Category Archives: spiritual

The Act of Pruning

creativity is Intelligence having fun


Carl was not happy about being on the other side of the fence.  But he needed to be there as my husband cut down the grape vine that we recently discovered last summer. As Carl made himself known to us by his loud whine, we cut off the branches, pulled off the long thin climbers, and chopped the large vine down close to the ground.

Just like the grape vine, many plants need to be cut back in order to reach their full potential. Year after year, we have cut back our fig tree to see it come back with beautiful leaves and delicious fruit. So even though it looks almost impossible to believe that new vines will grow back and produce grapes, we just have to believe that they will.

It is interesting how God created plants to flourish when they are pruned back.  So why shouldn’t we think that He wants to do the same with us?

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” John 15:1-2

The word pruning means cutting or thinning. So when you think about how God prunes us, you probably aren’t thinking of a pleasant experience but one that will include some form of suffering or pain.

No one likes suffering and the physical, emotional, spiritual, or financial hardship that comes with it. But if we read this scripture again, we know it is for our good and God’s glory.

I personally would like everything to go as I plan but in the times of suffering, I can be encouraged by the fact that God is pruning me so that I will produce more fruit. And as I reflect on my life, I do believe that the hardships have molded me into someone who relies more and more on God.

Carl has also been pruned on several occasions in his life and I do believe that it has helped him to become the sweet little fella that we all love.  Having his tail surgically removed was probably the severest pruning he has lived through. But even though it was extremely painful and he no longer has a tail, Carl has adjusted and become an inspiration to us all.

On Hands and Knees

This time I had to defend Carl in the incident that occurred in the depths of the night. I had an idea by Bee’s behavior that there would be an episode but I was just too tired to get out of bed to deal with it. I wish I had at least tried to stop what was about to occur but as we all know hind sight is best.IMG_2804

Bee was ready for the altercation with her brother and there was nothing I could do as the two bullies charged at each other. Thankfully, this exchange was over almost as quickly as it began. Something had caused the dogs to separate and make their way back to their beds. As I turned on the light and saw the mess, I realized why they had retreated.

This altercation was nothing compared to the one that Jesus caused when He entered the temple right before his crucifixion. “And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” Matthew 21: 12-13.

I am sure Jesus didn’t make any friends on this day. Coming into the most important building in the city and turning over tables of the money-changers had to turn some heads. How could one man be so bold as to confront these men that were making money for Caiaphas, the high priest?

Because Jesus knew that selling sacrifices for extremely high prices to the people that were coming to make a sacrifice was wrong and angered God. Given that Jesus came to implement God’s plan on earth, He didn’t have an option but to address this wickedness in God’s sight.

So right before the eyes of everyone in the temple, Jesus knocked over tables and called them robbers.

This incident challenges me to be willing to do God’s will even when it isn’t popular with the general public. I just hope that I will consider what is meaningful to God the next time I see a situation that doesn’t please Him.

As for the mess that lay in front of me, I knew I had to deal with it as quickly as possible.  The short incident between my dogs had ended because of a glass of water that had been knocked off my bed side table. Apparently the water had startled the dogs and caused them to pull away and withdraw to the safety of their beds.

Once I turned the light on and looked in the direction of my pooches, I had to smile at how innocent they appeared. It was hard to stay mad at them, even if they woke me from my sleep and caused me to be on my hands and knees cleaning up their mess.IMG_2372

 

 

 

A Carl Pop

Carl refused to move. It was clear that he was cold because his entire body shook but never the less, he wouldn’t budge. This was a particularly cold day with temperatures in the low 20’s and I didn’t want to stand there and argue with my little bull headed bully.

Being hard headed is one attribute of my little dog that hasn’t changed for the three years that Carl has lived with us. No matter my strategy, he will not budge unless he can see the treat that he desires.

I have to admit that I can also be hard headed in certain areas of my life. And I have also noted that the older I get, these areas have extended to other parts that were earlier unoccupied. Age and experience can give us wisdom but it can also increase our pride if we are not careful.

I am sure Jesus’ disciples thought they knew everything they needed to know about God and what they had to do in order to enter His kingdom. Peter is a perfect example of this. He seemed to be the kind of person that spoke before thinking through what he should say. This makes him very relatable.

In Matthew 16, Jesus is telling his disciple how he has to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things. Even after being with Jesus for years, Peter just doesn’t get it. He thinks he knows more than Jesus and even has the audacity to pull him aside and rebuke him.

