A Dog, A Fishhook and The God Who Speaks

2014-06-02 09.46.09Many people might discount a miracle that saved an animal’s life. But I believe Scripture indicates that God has interest in, compassion for, and often purposes for all of creation.

Before God made Eve to be Adam’s perfect match, He brought each of the animals to him. One by one, He allowed Adam to name in the animals (Genesis 2:20), sparking a unique symbiotic relationship between man and beast before sin entered the world. But, when man sinned, the curse fell on all of creation (Romans 8:19-21), and after the flood, God declared that the fear of man would fall upon animals (Genesis 9:2). Sin broke more than God’s relationship with man; it damaged all of creation.

Over five years ago, I was emerging for the second time from the bowels of anorexia. My husband was on his third deployment with the Army and our marriage was on the rocks. We’d bought a house in Washington State, near his duty station, but far from family. I felt discouraged, lonely, anxious, hopeless and angry. But then God made me Brave.

I’m blessed to be sharing this testimony at My Story of Grace today. Please finish reading this post over there …

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Love for the Lawless

A few weeks ago my dog ran away.

It was a perfect, sunny Sunday. We were leaving the house through the garage, so I pressed the button to open the big door, then turned back to grab his leash from the hook on the wall. In less than 10 seconds, he spied two stray dogs across the street and took off. Suddenly, my normally well-behaved dog was deaf to me. As you might expect, happy to be part of the game, the two strays led Brave on a wild game of chase through the neighborhood.

Within moments, they were out of sight. The last tail ducked into the woods at the end our cul-de-sac. Unreservedly, I charged through my neighbor’s yard and into a mass of thorny vines. I plunged toward a small clearing and then scanned the horizon for Brave. No dogs. Anywhere.

Hysterical, I ran the three blocks back to my house. I screamed at my husband, “Brave ran away! He is chasing some strays that were in the yard across the street!” Without waiting for a response, I grabbed Brave’s leash, which I had dropped in my panic and took off again, with no idea where to go.

Because God is good, I didn’t have to look very far. There was Brave, just across the street again, stand stupidly in someone’s front yard. This time when I called, he ran straight to me.

It’s funny when God decides to drop little lessons in our hearts. As I secured Brave to the end of his leash, a recent sermon came to mind. The pastor compared Christians struggling to live “good” lives and follow all of God’s rules to a dog on a chain.

A Christian cannot experience true freedom in Christ while trying desperately to be righteous on his own. Paul talks about this in Galatians 5. But often, we’re afraid that if we break the chain, or unleash ourselves from the bondage of the law, we will lose our closeness to, or relationship with God. At the same time, we often feel frustrated and bitter about having to be “good” all the time.

In my runaway dog story, as soon as Brave realized he wasn’t on a leash, he took off after the other dogs excited to experience the same freedom they had. Similarly, when we understand our freedom from the bondage of the law, there’s a chance that we’ll stray. But it’s vitally important that we grasp what this freedom really is. Otherwise, we cannot fully appreciate what Christ did for us on the cross.

“So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” Galatians 5:1

Now here’s where it gets really good! Brave came back! He was only missing for about 10 minutes. He knew that life with me was so much better than anything else he could experience in the big wide world. It’s the same way with believers in Christ. Jesus is so much better than anything we can experience or have or become.

Romans 2:4 says, “ Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?”

When Jesus died on the cross, He removed the chain of the law. Romans 7:4 tells us that when we believe in Christ, we are no longer slaves to the law. We no longer have a long list of “do’s” and “do not’s”. And yes, there is the freedom to run away.

But just like Brave knew that I am good to him, that I feed and brush and care for him, those who have trusted Christ know the lovingkindness of the Father. And His kindness draws us back to Him. In fact, Psalm 63:3 tells us that God’s love is even better than life.

“Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You.”

Prove It, God

dried-flower-721462-mI wouldn’t have even seen her, she was so frail, but for the blood curdling scream that rent the air.

My dog and I had just arrived at the pediatrics floor of the local hospital for therapy visits. Ashana, (I don’t know her real name for confidentiality purposes) was just leaving and stood at the elevator with her mother around the corner from me. The doors yawned, they stepped inside and she was gone. I found out later from the nurses that four-year-old Ashana is terrified of dogs, butt as our conversation progressed I learned a little bit more.

Ashana has cancer. They found it when she was two. For the last two years, she has spent ten days a month in the hospital receiving treatments.

