Friday, July 23, 2021

The Link to My Heart

 I've been a rather selfish type of person...always trying to figure out "what's in it for me." God has funny ways of dealing with selfish people like me, though.  He gives us spouses that don't comply, children that think they have their own lives and pets that steal one's heart.  Today, my selfish-self is being tested by our furry-friend, Link.

I never had a pet before Link.  I'm quite afraid of dogs.  I'm allergic to cats.  Fish are just too creepy.  And there's no way I'm having a glorified rat in my house on purpose! (No offense, please forgive me) So, after resisting the persisting cries for a dog from the other people I live with, we got Link.  It's been about seven years since he became a member of our family...and oddly enough, he has been able to chisel through the armor I had wrapped around my heart, and has taken possession of it.  

Link, like everyone else in this house, drives me CRAZY!  Again, I'm selfish by nature, so, his neediness tests my patience because it represents a demand on my precious time and an alteration to my agenda.  But, nothing compares to the faithfulness and devotion he constantly demonstrates to  the wretched and selfish me.  Link is my companion.  He is always sitting by my side wherever I am.  He sooths me, petting his curly fur is like a balm to my soul.  He cheers me up.  And he is never to proud to shower me with his complete demonstrations of affection.  He is the only one who I can count on being there, at the top of the stairs, waiting for me.  His face is the first one I ever see every time I come in the house.  Every morning, he welcomes me with energy and every night he says goodbye to me with his sad puppy eyes.

I never knew this kind of love before...the kind of unselfish love that a furry-friend displays unto his human.  That was totally foreign to me, until Link.  So now, a day after I got horrible news about a heart condition that is most likely going to cut his life short...I am devastated.  The Vet went on and on and on with the explanations of what's wrong with Link...and I was just numb.  Nothing made sense to me.  I came home with a bunch of pills, a confused mind and a broken heart.  I didn't know what to think or how to react.  I couldn't process the reality that Link is fading... I kept thinking, he'll be back to his old self tomorrow after a good night sleep...but this morning...he is not.  He is slowing down, and I don't know how to make it stop.  I don't know what to do.  I don't know if he is suffering or in pain.  I feel lost.  That's when I knew I had to write about it to help me digest what's happening.

I ask the Holy Spirit for guidance...and I seem to be hearing, sensing, my old, selfish-self popping back up again.  Am I being too selfish in trying to hang on to Link longer than I should in spite of his own suffering?

I don't know.

All know is that in moments like this, we question and wonder why life has to be so hard...why does a loving God make us go through the painful experience of loss? 

I don't know the answer to that either.  All I know is that God is Good.  And that He is Good, ALL the time! Regardless of the circumstances, the truth of God's love is unchangeable.  He is Faithful too, and His plans are perfect.  All I know is that I choose to trust Him, whether I understand His designs for my life or not...because He is worthy of all my trust and praise...no matter what.

I thank God for having given me Link for all these years...so I could learn more about unselfishness and unconditional love.  I am grateful that He allowed me to discover through Link's eyes, that I am not completely unlovable. I would forever praise Him for showing me the Link to my heart.  And I trust that my tiny friend still has some more good years in him, but that I will have the clarity of mind to know when time comes...so I'm not guided by my own selfish feelings, and avoidance, but by what is right and best for him.  


Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Meant to be?

 I didn't grow up listening to American Country Music, and I'm not, what you would say:  a fan, BUT I can appreciate its merits, especially when it comes to the lyrics.  Country Music typically injects a strong dose of poignancy on the one hand, while on the other it showers you with hope, humor and irony.  Clever writing and rhyming make for good story-telling...and even the shortest of songs can pull at one's heart strings with great intensity.  Such is the case of "Meant to Be" a cross-over song by a singer-song-writer who is NOT known as a country music star, but she featured a country music duo as well as country style tunes, so it broke into the Country Music Charts with force...and even though the song was released in 2017, it recently marked the Billion views mark in YouTube...a BILLION...

At any rate, I'm not here to promote the song, but the line:  "if it's meant to be, it'll be...baby just let it be" popped into my mind when I was reading today's piece in My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers.  I know, right?  Crazy!  But that's the brain, for you...

