Our Internal Prison

Carl will now have to go to the kennel when we go out of town. Instead of roaming around in the freedom of our neighbor’s house, he is headed to spend at least 20 hours of his day in a cage. We will pay extra to allow him to play for three hours with other small dogs. But for the majority of the time, Carl will be in his designated pen on his bed.

I hate to do this to him, but for now, it is best for everyone. We won’t have to worry about him clawing at the small boy who lives next door. And if he does get too rowdy with the other dogs, he will be placed back in his cell. I mean cage.

Carl’s decisions and actions caused his move from freedom to being confined. And so can ours. People lose their freedom every day when they break the law. But many people who are walking around have also created their own prison. They live in the cell of their inner being without ever knowing true life.

Many things can place us in our own prison and keep us from growing in the way that God has created us. David was in his own prison and didn’t seem to realize it until God sent Nathan to give him a wakeup call. Most of the time, we think of David as the young boy who had killed the giant with one stone or the most notorious king of Israel. In 1 Samuel 13:14, David is described as a man after God’s own heart. So what happened?

Instead of going off to war, David gave in to complacency. Having plenty of time on his hands, his eyes began to wonder. And they landed on a beautiful woman that was married to one of his officers.  After having his way with this woman, she became pregnant. At this point you would have thought that David would have done the right thing. But David was in his own cell that he didn’t want to give up. The desire for this woman was stronger than the motivation to do the right thing. So David sends orders to have the woman’s husband sent to the front lines where he is killed.

Thankfully, after Nathan confronted David, he realized the sin he had committed and was given the key to freedom. Even though he had been given his freedom, he wasn’t given a get out of jail pass. David ended up paying a high price for his actions for the remainder of his life. Even though the rest of his life was frosted with the consequences for his iniquity, he no longer existed in the prison of unconfessed sin.

Carl is home from the time he spent at the kennel. He seems exhausted from the anxiety he must have felt as he waited to be taken out of his pen. He seems more humble than usual. Hopefully, he has learned something from this experience. Not sure though. Either way, I hope that I can imitate our heavenly father and extend some grace to Carl like God extended to David.

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Unexpected Outcomes

Carl had to stay with our neighbor while we were in the mountains. The campground that we were staying in had strict rules that I knew Carl could not abide by. When we were ready to pull out, I took off Carl’s collar and directed him to the house next door. I wasn’t sure if he would be upset that we were going to leave him but this concern quickly evaporated when he ran up to the door and began to scratch with his paw.

After we had settled into our campsite, I texted my neighbor to find out how Carl had been doing. What she said was a little disturbing. “Carl had a semi-serious incident with one of our cats but all is now in hand.”

I am not quite sure what happened but I can guess that Carl spotted the cat and without thinking, ran after it. Given the cat still had his claws, I am sure the incident wasn’t pretty.

How often do we run or walk into situations without understanding the implications? One day, while camping, we decided to walk one of the trails in the Smokey Mountain National Park. The sign said it was 1.2 miles long and that it would lead us to a waterfall. I should have realized that something wasn’t right when the trail took on a steep grade that was very difficult to walk.

As we continued to struggle upward, I had to stop to catch my breath and contemplate if the water fall was worth all this effort. But given my persistent nature and my husband’s encouragement, we made our way up the steep incline to our final destination.

The further into the dense forest we went, I had to question if we were on the right trail. The sound of rushing water had ceased and the possibility of a waterfall existing so far up seemed unlikely.

Finally as the trees began to thin, we could tell we were close to the end of our hike. In the distance, there was a clearing but no sign of a water fall. And what we found in the clearing was even more puzzling.

When was the last time that you can remember going down a trail in life and ending up in an unfamiliar destination? I am sure the disciples that followed Jesus began their journey with a preconceived notion of where it was going to take them and ended up in a place that they would have never imagined.

I can’t even conceive what Levi thought when Jesus approached him. In Luke 5:27-28 it states, “After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.”

Giving up his income and status, Levi left everything he was familiar with and got up and followed Jesus. Just as we didn’t have an idea what would be at the end of our trail, Levi could have never guessed where his decision would lead.

Once we finally got to the end of our trail, three tombstones greeted us. Violet, Theodore, and Guy Wiggins. No date of birth or death. Just three fairly new stones up the steepest trail I have ever traveled.

I would have never guessed that at the top of a mountain in a national park, there would be a family cemetery. As we made our way back down, I considered our situation and what we had discovered at the end of such an arduous journey. It definitely wasn’t what we expected. In the same way, following Jesus can also lead us up trails high above the world below to unpredictable discoveries.

Sadly, Carl had no idea when he entered my neighbor’s house that this would be his last stay with this family.  Apparently, he had not been happy about being left and he made his feelings known to the dogs and cat in the house. He even unintentionally scratched the four year old boy that he loves so dearly.

