Lassie, Come Home

thanksgiving-012That adorable little ball of fur on the left is my Sheltie, Lassie.  She will turn three this spring, just a few days before my own birthday, and she is a happy little creature without a care in the world.  Thanks to mom feeding her while I am at work, she is a fat little thing, too! 

Lassie’s main vice (besides yapping) lies in her timid nature.  She is deathly afraid of strangers and strange places.  She has an emotional breakdown every time I take her for a ride in my car.  She hides under furniture and shakes like we’re having an earthquake whenever she is confronted with something new. 

Sound familiar?

I hate to subscribe to the idea that in time, the owner begins to assimilate to her dog, but I see too much of myself in Lassie’s nature.  Physically, we have the same profile (check out my nose) and when it comes to our personalities, I see many of the same tendencies that Lassie displays when life throws her a curve ball.  She never goes and fetches.  She runs the other direction.

My world and Lassie’s are obviously very different.  She doesn’t have to go to work or do chores — she just has to be.  Well, she does have to be good, in addition to just being, and as a whole she does a fair job at that.  The test comes when  I give her a command:

“Lassie, come here.”  I see her round eyes recognize my voice — but then she surveys the situation.  Is there anyone around?  Anything new, strange, or fearful?  If so, she doesn’t come, but lingers timidly in the corner.  “Lassie, come!”  She takes a few steps forward, but quickly darts back when she hears footsteps nearby.  Her ears flick back and forth and I can tell I am not the only voice she is listening to.  Third time:  “Lassie, I said come here!”  She then has two reactions:  a mad dash into my arms, or a fearful huddle in the corner.  If the latter, I come thundering into the corner to collar her into obedience. 

What Lassie always misunderstands is that I call her to give her blessings.  I give her commands so I can enjoy her company, pet her, feed her, and brush her.  It is she who makes it an ordeal by her fearful disobedience.  When she continues to ignore my commands, the difficulty is prolonged as I have to punish her before I can give her what I wanted to give in the first place. 

I don’t know about you, but I see this as a fair example of my relationship with God.  He calls — and I survey the situation.  “Is it safe?  Will I be embarrassed?  Will I get hurt?” If I don’t like it, maybe I don’t go.  He calls again:  “Phylicia, follow me!” I start to follow, but I get dissuaded by fear and pride.  So God comes thundering into my corner, to pull me out of my huddle and show me what I could have attained with much less hassle.  I end up with my ears pinned back and my tail between my legs.  It didn’t have to be that way.

So tomorrow morning when I feed Lassie, that’s what will be on my mind.  Maybe I can’t help looking like my dog, but I can certainly put a stop to acting like her.  I just have to get out of my corner… before the Master has to drag me out of it!

All Your Needs

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want; He maketh me lie down in green pastures, He leadeth me beside still waters; He restoreth my soul… 

Counting sheep wasn’t working, and as I lay in bed with the glare of a brilliant moon in my eyes, I recited that age-old Psalm to fall asleep.  But it wouldn’t put me to sleep.  In fact, it actually made me sit upright as something dawned on me… something I had never thought of before.

Today was the presidential inauguration.  Most of our nation is rejoicing — while there are others who cringe to think of what is to come under our new leader’s direction.  For some, he provides ‘change’ and ‘hope’ — two ideas that seem to be our nation’s most pressing needs.  For others, he symbolizes an artful deception over the majority of Americans — people who, in an appearance-oriented and materialistic society, are convinced by charisma and unsupported promise. I won’t pretend my sentiments lie with the former.

I wasn’t thinking about the president when I was lying there in bed.  I was thinking about my own life… how many things I need to get done, the places I need to go, the assignments for college, the papers at work — and of course, the future.  I don’t think about relationships much, but at night those thoughts tend to make themselves much more available.  I finished reciting Psalm 23 and began to say it again, but stopped:  The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want… I shall not want… I shall not want… 

The Lord does not say I shall not need;  He says I shall not want.  What do I need?  Clothes, food, water, funds… there wasn’t much to list that I was in dire need of simply to survive.  I thought about what I wanted.  There are things I want that are not wrong to be wanted — but God does not see that I need them at the present time.  If I needed those things, the Lord, as my Shepherd, would give them to me:

“And my God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”  (Phil. 4:19)

God is there.  He fills our needs and when He sees us fit to be blessed with our desires, He gives us those as well.  Yet we can rest knowing that we at the very least are supplied with what is necessary to survive — and not only to survive, but to thrive.  Too often we as Americans grow dull to the concept that we are so very blessed.  We scream for ‘change’ when we stand in full health, without distended stomachs from weeks without food, without sewers full of rats where our children play, and without huts for our only homes.  We stand ‘entitled’ to free health care and prescription drugs, demand that we get more money, more loans, more everything.  This is America as a whole:  a world of wanting, wanting, wanting — and never is there enough.

