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Meekness in Abnormal Times

Vern was back home but it wasn’t the same. After being away for over ten days, home looked familiar but there was something very different from when he left. Bee and the two humans who occupied the house were in place, but instead of being able to have free roam of the rooms, there were three additional little people running around and taking over Vern’s coveted space.

Vern was confused and clearly expressed it with the pee found on two spots on the floor. Hopefully, the humans will get the message. Even though the little people were always wanting him to play, all the little black dog yearned for was life to get back to normal.

Everyone can relate to Vern’s feelings. All we all want is life to return to normal. But as the virus continues to spread, no one can predict when normal will return, or if it ever will. And the hardest part is when we get stuck into thinking about the activities that we can’t do, instead of focusing on the blessings we have in front of us.

Jesus stated in Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.” Initially, when we think of meek, we think of weak. But that is the furthest from the truth. Being meek is a word that was used to mean reigning in a horse. It is power to control ourselves from doing or saying something that we are tempted to do, and know we shouldn’t.

So in these times of wanting normalcy to return and making poor choices, Jesus tells us that if we can be meek, we can inherit the earth.  I believe this means that if we can reign in our actions or words regarding COVID, we can be happy with the place that we are in.

I am not sure if I can convince Vern of being happy with his changed life. But that is okay. The three little people are leaving today and he will have his home back to the way he likes it. Large and in charge.

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Our Predictable Lives

Life for Vern has been different this week. Instead of having free reign over his environment, he has been living in confined spaces and directed with a leash to where he can roam.  For the first time in his predictable life, Vern has been taken away from all he recognizes and thrust into a world full of dogs of all sizes.

Vern could be seen through the eyes of a camera from our vacation home. Our little dog was viewed hopping in front of strange breeds, eagerly wanting them to notice him. From the perspective of the camera, Vern appeared happy in his short term location. But, the truth of how our little bully felt would never be known.

Over two thousand years ago, Jesus spent the last three years of his life going from location to location, spreading the good news of the Gospel, healing the sick, and feeding the hungry. People from all directions left the comfort of their homes in search of this man, hoping to find something that would fill the empty space in their hearts.

At one point in his ministry, Jesus and his disciples were headed to Bethsaida. But the men found themselves in the midst of a storm. So instead of Bethsaida, the small vessel slid onto the shores of Gennesaret, a small community on the Sea of Galilee. Once Jesus stepped out of the boat, he is surrounded by locals that have heard of this man that heals.  Word quickly spreads and people come from far and wide to experience the healing for themselves.

The people in this small village were healed because they believed in this man named Christ. No one knows the changes that took place in the hearts of the people that Jesus healed. Some may have gone home, but others turned from their predictable lives to discover the empty space in their hearts filled.

Vern will return to his predictable life today where he can once again know the freedom of life without leashes and cages. And even though the young Frenchie may never understand why he was removed and then returned, Vern will be fine.

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Forgiveness

Vern’s feelings were hurt. Bee had snapped after a game of sniffing and playing with their chewed up bone. Why wouldn’t Bee play? She was always wanting to rest on her bed or sit at the door to wait for the humans to come in for a good head scratching. But that last growl was hurtful and all Vern wanted to do was take a nap and sulk.

We all react a little different when our feelings are hurt. Some become angry and feel justified for the unkind words that are spoken or the wrongful actions that are taken. Others pull inward and like Vern, spin a web of selfish thoughts. Either way, there is a strong possibility that we will sin as an outcome of the bottled up feelings that arise when we have been sinned against.

So when Jesus spoke to his disciples about prayer, it shouldn’t be surprising to hear him speak of the importance of forgiveness. “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25)

Jesus knows that we will be sinned against and tries to equip us with the tools needed to overcome the sin that is sure to follow. On the other hand, given that Vern is a dog, he will soon forget what Bee has done and can be found playing tug a war with his favorite bone.

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Close to Home

Vern only knows what is directly in front of him. He doesn’t know how other dogs live. He only knows about his yard, house, and what he spots when we walk around the block. Vern knows what he will be receiving when I say “treat” or “dinner”. But if he wanted a different yard to play in or a different kind of food, he would be out of luck.

So far, life has treated the little French bulldog well. But if he was to get hurt or lost, he would have a difficult time without our assistance. And as little as our puppy knows, he does have the sense to realize how much he needs us for direction and protection.

In Mark, chapter 6 a multitude of people come running after Jesus. They didn’t have food for the day or a way to protect themselves from the elements. But they came anyway. And what is Jesus’ reaction to these people that appeared to be lost? Mark 6:34 states, “And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd.”

Have you ever thought of yourself as lost or unprotected from the hurled rocks that are being thrown at you from all directions? If so, you are just like these people that came to Jesus. And just like them, there is a shepherd that wants to guide you home.

Vern rarely tries to get out of the fence or squeeze through the screen door. He has become content in knowing that if he stays close to his human provider, he will be safe and loved.

If only we could imitate the animals that God gives us to help us home….

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Destinations

Vern and Bee stayed at the campsite as we made our way to the trails that circled Stone Mountain. I had been warned about the number of steps that you must climb upward in order to get back up from the waterfall. So when we saw that there was a trail that would take us around the back of the mountain, we took it.

