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.

What Only Jesus Can Be

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

For years I hated the phrase “quiet time.” I hated how super-spiritual people seemed when they’d talk about getting up early to read the Bible and reflect on what they were learning. I was convinced that they were full to the brim with self-righteous nonsense.

Then the last couple of weeks happened.

Oh, let’s rewind for a minute. I have long been a journaler. As a visual learner, it helps me to see the words of a situation or twisted knot of feelings flow out onto the page. Many times I have been able to avoid saying something incredibly stupid because I’ve already spit it onto the page. I can see how that sentence would affect an already-tense time. I can see how I’m trying to be intentionally hurtful. My friend’s mother calls this “getting the poison out,” and it’s a very necessary part of living.

About two years ago, I began addressing these journal entries, “Dear Lord.” Since I’m very much afflicted with spiritual ADHD and can’t pray silently in my head for the life of me, it made sense to me to turn these words into a conversation with God. Yes, He already knows what’s going on, but He’s gracious enough to want to hear my side of the story. I love that. Eventually I added some Bible reading in there and would jot down a bit of what I thought God wanted me to know. Still, this journaling or “quiet-timing” was very uneven. I’d have a few good months, then I’d quit. I’d feel guilty and start again. Back and forth it went.

Now, back to these last couple of weeks.

Nothing has happened in these recent days that is out of the ordinary. Work, church, some family and social time. A little writing. Yet I have been feeling quite lonely, and, if I’m honest, it’s been coming for some time. Little by little. It doesn’t matter if I’m in a crowd of friends. The feeling persists.

One day this feeling was so overwhelming to me that, when I sat down to write in my journal, all I could think to do was draw a picture of a crying sheep. (You must imagine the work of  a not-particularly artistically gifted first-grader as you go here with me). I put that sheep in a sitting position, tears streaming from it’s eyes. Underneath I wrote, “Come get me, Your little lost sheep.”

It’s like that was what God had been waiting for all along.

Ancient shepherding practices involved the breaking of a wayward sheep’s legs. This was done not to simply harm the animal, but so that the shepherd could pay it extra-special attention. The sheep would be slung around the shepherd’s neck as it healed, giving the shepherd ample time to change the habits of the sheep. He would speak to the sheep, make sure it was protected and care for it tenderly. When the sheep was ready to walk on its own again, it would often remain very close to the shepherd, convinced of his safety and love.

That’s the kind of shepherd Jesus is. I have come to believe that He has specifically ordained this feeling of loneliness to drive me to Him. My heart has always been “two sizes too small,” but it is now daily being filled with intense and Divine love as I quietly lay my head against the Shepherd’s shoulders. I asked Him awhile ago to smash through my pride. I never imagined He would do that by breaking my heart – and reshaping it.

The truth is, I have looked to other people to be what only Jesus can be, and He won’t have any kind of idolatry, no matter how unknowing, in the life of one of His little sheep. This loneliness, I am beginning to believe, has been borne out of the frustration that people are disappointing. I mean no offense in that. I haven’t stopped loving anyone. It’s just that I walk around each day with this huge, gaping hole, and I’ve been asking mere human beings to fill what only God can fill. That is 100% of the time always going to lead to disappointment and heartache.

This is revelatory for me. I need relationships with other people, yes, but I NEED to be satisfied in Christ first. To allow Him to lavish upon me the kind of adoring affection He longs to give to His little sheep. To give Him my first and best love.

Does that make you uncomfortable? It did me for years. I don’t like the “mushy stuff.” Ah, but that’s a big part of what God is about! As I learned this week in the Breaking Free study, God wants the heart just as much as He wants the head. He wants the emotion just as much as He wants the devotional commitment. Our relationship with Him is to be based in so much more than just thankfulness and respect.

I love Jesus. I mean, I LOVE Jesus. He is just the coolest. He can’t ever fail. I think He’d be the funniest guy at a party. I’d love to see Him swing some kids around. I long to sit at His feet and learn. He’s begun a good work in me, and He’s not going to quit until it’s finished, for His glory and my good. I am learning that there is nobody more delightful to be around. “Quite time” is no longer a duty, but a joy. I get to spend time with the Love of my life!

That’s what He gives to me as I lay on His shoulders. Divine discipline is never borne out of meanness. God knows that I need to know about His unfailing, unconditional and unflinching love. He is not surprised by my weakness. He doesn’t mind when I ask Him for all the things I ask Him for – love, wisdom, patience, etc. Again as I learned in Breaking Free, He delights to give us the things that are in His will.

This more-comfortable-in-the-intellectual-world woman might not ever be what the world or even some in my life considers to be very demonstrative in affection, but I know that my heart is growing. I think that there might even be a day when I don’t care if someone sees me shed a tear or two. God is changing my “want to,” and that is all that matters.

He sings over me – and you. He brushes the hair out of my eyes – and yours. He lights the way. He gives the commands. He is Love.

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