Dogged by Grace

The dog looked at me with a wary eye.  Was I friend or foe?

I laid down my small offering of lunchmeat turkey breast and leftover sandwich bread with mayonnaise on it.  I placed it all in a bowl and slid it through a hole in the fence. He looked thinner than the last time I’d seen him.  Pink skin showed through just above where a collar should be, the fur ripped out by frustrated flea-scratching.

“Here, boy,” I said.

He thrashed around in the bushes, up and down the hillside a couple of times.  I couldn’t tell if it was out of excitement or fear. Finally, he stopped and looked at me. We gazed at each other.  Several seconds passed. Then, hunger overcame any fear.  He pushed his square nose into the bowl and pulled out the bread.  Gulp! Each slice disappeared in one gulp.  His brown-black fur shone in the sun. Next he gobbled the meat.

In between bites, he looked at me as if to say, What are you going to do about it?

I looked up at the pale blue sky and thought, There but for the grace of God go I. Not that I would be a dog, mind you, but starving.  Homeless.  Lost. Alone and scared.

This dog lives behind our garden fence.  He’s rather bony and not a young pup anymore. He traverses the hill on grooved paths, has a little nest with a donated blanket and generally looks out for himself.  Several of us whose homes abut the hillside feed him. He belongs to no one anymore and actively avoids acquiring a new owner. Ruby named him Max.

We’d like to own Max. We would rig a living space for him in the carport.  We’d take care of his basic needs and show him affection.  But Max, badly abused by his last nomadic master, will not cotton to new management.

Are we any different?  God comes to us in big and small ways.  “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Yet we resist. Our last encounter with Jesus or His so-called people left us bloody and broken. We want nothing to do with church, thank you very much.  And God can take a hike, too, for that matter.  Why didn’t He stick up for us?  Where did He go, on vacation to Bermuda? Or even for those of us who don’t eschew the fellowship, we don’t want to get too close to anyone.  Past betrayals and hurts put us on guard, our invisible walls forever too high to scale and too thick to break through. So we attend church on a regular basis, get in our cars and go home. No muss, no fuss.

We hope to woo Max to us, in time.  We’ll continue to bring him food he loves.  We’ll talk to him,our voices soft and low, the metal fence still separating us.  Maybe, just maybe, we can reach out a comforting helping hand and bring him in from the cold.

God’s grace remains for you, friend. People will fail us in this life.  They make promises they can’t keep and lash out from their own pain. But…He is calling you today. Whether you believe or not, He is still there.  He longs to care for you. He longs to be your friend and for you to walk with Him. He has all that you need. Will you let Him care for you?

Metamorphosis

A peep into the future.

A peep into the future.

I love having kids, but sometimes I lose my cool.

“I’m bored!”

“Do I have to do that?”

“It’s not my turn!”

Let’s not forget my favorite, the all-purpose eye roll.

Sigh.

We spent time at the park today.  Ruby played with her cousins, lifting herself up high on the swings.  Other kids filtered in and out of the park, enjoying the partly sunny day and the freedom of summer. My sister-and -law and I chatted and ran interference now and then.

We watched a really chubby kid dominate the tire swing.  He needed a couple of kids to push him and get him moving.  Other kids shot hoops at the far end of the playground.

Our kids clambered on the play structure.  They went down the slide.  They chased each other in an impromptu game of tag. A small group of kids, school friends plus cousins, wandered over to the big trees by the fence. Each tree probably has 100 or more rings, trees you can’t hug by yourself. When the posse returned, they had something to show us.

“Look what we found!” Ruby’s cousin proclaimed, holding up two fuzzy caterpillars. I took a peek.  Both had yellowish fuzz with a black underskin. One was just over an inch long.  The other measured only about a 1/2 inch. Frankly, I’d call them rather ugly.

Ruby pouted and stated *she* had found them.  Her cousin kindly surrendered one.

“It’s a baby one,” Ruby said.