Little did we know that what we gave up in stairs, we drastically multiplied with steps. At first the path through the woods was flat with tangled roots, but as the day went on, the incline became steeper and more intense. At one point, we even lost sight of the trail we were supposed to be using and took a primitive path that only headed straight up.

The ascent seemed like it took hours. As we continued the steep climb I found myself covered with perspiration and having a difficult time catching my breath. The steps had turned to stone and it seemed impossible to find a place to lodge my foot to continue the climb.

As I struggled with the ascent upwards, I couldn’t help but think about the steps Jesus took towards the cross. If you ever have a chance to take a walk in the mountains, each step is essential to get to your destination. It is particularly mind boggling when you get to a point that you know that you have no choice but to go forward even when the terrain screams out to turn back.

I wonder sometimes if Jesus wanted to turn back as he made every step along the way. At the very beginning of his ministry when he was baptized in the Jordan, he must have known his final destination. Miles of walking through the dessert led him to Samaria where he spoke to a woman by the well. As he conversed with her and she was awakened to who he was, it must have provoked a thought of the journey ahead. Or what about the time he fed the thousands of people with a holy happy meal. To witness all the people experience a full stomach for the first time in their lives must have been a reminder of where he was going. Later towards the end of his ministry, as he rode into Jerusalem on the back of a mule, he must have known that there was no turning back.  While the people waved palm leaves and created a path for him, he knew he had come to his final destination. (Visit Luke 19:41-44)

Once we had finally made it to the summit of Stone Mountain and enjoyed the spectacular views, we walked down a gravel path to the car and safely back to our campsite where we were greeted by Vern and Bee. Neither of them had any idea of the treacherous journey we had just encountered. But that was okay. Vern acted like he was truly happy to see us.

My excursion up Stone Mountain was nothing compared to the journey Jesus took in my place to the cross. But I am grateful for accomplishing this feat and particularly the reflection of Jesus as I took one step in front of the other.

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Living a Full Life in Difficult Times

It is amazing how such a small puppy can consume so much food. The first couple of days Vern was with us, he ate very little. After he got acclimated to his new environment, he drastically changed. Vern now eagerly awaits the sound of the food being poured into his bowl. Even when he has finished his portion, he rushes over to Bee, our older Frenchie, in the hopes of a left over morsel.

During this time of being shut in the house, my appetite has also increased. I enjoy watching cooking shows which of course leads to baking more. I have also been pulled into watching more television and exercising less. Every day begins with the desire to do things that are good for my physical and spiritual self. But usually these important activities get pushed to the side for the things that feel comfortable.

If there ever was a time to imitate Jesus, this is it. He demonstrated how to live a fulfilled life in the worst of situations, starting with the event of being tempted in the desert by Satan. Jesus had been fasting for forty days and he was extremely hungry. (I can’t help but think that this is how long we have been in a stay home order from our government.)

Jesus was vulnerable. He was weak and alone. The conditions were perfect for temptation to turn to sin. Satan knew this and pounced on Jesus with all that he had to offer. The first temptation in Luke 4 would have probably broken every one of us.  “The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” (Luke 4:3)

Satan went after Jesus’ physical need for food. And that is where most of us are today. I know that I have justified how much I have eaten during these days of having nothing else to do.

Jesus didn’t budge so Satan went to plan B. “The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.  And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.  If you worship me, it will all be yours.” (Luke 4:5-7)

Notice how Satan offers Jesus the authority and power of the world to Jesus. And if you read on, you will note that Jesus doesn’t dispute the fact that Satan has the authority over this world. But Jesus doesn’t accept the power that could have been easily his. Why? Because Jesus wasn’t willing to sacrifice our salvation for his own desires of power. How do you feel about your loss of power in these days of being told to stay home?

The last temptation Satan threw at Jesus tested his pride. Satan told Jesus to jump off the pinnacle of the temple so that the angels would catch him. This temptation would clearly demonstrate to everyone that Jesus was truly the Son of God. If everyone saw angels saving him, they would bow down and worship him.

How often have we sought out some kind of recognition in these times of being anonymous? Everyone wants a voice in how to solve this pandemic. No matter what television channel you listen to, someone wants the platform. Even in our own homes, we shout out our self-righteous opinions.

We sure can learn from our four legged friends. Vern only eats when food is placed in front of him. He does tussle with his sister with an understanding that she is the alpha dog in the house. Occasionally, Vern will bark out loud, but typically is quiet.

Thank you Lord for the animals you place in our homes and hearts. Help us to follow your Son’s example as we go through these uncharted waters. Give us the faith to look to you to meet our daily needs.

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Walking Through Life Without a Word

Since Vern arrived a week ago, he has learned to climb steps, pee outside, and leave Bee alone when she is sleeping. He has spent quite a bit of time in the backyard buried in ivy or hanging out on the back deck. Only once, Vern jumped to the ground from the three foot porch. Thankfully, he landed on all four paws and walked off without any lingering effects.

