Leash Lessons with Lily

I’m sure my right arm is starting to come out of socket from walking our dog. She’s only 25 pounds of puppy but I’d like to attach my luggage scale to the leash soon and see how many pounds she pulls on the leash. Our scale might max out.

My son and I joke about what she’s thinking when we go on walks. As Lily pulls on the leash to the point of choking herself we wonder what exactly is going on in that puppy brain of hers.

Their chasing me! I’ve got to get going faster or they’re going to catch me!

Must pant say pant hi pant to pant that pant dog pant.

If I put my ears back, I’ll be more aerodynamic.

Yay! We rounded the corner! We’re halfway home! Time to pick up the pace!

Since we don’t know much about dogs, we google search our training objectives. Apparently, we want to teach our dog to “loose leash walk”, that’s PC dog trainer speak for “stop choking herself to death on the leash.”

I get really excited when I think of Lily walking like that super well-behaved Sheltie we sometimes see on our walks. Oh the joy of a dog that just walks by my side and doesn’t have me worrying about how many people will notice in a few years if my right arm is noticeably longer than my left!

The basics of most dog training seems to be to make the dog realize that fun is not to be had with their chosen behavior. They don’t get us to yank them around when they, say, have a ball in their mouth that you want back. You just hold it still and they realize oh, this is no fun, I guess I’ll let them have it.

The longer we have a dog, I think my husband and I would have worked through a lot of our parenting style issues if we’d started with a dog. Or, we’d just have a really confused dog.

Anyway, I’ve begun walking the dog with the wonderful Sheltie in mind as my desired future.

Lily is learning but its a tough process. The leash is slack for a while then she starts getting after that deer, squirrel, cat, dog, leaf, etc and snap the slack is gone and I’m planning my next visit to physical therapy.

Now, I’m letting her get to the end of the rope and experience the reality that she’s not having fun. We stop for a few seconds until she stops pulling. I praise her and we move along a second or so until we repeat the whole process again. I’d not have much patience for it except that she is slowly learning.

And so am I…but not so much about dog training. My mind wanders to other things which is why I write this blog. I have thoughts.

I’m not a great loose leash walker with Jesus. I’m just like my dog, chasing after the next distraction I think will bring me so much …something…and I’m quickly wondering why life feels a bit…chokey.

Ah! My mind pieces things together quickly, God is after me and doesn’t want me to have fun! If only I got to live life on my own…

And I fail to remember that He feeds me, He gives me a safe refuge, He loves me, and He cares for me. My highest purpose is fulfilled not when I catch that squirrel of an experience…

but when I’m with Him.

Humility: Lesson #1

Most days I pass through a 4 way stop near my house. I’m on my way to drop off a kid or pick up a kid or go to work or the store or…anywhere.

It gets busy around rush hours and becomes more of a 4 way pause instead of a 4 way stop. People honk sometimes. I could be included in the word “people”.

I usually tap the horn when someone has not appropriately observed the law. They should know, right? I’m preventing an accident. They are in a hurry, they should slow down and pay attention.

Well, a couple days ago I pulled up behind a car at the 4 way pause. A million things were floating through my mind that first full week of school and crunch time in ministry.

As I pulled through the stop, I noticed a car start to pull out even though I was in the intersection. How dare he! I thought.

I didn’t tap the horn but I gave a look. You know, the get-in-your-place look. I may not be a police officer but I wish I was at times like these.

The driver did that Texas thing where you keep your hand on the steering wheel but wave your fingers around in a way that says what’s up with you lady?

As I completed my turn I realized I was still pretty close to the car that had been in front of me.

Huh.

Why was I so close to them?

It slowly dawned on me that I had tailgated the driver in front of me through the stop! A cascade of thoughts poured out of me…

I was wrong

I deserved a ticket

I did what I hated other people doing

My behavior warranted a honk and a dirty look

I am a hypocrite!

And I was totally unaware of it.

