Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year! Look FORWARD!!!

After thinking about whether to write about my favorite gadgets from 2008 or a New Year's message which really stands out to me, I'm thinking I'll write the latter first :-) For many of us, this was a really really looooooooong year, wasn't it? And I don't mean just jam-packed full of fun and joviality. It was a hard year in many ways, though it also had its own joys.
It's funny. We journey through Advent in preparation for the joy of Christmas and then bam...New Year's is upon us and we're looking at those Resolutions again, often feeling varieties of failure about the ones we made with such diligence last year(s) and didn't *keep*, or they just didn't stick, or whatever. So here we are on the cusp of a brand spanking new year stuck between the residue of what we didn't accomplish last year and the need to come up with some goals for this new one only hours away ready to pounce upon us.
I'd like to suggest what might be a radical new idea. Instead of creating resolutions of what you "should" or "need" to do, why not instead come up with a few of what you shouldn't? Like a list of New Year's Nonsolutions, or Unsolutions. Then pare them down to a basic concept or two, because you know they really will fall into a couple of categories which are more manageable to consider than a whole bunch of things. A few things you covenant that you WON'T do next year. Things that by NOT doing will benefit you and those you love and the world around you.

What do you think? Personally, it's the direction I'm going to take. Oh this doesn't mean I'm planning to dive off the wagon and go nuts with carbohydrates and totally forget about the idea of exercise. But are you grokking with the slight but really huge difference here? [I love that old term "grok"....if you read science fiction you'll remember means something even more internal and intense than just *understand* something...if you "grok" something, it means you can practically see/feel it through/within the person you're sharing the idea with because you experience the concept in a real way instead of just intellectually "understanding" it.]

Before we step into the New Year, though, we do need to make peace with the last one, to take responsibility for it and to put it where it really lives: in the PAST. We need to say thank you to the things that have blessed us which we continue to carry as part of ourselves and to say good bye to the things that weren't so good for us whether we were the ones who *did* them or not.
I have recently learned (thanks to the help of a friend) how to imbed a Youtube video directly here. Really listen to this song. You've probably heard it on a couple of TV shows in the background as they're ending. Now the fabulous group "Il Divo" has recorded it in Spanish. But you need to really hear the words in English. It's "Hallelujah" [BTW "Hallelujah" means "praise the Lord" in Hebrew] written some several years ago by Leonard Cohen and then recorded by the late Jeff Buckley. A whole bunch of people have sung it since, but I love this particular performance.
It's a perfect sound track for taking stock of your own personal 2008, making peace, saying "thank you" as well as "good bye" and all the things you need to do before you close the book and look FORWARD into the unyet written 2009.

It's basically the story of David in the Bible. Oh how we can relate. Man did he ever blow it over and over again in huge ways, yet was redeemed and blessed. Sure there were consequences, as there are for us (that's what I mean about taking responsibility before saying goodbye, taking what we needed to learn from 2008 and then moving FORWARD).

Please oh please take the time to click on the link, sit back and listen and drink in the song. I hope it blesses you as much as it does me. I pray that 2009 will bring peace, healing, growth and joy to your lives as well as things of your hearts desires. Really consider that concept of resolutions of "Not Do's" instead of "Should or Will Do's". :-) Happy New Year!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Time to Plant and Tend Your Garden!