“That’s not the first time I’ve heard her cry like that,” one of the nurses said. “It happens almost every time she leaves. She loves it here. But if you think about it, this hospital will probably be most of what she remembers of her early years. It’s like a second home to her.”

I pictured that tiny little girl and her mother. Talk about a trial, a refiner’s fire.

When someone is in the middle of those flames, the worst thing you can say is something like, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or, “God is working in you. You’ll come out of this much stronger on the other side.”

But that’s what we think isn’t it? We imagine that God crafts our personal struggles to test our faith. But maybe, it’s the other way around. Maybe, God allows struggles and pain in our lives to prove HIS faithfulness, not to test ours.

Remember the story of Elijah running for his life in 1 Kings 19? The wicked Queen Jezebel was massacring the Lord’s prophets and was gunning for Elijah. The prophet ran and hid in the wilderness of Mount Sinai. He was so miserable and lonely that he told God he would rather die.  But God sent birds to feed Elijah; He even came personally and allowed Elijah to glimpse His glory.

Elijah’s experience in the wilderness did not prove his faithfulness. In fact, it proved his weakness—He felt hopeless and wanted to die. The experience didn’t make him stronger, Elijah was not suddenly a mightier man of God than he had been before. Instead, those moments in the wilderness proved that God was faithful; in the middle of that trial, God proved that He was strong enough, able enough to care for Elijah when all else seemed lost.

Romans 5:3-5, urges us to find joy even in the middle of our pain: “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Did you notice that Paul doesn’t say, “suffering makes you stronger”? Suffering produces perseverance. Perseverance means, “determination for a course of action, purpose”. (dictionary.com)

In our pain and suffering God proves His faithfulness; He proves His strength in the midst of our weakness. It is there, we see His faithfulness and understand that He is able to care for us no matter the situation.

Thanks Before Giving

On Wednesday we talked about holidays perspectives. I also told you early this month about my commitment to join the Advent Acts of Kindness. 

I got an early start on this simply because Thanksgiving opened itself wide 0pen to me as we didn’t travel, visit or have company this year. Truthfully, it was one of the most fun Thanksgivings I’ve ever had.

Brave and I went up to The Medical Center to visit with patients on Thanksgiving afternoon. Honestly, the staff had made a concerted effort to discharge as many patients as possible before the special day. But when we got to the 7th floor, one of our favorite ladies was still patiently enduring the drip, drip, drip of an 80-hour chemo treatment.

Funny, I don’t even know her name, but it was the third time we’d seen her. Somehow, the formality of introductions never comes up, so quickly do we always launch into light hearted conversation. This time, she knew we were coming, because I’d promised her on Tuesday afternoon. Her father was sitting with her. As soon as we breached the doorway, she burst with happy tidings.

“Guess what, Brave,” she announced. “Papa brought you treats!”

Sure enough, the gentleman stretched, shook my hand and handed his daughter a plastic baggie full of dog biscuits. We stood and talked to them for nearly half an hour.

Brave and I enjoyed our visit so much and I dearly hope we brightened their holiday afternoon. But I was stymied by the joy and peace that emanated from that dreary hospital room even before we arrived. Obviously, this precious woman did not require much to experience gratitude.

Oh Father, let me know the impenetrable gratitude of a rescued heart. Let me overflow with thanksgiving despite all circumstances. Father, this Advent season, let my thankfulness begin with awe and appreciation for my Savior. 

When we left the hospital, Brave and I broke one of our holiday “codes”. We did go shopping – just briefly. While he waited in the car, I darted into Walgreens and stuffed a red gift bag with candy, granola bars, cookies, hand lotion and peppermint gum. On the drive home we stopped at our favorite Starbucks and delivered the goodies to the most energetic and kind baristas we know.

When I was growing up, they told me, “It’s better to give than to receive”. Perhaps Thanksgiving is the perfect evidence of that. Watching gratitude blossom in a sick, tired or stranger’s face is the most exquisite feeling I have ever had.

Receiving, Re-gifting Life

[Re-posted from Finding Balance]Brave for FB

My dog Brave and I volunteer at a nursing home with an organization called Pet Partners. He has an uncanny way of making even the sternest face brighten. Frustrated, puckered expressions relax when he wags his tail like a dust mop over a patient’s knees. I love to watch wrinkled hands cup his furry face and touch noses with him. Brave, like many dogs spreads life like a contagious, happy disease.

