31 Days of Brave: Fuzzy

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Gentle Reader,

He paws at my arm. Licks my fingers. Puts his head under my hand and jolts it from the keyboard.

His name is Fuzzy and he wants attention right now.

All my life I’ve been a dog lover. There’s never been an extended period of time when I haven’t had access to a furry bundle of drool and barks. I can connect a dog to most of the significant moments of life – Petey sat in the front yard the first time I rode the bus to school, Murphy trotted around my feet as I got ready for my wedding, Benny moved in with my husband and me shortly after we bought our first house. There is something so comforting about the presence of a dog.

But this dog? Fuzzy?

He’s a handful. And a half.

Fuzzy’s barely out of his puppy years, so he’s got all the energy in the world. He just needs to explore everything. And chew on things. And bark – a lot. And steal toys from his brothers. In general, he’s something of a nuisance. He just can’t help himself.

Then, at night, when I’ve just about had all I can take, he curls up next to me. Those sweet brown eyes look at me, full of trust and loyalty. It’s almost as if he knows that we’ve had a hard day together, and he’s promising that he’ll do better tomorrow. It gets me every time. He nudges my hand and I stroke his soft fur as we settle in for a good sleep.

Fuzzy’s combination of  mischievous behavior and sweet affection makes me think of something Jesus said:

“Do not be afraid, little flock.” – Luke 12:32a (NKJV)

Our Lord spoke these words within the context of what is termed in Matthew’s Gospel as the Sermon on the Mount. Thousands of people spread out before Him. Their worries and burdens, etched in lines on their faces, were clear to Him. Jesus understood how their lives were often a chore: work all day, pay the taxes, feed the kids, try to make the money stretch as far as it would go. He understood how the political seasons shifted without warning, catching the average person in sudden, dangerous winds. He knew that mothers went to sleep at night wondering if their children would still be alive in the morning. He knew that young men dreamed of striking out on their own. He knew that fathers begged for a little more time, a little bit of space.

Their experience was not so different from ours. Very little is within our ability to control. We worry about that. So much is outside of our control. We worry about that, too. Like Fuzzy, we run around aimlessly, trying to burn off the energy that comes from fear. We scratch at things. We push and shove. We have needs and they need to be met right now.

Jesus goes on:

“Your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” – Luke 12:32b (NKJV)

There is great depth here, a depth that this space does not allow us to explore, but even the simplest reading of this statement can change our perspective. Only a king can give away a kingdom. At his disposal are vast riches, innumerable resources. From fields full of thriving grain, to busy metropolises of arts and culture, to quiet streams in the woods, everything ultimately belongs to the king. The length and breadth of his realm contains all the pieces of a contented, secure life.

Jesus says that the Father, the King, is happy to give us His kingdom. It’s as if the Lord invites us in and bids us to look around. To take whatever it is that we need in the moment. We don’t have to pry His hand open; it’s always extended to us. He lets us know that what He alone can give, He gives freely.

We can skip the chewing on things that won’t satisfy our hunger. We can skip the striving to get what other people have. We can skip the incessant barking, the attempt to let everyone and anyone know that we are angry or scared. God tells us to go straight for the peace. He calls us to curl up next to Him. He wants to provide for us. He’s happy to provide for us. He’ll never stop providing for us.

God’s amazing care doesn’t end there. When we do forget that His hand is open, when we do allow fear to rule us, when we do nip and run at others, He is faithful to draw us back to that place of peace. We can try to ignore. We can kick and scream about it. But the invitation is always there. No matter how hard the day has been, no matter how far we’ve gotten off the path, His hand is still outstretched. All we have to do is take.

And He’ll help us do better tomorrow.

My journey to faith. (15)

 For all of the posts in the 31 Days: Brave series, go here.

This post also appeared on the Far East Broadcasting Company Gospel Blog on September 20, 2013.

The Wonder of It All

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Gentle Reader,

Last night our family dog, Murphy, went to be with Jesus.

What a surreal thing to type. She was a huge part of our lives for 12 years. Such a little, neurotic thing, that Papillon. She rolled on her food, barked at birds (from the safety of the living room, of course), loved chasing the ball and was just…there. She was always there, always loving, always ready to play.

We mourn her.

And yet there is something precious in the midst of the tears. When we brought her home all those years ago, I was still in high school. It was just the four of us: Dad, Mom, Ben and me. Last night, Chris had dinner with his family and I wasn’t feeling up to attending, so it was just the four of us again. We were together when she came into our lives and we were together when she left. There is a sense of rightness in that.

I would love it if she were here now, but I am inexpressibly thankful that I got to be there to pet and hold her one last time.

This morning I stood in the shower, tears and the spray of water mingling. I was tempted to close myself off from the sorrow, tempted to start thinking that loving isn’t worth the pain that comes with it. I’ve been struggling against that cynicism quite a lot lately. The part of me that sees only darkness tends to view life as one agonizing, lonely march.

God heard that.

As I drove to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, I listened to a sermon on the radio. The pastor’s message focused on one small verse in John:

Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. – 1:3 (NKJV)

I have heard and read this verse innumerable times, but it’s full meaning blossomed today.

The mountains that I can see from my front windows are there because God wanted them to be there. The seemingly endless stretches of prairie were positioned just so by His hands. He decided that the sky would be blue, that water would rush over piles of rocks, that tulips would peek through snow to herald the coming of spring. He gave the birds their song, the grass its color, the clouds their form.

He made it all. Everything.

He made it for a reason.

The seasons of life seem all to short. I can close my eyes and see my brother and I building steps out of pillows so that tiny little puppy could scramble up onto the couch. Before any of us had a chance to think about it, she had fulfilled her purpose and it was time for her to be with her Maker – for she, too, was made by Him and with reason.

This life is very hard. It can be excruciatingly painful. There are days when staying in bed seems like the only option. God knows that. He really does. And when we mourn and start to think that being open to friendship and love – whether from a human or an animal – just isn’t worth it anymore, He blesses us with a beautiful, sunny day. We hear the laughter of children, we see buds on the trees, our taste buds tingle with chocolate. Just when we want to chuck it all, He gives us a reason to smile. To hope.

Even as we cry.

I have been richly, supremely blessed by Murphy. In the back of my mind, I know that my own sweet doggies won’t always drive me nuts with their barking or amuse me with their antics. I will cry over them just as I cry for her today. As I get older, I will mourn much bigger, deeper losses. But I choose not to dwell on that. Instead, I thank God that life is so much more than pain. I thank Him for each of the people who have walked the path with me, even if only for awhile. I thank Him for His provision in meeting all my needs. I thank Him for the promise of flowers soon in bloom.

I thank Him for holding me so tenderly.

And I am amazed at the wonder of it all.

My journey to faith. (15)