Around Thanksgiving PJ and I saw this cool TV news story about a guy who diligently tends what he calls two “gardens”: one is a vegetable garden, and the other is a service he provides daily on the highways of California for people who have broken down, run out of gas or have flat tires. His truck is plainly marked so people know he’s *for real*. He accepts no money for this service he cheerfully renders whenever he sees someone pulled over, obviously with a car that’s stopped working. He simply gives each person a card asking them to help others whenever they can, in whichever way they can. That’s all. Simple, profound, real and amazing. So like Christ. Sure, it’s easier for this guy because he’s retired and has the time for this full time service and somehow has the funds for the gallons of gasoline and antifreeze/coolant he dispenses, and the varieties of fan belts he replaces. But surely, somehow, on some level we can all plant and tend gardens like this, too, in ways which are safe for us and helpful for others. We just have to be watchful and open for opportunities. Because, my friends, you may have been noticing this too: more than ever people are becoming more callous, crass and de-sensitized to the needs of others. If we ever needed to plant seeds of kindness and regularly tend and be generous in giving out of the fruits, it surely is NOW.
Last week after leaving a meeting and doing a fast errand at Staples, I joined countless others in the parking lot whose cars were covered over with a thick misery of snow which was liberally coated with ice, and sleet still coming down. Lovely. I’d come away from the house without gloves, but at least I had a scraper! With the car running and defrosters heating up, I dug in with the scraper, trying to ignore my cold hands while remembering the law about clearing the roof of the car too. Just as I was finishing up with my car, a man came out to start this same work on his SUV, only he had gloves but no scraper. It would be a hard go for him getting through all that ice. The least I could do was just step over and help….so I did. “Let me give you a hand with that….at least I have a scraper,” I said, beginning with the passenger side as that was closest to where I was standing. As soon as all that area was cleared and I’d begun working on the driver’s side, the man said with no particular feeling, “That’s ok….my wife’s driving”. (!!!!) I only looked at him for a second [I didn’t glare….really…..I was too stunned] and then just started in on the driver’s side. I think he reconsidered what he said because, a little embarrassingly he followed up with, “Um…..I guess I shouldn’t have said that.” I smiled and told him I thought probably he’d like for his wife to be able to see where she’d be driving him and we both continued on in silence until his car was acceptably cleared.
My hands were fine. All the scraping was fine. It had been worth it, especially with this particular man. Who knows what his life is like to casually say something like that….to a woman who was pitching in to help his scraperless-self out of an icy, snowy mess. When I got into my car, though, my brief prayer liberally included his wife.
Many of you are generous in so many ways. I’m merely trying to call attention to another vital area which takes little time or energy and provides much satisfaction for you as well as providing acts of kindness and faith which will sow seeds that will change the world. Really. Jesus chose one person at a time. More than 2000 years ago He selected only 12 disciples who diligently spread His gospel throughout regions of the world, calling more and more ordinary people, and Christianity continues to grow as the huge force of goodness, grace, love and salvation in our world today. One person at a time. Please remember this whenever you might think to yourself, “well, it’s only me….what can I do…what can I give….what do I have to offer…I’m only one person”.
There’s a scripture in 1 Peter I’d like to share and then morph it around to fit this situation about 2009 being the year you diligently plant your *garden* and generously, creatively share from it. “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Peter 5:8). Put this scripture together with a quote from Eli Weisel: “Evil happens when good people stand idly by and do nothing”. I know you’re getting the picture here. But let’s turn the concept to face into the joy of it: LOVE happens when good people step up and do something. Just a little something. Scraping here, a kindness there, a smile or soft word….whatever fruits you creatively grow in your garden and share generously with the world. Why not let 2009 be the year you intentionally plant such a garden. Become more aware, sew the seeds, share the fruits and reap the harvest. You will be blessed. Happy New Year! Happy New YOU!
Karen Brook Westhaver +

Friday, December 26, 2008

Have some fun: What's your favorite Christmas Carol?

Notice the term is "Christmas Carol", not holiday song. See, "Jingle Bells" or even "White Christmas" doesn't really count, though that last one's a pretty song. Nope, a Christmas carol is distinctively well, ahem, religious in a quasi sort of manner. You know what I mean? Something you may remember from singing in a choir sometime in church, or if you went to a Christian school, or a school where they allowed songs which celebrated the *Christ* part of Christmas. But not "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" or the above mentioned "Frosty", "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" or other ones I seem to be blocking on at the moment.

When George Winston (very cool pianist with a distinctive open sound) came out with his album entitled "December", I'd never heard of this guy. Never heard of his music, didn't know anything about the album. But I loved the cover. It's the only album I ever bought purely because the cover struck me as something of beauty and made me think there must be good music inside. And wow was I right.

Every year I love to dig out his renditions of "The Holly and the Ivy" and "Some Children See Him" among others. See, George is very cagey about his written music. Oh yes, he does write it down, often with the help of a guy named Chip Davis. BUT he doesn't often release these written pieces and I grab them up when I can find them. I'm not so hot at playing by ear, but give me notes and I can generally make something of them. George Winston's notes, however, are deceptively simple to hear. MUCH practice is required, at least for me. But then, I can't stand to play something and have it just sound only kind of like it's supposed to. You know? Not that I'm a total perfectionist, but something's got to sound goooood. And at least also have the spirit of the piece and make the listener feel inspired, cheered or blessed by the hearing of it.
So here's the challenge. I wish I could give a prize, but, won't it be fun to check back here and see what stuff people have pulled out as their favorite Carols? That's kinda a prize in its own, don't you think? Go ahead.....even if you can't spell "Wenceslaus" (as in Good King Wenceslaus) or whatever, just have at it. Have fun :-) If we don't keep these carols alive in one manner or another, we're eventually going to be destined to hearing only "Frosty" "Rudolph" and "Santa" at Christmas time. And that would be, just, well.....wrong :-(
If you post stanzas of verses in your comments, I'll print them all. Hey,'s not too late. There's 12 days of Christmas. At least. Remember, the concept is to keep the spirit of Christmas all year long. I can't wait to see what folks might write back! Enjoy!!!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Mantra for the season...for all the time