Barack Obama can’t be the nation’s Messiah.  He can’t supply all of our wants — not even all our needs.  The Lord is our Shepherd — and when we realize that, we won’t need to scream for more, because we will be completely satisfied.

Forever’s As Far As I’ll Go

Classes started today, and I was not looking forward to it.  I enjoyed my break far too much to want to get back to studying.  I was excited for one thing though — I do have good classes:  Newswriting and Civil War, two of my favorite subjects.  Tonight I had to head to Newswriting right after drama meet and a short dinner out with a friend.  I ran into the dank depths of the Technology building, not sure what to expect… and dreading what I was sure to be expecting:  The Interview.

Contrary to what many people think about me I greatly dislike interviewing people.  I feel like I am treading on their own ground — like I am trespassing on their time and information.  Perhaps I am scarred by my perceptions of reporters from movies I watched in the past, but whatever the case, I don’t like that kind of confrontation.  But I love a story — and I love to write.  What good am I unless I have something to write about — specifically something people want to hear?  People want to hear news.  Thus, I need to get it… and to get it, I need to get out of my comfort zone.

As I sat in class, however, I got more and more excited.  My teached is the former editor of our local newspaper, a kind and intelligent man who is happy to teach us what it means to be journalists.  He gave us assignment after assignment, and then stopped and looked at the six of us (it’s a small class!).  “For those interested,” he said, “there may be a position open with the college newsletter if you would like to write for it.  You can get out of lab if you choose to do so.  I can’t guarantee your work will be published, but there is a chance.”  You can imagine my reaction — I’m going to get that spot!  He also said that in the spring we might head down to the state capital to meet Lansing’s top journalists, eat lunch with them, and watch a broadcast be filmed.  When I left class, my head was spinning with ideas and opportunity.

Sometimes we have dreams, and as time wears on those dreams that were once exciting become increasingly dull.  Since it takes time for them to develop they tend to get rusty, and after a while we may want to throw them away.  Opportunity seems scarce, and the daily grind of life doesn’t seem to be taking us anywhere.  Yet truly, life is a roadtrip:  when you start out you are excited and filled with anticipation.  As the drive lengthens, you can lose sight of the luxury awaiting you at the end and get caught up in the annoying car games, your brother’s leg sticking in your face and the endless, empty landscape out the window.  It may not seem worth the destination.

Then you see a billboard on the side of the road with a picture of the resort you’re headed to.  It reminds you of the purpose of the trip and excites you all over again — inspiring you and enabling you to bear with the annoyances that were wearing you down.  You have renewed strength and determination to get to where you’re going.

I know what I want to do  — but I have even more ideas now, all spinning in my head like a little tornado.  The great thing is that God is right there.  He provided the opportunity, and He’ll see it to its fulfillment.  With Him, forever is as far as I’ll go.

Life’s a Dance

I just got back home from watching the National Russian Ballet perform ‘Sleeping Beauty’.  The show was sold out and my friend fortunately bought two of the last three tickets — just in time!  We had excellent seats with an amazing view of the stage — able to see all the performers in their brilliant costumes pirouetting before us.  The music was wonderful as well.  We enjoyed dressing up to go out as well as seeing such an amazing show.

I watched the ballerina that played Aurora, or Sleeping Beauty, as she danced on stage.  I thought about what she did… not only physically — but about the motivations for her different movements.  There is not a word spoken in a ballet performance:  the audience draws its conclusions through the actions of the performers and the dynamics of the music.  By herself, Aurora danced beautifully.  She was astounding to behold.  Yet I noticed that whenever she did the most difficult turns and movements, she always had to hold the hand of one of the male dancers.  She couldn’t do it without his support and strength.