At the end of today's devotional reading the author states:

"At critical moments it is necessary to ask guidance, but it ought to be unnecessary to be saying always: "O Lord, direct me here, and there." Of course He will!  If our common-sense decisions are not His order, He will press through them and check; then we must be quiet and wait for the direction of His presence."

I'm a firm believer that the road the Lord wants us to walk on is not supposed to lead us onto a cliff.  A cliff is a mass of rock that rises very high and is almost vertical, like a wall...a WALL...and I think, if we hit a wall, regardless of the angle: be it from the top of it or from the bottom...that means we are not going much further.  I don't think that's where God's road is supposed to take us.  Of course, by His power and might we could climb that wall or jump over the cliff...however...I tend to think that, if by any chance we end up facing an unsurmountable wall or barrier...perhaps, that might not have been exactly the road we were supposed to be on...and the wall appears so we turn around and get back on the right track...just sayin'.

I believe, if it's meant to be, it'll be...and vice versa.

And when it is not meant to be...it doesn't matter how much we try to force it.  The wall will remain unclimbed...and if we jump over the cliff...chances are we won't make it.

It is at that point: the wall facing point, when seemingly common-sense decisions that are "not His order" will be checked by Him as we quietly wait for the "direction of His presence."  And that is the key: the direction of His presence.  I believe that's how we know whether "it is meant to be" or not: by asking ourselves the question of whether His Presence is here/there or not...and by waiting quietly for His answer.  "Are You here Lord?"  "Are You in this wall, Lord?" "Is this Your wall for me?"  "Is this Your cliff for me?"  "Are You in the climb?"  "Are You in the jump?" or "Are You on the way back, away from it?"

Seeking Him first is our mission in life.  His presence goes before us.  If those are not our guiding principles...I'm sure we are headed to places where we are just not meant to be...and forcing it just because we want it or think we need it and desire it or because it makes sense to us...might end up hurting us. And we might end up like the subject of a sad country song that ends in tragedy...sigh...

I just pray that the Lord will reveal His Presence to us clearly and strongly so we can be guided by it wherever we go.  In the Precious Name of Jesus, The One Who We Seek.  Amen.


Monday, July 19, 2021

A Bit More About the Word

 I've been reading the classic devotional, My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, and let me tell you, it is a very challenging reading.  I think the language barrier has a lot to do with it; but nonetheless, I'm enjoying the challenge.  The entry for a couple of days ago was called "The Miracle of Belief." And it took me back to my last blog post about God's ability to reach us through whatever means available...including Epic-War movies that people like me have to watch through their half-closed eyes and covered faces.  

Anyway, the devotional reading spoke about the power of the Word and how it is God's power, through His Word what moves to belief...not the media that broadcasts it.  Chambers says:

"Belief in Jesus is a miracle produced only by the efficacy of Redemption, not by impressiveness of speech, not by wooing and winning, but by the sheer unaided power of God.  The creative power of Redemption comes through the preaching of the Gospel, but never because of the personality of the preacher."

In the case illustrated by my post the other day, it wasn't the movie what got to me...it was the Word.  the proof is that I could hardly actually make myself watch the film.  But the Word...the Word pierced through my ears and got to my mind and ultimately open the door of my heart.  The movie was the media through which God brought His Word to me, but it wasn't because of the movie that I was touched...it was the Word what grabbed hold of me...because when the Word goes out, it never returns empty.  (Isaiah 55: 11)

The Word always speaks to us, regardless and often in spite of the media that broadcasts it.  

May the Holy Spirit soften our hearts and minds to His Word so we can hear it no matter how it gets to us.

Friday, July 16, 2021

How He Leads Us to Him...



Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High 
 will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.” Psalm 91: 1-2


Isn't it funny how unconventional God can be when it comes to the strategies that He uses to reach us?  For example, think about Bible verses that are foundational in your own faith walk.  Do you remember how they came to be so?  Do you remember how you "found" them?  Do you remember what or who led you to them?