Insomnia. Not a a good thing. Lots of you know this "up close and personal", I'm sure. We have a sort of club, don't we? But the meetings are all held individually, keeping a kind of watch through the night until maybe, just maybe, sleep might come. And oh yes I've had this all evaluated and treated etc. Blah blah. You may well know the concept and if so, I'm sorry. There is something unique about being awake in the middle of the night, knowing there are countless others who are awake as well. There is a prayer which is sometimes said toward the end of a late night evening service (called Compline) which if sleep is elusive for you, too, you may relate with also: "
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and
give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give
rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted,
shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen."

For those of you who are occasional or more regular members of the insomniac guild, I hope that prayer ministers to you. There's something peaceful about it to me, even though I'm not in the weeping or generally not in the working catagory which it references.

BUT. For all of us not only in the hecticness of this holiday season, but wrestling (at least at times) with the overall difficultness which comes with winter and life in general these days, there's this other saying which keeps coming to the forefront of my mind like a mantra when needed. I used to know who wrote it, but a quick Internet search only showed me that tons of other people know this phrase as well, but no author is mentioned. Don't you all have people in your life which cause you inwardly to go "grrrrr"? Perhaps outwardly, too. Hey! A yawn just came on! But before I sign off I have to share it with you in the hopes it may help someone retain (or regain) their peace in stressful times:
"Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind
of battle".
For me, it helps with getting get back in touch with compassion when it's gotten a little overly stretched. I hope it'll do the same for you,
too :-)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Be True to your Personal Truth...or at least discover what it can be to enhance your life

The holiday season is a great buffeter of persons. This is an equal opportunity situation and no one is exempt. Sooner or later fatigue, demands/expectations of others, overly scheduled time combined with lapses in various disciplines, and whammo. It all reaches critical mass and you've become crisp around the edges, at the very least. You've seen the brittle people, the strained expressions, the frozen smile, the furrowed brow. Maybe you've seen this face in your mirror! Ouch. Hopefully the goal then becomes modified to include a return to some kind of discipline including more rest, silence and prayer plus a deliberate quest for joy. Not the razzle dazzle kind of glitz which passes as joy for some. But that's fake stuff and tiring! It also leads to a feeling of emptiness...not what you're going for at all here.

Personal truth is more than just a code of conduct, but that's a good place to start if this is a new concept for you. A guy with Toltec ancestry became an MD and lived in the world of modern medicine until something led him back to his Toltec roots and he wrote a book entitled "The Four Agreements". He also morphed back to his origins and I'm not sure if he even practices Western medicine at all. In order to glean the most important stuff in the book, you don't have to buy it, or even read it. Here are the agreements in their totality:

(1) Be impeccable with your word; (2) Don’t take anything personally; (3) Don’t make assumptions; and (4) Always do your best. Wow! Really something, right? Elegantly simple, unique in their purity and total distillation of the best common sense around. A perfect foundation to build your own personal truths upon or an anvil on which to craft your own core inner beliefs as your Personal Truths. See, this is about YOU, yourself and how you deal with "incoming missiles" from others, especially when your stressed...your response in the things you tell yourself about who you are and how you live. While the wonderful words of Jacob in Micah 6:8 are a great beginning ("He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God."), I think we need more specifics broken down to be able to apply it to specific everyday circumstances.

Well, just some hopeful words after a trying day. Remember...this season is an equal opportunity stressor :-) Hope this concept is freeing, enriches your life and give you a context to help process the various flotsam and jetsam that gets flung in your direction every day. Enjoy! And work on getting more silence and prayer woven into your day. Give it a try!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"In the bleak midwinter..." Time to Look Forward

It's not even officially winter yet. Somehow it doesn't "feel" like Christmas either. None of the "happy happy, jolly jolly" stuff of other years. Isn't it funny how that seems to wax and wane with other ongoing *seasons* or rhythms in your life, or events of life flowing all around you, sweeping you up making it take bunches of energy just to stay focused with your feet under you?