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Carl’s Purpose

Typically, Carl doesn’t attend to the movies that come across the screen but for some reason, this one caught his attention. With ears perked up and eyes staring straight at the television, Carl was completely absorbed. Given the movie was all about a dog and his purpose, I was not too surprised at my dog’s reaction.

As we watched the movie about a dog trying to figure out his purpose, it was fun to think that Carl could be thinking about his God given purpose. Could my four legged pooch actually have a reason for being?

You see, Carl was not our first choice. I had specifically asked the breeder for a brown French bull dog with a dark muzzle. The puppy was born and I was elated that it was a female and looked exactly how I wanted. But as fate has it, the puppy died only days after it was born which left us in a predicament. Do we wait the months or even years for another brown dog or do we purchase a different colored pup.

When the breeder sent us pictures of our little Carl, we couldn’t resist. So on December 6, 2014, we brought home our baby boy. I am not sure if we immediately understood why Carl was in our lives but after a couple of months of his antics, the fog began to clear.

During those days, I was also searching for my own reason for existence. I had recently retired from teaching and felt like an Israelite wandering in the desert. I had started blogging about my own personal time of searching but something was missing.  

If anyone knew their purpose, it was Jesus. In John 12:27-28, He states, “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.  Father, glorify your name!”

As I think about what He states in this verse, my own purpose becomes a little clearer. If everything Jesus did was to glorify His father, then shouldn’t I have the same mindset?

But how can a retired school teacher and a crazy little French Bull dog glorify God? We can’t. But God can. Can’t He who created us, give us just what we need in order to reflect His goodness to everyone we come in contact with?

As I gaze over at my little dog with his attention still on the screen, I have to laugh with God. He could have given me the perfect looking dog with the best temperament but instead, He gave me Carl.

 

A Feast for the Thankful

I was awoken once more by the quiet but persistent whimpering coming from the chair in the far corner of the room. I looked up to see the time was a little after 4:00 am. Moments earlier I had been in a deep state of sleep so it took me a few seconds to open my eyes and rise from my bed.

After placing my feet into my bed slippers, I shuffled down the hall and turned the corner, walked past my desk, and headed into the dark pantry. An illumination from the electric doggy door provided just enough light to see the dog dishes. As I lifted the lid off the dog food, I could hear the smacking of lips from my two Frenchies.

Once, the dog food was in the dishes and the lid was back on the container, I headed into the kitchen and placed the food on the floor. Hardly seconds after the dishes hit their destination, the two pooches placed their heads down and began sucking up the morsels of food.

As I watched them, a thought resonated in my brain. Never, not once, had my dogs given me thanks for their food. No looking up into my eyes with gratitude or coming over to me and giving me acknowledgement for the food that sustains them. For years, I have forfeited a full night’s sleep to get up and feed them. But even with this sacrifice, I had received no sign of gratitude.

The scenario caused me to stop myself from being frustrated with my dogs when I thought about the times that I had dived right into a meal without giving God the thanks He deserved. How many times have I not even given God a thought when I began a meal? Too many to count.

As I was thinking about the importance God puts on gratitude I ran across a story in Luke 17. Jesus was traveling between Samaria and Galilee and ten lepers call from a distance for Him to heal them. Jesus tells them to present themselves in front of the priest. As they were going, they were all healed. But what happens next is both surprising and appalling. Let’s pick up the story in Luke 17:15.  “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Did God need their gratitude? No. Then why did Jesus address the issue of the other nine and their lack of thanksgiving. Could it be that Jesus was more concerned with the condition of the nine lepers’ hearts then the skin sores that had covered their bodies?

In the same way, Jesus is greatly concerned about how grateful we are. If we are humble enough to lower our heads before our earthly meals and give thanks, we could be good candidates to receive a personal invitation to the heavenly feast that awaits for the children of God.

Carl and Bee will probably never show gratitude for the food they receive on a daily basis. But whenever Carl looks at me with those deep brown eyes, I know in his heart that he is thankful for my efforts.IMG_1791

Carl and the Serpent

At first, I wasn’t sure what I was watching. Carl and Bee were pulling on something and neither were going to let go. The problem was the thing was a black snake that had slithered up on the porch to sun himself and didn’t realize what he had gotten himself into.

All I could do was scream. I am not sure if I was crying out for the snake or for the safety of my dogs. I couldn’t tell if the reptile was poisonous from my distance and I wasn’t going to get any closer.  So after a couple of minutes of tug a war, the dogs were no longer pulling.

It was then that I went into the screened in porch and looked over to see the remains of the snake. The head was lying on one side of the porch and the rest of the creature was lying between both dogs. Foam was seeping out of their mouths as they protected their prey.