The 1998 movie Saving Private Ryan was a huge box-office success, becoming an instant classic of the War-Epic-Drama film genre.  I have to say, I have a hard time watching it.  This movie will never be one of those that I watch over and over and over again because it brings me comfort, like a try full of warm brownies. But I do appreciate it.  And I credit it with introducing me to Psalm 91...even if by mistake...

There is a character in this movie, Private Daniel Jackson, an American left-handed sniper who rarely missed his mark.  He was incredible and he was one of the men selected to search for Private Ryan.  What made Private Jackson memorable to me was that whenever he was executing one of his high stakes shootings, he would recite Bible verses.  I was not much of a Bible reader back then, so at first, I didn't recognize that the character's words were Scriptures.  After a while, I figured that's what it was...and I became very curious.

There was no Google back then.  There was no Bible app or search engine where all I had to do was type a phrase like:  "Bible verses recited by sniper in movie Saving Private Ryan" or anything like that.  There wasn't any streaming services either where I could watch the movie on demand again and again to get the exact words.  My only recourse was to depend on my vague recollection of the few words I was able to catch while watching the movie through my fingers as I covered my eyes with my hands. I had to take my best guest as to where those words would be found, and actually dig through the pages of my physical Bible.

I knew I heard him saying something about The Lord being "my Fortress"...something else... "my Shield...in Whom I trust..."  For what little I knew about Scripture, the words seemed to me that they belong in the Book of Psalms, so I scanned them for something that sounded like that, and I landed on Psalm 91.  I remember being so struck by verses 1 and 2 I just had to memorize them!  It had to be it.  I loved these verses very much and I was convinced those were the ones recited by our sniper friend.  In reality, however, Private Jackson recited verses from Psalm 144, not 91... or so Google says (I haven't had the strength to watch that movie again to verify)... but it does not matter.  Psalm 91 verses 1 and 2 have become part of my arsenal to fight the enemy, and I'm most grateful the Holy Spirit uses everything and anything to lead us to Him...even through half-closed eyes, partially covered by trembling hands.



 


Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Wondering

 I often wrestle with a nagging thought: I wonder what life would be like if I had... fill in the blank.

...if I had stayed in Panama.  If I had not married Dan.  If I had not won the scholarship that brought me to Clarion University.  If I had not done well academically in High School.  If I had never married.  If I had never had kids. If I had stayed at any of my many other jobs I had before landing at SRU. If I hadn't said that awful thing.  If I hadn't slept in. If I hadn't eaten that last snack...

The list is endless.  It's torturous.  

I wonder if we'd ever stop wondering? Does the mind ever settle? Does the heart ever stop longing for something else that it can never find? Is contentment possible on this side of life?

Perhaps, I'm afraid, all that is possible on this side of Heaven, is to merely catch just a brief glimpse of the peace of contentment... and only if we are in Christ.

Only the presence of Jesus in us through the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit allows us to achieve a version of what the popular saying, "bloom where you're planted" suggests:  to apply our gifts and talents for the Kingdom of God right where we are, in the circumstances we find ourselves at the moment, without waiting for situations to change, for life to be different, for retirement or whatever.  Only through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit we can fulfill what Paul tells us:

Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. 1 Corinthians 7: 17

Contentment in this life does not have to do with this life, but with eternity, because: to live is Christ and to die is gain! (Philippians 1: 21)  And, for as long as we remain on this earth, we know where the secret of being content is:

I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4: 13

Though the wondering and the wandering of our minds and hearts may not completely stop, we know that as the Holy Spirit works in us and through us, He is growing His fruits in our souls, among which is peace, the peace of knowing where we're headed and where we belong. 

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5: 22-23


Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Change

What do you feel in your soul and in your heart when you think of change?  Does your heart beat faster with excitement...or with fear when you see change approaching?

The sermon at church last Sunday was about change...and I've been thinking about it for a while now...wondering how exactly does the idea of change impact my life...my feelings...my mental health...

Sigh...

I believe, if I know anything about myself, that I crave change in many aspects of my life...but...only when I can control it.  Change is exciting and fun to me only when on my own terms.  "Let's sell our house!"  "Let's move to another part of the country!" "Let's move to another country!" "Let's buy a house by the lake!" "Let's try this new restaurant!" "Let's redecorate the Livingroom!" "Let's remodel the bathroom!" "Let's quit our jobs and become freelancers!" "Let's sell everything and live in an RV!"  "Let's become nomads!" "Let's travel abroad in the middle of a Pandemic!"