For a couple of years, before the economy bottomed out, even, for spiritual reasons, PJ and I have kept a "smaller Christmas". Small on decorations and small on gifts except for others. As others' pressures build in the holiday season, we have found it more important personally to stay as focused as we can on the whole reason for the season....the Christ in Chritmas. We have one candle in the kitchen window and I have to say I miss the candle in every window image. It is so welcoming. But I can't justify the electric extra for that. When the price of Christmas trees went through the roof a few years back we decided the focal point was going to be our nativity scene instead of a tree, and we've stayed with that. In fact, even that's become more simple. Last year a close friend gave us a set of polished olive wood figures from Israel of Mary, Joseph, the manger and the baby Jesus. Those, together with a contemporary metal tree have become our "nativity" atop our low mantel in the TV room. It fits perfectly both in the room and in our hearts.

Still, something is harder, different this year. Can't quite put my finger on it. Today I read this poem, though which is something I'm going to carry with me for the next few weeks into the New Year. Here it is, and I hope it blesses you as it did me:

"I know
it's hard to be reconciled
not everything is exactly
the way it ought to be.

but please turn around
and step into the future
leave memories behind
enter the land of hope"
-- Zbigniew Herbert, from A Life

Make sure this Christmas you intentionally set aside some time just for you to spend at the manger. Drag aside the old weariness and other things weighing you down, sit and rest as you gaze into the face of Jesus. Then, close your eyes and look.....with the fresh newness that can only come from a baby. Now expand that vision and look at the world as the Infant Jesus does. See His wonder, hear His delight.....feel deeply His warm loving smile as He gazes at YOU. Embrace that feeling and hold it deep in your heart. You know, we don't have to reserve a trip to the manger for just Christmas. It is the very best part.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Let's All Meet at the Manger