Vern doesn’t say much. He really has no need to speak. To be honest, we have only heard his squealy voice when placed in his crate or if he is antagonizing Bee. At other times, his voice is silent.

Vern has a lot to teach us, particularly during these difficult times of being home bound with our family members. Instead of being quiet, I know that I have a tendency to want to be heard now more than ever. Since so many restrictions have been placed on my life, I want to have a voice in the few things that I do have control over.

Thankfully, I can find some guidance during these moments, even if it isn’t always what I want to hear. “Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.”(Proverbs 10:19 NLV)

I do find it interesting that God gave only humans the ability to speak. And with this talent, there is a responsibility. As hard as it is, I do believe if I can keep my mouth closed when I am most tempted to let my feelings known, my closest relationships will flourish and not falter.

Vern and Bee are able to communicate without speaking. They can show their feelings without uttering a word. In this last week, I have learned so much by observing them walk through life without using a single word.  

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Competing for Devotion

Months have passed and we are all trying to come to terms with our new normal since Carl left. Of the three of us, little Bee has adjusted quite well. Instead of Carl getting to go on walks with my husband, Bee has slipped into this special position of strolling companion. Each morning, she knows that her walking collar will be placed around her neck and off they will go into the wild of the neighborhood.

It is funny but Bee seems happier and even healthier being an only dog. She no longer has to compete for the devotion that everyone poured out onto her brother. Now when someone enters, Bee briefly greets them and then goes about her business.

Unlike Bee, there was a woman from Canaan that knew she had to fight for Jesus’ devotion to her cause. This woman had a child that was possessed with a demon that tormented her day and night. As the years passed, and the child grew stronger, the mother knew she would soon be unable to care for her beloved daughter.

In Matthew 15:21-28, it is recorded that Jesus left Jewish territory and went to the land that was occupied by pagans. He and his disciples walked over fifty miles into Canaan. If Jesus came primarily for the Jews, why would he walk so far into terrain possessed by the Gentiles?

At first glance, I am sure his disciples asked the same question. Once Jesus entered the area of Tyre and Sidon, nothing worthy of such a walk could be identified. The disciples only noted the obnoxious screams from a woman that called out to Jesus.  Finally, Jesus allowed the woman to be brought to him and she knelt down. “Lord, help me!”

Jesus replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” (Matthew 15:25-28)

There is no other recordings of any other life shaking event that took place on this one hundred mile journey. So why would Jesus walk so far for the sake of a Gentile that he refers to as a dog? For only one reason. Her faith.

Because of the woman’s devotion to her daughter and her unwavering faith, Jesus walked a hundred miles. And if he would give this woman so much of his time and effort, why do you think he won’t give you the same?

Bee is now the center of attention. She no longer has to fight for it. It is just hers. As I watch Bee bask in her life as a single dog, I can’t help but think about how this woman must have spent the rest of her days. Grateful with a large dose of peace.

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Hidden Gifts

Bee’s gift has been revealed in the last couple of days. Just like each of us, even dogs have special gifts from God. My daughter had hip surgery on Monday morning and had to come home with us to start her recovery. To make it easier for everyone, she has taken over our bedroom on the ground floor with all her equipment and different apparatus’s.

Since Bee lives on the ground floor, she has become the night time nurse. Bee has been extremely observant, watching almost every move our daughter makes. Our little dog was particularly protective late at night when our daughter would get up all alone and make her way to the bathroom.

Our daughter shared with us that every time she got up, she would look behind her and see Bee a safe distance away. Our four legged family member would sit and watch our daughter until she was safely back in bed. Only then would she go back to her own comfy spot and close her eyes.

This morning, it is clear that Bee hasn’t had the restful sleep that she usually gets. Instead of being alert and ready to go, she has been in a deep sleep since we came down to take over the nursing responsibilities.  

In the last couple of days, Bee’s gifts have been revealed for all of us to see. It took a special circumstance to expose them but the gifts have always been there.

What is your special gift?

It may be hidden and not easily seen, but just like Bee’s gift, can be exposed under the right conditions.

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Void Spaces

Poor Carl.  He has been removed once more. First he was taken from his home where he resides as the king and taken to my daughter’s home for the week we were on vacation. After spending less than two days with her family, he was taken to doggy daycare to finish out his days until our return.

Having the luxury of cameras to give us a clear view of Carl’s actions, we witnessed his removal from the play area after an altercation with another dog. We understood the decision to send him back to his cage, but the thought of him being secluded, hurt our hearts.

Every couple of hours we would turn the app on and seek out our little dog among the others only to see void space where Carl would be. Void space can also be found in our hearts where God should reside.  Ecclesiastes 3:11 states that God has put eternity into our hearts. A space where nothing or no one can fill.

Most people strive to fill the space with things, power, or success. They will even try to occupy it with a relationship or two. But no matter how much is crammed in, it just won’t fit. Given a square won’t fit into a circle peg, anything outside of the will of God, will not fit into the space that God has placed in our hearts.

Several hours later, we turned the app on once more to see Carl wondering around the large room among the many dogs. The girl in the room seemed to have her eyes set on him to make sure he behaved. Carl even seemed cautious as he wondered around, making sure that he could stay in this space that once was void.