Wednesday, January 25, 2023

A Dog's Purpose

 My hands covered my face as I sobbed, squatting down in the middle of a dimly lit parking deck at the airport. I felt Dan's hand on my arm, lifting me so we could keep walking and get in the car while my sorrow poured out of my eyes like a flood prompted by a simple question:  "How's Link?"

"We're getting a dog!!!! YESSS!!!" Two, bright-eyed boys who had just been uprooted from everything they knew and transplanted into an environment which by all accounts was completely foreign to them, rejoiced as they savored a moment of rare bliss: we were getting a dog.  After 20 years of marriage and endless requests, I gave in and rubber-stamped the idea of adopting a dog.  "But it has to be small and some mix of poodle because I'm allergic!" "And YOU all are going to take care of it." "And I am NOT going to be cleaning after it." "And YOU are going to have to feed it and bathe it and take it out and tend to its needs...YOU...not me...YOU, OK?" "Am I making myself clear?"

I laugh now remembering the, we're-finally-getting-a-dog-inspired diatribe I went through after we told the kids back almost 9 years ago.  Back when I didn't know anything about having a pet...back when I'd still refer to him as "it"...back when I had no clue what I was in for...back when I didn't know I was about to discover the tangible meaning of being unconditionally loved. 

Needless to say, I was the one who had to take care of him, feed him (although I have to admit, I shared many of these responsibilities with Dan), clean up after him, take him to the vet, give him his meds, tend to his needs, and so on and on and on and on.  With all that, however, I was also the recipient of this little creature's purpose: to spend the rest of his life perfectly loving me.  

He was my faithful friend, always waiting for me at the top of the steps every single time I'd come home and at the bottom of the steps every single time I'd come down from my room.  He was the one who followed my every step around the house and kept me company by my feet every single time I was at my desk working.  He was the one sitting on my lap every single time I sat down to watch TV.  He was the one who was always with me, watching me while I ate...begging for scraps...watching me carefully and loving me perfectly. 

I never thought a dog would pull at my heart-strings...let alone steal it completely...but Link, with his faithful love did just that and so much more.

Many say that being a parent teaches you a lot about God's love.  I'd have to add that having a dog helps too.

I'd been away, out of the country the week leading to his final moments...so I had to say goodbye to his lifeless, little body after his restless and enlarged heart had already stopped beating.  I caressed his still warm fur and couldn't help but thinking he was going to lift up his head to greet me with delight.  I knew he didn't have long to live due to his heart condition, but I never thought it was going to happen when it did.  I like to think his heart was so full of love that it kept growing...because there was nothing but love in our Link...he was the missing Link and we sure miss him now... but we praise God for giving us the gift of Link, the dog who taught us what a life dedicated to loving others looks like. Thank you, Lord for giving us living examples of love.  

RIP our precious Link.











Thursday, January 5, 2023

Visiting Home

 Well, the new year is well on its way, and I find myself packing bags because I'm traveling to Panama tomorrow.  It has been a trip intensely prepared since it is mostly a work-related trip.  I'm accompanying a student who is going to spend 2.5 months in my hometown for an immersion experience and I'm traveling with her to get her settled.  The plan is that I will stay in Panama for a week to help her navigate a bit.  Panama is not an easy country to visit on your own.  You have to go with someone who knows how things work there.  That's why I have never really pushed hard to establish any sort of study abroad situation in my country of birth.  But this student is the daughter of our friend and that just makes everything more ... complicated.

At any rate, I have been stressing out about this trip since August.  I think I have all the details I could anticipate, taken care of.  Until they canceled my Airbnb reservation and I was left without a place to stay...

The thing is, the area where my hometown is located is having a huge festival happening around the days I will be there.  It is the first year they have been able to do this festival since Covid, so people are really excited and since it is "summer" over there, half the country is traveling to my hometown and surrounding areas for the entire week! Therefore, there is no room at any inn...Hotels were booked since October so I had to resort to alternative sites like VRBO and Airbnb...I found one house...but, in Panama...things are never smooth, so the owner decided he had to cancel my reservation days before my trip.  Needless to say, it was panic time.  But I'm happy to announce that after playing a bit with the dates, I was able to get a place for my sister and I to stay.