Just last week, an elderly woman asked me if I really intended to keep Brave. She said it wasn’t fair, because she needed him. Laughing, I told her, yes, I plan on keeping him, then pulled my beloved puppy into my chest. She has no idea how much I need him. In more than one way, he saved my life.

One of the reasons that Brave and I got involved in pet therapy visits is because of the role Brave played in my recovery from anorexia. I had been a compulsive, long distance runner for several years and despite the advice of counselors and nutritionists, I felt physically unable to relinquish the addiction.

Lies rambled nonstop through my head, “If you don’t run as many miles as you did last week, you’ll be fat by the time you wake up tomorrow.”

When I got Brave, he was only five pounds; there was no way he could manage to keep up on my runs. But he did need exercise and I felt magnetically drawn to spend every spare minute with this little bundle of life. Almost over night, and almost unintentionally, I reduced my runs to leisurely walks. And guess what? I didn’t get fat!

By the time Brave came to live with me, I’d been in and out of vicious battles with anorexia for fifteen years. My family and my husband were tired, exhausted from the strain of worry and frustrated by their inability to help me get well.

I’m walking in health now, but I still struggle sometimes. And to this day, Brave never tires of my occasional tears or a lingering irrational fear of food.

One of the most surprising ways that Brave has helped me recover is simply in the fact that I have to feed him. At first I was paranoid that I might feed him too much. I hated the thought of owning a fat dog. Suddenly, I realized I was projecting my own fear onto my dog and I could see with clarity that going hungry could hurt him, even kill him, something I had a hard time believing about myself.

More than once, as dogs will do, Brave has found his way into the cat food or a patient at the nursing home has given him her whole lunch. On those days, his little sides are distended, but he seems unaffected by the momentary experience of fulness. Within a day, his stomach recedes to its normal boundaries and his happy life goes on. To think that being full is not the end of the world!

I’ve taken so many lessons from my four-legged friend. Yes, I’m thrilled to share his encouragement with others, but I’m fully aware of the gift God has given me in this little dog. I’m grateful, and I intend to keep him.

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Furry Evangelism, and a New Resource

Romans 10:17 says, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”

Believers must be courageous to tell everyone about our savior Jesus Christ. However, for most Christians, evangelism is arguably the most intimidating aspect of our faith.

Where to begin? How not to offend? 

What if they reject me?

How do I explain the Gospel concisely and accurately?

What if they ask a question I cannot answer?

I know all of these fears often invade my mind and literally paralyze my tongue when the opportunity to share the love of Jesus is presented. A few of these opportunities have arisen when I take my therapy dog to visit the sick and elderly in hospitals and nursing homes.

Then, I read this story, “We provide these gospels of John to patients we visit as part of the Canines for Christ therapy dog ministry.”

I immediately sat down and ordered copies of Forever Faithful, through the Pocket Testament League.

My dog is a comforter to numerous hurting people. I hadn’t considered that he can act as a comforter and help to calm my own nerves as I share the Gospel.

Then I read this story, “I plan on reaching out to the people and children this Christmas season. There are children in my area that come to see my puppy Nemo. This dog alone is a key to ministering to the children in my area. Looking forward to doing this for my Lord.”

The story brought to mind my former neighbor’s young children who often came over to “borrow” my dog. He ran up and down the yard beside them as they played hide-n-seek, tag football or red rover. The next summer, the relationship that began withheir interest in my cute, little dog deepened and their parents allowed me to take them to vacation Bible school at my church. I had no idea that my dog was such a wonderful evangelism tool!

My husband is in the military and we move frequently. At our next duty station, I met my neighbor, Sally, when our dogs became buddies at the dog park. We sat on benches and talked while the dogs played.

Sally was an atheist. However, the simplicity of our canines’ friendship, seemed to give us enough common ground to continue the friendship. Slowly, we began to spend more and more time together and to share more intimate thoughts. By the time we moved, Sally had not accepted Jesus as her savior, but I know that the seeds were planted and that her heart was yearning for the deep relationship and security that only comes from knowing Him.

The Bible testifies that creation speaks the glory of God. “How clearly the sky reveals God’s glory! How plainly it shows what he has done! Each day announces it to the following day; each night repeats it to the next. No speech or words are used, no sound is heard; let their message goes out to all the world and is heard to the ends of the earth.” Psalm 19:1-4

Even my dog is an instrument to share the truth of God’s word.