Ruby peered at her hand. I poked it.  It felt alive but didn’t move much.

Caterpillars have a temporary existence.  They turn into butterflies.  And so these kids aren’t what they will be:  kind, responsible adults.  They have the makings now.  They’re funny, smart, generous, agile, you name it.  Only sometimes it comes out as complaining and arguing. Sometimes it looks like they can’t sit still and don’t follow directions.  Their behavior may be ugly at times. They’re still becoming. This calls for  more patience and grace. Butterflies aren’t made in a day.  Neither are great grownups. Truly, we’re all being changed day by day.

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. – 2 Corinthians 3:18

 

Cold One

I lfeel like this, only my hair doesn't do that, even when I'm sick.

I feel like this, only my hair doesn’t do that, even when I’m sick.  Photo from thinkstock.

Just when I thought it was safe and I was on the mend…I felt rotten again this morning.

I hate colds.

My head throbbed.  I dragged my protesting body out of bed and down the stairs.  I watered the cats, let one in and the other out. Rex chirruped a protest as he trotted inside, his back damp from the drizzle.  It’s November, kitties.  Get used to 40 degrees and raining.  Whatever.  I shuffled over to my purple couch.

I checked my email and Facebook then read my Bible.  You might question my priorities, but I have to get them out of my head first.  Then I can focus.

Slowly, slowly, as I read and drank my water the peace seeped into me. My head started to clear.  You know – that peace that only God can give.  The peace beyond our understanding.  The peace that says, “I’m holding you up.  You can rest in My embrace.”  I so needed to hear it today.  The thought of another Tuesday, chock full of errands and meetings and obligations and me still feeling sub-par, left me wiped out before I even got to breakfast.  But God.

I am a type A person in perpetual recovery.  “Hi, my name is Susan.  I’m driven.”  Now you: “Hi, Susan!”  I don’t like to back down.  I don’t like to be sick.  I hate to miss anything.  Yet these times of enforced rest teach us a new level of trust.  As a mom, I don’t usually get a day off.  Jonathon graciously takes over when he’s able and does a great job.  But lunches don’t make themselves.  The trash truck needs the can parked at the end of the driveway.  Cars do run out of gas.  I find that most of the time, I can still function as I rest in His grace.  I might have to move more slowly and shuffle to-dos around.

I felt better for awhile, then worse.  Probably standing in line for a half hour at the grocery store didn’t help things.  I took a little rest after that.  I didn’t get upset.  I had the opportunity to learn that the royals dedicated their baby boy.  I also learned Kim Kardashian is pregnant again.  So much to glean, so little time!

I probably exacerbated things by falling off the sugar-free wagon yesterday.  Yep.  I am getting back on and plan to ride it as long as possible, with the Lord’s help.  Right now, I feel a little ill again.  We’ve got some company coming over, family I treasure greatly.  The house needs tweaking.  Will it be white-glove ready?  Nope.  I don’t think I even know exactly how clean that is.  But God.

When Ruby was a tiny mite and felt icky, she wanted me to hold her.  We’d watch girly TV together.  I’d carry her up to bed when she got tired.  I’d rock her in the rocking chair, singing songs to her.  She needed me close.  My presence comforted her. I didn’t need to do anything else.

I used to believe if I didn’t get healed right away from whatever sickness I was battling, I was in sin.  God was mad at me.  Call it a wrong mindset left over from the “name it and claim it” craze.  Now I know differently.  It’s okay to not be strong all the time:  “My grace is sufficient for you”.  Sometimes, God needs to hold us for awhile.  We get so busy, we don’t recognize we want Him to do just that.

Graceful Submission

So far, I have written two blog posts in the last 2 days.  Neither will see the light of day.

I am finding it harder to write about things with even a hint of controversy.  I am learning to mind the “checks” in my spirit but trying to still be honest. It sucks, frankly.  I don’t have it mastered yet.  A few things might come out here and there, like a slip showing beneath a short, sheer dress.