The worst part of this last-minute-agitation, however, has been the reminder that I don't have a place of my own in the town I've always considered ... home ...

I'm just a visitor who needs to book a hotel every time I go.  So, I'm not "coming home."  I'm just "visiting" the place that once was home...and that is a very hard and sad realization to accept...

Sigh...

I think of my sons, growing up in this house, having their own bedrooms.  I think of Grant who even though he leaves in the dorms for the semester, he knows he can always come "home" and his room will be waiting for him right the same way it was when he left it, regardless of when that was.  I think of Dylan and his huge mess, and how he decided that what he wanted for Christmas was a "room-make-over" because he wants to give it his personal touch rather than keeping the stuff we had put in there for him.  I know that it hasn't occurred to them that one day they might not be able to "come home" because "home" is no more.  I know that, because that's how I felt up until about 12 years ago...but things do change.  Parents pass away.  Siblings' disagreements turn ugly. People get hurt. Sisters are locked out...only able to drive by the house they grew up in and look at it from the other side of the fence...memories fade.

The good news is, home is not a house.  Home is where the people we love are, even if it is a cardboard box.  And the best news of all is, we have a mansion waiting for us in Heaven. (John 14: 2)  We have a place specially prepared for us at our permanent residence which nobody could ever take away from us. We would never have to wonder if it has been converted into someone's studio.  We would never have to stare at it from afar.  We've never be locked out. We have been told by Jesus Himself that He, Himself is preparing it for us...and that's all we need to know.  No worries or stress or anxiety...just infinite gratitude and peace.

So, as I entrust this trip to His Hands, I pray that the thought of us having an eternal home prepared for us by the One Whose Spirit resides in us, will fill us up with hope, peace and love in this new year.  Blessed be the Precious Name of Jesus.  Amen!


Saturday, December 31, 2022

Loving Genuinly

 I cannot believe this is the last day of 2022...I don't know about you, but the year just disappeared in front of my eyes.  If it weren't for the photos in my phone, I would not be able to recall all the memories of this year's experiences.  Scary... 

But anyway, today, I do remember the word I chose a year ago to be my focus for 2022: Help.  This word came to me as a two-fold action: to help and to ask for help.  Looking back, I can see the few instances on which I might have succeeded, all by the grace of God...and the many times I failed, all by my own negligence and corrupted will.  

But enough of regrets.  God is Good and Faithful regardless of how unworthy we are.  Everything good in us is from Him, and for that I am genuinely grateful. (James 1: 17) It's time to close the 2022 chapter and see what 2023 brings.  As I think of the idea on which I would like to focus on this new year, the word "genuine" keeps ringing in my ears and mind.  

Genuine is an adjective that expresses how something is truly what is said to be. Some similar words are authentic, real, true...it's a pretty good word, isn't it? But, then...why do I find it so challenging?  Why is it so hard to be genuine?

I don't know.  Maybe it is because when we are genuine, we put ourselves out there, nakedly.  And when we do that, we become very vulnerable.  People can really hurt us.  It's best not to show our true selves.  It's best to keep people guessing.  There's so much evil running loose in our society, that we often prefer to keep ourselves inside our shells purely to survive.  There is one antidote to our fear of being "real."  The antidote is love.  

When we act empowered by Love, we can conquer all.  And Love is God, because God is the only true, real, "genuine" Love.  

I know I will most likely fail more than I succeed in 2023 while trying to be genuine in my actions of love towards others, but I'm encouraged by the Hope that abounds in me by the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in me (Romans 15: 13)...the Emmanuel, God with us. So, I'm going with "genuine" as my concept to focus on 2023.  I want to "be" genuine in all I do.  Most of all, I want to be genuine in the way I love others.  I want to love genuinely as I'm perfectly and genuinely loved by My Lord.