The prospect of sharing my faith still scares me. I still fumble for words at just the right time and wonder later if I said the right thing. But giving someone a gospel from the Pocket Testament League reminds me that God’s word will never return void. The reader will hear from the very lips of Jesus just how much He loves them and that He has offered them salvation through His death and resurrection.

I highly recommend checking out Pocket Testament League as a tool for sharing your faith.

2012-10-31 22.01.03

Exploiting Pain’s Privilege

I met Sadie at bootcamp.

A little, blond Curly-locks wandered into the backyard. She was an old-soul. You could see it in her peaceful eyes. Instead of a wild, catch-me-if-you-can grin, like so many kids her age, she confidently walked over to a set of toy trucks and went to work driving over imaginary roadways and through imaginary cities.

Sadie has something I wish had. Sadie has a bearing, a confidence, a quietness, a contentedness, a peace about her. As I learned Sadie’s story, I understood where these qualities come from. Sadie was diagnosed with Stage II Neuroblastoma at the age of 3 months. Praise God, Sadie is now in remission.

Here on Predatory Lies, we have talked a lot about the privilege of pain. Certainly, no one would wish for Sadie’s struggles, hospital stays and the strain it placed on their family. But our Glorious Father has brought beauty from ashes and Sadie and her family have flourished into a sun-ripened, bountiful, life-filled field in the wake of her pain.

I am joining Sadie’s big sister Anna and the rest of their family at the Cure Search Walk for Children’s Cancer, on October 14. If you are able to join us – wonderful! If not, would you consider supporting CureSearch?

I can say with confidence that nearly everyone who reads this post has been touched by cancer in some way. I would be honored and grateful if you would join me as I join Sadie and her family in the fight.

P.S. Brave wants me to tell you that he’s walking too, and he would love your support!

Comical Perspective

Let’s add some levity to the subject of perspective that I brought up on Monday. A change in perspective almost necessarily requires learning to laugh at ourselves, our circumstances and sometimes our frustrations. Let me tell you about the week of Rachelle’s wedding… and the week after we got home.

The second week that I had been living out of a suitcase, I was sleeping in my parents’ basement. I had just driven from Dallas, TX to Wichita, KS, arriving at about midnight. Talk about perspective – I thought midnight was the witching hour and I never stay up that late. Well, given the right incentive (spending time alone with my mom and the excitement of wedding preparations and the fact that I was needed in KS) suddenly, midnight was totally possible.

I woke the next morning to a cryptic email from my business partner with Moms Who TRI, Kristen Hench, who is also my dog-sitter. “Call me, it’s about Brave!”

I bolted out of bed and stood trembling as the phone rang. “He’s not getting out of bed, he wet himself on the floor, he’s shaking and he’s barely eating.” Here’s the point where I lost perspective. Sobbing hysterically, I hung up with Kristen, called the vet, cried to my mom and prepared my sister that I might have to fly home and skip her wedding – my dog was sick. Let’s not yet discuss my lack of perspective. To keep a very long and embarrassing story short, I wrestled with God concerning my perspective and priorities. Finally, after two expensive trips to the vet, Brave began to recover from a UTI and was back to his normal self.

Next, hurdle. Smaller, Patrick’s luggage got lost in Atlanta on his way to the wedding. It was found and delivered at some heinous hour. Hysterics averted.

Next hurdle. As a writer, my computer is practically an extension of my fingers. It’s not quite my livelihood, but writing is my passion and the computer is a necessary tool. I opened my cherished Mac Book Air on Sunday morning to find the equivalent of a “blue screen of death.” Another unplanned expense.

Next hurdle. I always struggle returning from a trip, trying to re-assimilate myself into my own, real life. This time I had a workable schedule in mind, certain things to do on certain days for my first week back in VA. Tuesday morning, I hopped in my car and cranked the key… nothing… not a click. After two jump starts, I was afraid to turn the car off. I drove to a Jiffy Lube where they laughed at me when I told them I needed a battery that fits in the trunk of my car. When I called the Miata dealership, they had one single battery left. I traipsed through VA traffic (again a matter of perspective) and waited for over an hour while they did a $200 battery replacement.  Tuesday’s agenda shot. Another whopping bill. Perspective.

This is not meant to be a pessimistic or “poor me” post. I don’t want to imply “it can always get worse.” But I’m grateful to my Heavenly Father and the work of the Holy Spirit in me. In the past, the accumulation of these little setbacks would have had me in tears. This time, one at a time, I rode through them and found my joy intact. Perspective.

