Along Came Maisy

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(our scruffy little answer to prayer!)

I am not a dog person, but I admit that every dog we ever owned would dispute that statement. In fact, each would probably insist that she was my favorite! All our dogs had this insane idea that just because I hugged them and gave them treats and played with them and pretty much allowed them to run my life that I must actually like them!

Ok, I’ll start over. I like dogs—I just don’t like dealing with the mess! So, after Flour (our Miniature American Eskimo Spitz) passed away last summer at age fourteen, I had no desire to run out and get another dog. My husband wanted a dog, but he agreed that we should wait, especially since we were planning to move out of state within a year. Getting another dog just before a major move was not a good idea!

Anyone paying attention has probably noticed that the title of this post implies that we got a dog in answer to prayer. Considering all I have just said about dogs, that may seem odd, so I will explain!

On December 23, 2016, I was driving home from Florida, where I had just spent some time visiting my daughter and her husband. I had, in fact, spent lots of time that month with lots of family, both in Illinois and in Florida. It was during my drive home that I found myself longing for an opportunity to see someone who missed all those family gatherings: Kristie, my middle child! She and her husband were stationed at Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Texas, “next door” to Juarez, Mexico, nearly two thousand miles away. The thought crossed my mind that I could manage a trip out there, considering that the classes I taught were not starting up again for another three weeks. There were a couple problems with that, though. For one, money was tight. The month of December had produced lots of expenses, some of which were unexpected. Plus, I had already done a great deal of traveling over the past few months, leaving my husband and son to fend for themselves! Plus, I knew my husband would love to go to El Paso himself, but he could not afford to take the time off work. I hated to go and leave him behind.

Still, my desire to go was almost overwhelming. So, I prayed. I poured my heart out to the Lord and asked Him to work out something if He agreed that a visit to El Paso would be a good thing! After that prayer, my heart settled down and my mind shifted to other things, such as our Silver Anniversary (which happened to be that day) and Christmas. I arrived home just in time for a little anniversary celebration. The next two days, of course, we celebrated Christmas.

Meanwhile, a couple thousand miles away, a scruffy little mutt was roaming the streets of El Paso, searching for her next meal and perhaps a little affection. On Christmas Day, she noticed a young woman out in a field calling out names—not hers, but she didn’t care! She responded anyway! She walked up to the woman, who was facing the opposite direction, and gave a little bark.

That woman was my daughter Kristie. A week earlier, she had discovered a couple of stray pups hiding in that field. Each day she would go out with some food and attempt to earn their trust. On this particular day—Christmas Day—she was out there again, calling out the names she had given them. When she heard the barking behind her, she turned, expecting to see one of those pups. Instead, she was greeted by this little stranger, who clearly wanted someone to love. Kristie promptly took her home and posted her picture on Facebook with this comment: “When God sends you a blessing, you don’t ask why it was sent.” Kristie knew she couldn’t keep the dog since she already had two, and her apartment complex had a two-dog limit. So, naturally, she called us!

“Mom, you would love to have this dog, wouldn’t you?”

Absolutely not!

(Someone in El Paso could take that dog.)

Case closed.

Later that day I called my mother to wish her a Merry Christmas. She was all smiles (I could hear them!) because my dad had done something completely out of character: he had taken it upon himself to buy her a kitten! (He is not a cat person, so that was a huge deal!)

After talking to my mom, I suddenly felt guilty about the dog, so I let my husband know that it was his decision. If he wanted her, I wouldn’t stand in the way. He assured me that he agreed we should wait. Several hours later, however, he called me from work: “I think I do want to take the dog. Could you go to El Paso to get her?”

Could I go to El Paso?!

Suddenly, I remembered my prayer from three days earlier: “Lord, please arrange for me to go to El Paso” (or something to that effect)!

Two days later, I was on the road again, heading west to El Paso to adopt the dog, whom we had decided to name Maisy. I had a great visit with Kristie and her husband (but that’s another story). On the way back home, Maisy and I made some fun stops, like at a meteor crater in Odessa, Texas…

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And a Civil War battlefield at Vicksburg, Mississippi…

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Our only mishap occurred in a McDonald’s parking lot in Alabama, when I got tangled up in Maisy’s leash and went flying! (She was more than happy to lick my wounds!)

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Maisy is adjusting well to her new environment. Sometimes, I wonder if there is a little old lady in Juarez, Mexico, looking for her missing dog, but it’s more likely that someone just dumped her on the side of the road. Regardless of how she ended up in my daughter’s arms on Christmas Day, there is no doubt in my mind that God brought Maisy into our lives in answer to prayer, and that makes her extra precious in my sight.

Who Can Find a Virtuous Woman?