Yep...that's me, alright. I don't want my life to be stale so I think of ways to make it interesting by moving things around.  I invite change.  The problem arrives when change shows up uninvited.  Then, instead of fun...change brings up gloom and despair...anxiety and fear...and the deep disappointment of crushed hope. 

It all comes down to a control issue.  I like to manipulate.  I don't like to be manipulated.

I've been planning a trip to Panama for a long time.  It's been 3 years since the last time I was there.  I have to go.  I have to see my loved ones.  I have to feel the tropical sun burning my skin.  I have to hear the noises and smell the aromas of my home country.  So, as soon as vaccines became available, I made sure we all got them.  We coordinated our schedules. We bought tickets and presents to bring.  We made reservations and plans where on their way.  Then, I get a message from my sister explaining how things have turned for the worse with the pandemic in Panama, especially in our hometown.  Reading my sister's words brought tears to my eyes because I knew: it is just not the right time to bring my family there.  The trip had to be cancelled.  

After months of anticipation and planning, we decided that it is best not to go to Panama this summer.

I felt the blow of disappointment deeply in my heart. I felt the stab of fear in my soul: fear that if I skip another year I might not see some of my loved ones.  I've already lost a few in since I last visited.  I felt the gloom and doom of my crushed hopes and dreams.  I felt the sadness of distance.

I felt everything but fun and excitement.

And usually, that's what unexpected change does to me: it devastates me.  And the reason it does is because I have a hard time looking at things and situations from a different perspective.  I'm so rigid when it comes to the way I like things, that when they change, I become frustrated.  Instead, that energy I spend in being frustrated, I should invest it on attacking change with change:  by changing my perspective.

Out of the broken trip plans emerge the possibility to spend vacation days that have already been set aside, enjoying a quiet, family getaway that does not involve airport security, flying, customs or strict pandemic limitations.  

I know this illustration is very mild and not life-altering.  Many changes we face in life have the capacity to inflict profound wounds and cause complete reversals of intentions.  But, in the end, an attitude of trust in the One Who Is in Control...on the One Who Makes The Plans is the perspective that we need to adopt every time we face the inevitability of modifications.  After all, there's much we do not know or understand, but we do know He is Faithful and Worthy of Our Trust!

 1 Corinthians 1:9 God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hebrews 10:23  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.


Sunday, July 11, 2021

Find Your Bling

 

Recently, we spent a wonderful week at the lake.  We had Lake Erie as our backyard and its stone-filled shores as our playground.  It was a delightful week, one that I will never forget.  In the mornings, I would make the 80+ step trek down this very scary stairway to the beach to just contemplate the beauty that surrounded us.  I would also walk a bit, looking for beach glass and pretty stones.  This place was rich on both.  It was full of bling!

I could not stop marveling. I was in awe, so drawn to them.  It was like treasures at my feet! The stones in the water shimmered like jewels.  There were ambers, jade, onyx, sapphires even diamonds!  When kissed by the water they did shine like precious stones.  I’d pick up a handful of the prettiest ones, and set them on the retaining wall to dry…but once out of their element and dried, something strange would happen: they lost their luster…  they stopped shining and looked like nothing but dull rocks… nothing special… it was weird…

This made me think of humanity: without Jesus we are just dull stones…nothing special.  The only thing that makes us shine with utmost brilliancy is water, the Living Water: Jesus!

but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” John 4: 14

Without the Living Water of Christ, we would never find our spark…no bling…just gray dullness, no life.  

Like the beach glass and stones, we are meant to be by the water…the Living Water.  The Living Water is what brings up the brilliancy and worth from within us.  That's where we find our bling!  Without the Living Water, we are nothing.  We are to be in Him, drink from Him and eventually become His fountains from which His Living Water flows so others can also drink!  And we can’t do any of that apart from Him.  

May the Holy Spirit speak to us and draw us to the Living Water so we may thirst no more.

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers. Psalm 1: 3