Well you can guess that this doesn’t go well. Jesus turns to Peter and tells him to his face, “Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God but on the things of man.” Matthew 16:23

How often do we set our mind on the things of man without thinking about the long term implications?  It can be so easy to think we know what is best for ourselves and leave God out of decision making process. If only we would consider what has eternal value and not the things of man.

As for Carl, once he saw the treat in my hand, he took a step inside the porch door, grabbed the treat and raced inside to recover from the cold. All I could do was shake my head and follow him inside. Will he ever change? Probably not. But I am going to love him anyway. As I looked over, Carl was still shaking and I had to laugh. He reminded me of a freeze pop on a stick.  A Carl pop.img_3032.jpg

Speechless

Carl has been a sleep on the couch all morning.  He has barely stirred. I hope that he is okay but only time will tell. Unlike people, Carl is unable to share with me how he feels or what he is thinking. I can only guess that he is well and just enjoying the warmth of the room on such a bitterly cold day.

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His lack of communication made me think of a sermon that my husband was listening to by T.D. Jakes titled Shut Your Mouth. This preacher was very animated and out right told people that they would have a lot less issues if they would just shut their mouths. As I thought about it, I had to agree.

How often do we get ourselves in trouble when we open our mouths and let filth come out?  Many times, our emotions get the best of us and instead of letting the words get filtered out through our brain, we just let them flow out without regard to the impact they may have on others.

I remember a wise woman who shared with me about how words can be like the feathers in a pillow. Once you open up the pillow and let the feathers out, it is very difficult to retrieve them.  This is the same with words. As much as we might regret what we say, it is very difficult to return our hurtful words to the original source.

James 3:3-6 states, “When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.  Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.  Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”

As harsh as it may sound, this is the truth. The tongue can definitely become like a fire that corrupts the whole body. This is why I am going to try harder to listen twice as much as I speak. Isn’t this why God gave us two ears and only one mouth?

I do find it fascinating that God only gave man the ability to communicate with the use of words. (I know there are some birds that can mimic.) As for Carl, he is still lying on the couch and refuses to share with me how he is feeling. Maybe that is for the best.  Either way, I am going to try and do as Carl does today and see if I can learn more when I am speechless.

Vulnerable

Carl is beginning to pipe up and has started that annoying howl that has gotten him in lots of trouble in the recent past. I am not sure why he has started to make this obnoxious noise except that he wants my attention. For the last couple of days, I have been very attentive towards his needs and today was totally different.

With winter weather that has kept us house bound, Carl has enjoyed the knowledge of having a back rub or sitting on a human’s lap.  Every day has been spent either sleeping or trying to get my attention. But these last couple of days Carl has realized that his human mother is not herself.

If any of you out there have turned 50, you know the right of passage that you are faced with.  The dreaded colonoscopy. Every ten years, each of us over 50 are confronted with not only the procedure but the prep that comes with it. I am not going into specifics but I can tell you that this process has lengthened and gotten a little more complicated.

Instead of just one day of prep, the new process includes four days of a low fiber diet which is totally different from the diet that I would have predicted. After eating carbs and bread for four days, the day prior to the procedure I was confronted with a liquid diet that ended with 64 ounces of Gatorade and Miralax.

I haven’t fasted in a while and wondered how I would handle a day without food. For someone who doesn’t want to miss a meal, how would my attitude be when I had to go without?  Around 1:00 in the afternoon, I was beginning to feel the effects of having nothing on my stomach. I could tell that my irritable attitude was rising up from within.

This is when I tried to consume my thoughts with distractions from the Australian Open and later with the NFL playoffs. I was feeling a little vulnerable with the knowledge that I had a ways to go and knew that my stomach wasn’t going to be satisfied for at least another 24 hours.

As I reflect over this experience, a verse in Matthew 17 keeps coming up.  Jesus had just been up to the mountain where He, Moses, and Elijah were transfigured in the presence of several of his disciples. Once He comes back down to the people, He is instantly confronted by a man that desperately wants his son to be healed from a demon.

The man tells Jesus that several of his disciples tried to heal the boy but couldn’t. It was clear the disciples thought they could, but were unable to. When asked by them why the boy couldn’t be healed, Jesus tells them, “However this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”

Prayer and fasting. Why would God want us to fast? Being without food caused me to feel vulnerable. I didn’t feel as in control as I usually do. It is in this state of mind that we can go to God and have a better perspective of who He is. While fasting, I felt weak which made God strong.