When Aurora meets the Prince, in the second act, she must dance with another person — not just herself.  No longer can she think only of her own movements and actions, but also of his, ready to cue off him for her own steps.   The more she leaned on him, and trusted him as he lifted her and moved her across the stage, the more beautiful and remarkable the dance became.  When she surrendered herself and her own dance to join in his, the two of them made a much more memorable performance than if it had just been her.

Do we want to be the ‘prima donnas’ of our lives?  I think we often do.  I know I do.  I want to decide my own steps and keep my own spotlight, afraid that if I surrender to my partner I will lose my freedom and the beauty of my dance.  Yet our partner knows the dance better than we ever will, and he is strong where we are weak.  When we fail a step, he is there to lift us up.  With each time we surrender to Him, he makes the dance more beautiful.  No longer do we control it, dominating the stage of our own life:  He guides us step by step, and with each twist and turn the performance becomes more and more lovely — because it’s not about performing, it’s about me and my Lord.

Unforgiving Minute

I am looking out my window right now and it is nearly midnight… a little late for posting, so this will be probably be shorter… there’s a full moon tonight, shining so brightly that it’s almost like day outside.  The snow is glistening like diamonds, and the air is so frigid it would take your breath away.  It’s beautiful, and rare, that it is this still and clear on a Michigan winter night.

It is in the quiet I can think.  I can get a perspective on everything — when there are no calls to take, no work to go to, no people to talk to…  It’s at times like these I sit here, looking at that moon, and wonder if those little irksome things during the day were truly that important.  I look at my Day:  was it glorifying to God, or did I step away from Him at moments in time?  I step backward and look at my Week:  what was my focus; did I achieve any goals or fail them?  I step further backward and look at my Month:  what have I accomplished, and what do I want to accomplish? I step even further back and look at my past year… one, as I have said, I am not exceedingly proud of.  What can I change?  And then I stop.  I look around. And I look forward:  I look at my Life.  Each step backward makes the picture broader and bigger — making the day-to-day seem smaller and smaller.  Yet at the same time, the daily things are what make the lifelong things. 

So I sit in the night, hours before a new Day, and wonder:  how can I fill each ‘unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run’?  Minutes become hours, and hours, days… and these days become our lives.  And we only get one of those.

As Time Goes By

It’s hard to believe it is already 2009… I remember last year, as each month flew by, watching it go incredulously.  And now here we are, in a whole new year! 

It’s time for New Year’s resolutions, and I have a couple to share and perhaps keep this time around.  I have noticed on other blogs that women write how they are keeping up on their resolutions; what they have accomplished, how far they have come.  I am so proud of them!  Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for me.  Maybe this time!

I have this thing where I like to start new things on significant dates — like Christmas, my birthday, or the beginning of a month.  I don’t like to start something on, say, September 17th.  So the first of the year is the most important date to start anything, and I am starting a whole new life.

2008 was not a good year in my life, and I knew it as I went through it.  I muddled through it, rather… and while I knew I had to get organized, get together, get with God, I never made time to do it, resulting in an entire year that I can’t look back on with happiness.  I’m not proud of it.  And I know God wasn’t proud of me.  Perhaps that is what hurts most of all… knowing that I disappointed Him in many ways.  Looking back, I see them all clearly.  In that moment, I didn’t really care to look.

As time goes by, we can take that look back and see what we did and evaluate it.  I truly resent doing this because I see my words and actions and cringe.  “Did I really say that?”  “How could I have…!” “That was really, really dumb.”  If I don’t look back, though, I won’t see what I did and learn how to overcome it.  I won’t see the problem, so I won’t look for a solution; I won’t know I have a disease, so I won’t find a cure.

A resolution, in and of itself, doesn’t accomplish anything.  A lot of non-Christians make resolutions, and by sheer willpower accomplish what they hoped:  better fitness, fewer hangovers, or spending more time with the family.  For Christians, there are two facets to our goals/resolutions:  first, they are based on what God desires us to be, not only our personal opinion of what needs to change; and second, we are not on our own accomplishing them.  God will give us strength.

So when I look back at my past year and find what I need to change, I can’t just make a resolution ‘not to do it again’, because I said that hundreds of times and did ‘it’ again!  The first step is to recognize our failures not as ‘mistakes’ but as sins.  The more lightly we view our sins, the less grateful we are for forgiveness — if we even seek it.  We must understand the magnitude of going against the will of God.  We must ask Him to reinstate us to Himself, because sin separates us from Him.  ‘Mistakes’ are accidents.  I don’t know many instances of ‘accidental’ sin. 