That leaves…everybody’s health, and the weather, right?  Just quoting Professor Henry Higgins of “My Fair Lady”.

For a lack of a good segue, I ran this morning.  The damp, fresh air and cool breeze revived my spirit.  I haven’t run before breakfast in awhile. Definitely don’t have much gas in the tank pre-fueling.  I didn’t go far.  Traffic was light.  The only steady sound was the clomp-clomp of my feet hitting the pavement.  The scent of damp earth, trees and concrete filled my senses.

The best thing about running in the early hours is it helps order my thoughts.  I have a list of to-dos to accomplish every day.  Sometimes I feel motivation to do them, sometimes not.  Running helps me accomplish them with joy.

I’ve been processing some things lately.  I’ve offered them up to God for His control.  Much as I’d like to think I’ve got it all together, control is an illusion.  Ask me about how Ruby’s last dental visit went.  Better yet, don’t.  Total meltdown in the vinyl chair.  Total gobsmack for me and I realized again the transience of submission.

Submission is:  the action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person.

I can’t make my child submit.  Okay, I can, if I use force.  But is that what I truly want?  No.  If I am supposed to model the Father’s heart to my children, it simply won’t fly.  I must find a compassionate, kind, gentle way to show them and, ala Love and Logic, let circumstances teach.

Me:  Zac, you might want a pillow for the overnight (youth encounter/retreat).
Zac:  Nah.  I don’t need one.

Guess who didn’t sleep?

Yes, I want the kids to be submitted to Jonathon and I.  But out of love, not fear.  Trust plays a big part also.  As I submit more and more to Jesus, I’m praying it gets across to them. I want to be living the Father’s heart towards them. I don’t have all the answers.  I am teachable, though.  I believe they are, too.

Friday Find

I haven’t written about my running in awhile, so I thought I’d update you.  This week, I tapered.  Not like this

tapered jeans

Tapering like this would take a  surgery or a funhouse mirror.  Much less invasive. As Jonathon would say to the girl (above):  “Eat a cheeseburger!”  Sheesh.

No.  I kept the running streak going, but cut the mileage back.  I ran either one or two miles a day. I will finish the week tomorrow with a 2-mile run. I got up to 17 miles  last week, but I didn’t want to hurt myself.  So, I scheduled a “cut-back” week.  I don’t have a race.  Yet.  Runners do that when they want to increase mileage but need their bodies to catch up.  At least, that’s what I’ve read.  I’m not so good at cutting back.  I did it, however.  I don’t want to get hurt again.  I want to continue to feel better and go farther. My progress has been slow, slow, slow.  At times it irks me.  Other times, I remember to be grateful I can run at all.

As you can see, this week’s theme, unbeknownst to me, has been grace.  Grace for others, grace for myself, grace in all circumstances. I’m afraid grace is not my natural bent. I am learning, in this school of life circumstances.  See?  Even confirmed perfectionists can reform!   I need to let my body rest and recharge in a sort of active recovery so I can push it harder next week.  I need to let the kids – and myself – transition to being school-free so we can find our next adventure.  I need to let our church make a transition in leadership and support the people continuing the work, as well as those who have gone on to do more, with kindness and grace.

There’s a dependence in grace, a surrendering of sorts.  It all leads back to God and what He has done, is doing, for us and in us.  If we truly believe Romans 8:28, we can rest in that.  We cannot earn grace; it’s a free gift.  It’s been given to us.  We can extend grace to others, where they are.  We can forbear where in the past we might have snapped and lacked compassion.  We can never truly know all that ails our fellow man (and woman), but we can give them grace.

Old Growth

cedar

Today, I aimed to run 5 miles.  I don’t think I quite made it.

My cantankerous breakfast, undigested, kept causing my side to ache.  First the right side, then the left side ached.  Then a pain surfaced right under my solar plexus.  It made the whole experience very un-fun.  Add to that that no matter what direction I turned, it felt like I was running into the scouring, blustery wind.  Every surface seemed uphill.