As the day went on, Carl could tell that I wasn’t myself and gave me my space. But that evening, when I was at my weakest, I looked over at our little pooch and found him in a prayer stance. I could only smile and thank God for the lessons He has taught me through this little dog.IMG_2906

Wavering Faith

Carl is out with his human dad buying a snow shovel. The guys already have cabin fever after only a couple of hours of snow that could paralyze our community for the next few days. Carl is not much a fan of the snow but he wasn’t going to pass up a chance to spend time in his favorite place in the world, the big black truck.

Once they returned and we had lunch, we all got in our winter gear and made our way out into the winter wonderland. Both Bee and Carl tolerated the wet snow for the chance to get some exercise. The dogs weren’t sure what to think about all the white flakes floating through the air. Every couple of minutes they would shake their bodies sending the snow in all directions.

Sending the snow in all directions reminds me of the night when Jesus was taken by the soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane. Apparently after Jesus was taken prisoner, all the disciples scattered. And this was only hours after the disciples proclaimed that Jesus was from God.

Many times we can know something in our minds but if the conviction isn’t in our hearts, it won’t impact our lives. James states this perfectly in James 1:5-6 “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.

I must admit that my faith can waver like the waves in certain situations. It is so easy to believe God will show up in the times that I feel confident but when I see no hope in certain circumstances, I can begin to doubt. This verse has convicted me and hopefully I will not allow doubt to reign in my heart.

As for Carl and Bee, they continued to shake the flakes from their coats. We ultimately turned back and made our way home to the warmth of our fire place. After entering the house and taking their coats off, it didn’t take long for the two bullies to find a spot where they could remain warm and watch the snow fall from a distance.

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Temporal Joy

There was a marked contrast in how Bee and Carl were behaving. Carl was strutting around with a joy based on the fact that his earthly father loved him. They had just gotten back from a long walk in the cold weather. Just the two of them. Then there was Bee. She was clearly annoyed that she had been left behind.  No matter how I tried to console her, she was upset and demonstrated it by being domineering. IMG_2852IMG_2803

Another contrast that I noticed happened last night at the end of one of the most exciting football games I have ever witnessed. The Minnesota Vikings were down by one point and it appeared that the New Orleans Saints were going to move on to the quarter finals. With only one play left and over 61 yards to cover, Case Keenum threw a touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs to win the game.

But it wasn’t the way that Case initially reacted to what happened that caught my attention. Even though many compare how he ran around the field trying to find someone to hug to Jim Valvano when North Carolina State won the national basketball championship in 1983.

It wasn’t even the fact that Case shouldn’t have been the quarterback playing in this game. Being the third in line at the beginning of the season, who would have ever believed that he would be the one throwing the football?

No the contrast came when Case was interviewed to share his thoughts about this moment. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TG2XgL76uwI

He shared how this was the third most important moment after giving his life to Jesus Christ and marrying his wife. Then he walked off.  And then what I saw in the background as they moved the cameras off of Case caught my attention.

There was Stefon Diggs reenacting the play that won the game. With photographers all around him, he reenacted catching the ball and running into the end zone.

I can totally relate to what he was doing. I have also tried to recapture that brief joy that comes from doing something incredible. If not physically trying to reenact it, thinking about it and playing it back in my mind and hoping to capture that emotion that came with the initial act.

But I have never been able to experience the same joy that came with the act itself. And that was what stood out to me. Case knew it too. He knew that the throwing of the football was third in his list of priorities.

For all of us, we will have victories (maybe not as spectacular as this one) and we will also have defeats. And as long as we have our priorities in order, we can experience an eternal joy that can only come from a relationship with Jesus Christ.

 

Overcoming our Feelings

I am not sure how Carl is feeling about being back under our roof. For the first two days upon returning from a house full of children, he seemed depressed. He basically laid on the couch and slept for the majority of the time. After several days, he now seems to be more content about his present situation.  I am not sure why I care so much about how he feels.

Why should how a person feels be so important to all of us?  I will never forget taking my father in law to the doctors after being diagnosed with lung cancer.  Every time we were approached by a nurse as she escorted us into the examination room we would always be asked the same question. “How are you doing?” Which could be interpreted as “How are you feeling about life?”

I am sure this is just a way to greet people, but in reality, what should we be asking people when we encounter them? Should a person’s feelings be the most important aspect of their being?

I just finished listening to a message by Joyce Myers that really challenged me. She explained that humans are made up of three different parts, the physical body, the soul, and the spirit. A person’s feelings fall under the category of soul along with the mind and will. Deeper into who we are is our spirit that should be dictated by the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures.