Some of you know that a few weeks ago our dear Bonnie dog left us and this world at the age of almost 18…something most remarkable for this kind of dog. But then again, Bonnie was a most remarkable dog. We had adopted her from the West Highland Terrier rescue people 13 years ago and never failed to marvel at what a “perfect” and loving dog she was.
During what we knew were Bonnie’s final weeks, I began researching the possibility of adopting another adult female Westie to try and fill the huge void we knew would be left in our family after she was gone. Amazingly, I found a NH Westie breeder who also privately “rescues” abandoned or abused West Highland Terriers. Two months earlier, this lady had acquired a 2 year old Westie who had been so neglected that she didn’t even have a name and was in the process of learning dog “basics”, including the fine art of house training. Soon there were email pictures of “Daisy” on my computer screen and our hopes for having another lovely dog were being realized. It would just take a little time.
When the happy day came for Daisy to be ready to meet us but not yet ready to come home, we learned more of her history. Although she’d originally been purchased as a puppy by a woman who thought she’d make her fortune breeding a pedigreed Westie for lots of litters, she never followed through with this plan, but instead kept the dog outside in a doghouse on a cement slab surrounded by a chain link fence. This little no-named dog had no friend or companion other than her shadow --- literally --- and periodically just had food tossed her way by her owner. It is astonishing that despite the hardship of this kind of isolated outdoor living for the first two years of her life, Daisy is a healthy dog. While formerly she had a habit of chasing her shadow wildly, even that has been brought under control.
It was really something to watch Daisy with about a dozen or so other Westies. Clearly this was “monkey see, monkey do” learning going on about how to relate with others and how to play. They’d play with balls, she’d join in. They’d be chewing on bones; she’d have one between her paws and chewing also. She observed their moves and participated the way they did. Thankfully, though of course shy at first, Daisy really liked us and it was deemed that when she was *ready*, we’d come and bring her to her new home. Diane, who had saved and named Daisy, is a loving woman with more than 20 years experience raising and training these dogs and Daisy could not have been in a better place to actually begin her new life socialized with people as well as other animals. Still, though, Diane was understandably a little concerned about Daisy and our cats. After all, Daisy had never seen a cat let alone lived with 4. In her whole two years of life, she’d only lived inside a house with people and dogs for just 2 months. We reassured Diane that we’d take it slow and cautiously and reminded her that our cats had been great with Bonnie and that Bonnie also had never seen a cat before coming to live with us.
Soon the terrific day arrived and we joyfully brought Daisy home. All went extremely well in introducing her to the house, and our cats were very polite in gently greeting her one at a time. It was obvious that Daisy liked them, too! While all of them get along beautifully together, the two of our cats who were particularly pals with Bonnie have now become Daisy’s frequent feline companions (Jazz and Lilly), often curling up together for naps.
Every day we learn something new from and about Daisy. After all this time with no human contact, Daisy sticks to either John or me like glue. When we leave a room, even if Daisy’s been napping, she’ll get up and go to be where we are. I was concerned why she would she pant but hardly ever drink water or go to her food dish. Yet when I’d bring her to her food and water bowls, she’d dig in with relish. But she wouldn’t eat or drink unless I was standing there with her. Suddenly it dawned on me. This dog has been so starved for human contact, she’d rather be pantingly thirsty than leave her people…she’d rather be with her people than eat! Day by day as she becomes more secure, we observe that when we’re downstairs she’ll go into the kitchen now on her own for food or water and then come back quickly to us. At first she’d leave the room briefly but instantly return to make sure we were still here.
Isn’t this how we all grow? Little by little….step by step? And isn’t this what we all need….gentle reassurance and encouragement by those who love us --- even as they’re just getting to know us? Modeling Christ-like behavior for finding the richness in living with joy? Discipline (from the word “disciple” --- training, NOT punishment) and learning better ways to solve problems and reach new heights of satisfaction in life? Learning how to set aside old and unhealthy habits in our interactions with others and stepping forward into newness, even though it’s beyond how we’re used to being, for greater and real reward? Discovering healthier ways of dealing with the sadder things in life to move forward, living in the now and looking with growing faith toward the future.
So many things about Daisy remind me about all of us in the church. We all have broken places or have healed from much brokenness, or still have a long way to go. It takes much time and LOTS of work, but it is so rewarding to see the results of people (and our animals) becoming who God created and intended them to be with wholeness and joy moving in their lives and peace reflecting through them like a mirror and evidenced by the work of their hands.
This doesn’t happen, friends, by just sitting on the couch or by even just sitting in the pew at church. If we are feeling stagnant or unfulfilled, or overwhelmed by the issues of everyday life, we need to look at what part we are playing in all that. In our “one click” world where we can get practically everything online, where work and things have been slowly but steadily edging out relationships from our lives, we have been learning to find relief in more passive or escape-ful ways: TV, shopping, all things computer/video game or cell-phone, substances, and so many other things/activities…..or even too much sleep! There are so many demands on our life, it is easy to get drawn into things we feel entitled to even at the expense of what is right in front of us which will bring much deeper satisfaction.
We were created by God to be in relationship with one another and with Him. To be His hands and feet in the world. To digest His word as the best “soul food” we could ever hope to consume… we’re not consumed by the problems of the world. To be “hearers of the word” AND “doers of the word” as well! (James 1:23-24 “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”)
What outstanding opportunities are open before you, even at this very time. Especially at this very time when there’s this good news: you are needed JUST as you have needs! There is no retiring from living a Christ-like life until, of course, we finally go home to be with Jesus. Think of it this way. Have you ever said, perhaps to the host at a dinner or a waiter in a restaurant:
“No, thank you…I have been eating for XX number of years…now it’s time to sit back and let somebody else benefit from nourishment.”
Oh I just cracked myself up on that one :-) I can’t imagine ever saying that…can you? We were made to be doers of God’s word, just as we were made to move. It’s the ONLY way we grow. Otherwise the results are not pretty. An Eastern proverb says it well: “When you’re green you’re growing…..when you’re ripe, you rot”.
The coldness of this season was made to draw us closer to the source of all warmth: the Lord. In following His example (and He did model boundaries --- a healthy balance in being and doing) in learning from His word, praising Him in worship and stepping up to live it out, that’s how we get our nourishment. These are the fundamentals of our very foundation.
Before we know it, Christmas will be here. So much of the Bible talks about preparing, “prepare the way for the Lord”, “Prepare your hearts” --- here are two significant settings to help you prepare for today as well as Advent and Christmas: Isaiah 40: 1-11 and Mark: 1:1-8. There’s a lot about repentance….clearing out the old to make way for the new. Cleaning out the old stuff to make a worthy place for new ways to grow.
As we think about the coming time of celebrating Jesus’ birth into our hearts, if He were going to make a special visit to your house, you’d clean it up first, wouldn’t you? Now’s the time to do some heartfelt spiritual house cleaning of our hearts, attitudes and priorities. You wouldn’t want Jesus to be born into an unclean manger, would you? If you could do anything about it? Here’s the good news: you CAN! We are called to live a “manger life” all year long, not just at Christmas. To keep coming to the manger, to worship and adore, learn and share with one another, and to do the work of the manger as well. In some cases, friends, remember that many need help in learning how to even build the manger first. Let’s roll up our sleeves (in a healthy balanced way) and assess how our lives can best be used for God in our church, and let’s all meet at the manger and dig in. Remember: you do still eat, don’t you? :-)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

All is Safely Gathered In.....