I also wondered how many times I condemn others for something and fail to see clearly my own behavior that’s worthy of condemnation. I can name a number of times that I encountered this in my life. This incident reminds me that there must be so many more that I still do not see.

I will always need grace and mercy for ways I mess up that I have not figured out.

So will you. So will others.

That other driver I thought so arrogant now seems so merciful. He didn’t blast his horn at me and I deserved it! How many times have I taken the opportunity to come down on something I felt justified in condemning instead of letting it roll on past? Instead of showing mercy…

I really want to thank him for showing mercy! So, if you’re reading this and were driving a nice grey suburban when a lady in a grey minivan gave you a dirty look while breaking the law…thank you for showing mercy.

To me, pride seems like one of those really stubborn, kind of hopeless character flaws. I’m usually very blind to it so how can I possibly grow in humility?

And then humility! The minute you say you’re growing in humility it reveals you’re not! Catch-22.

Here’s my hope straight from Proverbs 29:

A person’s pride will humble him,

But a humble spirit will gain honor.

So, through my pride, I’ll get humbled. Fun! But, I don’t need to dread this beat down. Even more encouraging is that my pride is not a hopeless condition. The joyful paradox, though, is that by the time any honor comes I won’t even care about it anymore!

Humility is content without the honor it engenders. It has its own internal reward.

And I’d love to know what that’s all about!

White Stones and the Deep Soul

My daughter tried to get my dad’s attention by calling to him in ever louder shouts. Poppy…Poppy…Poppy! He wasn’t standing far away and he wasn’t, yet, as deaf as he got later on. So, he really had no excuse.

She kept on shouting Poppy to no avail. Then, MIKE!!!! And Poppy turned his head. We all laughed pretty hard. I think we leaked actual tears.

Ok. He deserves a break. He was less than 2 years into his career as a grandfather. We lived overseas and my brother’s kid couldn’t even talk yet so he didn’t have a lot of practice with his new name, Poppy.

And, I feel this resonate with who I am as a person too. I don’t always know my name. It’s not that I don’t know my given name, its that I don’t know who I am as a person.

So I search. I take personality tests. What kind of animal am I? What are my strengths. My MBTI. A Birkman. Am I a “D”? What number am I? What’s my wing and do I only have one? Is adaptability really a strength?

I was once called a tornado for a certain combination of “strengths.” Tornados are strong, I get that. But a tornado? I’d only find fault if it wasn’t true. It is true, so I have to own that one.

I believe all these assessments can have a place in honing in on how God made us and how we can serve Him more whole heartedly. They can help us understand where we might be blind to sin. I’ve benefitted so much in recognizing certain strengths and sin patterns and learning to honor and trust God for them.

We’re a pretty fascinating thing, we humans. Gazing into how we’re wired and how we are raised and how God made us can get pretty consuming and pretty twisty. Looking into the soul without the guiding light of God’s Word and His Spirit, is like looking into a deep well. We can’t see the bottom. We keep asking our name and keep hearing an eerie echo of our own voices coming back from the void.

When my dad was dying, he talked of the white stones in heaven that have our name on them. It’s a brief verse in Revelation but what great hope is communicated through it. We will finally know our name, know ourselves as God knows us. That separation we experience in our souls due to sin will finally be closed

Can you imagine what that will be like? To have God, our very creator, lean in and smile (I just know He’ll be smiling) and whisper a name that’s just between Him and me. And it will be true, and right, and without shame, and without want, and have nothing to do with any other ill-formed, incomplete opinion.

It will finally be known to me what God has known all along.

My soul. My name.

So, all those efforts we put into knowing ourselves? If they are not united with what He already tells us about ourselves in His Word, they are woefully incomplete. They’re not a complete waste of time but just know, they will never be able to tell you all of who you are.

Only God can do that. And He will do it.

restoration

Flea Market Flip ran last week on HGTV while I exercised. Teams picked out old junky furniture and restored it in a nicely equipped workshop. Then, they resold it to people who found out they paid way too much when they watched the show a few months later. That show cracked open a door in my mind.