She explained that if we live by how we feel or our emotions, than we are not going to experience the joy that comes from living by the Spirit.  Jesus even addresses this in John 15: 11. Since He created us, He knows what will complete us emotionally.

If I remain in Him, I can have joy no matter the circumstances. Even when it involves something as devastating as lung cancer. So how do I remain in Him? By reading the Scriptures when I don’t FEEL like it. It is only through the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit can push through our soul (feelings, mind, and will) and motivate our physical body to do the Will of God.

It was interesting, because just as I was writing this, I had the urge to go over and check on Carl and was tempted to turn the television set on. As I looked down at the dozing dog, I was reminded that I needed to return to what I believe is God’s Will (writing this blog) and dismiss my feelings.

Now that I have completed this entry and getting ready to send it off, I am filled with a sense of contentment that can only come from digging past my soul and pulling out what is of true spiritual value.

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The Power of a Name

Carl has been away for over a week. He has taken up residence with my daughter’s family. I got a text from her stating that her children didn’t want to let him go.  They had fallen in love with our sweet dog and proved it by changing his name to Uncle Carl.

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Prior to this stay, Carl was only tolerated by my daughter’s family. So when I had heard that his name had been changed, it warmed my heart. How often do we enjoy hearing an endearing name come from someone we love?  As a mother, I cherish being called mom or mommy.

When my husband and I were dating, he began calling me Little. When we were married, he had this name engraved inside my wedding ring. To this day, I find it very special when he refers to me as Little.

If given a name by a loved one is special, I can’t help but wonder what Abram and Sarai felt when God intentionally changed their names. In Genesis 17, Abram has an encounter with God. At the age of 99, we could all assume that Abram was waiting for his final exit. But God had other plans for him.

The first thing God did was change his name as well as his wife’s. Abram’s name would be Abraham which means father of the multitudes and Sarai’s name would be Sarah which means princess of nations. Given that this couple had been barren for long after their child bearing age, Sarah laughed when she had heard the news.

I am sure even after God had told them that they would have a child, Sarah and Abraham had to continue to doubt. But what about the name changes? Why would God change their names if He wasn’t going to make them parents? The time between God’s announcement and the pregnancy had to be agonizing. And all they had to believe with were the names that God had given them.

Sometimes when my husband and I are going through rough spots in our marriage, I will think about the name inscribed in my ring and how much he loved me when he called me his Little.  And just like Abraham and Sarah, I believe that the love that is represented in this name will get us through the tough times and allow God to work his miracles.

As for Uncle Carl, he is now home and missed by all the grandchildren. He also sIMG_2845eems a little sad to be among the quiet walls of our home. I am sure that over time, he will bounce back to the playful dog that we all know.

As for my daughter’s family, I truly feel thankful for the love that was extended to our little dog and the name that officially made him family.

 

 

Front Row Seat

I have to make a confession. Neither Carl nor I like the night time. I don’t like driving in the dark and you won’t see Carl or I walking after the sun has set. But if there was to be an exception, it would have to be during the Christmas season when many have their houses lit up with glowing lights.

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My distaste for the darkness of night gives me more respect for the shepherds that spent night after night tending to their sheep. Instead of being nestled in their beds they were out in the fields protecting their livestock from the dangers of the dark.

As we all have probably experienced in the darkness, shadows take on a life of their own. We can think we see something but in the light, it ends up being nothing but an overblown imagination.

But this was different. Instead of a shadow, an angel surrounded by a brilliant light appeared among the shepherds. Their initial reaction was a deep seated fear of this heavenly being. But as quickly as the fear set in, the angel comforted them with words that would be remembered for the rest of time.

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:10-12.

As the shepherds were digesting these words, what happened next sealed their belief that this was truly from God. “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:13-14.

And sure enough, the shepherds left the field and found the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. After seeing the baby, they were so filled with joy that they couldn’t stop talking about the child and what the angel had told them.

Why did God have his angels appear to these shepherds? What was it about these men that gave them a front row seat to the most incredible event of mankind? Weren’t shepherds considered unreliable and on the bottom of the social ladder? Weren’t shepherds unable to enter the temple because they were considered unclean?

Humble hearts. These men were chosen for their humble hearts. Even today, God doesn’t choose the prideful man with everything this world can offer. Instead He seeks out the ordinary. The ones that have a hunger in their hearts for the truth.

Just the other night, I was driving through a neighborhood with all the lights of Christmas all around me. As I rode in awe of the lights that portrayed different interpretations of Christmas, I couldn’t help but think how pale it all was compared to the brilliance of the glory of God that lit up the skies on that night so many years ago.