September passed and almost all of October had gone before I heard them. I thought I’d missed the annual sight and sound of Canada geese winging their V – shaped way to a warmer climate, until late one afternoon from the distance came that powerful but somewhat mournful sound. Rushing to the window and then outside, sure enough, there they were. Until then I’d been clinging to the notion it was still summer. Now, though, my state of denial had been clearly confronted with the reality of fall by the almost barking sounds of about 100 geese purposely engaged in this amazing annual ritual of migration. How do they know their way?
Time to button up for colder days ahead. We draw closer to our source of heat and hopefully to one another. Beyond the outside chores of the final mowing and dealing with fallen leaves, a few last walks down the steep meadow to visit the swirling river before the slippery time of ice sets in, and then it’s time to batten the hatches and turn toward the enjoyment of indoor pursuits.
Just as the trees are not truly dormant in winter, so also is this an ideal time for us to deepen our knowledge, challenge our minds and work on our inner growth. A time to reclaim lost pieces of truth and stretch our thinking, to examine the concepts of other people we respect to deepen our own understanding, a time to enrich and enliven the content of our conversation shared with others, as well as expand our knowledge of finding our own way through the ever-changing personal geography of our lives. Unlike the geese, it’s not programmed into our DNA. There are many options to select from, such as listening to audio books, listening to/watching inspiring programs and also the comfortable pleasure of curling up with books.
This past year, in addition to our own personal individual reading, Pastor John and I instituted a new practice of reading a book together, one chapter at a time before bed. It was something we began after the New Year and it really “stuck”. Every evening, unless things have been so hectic that we must skip an occasional night, we look forward to our time to read a chapter, discuss it and then begin our time of prayer together before going to sleep. Each night we take turns as to who reads the chapter aloud.
As the list of potential books to choose from grows more vast every day, like an ever-expanding maze difficult to navigate, I thought it might be useful to share the books we’ve read so far this year. Each book is enjoyably segmented into easily digested chapters well suited for our purpose: not so long as to be cumbersome at the end of the evening and prohibit much time for discussion before prayer, and not so short as to be too thin in concepts to challenge our thinking or provide good material for pre-prayer conversation. NOTE: none of these are “prayer books”. Our prayer time together before bed is a habit which is separate from the reading. After each title, I’ll include a brief blurb of description, each taken from for consistency and brevity’s sake. Here they are in the order in which we’ve been reading, and we would heartily recommend every one of them.

1. 3:16 The Numbers of Hope, by Max Lucado. “If 9/11 are the numbers of terror and despair, then 3:16 are the numbers of hope. Best selling author Max Lucado leads readers through a word-by-word study of "John 3:16", the passage that he calls the "Hope Diamond" of scripture. Using his trademark folksy style, Lucado employs great stories and real-life illustrations to drive home points about God's love, justice and determination to save.

2. Come Thirsty – No Heart Too Dry for His Touch, by Max Lucado. “Lucado, pastor and bestselling author of more than 50 titles, extends hope to those whose souls are "dehydrated" from neglect, fear and guilt. Lucado teaches that salvation is God's work, not ours, and that we should "drink deeply from his well of grace." He encourages readers to look to God for spiritual energy, to rest in his authority or "lordship" and to wholeheartedly accept his never-ending love.”

3. Fill My Cup, Lord by Emilie Barnes. “This book is filled with gentle meditations to help you draw near to the heart of the Father. In your moments with Him, you will find new strength and fresh vision to carry you through the day.”

4. Traveling Light, by Max Lucado. “…refreshing words wrapped around the biblical passages of the 23rd Psalm to reenergize weary spiritual travelers. In his inimitable, pastoral voice that both soothes and exhorts, Lucado gently unpacks the verses of the psalm while helping readers lay down the burdens of doubt, anxiety, perfectionism, and fear.”

5. Facing Your Giants, by Max Lucado. “This profound look at the life of David digs deeply into the defeats he suffered, and the victories he won, as he faced the giants in his life. When David focused on God, giants tumbled. But when David focused on giants, he stumbled.”

6. And the Angels Were Silent, by Max Lucado. “It is the final week of Jesus' life. All of heaven watches. It is the long-awaited week, a week when no angel dared sing. A hush fell over heaven as Jesus faced his final days. Note the firmness in his walk. Hear the conviction in his voice. Witness the courage of his deeds. See his passion. . the Savior who will not give up his children until they are found. See his power . . the God who will not tolerate hollow religion.”