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15137453_10209538782418716_2663935456713046967_oMy uncle did.

Last month at my aunt’s funeral, friends and family were given an opportunity to share a memory or give a brief tribute. My mind instantly went to the prophet Elisha asking for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Of course, Aunt Miriam was nothing like the picture I had in my head of Elijah. She was a quiet, unassuming woman, certainly not one to call down fire on anyone! Still, I loved Elisha’s request, and I wanted a double portion of Aunt Miriam’s spirit.

Miriam Johnson was one of those rare individuals whose entire life exemplified First Corinthians 13, also known as the love chapter of the Bible.

“Charity [love] suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil” (I Cor. 13:4-5).

When reading those verses, people often replace the word charity with love because that is what it means. I could just as easily replace it with my aunt’s name:

Miriam was kind… always.

She was longsuffering.

She was never envious.

She was not puffed up.

She never sought her own. She lived for others.

Just now, as I glanced back at the phrase “not easily provoked,” I almost laughed. Perhaps that means we can justify being provoked, just not easily! Aunt Miriam, however, was never provoked to anger. She was always gentle and kind… with everyone.

Since I can’t read minds, I suppose I shouldn’t claim that Miriam never thought evil, but I’m sure she never did.

Some might assume that my aunt had an easy life. Perhaps she was always surrounded by loving people who never let her down. Perhaps she never had a reason to get upset. Those people would only need to read her biography to see that the opposite was true. Aunt Miriam experienced far more than her “fair share” of pain. At age four, she lost her mother. At fourteen, her father. I could go on and on. Aunt Miriam knew pain, but she would not be defined by it.

I have been thinking about the things that provoke me…

Being misunderstood…

Misrepresented…

Misquoted…

Unappreciated…

How can I possibly show kindness and display grace under those circumstances? How can I possibly “think no evil” of those who hurt me after I have given of myself to them? Surely Aunt Miriam never had to put up with such nonsense!

Smile.

It hit me recently that Aunt Miriam was nearly forty when I was born. She had already gone through much suffering by the time I knew her. Perhaps it was the suffering–the sadness–that the Lord used to mold her into the incredible woman I knew.

I often hear cynics state that a God of love would not allow suffering. If He’s all powerful, why can’t He simply make our lives easy and pain free? But what if He did? Right now I’m picturing a world that is void of pain and suffering. Everyone is living on Easy Street. It’s not a pretty picture! Everyone in this utopia is selfish and spoiled. (By the way, this is not a vision of heaven; it’s a picture of people on earth who have never learned to deal with life’s challenges because they’ve never had any!)

The Bible says that life is “a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (James 4:14). Compared to eternity, life on earth is very short, so even the worst of suffering is “not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

But we don’t even have to wait for heaven to find the value in pain. It drives us to God in ways nothing else can. As C.S. Lewis said, God “shouts in our pain.” He uses it to get our attention, and when He does–when He gets us to gaze upon Him–we discover something: He is altogether lovely!

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).

Aunt Miriam found that rest. She had “peace in the midst of the storm.”

Note: As I write this, I’m aware that the focus has shifted a bit. I didn’t set out to analyze why Aunt Miriam was such an incredible person. I just knew she was!

If the average Christian were to be asked what types of people would be most honored in heaven, his answer would likely include preachers, missionaries, and others who sacrifice in ministry. According to First Corinthians 13, however, without love, even our greatest sacrifices and accomplishments profit us nothing. Even faith that moves mountains is nothing without love.

I believe with all my heart that what the Lord really wants from us is unconditional love. The agape love described in this chapter is not the give-and-take reciprocal love that is very selective. It is not based on the worthiness of the person being loved.

It is kind… to everyone.

It is longsuffering. (Some people claim that they “put up with” a lot of mistreatment. Love goes beyond that. It knows how to “let it go!”)

It thinks no evil.

The other day, my poor little feelings got stepped on, and I wanted to react. I thought up a three-point sermon that would effectively demonstrate how unfairly I had been judged.

Then I thought of Aunt Miriam. I remembered my testimony at her funeral: “I want a double portion of her spirit.”

I wondered how she would have reacted in that situation.

She would have prayed for the person who hurt her… she would have thought no evil… and she would have loved.

That’s how I want to be.

Embracing Sadness

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It’s hard to type through tears, but I’m so happy right now, I think I can manage!

Shortly after writing my last post, I witnessed another answer to prayer. The circumstances leading up to it were painful–so painful that I cannot share the details–but the resulting joy was oh, so worth it!

Joy is often born of sadness. Think about the Chicago Cubs! Okay, maybe that’s a little shallow, but it’s a good example! They hadn’t won the World Series in over a century! That made their victory this year so much sweeter!