Can I be a Flea Market Flipper too?

I browsed Goodwill hoping to find a bike for my son a few days later. I found a bike for my son. I also found a table for me. Do I need a table? Why, no, I do not. But, the table needed me, so I took it home. Now it sits in my garage waiting for me to restore it.  IMG_0372

Which brings up a curious point of drama in this story because I don’t actually know how to do that. So, I pinterested.

I discovered a few options for this kind of project. One involved a few cans of superior grade spray paint. After that, there’s the small step up. I can buy a can of some kind of primer, sealer, base type paint and slather it all over before painting the table some daring color.

I’m not a particularly daring person so picking the color intimidates me. I’d leave that to my friend, Lori.

Then there’s classic restoration. It’s time intensive and complicated. It takes elbow grease and new tools. Sanding, staining, putty, glue, varnish, oils. The result is a beautiful, classical table in the style first envisioned by the maker.

I’m not sure I’m up for that. And, do I want another dark wood table? Not really.

Of course, all of this connects on a deeper level for me. If you haven’t gotten there yet. I am the table. A little loose and damaged needing quite a bit of sanding and staining to bring out what’s underneath all the crud. I’ve always needed restoration. I’ll always need restoration.  Until the end of days I will need restoration.

So, what kind of restoration am I opting for? It depends on the day or the hour or the minute. Mostly, I want the fast spray paint type of restoration. Just get me looking a little better. Cover over the worst of the transgressions. Blot out the huge blemish on the surface.

But, there are days when I understand that spray paint fails to do the job. It’s fast, easy, and noticeable on pieces that got a lot of problems. I got a lot of problems. I don’t really ask often because who wants to know the truth about themselves?  But we all kind of know, don’t we?

It takes creativity and time but in some areas I take a step further and really try to cover up the problems. It’s takes years to manufacture the hard shell that covers the really big stuff, those huge gaping wounds and gashes. Add a daring coat of paint to distract. Voila. I’m repurposed.

I’m longing more these days for more restoration in my life. I know its painful to feel sanded, stripped, and scrubbed but I want it. I can see a glimpse of what can be and I want more.

I’m in a good workshop now. Lots of skilled restorers of lives, lots of tools, lots of space, and gentle spirits that walk with the Lord. It’s a good time to restore. I’m realizing I need to keep a workshop in my life in years to come too. A place and people who restore. A place where I can be involved in the restoration of others too.

One person mentioned a few weeks ago that when we’re tired…bone tired…we need to work backwards from the physical through the mental and relational back to the spiritual. I ponder that these days and I wonder if the table is God’s answer to my prayers. I prayed that I’d connect with Him in a new way soon, that I’d see His hand.

Did He give me this flea market find to engage me in the ongoing work He’s doing in my life? Why, yes! I think that’s exactly what He did.

So, now back to the real table that is not me. I want to go buy that good primer, sealer, coater all-in-one paint today.

The allegory only goes so far, folks. I’m going to paint that table in my garage.

 

 

 

Watching…

DSC_0012At any moment I can look up and be sure a camera is looking back.  Big brother is always watching…always.  Sometimes I look up and count cameras just to see if I can top my biggest number pictured here.

It wears on me from time to time.  I grow weary of being watched even if it is benign watching and I am not the target.  Then sometimes I forget until I look up and see a camera in a startling place like in church…watching me.

They watch on the internet, on the street, in the malls, in subway stations, in train cars, in airports.

This summer the watching helped us put together how a passport disappeared in the airport.  But something about seeing a passport stolen while four or five people watched passively is a lot to get over.  I now need to forgive faces and not just vague incidents.

I don’t want to see some things.  I don’t want to see the children that get run over by careless drivers and the people who stand by and watch but do not help.  Constant surveillance means video of such incidents condemns but doesn’t seem to change anything.  I become a watcher myself standing by outraged but nothing changes.

