to other parts of our garden. Once again, I found clippers in my hand and more overgrown bushes to tackle. "It's going to look so bare," I thought to myself as I snipped and clipped.

The day was hot and muggy. I headed for the kitchen to get a cold drink. I glanced out the window, hoping I wouldn't be disappointed by my efforts. To my surprise, a heart had taken shape. I had no idea I'd clipped the bushes to create a heart-shaped pattern.

Yes, pruning is painful. But the truth is, it empowers us to grow in healthy ways that produce more fruit. Our hearts become more pliable, softened, and usable. At the hands of our Gardener, we begin to thrive and produce a new harvest.  With the old clipped away, we are freed up to be who we're created to be. My heart-shaped bushes serve as a sweet reminder.

"I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn't bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more."
~John 15:1-2, The Message   

        

Saturday, June 1, 2013

TREASURE HUNT

"Attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure." ~Author Unknown

When he first began to approach the subject, I have to admit, I cringed. I think I even laughed at such an outrageous idea.

When he continued to revisit the whole topic, I tried to muster up an open mind and an expression of interest. Afterall, he seemed serious about the whole idea. But on the inside, I was wrestling with a case of heartbreak, anxiety, and a sense of pending loss.

Give up our home? Really??

As the possibility began to sink in, things worsened. My mind started to wander into the future. I began to imagine the torture it would be to daily witness others occupying our family home while we resided in the granny flat behind it. I envisioned myself walking down our driveway, listening to new voices filling our living room. And a cloak of dread would wash over me.

If that wasn't bad enough, I pictured my husband and I occupying the one room attached to our garage. Where would we fit everything? Would we be able to stand living together in such a small space, day in and day out? How would we entertain guests? Everytime my mind went to these unknown places, my wall of resistance grew.

Then something happened. I don't even know what changed things. But very slowly ~ over weeks, months, even years of discussing it ~  the challenges and host of negatives I saw and felt have faded. And in their place, a sense of freedom, adventure, and relief have flooded my spirit.

Less is more. That is the essence of what I've been learning lately. The things I've held onto so dearly have had too strong a hold on me. It's time to let go.

A treasure in the hand can't compare with those we acquire in the heart. I invite you to join me as I begin this path of discovery. I'll do the leg work. And I commit to transparency, even on the dark days.

Who knows what treasures await us?!

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."
~Elisabeth Elliot

"Do not gather and heap up and store for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust and worm consume and destroy, and where thieves break through and steal. But gather and heap up and store for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust nor worm consume and destroy, and where thieves do not break through and steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
~Matthew 6:19-21, The Amplified Bible