7. When God Whispers Your Name, by Max Lucado. “…a series of short stories for those who, he says, might not realize "that God has written their true name upon His hand." Allegories, the retelling of Bible stories (i.e., Moses becomes an office janitor to whom God speaks through a mop bucket) and even Lucado's own journeys are used to show God's grace and holiness and to hold out hope in the midst of life.”

8. The Beloved Disciple: Following John to the Heart of Jesus, by Beth Moore. “Moore goes into great detail describing minor and major life occurrences from John's vantage point. From his humble beginnings as a fisherman, to his calling as a disciple and the tradition of his eventual exile on Patmos, Moore dredges deep for biblical exposition and focuses on John's writings with single-minded clarity, offering carefully crafted expositions of his biblical letters to the seven churches in Revelation.”
9. In the Eye of the Storm: A Day in the Life of Jesus, by Max Lucado. “Come face-to-face with Jesus when He experienced more stress than any other day of his life aside from his crucifixion. Before the morning became evening, he has reason to weep, run, shout, curse, praise, and doubt. If you know what it means to be caught in life's storms…if you've ever ridden the roller coaster of sorrow and celebration…if you've ever wondered if God in heaven can relate to you on earth, then this book will encourage and inspire you.”
10. Insights to Help You Survive Peaks & Valleys: Can You Stand to be Blessed?, by T. D. Jakes. “…practical and proven insights to help you survive your challenges and revel in your joys. Life is not the same day after day - some are good, others are not. Walking through the peaks and valleys takes energy, direction, and stamina. You will be prepared for a lifetime of journeying by following the insights given by Bishop Jakes, one of the most relevant and dynamic ministers today. Important insights include learning to welcome the Refiner's fire, living in the grace of God, and recognizing the blessings in your life. Do more than just survive the peaks and valleys in your life; embrace them, learn from them, and walk confidently into your future!”
There you go! Your first observation might be that we particularly enjoy Max Lucado, and, you’d be right. His style is easily understandable and enjoyable, even when writing about things which are tricky to encounter in your life. While Max is popular on our list of authors, there are several different writers and books in our selection process for continued reading. Now that it’s undeniably fall, heading into the shorter, colder days of winter, why not take advantage of the fact that “all is safely gathered in” and take some time to explore and grow in your faith, understanding and strength to meet the challenges of life.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"Guide us waking ..."

It could be 3:00 AM, or any time at all. Is there some kind of schedule they’ve cooked up about which “watch” they’re going to take? If so, Violet generally has first watch and from then on it’s usually a combo with at least Samantha and one other who can always be counted on to be there as well. When one leaves, sure enough: immediately another comes to take her place.

To be restless and unable to sleep, whether with pain or just from wakefulness for no reason you can put your finger on, it is so comforting to know that someone is always there keeping watch with you, keeping watch over you – literally. In my case, I have the ongoing gift of this in the calming, loving eyes of our family of 4 cats. I haven’t been able to figure it out but somehow they know when I am awake, and at least one of them is always awake with me. Routinely when I am in bed wondering why I STILL cannot get to sleep, or get back to sleep, when I open my eyes, the first thing I see is the soothing, loving, golden amber-eyed gaze of Samantha who is awake and looking gently at me. A reach of my hand to stroke her soft fur is immediately rewarded by her deep, reassuring purr. As long as I’m awake, she’s awake, too. Really. There are many nights when we watch through the night together until the sky begins brightening with morning’s first light, opening into the colors of the of sunrise and the new day has begun.

Often I think of a short prayer that is sung during the last evening prayer service (called Compline) where I used to love to go on retreat: “Guide us waking Oh Lord, and guard us sleeping; That awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.” There are so many Biblical references from which this can be drawn that I cannot list them all here, or it would consume the rest of my article. But all of us have the ongoing reassurance that we are NEVER alone, that the Lord “gives his angels charge over us” (from one of my favorite psalms, 91), that His Spirit never leaves us, is there to comfort us and give us peace. In our home, especially through long dark nights, our cats are one basic and physical reminder for me of the larger and real spiritual certainty that we are never isolated, that God is always present with us to soothe and strengthen us – whether we are awake or asleep. We are surrounded by and dwell within His peace.