May Our Almighty Lord, the God of All Love, and of all Hope strengthen us this new year and always, so we can walk by the hand of Jesus, in genuine communion with Him and His beloved.  In Christ's precious name.  Amen!

Happy New Years!

Thursday, December 29, 2022

The Hope Of His Presence


As we come to the end of another year and stand on the eve of a new one, it’s hard to avoid feeling a bit melancholic. Even for those caught in the rush of the season, rare moments of quietness, bring contemplation of the past year and how it met, exceeded, or fell short of our dreams. The regrets, pain, hurt, sorrow, and stress of the year mix with the joy and the blessings are the ingredients for the all-too-common, holiday blues. This is then an excellent time to intentionally infuse ourselves with the perfect aroma of hope. As life unfolds in expected and unexpected ways, hope is what keeps us from completely losing it. As Dylan’s surprisingly mature expression of the day goes: “without hope, we might as well be dead already.”

We would like to share with you, in the midst of whatever circumstances you find yourself, the hope of the season. Our Hope, the hope we hang on to, is the promise of God’s presence among us…the promise of the Emmanuel, God with Us, whose power, and glory are made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12: 9).

May love, joy, and the spirit of Christmas fill your heart and your home with true Hope today and always.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

A Moment to Rest

 It is certainly beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  One has only to walk around Walmart to see the Christmas-stress stamped all over the faces of the not-so-jolly shoppers.  Mothers of young children run around exhausted, thinking there's no way they can accomplish all that is expected of them in this season.  Working fellows resign to the assumption of disappointed hopes since they can't figure out the time or find the money to meet the heavy expectations that are placed on their shoulders. Sad thoughts about loneliness and emptiness plague the minds of older folks. The grieving walk around numb...not knowing what to make of the overwhelming emotional flow they are experiencing. Worries about the future make us all tremble in fear...how is it ever possible to call this "the most wonderful time of the year?"

..."the kids jingle belling" is fun and endearing, but also could be heartbreaking because it might remind us of what we once had and don't have anymore or of what we longed for and never got to enjoyed...making it impossible to "be of good cheer."

For those who don't have any "holiday meetings and greetings or friends calling" this is certainly not the "hap-happiest season of all..."

Hosting jolly parties, the caroling and the sharing of stories of long, long ago...the mistletoeing and preparing for all the loved ones to be near not only takes a huge amount of work, but it might be futile since no-one might be gathering and rather than glowing, the hearts end up broken...

I am not Scrooge or the Grinch...I LOVE Christmas and the whole season...it's just that with every string of tinsel my thoughts go out to those for whom this time of the year is not so wonderful and I'd like to bring the hope that can light everyone's candle regardless of the circumstances: Jesus...the reason for the season...

The antidote to the gloom of the Holidays is to rest in His Presence.  My devotional reading today really moved me, so praying that it does the same for you, I'd like to copy it here:

"Rest in Me, My child, forgetting about the worries of the world.  Focus on Me - Immanuel - and let My living Presence envelop you in Peace.  Tune in to My eternal security, for I am the same yesterday, today and forever. If you live on the surface of life by focusing on every-changing phenomena, you will find yourself echoing the words of Solomon:  "Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!"

Living in collaboration with Me is the way to instill meaning into your days.  Begin each day alone with Me so that you can experience the reality of My Presence.  As you spend time with Me, the way before you opens up step by step.  Arise from the stillness of our communion, and gradually begin your journey through the day.  Hold My hand in deliberate dependence on Me, and I will smooth out the path before you." (Jesus Calling by Sarah Young)

The remedy is always Jesus...

He is the Only one who can truly make this the hap-happiest season especially as we spend time alone with Him and meditate on the mysteries surrounding His first coming and the promises of His second advent...when every tear will be wiped away by His loving hand and all will be made new by His Might.

May this be, indeed, the most wonderful time of the year because of our renewed awareness of His Presence and our resolve to intentionally focusing on His Face.  In the Precious Name of Jesus, the Glory of Today! Amen!