The joy I’m experiencing right now goes much deeper than the pleasure of seeing my team win a championship after a hundred-year drought. It came with a cost: someone died. But I believe he would say it was worth it: his brother was saved! He came to know Christ as his personal Savior.

The trials of life really are good for us. The apostle Peter reminds us of this:

“That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (I Peter 1:7-8).

It seems strange to call a trial precious, but it is. Paul said repeatedly that it was the trials of life that made him strong:

“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (II Corinthians 12:10).

Earlier in that same letter to the church at Corinth, Paul spoke of the trouble that came to him and his team in Asia: “…we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life” (II Corinthians 1:8).

I love what he says next!

“But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead (verse 9).

Mary and Martha would not have known the joy of seeing their brother Lazarus raised from the dead if he had not first died.

We need not fear what God may allow in our lives. The greater the trial, the greater the opportunity for Him to show His power. The deeper the need, the deeper He goes!

And when God shows up, nothing can keep us down!

The Key

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I have a confession: I’m nearly fifty-five, and my favorite movie is a cartoon (a Pixar “animated feature,” to be exact). Inside Out was the first movie I ever watched that made me want to find out all I could about the author and director (Pete Docter). It was the first movie that made me want to have my picture taken at Disney World with its main characters, Joy and Sadness.

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An eleven-year-old girl’s emotions are the stars in this incredibly insightful story, which challenges Joy’s assumption that the child “just needs to be happy.” Joy eventually comes to realize that there is more to a meaningful life than simply fun and games.

Many people are like Joy. They seek fulfillment in anything that makes them happy, only to find that it’s all an illusion. My heart breaks for those people.

God is real, and He wants to be known. A personal, intimate relationship with God brings joy and peace, no matter the circumstances. We don’t have to understand what is going on around us, because the peace of God passes understanding (Phil. 4:7).

Corrie ten Boom experienced the horrors of a concentration camp during World War Two. She suffered under some of the worst conditions imaginable. Later, she described life at Ravensbruck as existing on two separate levels: the physical life grew more horrible every day, but the spiritual life, the life they lived in God, grew better every day, “truth upon truth, glory upon glory” (The Hiding Place).

The problem is that most people don’t develop (or even desire) a relationship with God. They pray for things because they want things. They see God as a provider, but not as a companion. They seek satisfaction in other things, but nothing else satisfies.

God tells us to “grow up” in Christ (Eph. 4:15). When a child is born, his relationship to his parents is the same as when he is grown, but as he grows, he gets to know them better (ideally). The same is true in our relationship with God. If we never grow up in Christ, if we always view Him as merely the supplier of our needs, we will miss the intimacy that He wants us to have with Him: “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (I Peter 1:8).

Those who think a “good God” would make sure that life is smooth sailing make the same mistake that Joy made in Inside Out. God wants so much more for us than an easy ride. He wants to give us Himself.

“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33).

“And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13).

Our Daily Bread

 

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Eight years ago, when my husband retired from the United States Air Force and went into trucking, I didn’t think of it as trading one “heroic” occupation for another.

Today I do.

He delivers to warehouses in South Carolina bread baked here in North Carolina. The warehouses, in turn, deliver the bread to individual stores.

My husband is an unsung hero.

I didn’t know it until last week when Hurricane Matthew came through and disrupted all our lives.

Suddenly, everyone was in need. Some people needed to be airlifted from rooftops. Others just needed water, which seems ironic, considering our problem stems from too much water—just none to drink!

Whatever the need, one thing became clear: we need each other.

We need workers to keep the power going…

To keep the water flowing…

(And to make it drinkable!)

This week we need delivery trucks to find ways around hundreds of washed-out roads and highways.

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We need our daily bread.

What we sometimes forget is that those whose job it is to meet our needs have needs themselves.

As the crisis wears on, tempers flare. That hurts everyone.

I’m reminded of Dr. Anna Pou, the Louisiana cancer surgeon who lived through a nightmare in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. After flood waters knocked out the generators in that eight-story hospital in New Orleans, many fled. Dr. Pou, however, remained, doing what she could in excruciating conditions, which included sweltering heat and total darkness, to save and evacuate as many patients as possible. She was among the last to leave. I cannot imagine how she must have felt when, nearly two years later, she was arrested and taken to jail in handcuffs, charged with second-degree murder in the deaths of four patients who died during that crisis.

I can’t imagine what the following year must have been like for her as a grand jury considered her case.

When the grand jury refused to indict, everyone who knew Dr. Pou cheered, including her patients.

Dr. Pou later helped get legislation passed to protect doctors and nurses working in crisis situations.

So what am I trying to say? What does that story have to do with delivery trucks?

Appreciate everything.

Take nothing for granted.