And yet…

The sun shone.  Clouds, pushed by the cold wind, shuttled around in the sky restlessly.  The air was sweet with the scent of cherry and apple blossoms.  Rhododendrons and azaleas bobbed in the breeze.  It felt like recess, especially since the forecast for today called for rain.

Instead of getting upset about the circumstances, I decided to enjoy them.  I turned up the music.  I walked when breath deserted me because of the stabbing pain.  I didn’t let it get me down.  I smiled at people as we passed each other.  I listened to my favorite songs over and over.  I even played air drums.  Don’t laugh!  You know you’ve done it.

I considered the cedars planted in front of Zac’s old school as I ran past it on the way home. Right now, the young ‘uns are around 15’ tall.  Their frond-like branches swayed in the gusts. They’re probably 20 years old.  Someday, they will be an impressive fortress around the school grounds, offering shade and shelter.  Their roots will go down deep, under the parking lot and under the street.  Give them time, light and enough rain (not a problem!) and these silent guardians will dominate the landscape.

Sometimes we need to give ourselves and others time and space to grow. Cedars don’t soar to 80 feet  tall in a day. My running needs some work, and so does my life.  I have learned much in my time here on earth, but I have more to go.  There is time. It’s not how you start, but how you finish.  With God’s grace, I will make it.  And so will you.

Saturday Synopsis

I apologize for not blogging yesterday, but time got away from me.  I had a long conversation with a friend of mine and it gave me a lot to think about.  More on that another time.

A few updates:

This is day 3 (or is it more?) of icy fog that never lifts.  It gets to 33 degrees every day.  Is this what London weather is like?

My back is getting better.  I’m almost ready to try running again.  Almost.  Because of this injury, I’m trying new things.  I’m walking again, which isn’t running, but isn’t terrible, either.  I walked on the treadmill this morning at a pretty good clip for about 30 minutes, the first time on that apparatus in several weeks.  It was a bit disheartening to watch other people, some whom I knew, come and run next to me.  I’m not there yet.  I am going to see what else I can do to mix it up and fire up ye olde metabolism.  I’m not dead yet!  This is an opportunity to explore.

I realized yesterday that I’m very grateful for my friends, in real life and online.  I don’t care if you’re male or female.  If we’re able to establish some common ground and learn from each other, I’m glad you’re in my life.  Of course, if you’re male, we can’t share our birthing experiences.

Moving on.

Rex continues to battle Rita.  Rita bloodies him, but he perseveres.  Haven’t seen Rita around much.  Rex is winning the war.

I’m appreciating the love that is in my life, now.  I am married to a fabulous guy who puts up with my moods and penchant for exercise.  I have two adorable children who I would do anything for, and are learning to do for each other and others.  Most of my immediate family lives here, too, and they provide a supportive, loving framework for me.

I’m finally, finally learning that who we are is so much more than what we look like.  We can spend so much time trying to lose weight, be hip or what have you that we lose sight of our mission as people.  I’m thinking more and more about ways to serve and to love others and be Jesus to them. What would make them happy?  How can I encourage or edify?  I may not always have the finances, but I can give of my time and my care.  I can also bake things.  And they’re edible.

Which brings me to…sugar.  I’ve tried to go sugar-free again, this time with a sister-in-law.  I managed about 4 days.  Woot!  But I’m also learning that sugar is not the enemy.  The real issue is learning to eat all things in moderation, and stopping when I’m full.  Period.  Otherwise, I’m looking at world with no chocolate chip cookies, cake or ice cream.  That’s just…unacceptable!  I’m also learning that there will always be another opportunity for dessert.  I can let it pass by sometimes.

God’s grace is immeasurable.  Just when I think I’ve blown it forever, He comes through.  I don’t have to live this life alone.  He is always with me.  He gives me the strength to do the things I thought I couldn’t.  He is the center of my joy.