Bambi is Vicious!!

With twice the proof, I present to you one really big lie: BAMBI IS NOT AFRAID OF YOU!  You’ve been told your whole life that animals are more scared of you that you are of them.  Apparently, that is not true of deer.

Last Saturday, Brave and I were sauntering home from a morning swim (him).  We were walking in the woods behind South Run RECenter, near Mercer Lake.  As usual he was inches outside of my sight, tearing through the woods at break-neck speed.  Suddenly, the thrashing noises got louder than one small dog can make.  Brave began screaming as only a terrified dog can do.

Horrible images flashed through my mind – he’s been bit by a snake and is now roiling on the ground wondering why his mom hasn’t come to save him – he’s been attacked by a bigger dog and is fighting a loosing battle.  The clatter came in stops and starts.  Between his yelps I gained speed as I began running as fast as I could down the path.  I had no idea where to enter the woods; I could tell he was still moving, too.

Then, after what felt like 15 minutes and must have been more like 15 seconds, Brave scampered across the narrow pavement in front of me, followed by a scrawny doe!  I could count her ribs, but she was by no means feeble.  As Brave ran, her hooves pounded directly over him.  She must have struck him once or twice because it was hard to tell the difference between her legs and his.

I don’t remember how they separated, but luckily within the next few strides, she was standing just inside the wood-line and Brave triangulated us in a dog, deer, girl standoff.  I grabbed a thick, 5-foot-long branch and swung like a rabid baseball player.  I used words that I am ashamed to admit here (my mother reads this sometimes).  Reluctantly, the deer jogged away.  She seemed genuinely disappointed that I had ended her game.

As smart as Brave seems sometimes, the furry idiot attempted to follow his predator back into the woods.  I grabbed his scruff and tethered him with the leash.  We did make it home without further incident, only a snapping turtle who at least was willing to mind his own business!

I mentioned that I had twice the proof that Bambi is mean.  A few years ago I wrote a story called, “Disney on the Drop Zone.”  Consider it validation for my position: Deer are NOT more afraid of me than I am of them!

P.S.  Sorry, I didn’t think to grab my camera and record my dog’s potential demise!

Disney on the Drop Zone

I stamped my feet, wiggled my toes and stuffed my hands deeper into my blue-jean pockets.  Hours had passed standing in this barren field waiting for my paratrooper husband to float to the ground so we could go home. A few other wives were around, waiting for their husbands too.  Some had brought their kids and or their dogs.

Early this morning, Patrick had boarded a C-130 for a training jump with the Army Ranger students.  What was supposed to take 30 minutes, invariably lengthened to devour a whole morning! Now I was freezing and desperate to go to the bathroom!

I scanned the horizon for even a tree where I could discreetly create a “ladies’ room” and noticed a crude port potty near the distant tree line.  I conned my friend, Carla, into accompanying me.  I didn’t need an escort, but girls always go in pairs, right?  As we neared the trees, a young deer emerged from the woods and amazingly sauntered toward us!  Any minute, I expected Bambi to realize we were humans and characteristically dart back into his forest.  But no, Bambi walked right up to me and began to rub his rough forehead against my thigh!

Feeling a little like Hiawatha, I returned the affection.  I was entranced by this strange behavior, and continued fondling Bambi’s ears while Carla remained a reserved distance away.  Then suddenly, my new friend lowered his head and slammed viciously into the side of my thigh!  What did I do wrong?

He stepped back slightly and did it again!  What on earth?  I turned to run but the little fiend tried one more time and caught the back of my knee with his two inch antler. It gouged my jeans and sent me sprawling.

Dear Carla was no help!  Comically, she danced around us flapping her arms, shouting undiscernibly and fretting helplessly.  But my hero was on his way; a scrappy little dog, waiting for his master.  His canine ears heard my cries and came tearing across the field!

Bambi saw Tramp coming, ears flying, staccato bark announcing his arrival to save the day.  Before Tramp could even get a nibble of a hoof, Bambi took off like a rocket back to the haven of his trees.  Tramp never paused to check on my wellbeing.  This daring rescue had become a game and he barreled after his prey in hot pursuit!

I stood, uninjured and dusted myself off.  If not for Carla’s witness and the undeniable testimony of the new hole in my jeans, I’d hardly believe it ever happened!