In recognizing sin for what it is, we can take the next step, which is to forsake it.  This is where the resolve comes in!  Yet our resolve need not be to make ourselves resist temptation, but to make ourselves trust God when we are tempted.  I didn’t understand this at first.  When we trust God in temptation, we admit to Him that we know He ‘will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear’ and that He ‘will never leave us nor forsake us’.  In this confidence, we can conquer.

It in this way that we make each New Year’s resolution produce real change in our lives.  It’s not on human willpower, but on trust and humility in an almighty God.  Consider also that the enemy will do anything to make us fail.  Too often I write off Satan as a man in a red suit running about with a pitchfork in hand.  He’s much more powerful than a sunburned farmer.  Realizing this helped me to know when he was tempting me, recognize it as such, and turn to the One who is my strength and stronghold.

2009 can be different for me, and it can be different for you as well.  Whatever you may be facing, what trials, heartaches, hardships, obstacles — entrust them.  I have plenty of all of the above.  Holding onto the them only gives me a stomachache.  Surrendering them to Jesus Christ gives me a life worth living — one to be proud of as time goes by.

 

 

 

A Baby Changes Everything

There’s my home… and it’s fall-pictures-169Christmas Day.  It seemed like it would never come, and it is here.  It is quiet… peaceful… calm.  The snow has been falling steadily for the past week, and it continues today outside my window.  I can see the chickadees and bluejays picking at the seeds in the fluffy whiteness, with a little red squirrel scampering beside them.  We opened all the presents this morning — Laney came running into my room at what seemed to be much too early an hour to announce that it was Christmas!  All my siblings slept around the tree last night, which is a tradition of ours.  So as soon as morning came, it was present time!  Wrapping paper all over the floor, the couch, the chairs; pillows on the ground, dogs rolling on the rugs, squeals and laughter over gifts.  But is this all Christmas is?

It’s the same question many other blogs are posing; so are many books, television hosts and churches.  Is this all there is?  And everyone answers:  “No!  Of course not!”  That’s the right answer, see.  But then, if Christmas isn’t about the gifts and fun times, what IS it about?  Some say family.  “We’re close together, having quality time.”  But how many destroyed families attempt to cover the pain with a shallow gathering of bitter people: hurt women, unhappy men, and unloved children?  They say Christmas is about family, but for many, there is no ‘family’ at all. 

Some say it is about cheer and ‘goodwill’.  Yet good deeds and happy faces don’t cover a whole year for you.  December can’t be the only month we choose to have ‘goodwill toward men’.  Christmas is over, a new year begins… resolutions are made, often to be broken.  Christmas is not about ‘goodwill’.

Is Christmas about peace?  For many, peace is not to be grasped.  Peace is ever evasive; ever sought and never found.  To feel peace — contentment, ease, no worry, no pain — is unbeknownst to so many people.  They print it on their Christmas cards (along with goodwill to men) without understanding or ever experiencing it themselves.  It’s just a word… like so many other phrases associated with Christmas.

For our culture, Christmas is hollow.  It is empty.  It is the shell of something they never actually have experienced or known.  It is a name and an idea that they view through a glass; gazing at the Norman Rockwell Christmas they long for, wishing their family was that ‘functional’, they had that goodwill, and that they felt that peace.  Just as they window shop for the gifts they buy, they window shop ‘what Christmas is all about’.  Always seeking, but never buying into the message, hope and promise of Christmas. 

I know what Christmas is all about.  I know.  It’s about a life… a birth.  It’s not about us and our presents to each other, or our families, or our good feelings and peaceful pretentions.  Christmas is the commemoration of Jesus Christ’s gift of Himself for all mankind.  Because I believe and accept this — because I know in my heart of hearts that this is true — Christmas gives me my family, together, not disjointed.  Because He was born and I love Him I DO have goodwill toward mankind… but only because He gives it.  Because of His love and grace I DO have peace, for He is still with me, not just in Bethlehem.  The world makes a cheap imitation of what I and every other Christian has. 

Because of Him, my Christmas is beautiful.  Because I accept the Child of Bethlehem as my Savior, my life is different, not only my Christmas.  That’s how a Baby changes everything.