Knowing that most will stand by and do nothing for me, I face the question, will I still do something for others?  Will my desire for privacy, so defended in my passport culture, win out and I sink into resentment unable to forgive the sin of a sinful world?

Or will I count this as yet one more way to share in the path that Christ took?  A path with scant privacy?

Do I Love God?

Sunday I stood and sang the words to praise songs emblazoned up on a large screen.  I began the next line…then the next… and found myself singing “I love you, Lord.”  I paused and listened and thought.  The words stuck in my throat.  My love for God fails in comparison to His love for me.  It falls so far short that I hesitate to sing of my love for Him because it feels false.

Prone to wander is more what I feel about my love for God.  I feel it just as the old hymn says, my tendency to wander.  Two weeks ago in the midst of fiery arrows flying at me, my family, my friends, my coworkers…His presence kept me and calmed me.  Now when the intensity of the attack is subsiding and a new normal establishes itself I so quickly wander back to my old ways…my old forgetfulness of His daily presence in the calm.

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All this wandering of my heart and my feeling of it glues my throat shut.  Do I love Him?  It is clear His love is greater.  How do I feel about such an unbalanced relationship?  If I saw a marriage where the couple clearly stated one member loved the other more, that one member wandered but the other held strong and faithful…I would have strong opinions.  My first thought condemns the wayward one and wants equal love for the faithful one.

So it is with me and God.  I am the wayward, He is the Faithful.  We both know it.  To be fully known and fully loved is life changing.  To not be able to repay or fully return that love is humbling and, yet, oddly freeing.  No pretending needed.  He knows me and I can hide nothing.  He loves me eyes wide open.

I will sing of my love for the Lord.  Sometimes there will be a grin as I accept such extravagant love.  Sometimes a tear in my eye as I contemplate how little I deserve His love.  Because true love transforms, I receive His love in hope that I can grow more like Him.

What songs or phrases cause you to pause and ponder?

Cultivated Vines

Our neighbor cultivates a small, self-claimed plot of the common area of our apartment complex.  We pass by in slow motion, our footsteps stall as we navigate the stepping-stones past her garden.  We traipse by daily and the kids are the first to notice the grapes that finally hang from the trellis or the flower bud that bloomed in all its beauty. The delight on their faces keeps routing us past her garden. 20130822-103544.jpg

Her cultivated vines contrast with another arbor we seek shade under.  Vines cover the walkway and we rest there on hot days, enjoying the shade. It took us a while but we finally realized the vines were grape vines too!  Lots of shade but no grapes.  The kids expressed their surprise.  I did too!

Because I grew up in suburbia and I never enjoyed gardening, agrarian pictures of spiritual life come to me in a fog.  I kept thinking of the differences between the cultivated garden and the wild grapevine.  What surprised me is that the untended grapevine provided shade which we enjoyed but it was indistinct and unable to offer bodily nourishment.  It needed trimming, pruning, and cutting by someone with a vision for what it could be–a source of food and shade.

Sometimes I rather wish I was just a source of shade for others.  A place to rest, to have light-hearted fun, to take a break from the heat of the world.  No uncomfortable conversations…no cutting needed.  Or I want to pursue only what seems personally enjoyable.  The vines remind me that is not all God desires for His people.  It falls far short.

He desires for me to become a source of real nourishment for the hungry. He wants to transform me into a tended grapevine, to submit to the cutting and stripping and arranging so that the juice flowing through me from Him funnels to fruit and shade for others.

Again I find myself asking what needs cutting and where to direct my energies, talents, and gifts.  In 7 days my kids all go to school and I find myself with many hours in the day to devote to new things.  My bent is to want to do it all and say yes to everything that comes across my path that seems the least bit interesting.

But, the lesson of the vines reminds me that fruit comes when I submit to the cutting and pruning and arranging of the One with the vision for my life.

Now…here’s where I wish I was the one pruning, the one with the big picture so that I didn’t have to trust so much! But, I guess that is part of what it means to trust…to submit to the hands of the One with the vision.