Most of all, heed the words of Jesus: “Love thy neighbor.”

Whom God Loves

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One of the most convicting statements I’ve ever heard came from the lips of former President George W. Bush at the memorial service in Dallas for the five fallen police officers: “Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions.”

I don’t want to be like that.

While so many are fighting over whose lives matter, I’m reminded of Paul’s words in Philippians: “…in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (2:3b).

We are so quick to judge:

He’s so arrogant… She’s so proud… He’s an idiot… She’s just stupid… 

These are people for whom Christ died. These are people He loves.

One more thing: He’s not finished with them yet.

Yet we still judge.

There are so many moments in my life I wish I could go back and change–the overreaction… the angry words… the whining… the many, many times I blew it! Oh, how I wish I could redo those moments!

But I can’t. I can’t change anything about my past. I just hope that people will not judge me based on those moments… because God is not finished with me yet!

Why can’t I do the same? Why can’t I esteem others better than myself?

The truth is, if I’m honest, I don’t “esteem” them better because I don’t think they’re better. But that is missing the point of the verse. It is not saying that we should honor and respect those who are deserving, and treat everyone else like dirt. We should esteem others better than ourselves. Treat them as though they are precious to God.

Because they are.

Warts and all.

And He’s not finished with them yet.

In Hinds’ Feet on High Places, Much-Afraid was struck by how the Shepherd viewed her not as she was, but as how He knew she could be: “Then she looked up into his face and for a little time could say no more, but at last she added, ‘My Lord, I cannot tell You how greatly I want to regard others in the same way.'”

Jesus tells us to love the unlovely, even our enemies (Matthew 5:44). He died for them too!

“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying,  that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:29-32).

Reference: Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois

 

Casting Out Fear

I’m too cheap to buy quality bookcases, so it doesn’t take much to make mine wobble. When that happens, books may fall. It’s not a common occurrence, but it certainly isn’t newsworthy… most of the time. On this particular occasion, I was pulling an album off the shelf when a small paperback tumbled into my hands.

It was a copy of Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard, sent to me anonymously when I was fifteen (and hospitalized following a car wreck). While I was intrigued by the anonymous gift, postmarked Chicago, I never read it. As I stood at my bookcase holding that book I had owned for decades, I knew nothing of its contents.

Two days earlier I had poured my heart and soul into an assignment for a Bible study at church. The question was simple: where would you like to be spiritually ten years from now? My answer came instantly: I longed to be free of the fear that was choking me, the fear that had gripped my life since childhood.

As a child, I was afraid of everything. Even the sight of dead fish at the fish market scared me!

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In college, I worried about my family crashing on their way to see me.

Motherhood brought a whole new set of fears.

I hated it.

A Bible verse I memorized as a teenager continued to convict me: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (I John 4:18).

Perfect love casteth out fear…

How could I love God and remain so fearful? Clearly, I wasn’t putting my complete trust in Him.

When my oldest child was three days old, she choked on some medicine and nearly died. A dear friend later gave me a card with a note: “Don’t worry about Alicia. God will keep her safe for His purpose.” While I appreciated the note, I feared what that purpose might be. What if it involved pain?

I begged God to remove my fear. That assignment became the prayer of my heart: “Dear Lord, cast out my fear!”

Two days later I was holding a book that had literally dropped into my hands, a book I had owned for decades but had never read. Absentmindedly, I opened it… and read: “This is the story of how Much-Afraid escaped from her Fearing relatives and went with the Shepherd to the High Places where ‘perfect love casteth out fear.’”

Wow.

I finally read that book.

That was sixteen years ago. I have shared that story several times over the years. I truly believe that God was responsible for getting that book to me initially in 1977 and for getting me to finally read it in 2000. Still, I must confess, my fear did not go away. It remained.

Then one day something happened. The thing I feared the most… happened. (Job 3:25)

I wish I could find words to express what the Lord has done in my heart since the thing happened that I most feared. But I can’t.

I’m reminded of Much-Afraid, the girl in the book. There were no shortcuts in her journey to the High Places, where “perfect love casteth out fear.” As painful as it was, she had to follow the path the Shepherd laid out for her with all its twists and turns, and months and months of desert. She often saw what seemed like excellent shortcuts, but the Shepherd said “no.” The path He laid out was perfect. It was exactly the preparation she needed to one day leap with hinds’ feet in the High Places.

As I look back over the past three years since the thing I feared came upon me, I see God like I’ve never seen Him before.

He has shown me that He is greater than my greatest fear.

He has reminded me that there is no substitute for time spent in His presence. There is no substitute for time spent in His Word and in prayer.

He makes all things beautiful in His time. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

His is perfect love. HE is perfect love… and He has cast out all my fear.