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Recall Your Blessings

 Like Pastor Dan said last Sunday as part of his sermon series on being a fearless Christian, specifically on how to recognize God's hand in our lives, he reminded us that the spiritual discipline of "recalling the blessings God has given us" is key.

Though a most appropriate message on Thanksgiving Day, recalling our blessings should be an exercise that we add to our daily spiritual workout.  It is not something we should do only once a year on a dedicated day.  It is something that we are called to do always:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18

We are called to give thanks to the Lord, for His love endures forever (1 Chronicles 16: 34) and as His love endures forever, so should our thanksgiving!

Therefore, let's adopt the practice of recalling our blessings daily...even if it is something seemingly simple and insignificance...all good gifts come from the Lord (James 1: 17).  Besides, there's another great benefit of having a grateful heart, like my devotional said:

"Thankfulness takes the sting out of adversity. That is why I have instructed you to give thanks for everything.  There is an element of mystery in this transaction:  you give Me thanks (regardless of your feelings), and I give you joy (regardless of your circumstances). 

Thankfulness opens your heart to My Presence and your mind to My thoughts.  You may still be in the same place, with the same set of circumstances, but it is as if a light has been switched on, enabling you to see from My perspective.  It is the Light of My Presence that removes the sting from adversity." (Jesus Calling by Sarah Young)

May this Thanksgiving Day be a strong reminder of our need to continually give thanks for all our blessings as we count them one by one. 

 'May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15: 13)

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

God's Hand in Our Lives

 Thirty plus years ago I had my first Thanksgiving dinner.  I was an international student at Clarion University of PA and a church in town hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for students that for one reason or another did not have a place to go for the holiday.  The memory is rather fuzzy...almost like a dream. It is not a solid memory with lots of details.  I don't have any pictures of it.  I was pretty confused about the whole thing...but I do remember the basement-type location arranged with long tables, decorated with orange-toned plaid, plastic tablecloths and a bunch of strangers gathering around to eat food I've never tasted before.  Fun stuff!

Back then, I had no idea of anything.  I was just a 22-year old completely out of her element...tossed into a new world without a clue of what was going on, college student in a foreign country.  I think about that girl when I look at Grant.  He sounds so sure of himself.  He thinks he has it all so figured out...but in reality...he is just a kid learning the ways of the world in a society that is hostile and very scary.  The thought of him going to live abroad for any period of time, by himself terrifies me.  I think of my parents and I totally understand now their reluctance to let me go.  Who in their right mind would allow their precious child to go into such an unknown world so ill-prepared? 

As I think of these things and reminisce about my journey so far, I remember what Pastor Dan said in his sermon last Sunday: one of the things we can do to recognize God's hands in our lives is to "reflect on all the work God has done in us."

Sigh...

Today, in this beautiful, bright, sunny, blue-skyed November morning, the day before Thanksgiving, I realize I could spend a lifetime just reflecting on all the work God has done in me...from my youth in Panama to those first years in an American college tucked away in the mountains of Western PA to now and for whatever remains of my days on this earth, one thing that is undeniable is the work of God's Hand in me.  

There is no way I could be here this day if it weren't for His Hand.  

His Hand has guided me through the happy and carefree innocence of childhood, the confusion of young adulthood, the anxiety of seeing my youth left behind, the terrors of parenthood, the panic of entering maturity, and will continue to guide me and sustain me as I hopefully enter the serenity of the age of trust.  It has been a lifetime of learning to have faith in the One Who Is Faithful.  And that's how I am learning to let go.  That's what I think allowed my parents, my over-protective, ultra paranoid parents to let me go back then 32 years ago...and that is what is going to allow me to loosen the grip on my own sons today, as they make decisions over their own pathway:  trust in God's Hand on them.

May this Thanksgiving season offer you opportunities for reflection that bring forth the memories of God's guidance, protection and love in your life.  In the Precious Name of Jesus.  Amen!