I called my husband for advice and he told me to get the snake off the porch and throw it over the fence. Even though the snake was dead, I still didn’t want to go near it. So I recruited a neighbor to come to my rescue and discard it for me.

As he went to pick up the head, the snake opened its mouth. This absolutely creeped me out. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The mouth continued to open and close while the rest of the body slithered around five feet away. What I learned later is that this isn’t that unusual.

I couldn’t help but think about this verse as I pondered the continued movement of the snake. John 15:5-6 states, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”

Just as the snake’s body had been removed from the head, we can also be removed from the vine. Sometimes, people may even look spiritually alive and make all the right movements, but in the end, if they don’t remain in Jesus, they are dead.

John 15:7 states how we are to remain in Jesus.  It states, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

If we stay in God’s word and it remains in us, we can ask whatever we wish and it states that it will be done for us. But we need to be careful in knowing that it may not happen immediately or even in our lifetime. And in many cases, the end result may look very different from what we have perceived it to be.

Just as the snake continued to open and close its mouth, my perception of what a dead snake looks like was definitely different from what it was in reality. As for Carl, he did suffer a battle wound on his left ear. It appears the snake must have dug in as Carl and Bee pulled him a part. But thankfully, he seems fine and ready for his next encounter with the wild.

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Living Oblivious

Carl was oblivious to the circumstances. He was prancing around like he was going to be chosen to go camping. On the other hand, Bee wouldn’t leave my side for fear that she would be left behind. I tried to comfort the little girl by telling her she would be the one to go but after being left in the past, she didn’t want to take a chance.

It is funny to think about the differences in the dogs’ behaviors and the assumptions that both made about what was going to happen. Carl appeared to be a little arrogant with his head held high as he pranced around. On the other hand, Bee seemed terrified of being left.

As I observed the posture that my dogs took, I couldn’t help but think about our own posture before God. Many people emulate the confidence the Pharisees portrayed regarding their final destination.  They were so prideful about knowing how to get to Heaven that they didn’t recognize the only Way to get there.

On the other hand, prostitutes, invalids, and the twelve disheveled men that Jesus selected as His disciples followed Him around for three years until it became crystal clear that this man was God’s son.

How often do we all live in a state of oblivion? Just the other day, I found Carl sleeping on the back porch directly under the sun roof. As he lay in the brightness of the sun, the light diminished his figure in the process.

The contrast of his figure made me ponder. Isn’t this how we should live so that we don’t get caught in a state of oblivion? Jesus states that He is the light of the world. John 8:12. If so, if we are living in His light, shouldn’t our figures be diminished and His enhanced?

Carl didn’t see it coming when I pranced him over to the neighbor’s house before loading Bee into the truck. He continued to appear confident and sure of himself. I almost felt sorry for him. Then it struck me. Isn’t that how we exist in our own state of oblivion, confident in ourselves without regard for God?IMG_1793

The Pain That Leads to Prayer

My husband has taken Carl and Bee for a walk while I am supposed to be resting. Yesterday I had a medical procedure that I had been putting off for some time. The reason was plain and simple.  I don’t like pain. I never have. I particularly don’t like thinking about an upcoming surgical procedure that would definitely start with the pain from the numbing injections and end with the pain of being cut open.

But after the gentle encouragement of my dermatologist, I decided to do what was best and bite the bullet. As the days and the hours got closer, I prayed for a peaceful state of mind. So I went about my normal routine of walking Carl and Bee and spending time talking to my husband.

To also make the experience less stressful, I brought along a friend to keep me distracted on the drive over. Instead of being consumed with my own negative thoughts about what was going to take place, my friend and I discussed scriptures and how grateful we were to have a relationship with Jesus.

If I was apprehensive about a procedure that I knew would cause pain, I can’t even imagine what was going through Jesus’ mind as the days drew closer to his death. In John 10:17, Jesus states, “My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.”

Jesus knew when and how He would die. He knew it was going to be one of the most brutal deaths a man could go through. But He didn’t put it off for his own comfort. Instead, when the time had come, He first gathered his friends close by and went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.

Jesus demonstrated to us what we must do in order to pursue the things that will cause both physical and emotional pain.  He spent time in prayer with his Father and surrounded himself with the people He cared about the most.

I know that my tendency is to flee when I am about to encounter pain. Carl doesn’t like pain either. If ever I touch a sensitive spot on his body, he will growl and let me know that I better leave him alone. With his lack of understanding and inability to pray, he reacts.

But God gave all of us a way to take the focus off of the pain. It is called prayer.  And if we are honest with ourselves, it is when we experience pain that we are more apt to pray. Either we pray to prepare for the pain or we pray in the midst of it. Whichever I choose, it sure is comforting to know that I have a Heavenly Father that wants to hold me close as I pass through it.

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