So, what about when we’re awake? Ah. That’s part of what the fellowship of all of us in the Body of Christ is about. There is a simple song entitled “I will be Christ to you” which spells out how in every kind of way, large and small, anonymous or face to face, in which we are to participate in the *waking* part of being present and ministering Jesus to others – to “be Christ” to them. “I’ll be His hands, to do what I can; because He has loved me too…I will be Christ to you.” It by no means indicates that somehow the abiding power of the Holy Spirit is only a nocturnal thing and we’re on our own in the day time. No, this is about how, in living a life of obedience, yoking ourselves with Christ, we can participate actively and meaningfully in the work of the Spirit in assisting others. It is a joyful and deeply satisfying thing to get beyond our own lives, our own needs, issues and situations, to use whatever gifts God has given us to “be Christ” to others: to show love, to provide comfort and assistance in real and tangible ways to and for them.

You may think these are nice words, but wonder how do you do this in real life? This is about living a generously Jesus-centered life, ladling oneself out to others in even the smallest ways (perhaps small to you – to those on the receiving end, you never know when it may be a life-line of hope) kind words of appreciation, a warm smile when you aren’t necessarily “feeling like it”, mercy and compassion to others as in giving them the benefit of a doubt, or not retaliating when someone has been unkind, going out of your way just a little bit to do something unexpected for someone else, re-evaluating what is really important, re-aligning your priorities and giving more of the finances God has entrusted to you are a few of the basic yet often most challenging ways of helping others in “being Christ” to them, in participating in the work of the Holy Spirit. They are also the most powerful ways of renewing yourself, discovering that deep “peace that passes all understanding” and reaping a harvest of true and bountiful joy in your life as a result. October is really the time of a kind of renewal. We think the leaves are dying as they lose their spring and summer green. Actually, you are seeing their true colors in the vivid gold, red and rich hues which are otherwise hidden by the green chlorophyll they bear the rest of the year.

This October, why not take on the challenge of this same renewal for yourself in being Christ to others. Open your heart and join in asking the Lord to “Guide us waking” and know that your reward in the here and now will be much more rich than you can possibly imagine :-)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Do You Realize Who You Really Are?

How have you been doing with that taking time for quiet concept from last month’s “Nugget”? About taking “time to spend talking with Jesus and, even more importantly, listening to what He has to say about your priorities.” What would He have you do for yourself and others?”

Apparently I haven’t been doing so well with this myself. Because things have been so hectic, I was convinced this article you’re reading right now was for September. Think for a second and if your mind is telling you, so, what’s wrong with that? Well, the answer is, it’s AUGUST. It’s still summer! In fact, I’ll confess further and tell you I’ve been going around with a broken back tooth hoping it will stay intact until I can find time to get a dental appointment. I thought I could super-glue it back together but phooey, no, it would not cooperate. Oh so NOT good with the self-care thing. The days have been filled with just too many other appointments and errands and things.

My mantra of late has been “I’ve just got to choose my battles…I can’t do everything…there will be time later” [not that I literally think of tasks etc. as *battles*…just an expression] and say a quick prayer that the important things will get done. So, folks, how have you been doing with this quietness and taking time to pray and listen about your own priorities yourself? Well, the good news is it’s August! Still lemonade and iced tea time. Time to reframe and look toward the fall and how you feel the Lord would have you direct your ways. Time to build that habit of daily quietness. For me, time to RE-build that habit. I used to have it on a daily basis (when I was commuting) but for many reasons lately it’s sometimes a “lick and a promise” moment or two and a few hasty conversations with the Lord throughout the day. Other days I am grateful to have a whole chunk of time to just be in His presence and in the Word for more than just a few minutes.

Have you noticed that the lightning bugs, the joyful little lanterns that sparkle in the evening air seemed to have arrived earlier this year than usual? Perhaps that’s what’s pushed my thinking toward fall more quickly than otherwise. Plus, there is that whole planning thing about music and the upcoming return to our regular schedule in September. I’d like to sketch out for you a brief set of ideas as you think about the gifts God has given you and how He may well be directing you to using them. It’s really more like a few ideas which all have the same thing in common: rejoining and rebuilding the family, reconnecting, and why it’s such a vitally important process in which to be involved in our church community.

First is the scripture from Matthew 9:37-38 which has been just smoldering in my thoughts about this coming fall along with a song by Curtis Mayfield and the title of a book by Alice Walker। First the scripture: “Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’” This is the anthem for where we are in our society, don’t you think? If you haven’t heard this startling statistic before now, prepare to be stunned. Our town of Penacook, NH is not only the fastest growing community in the state of NH, but in the entire United States of America. Now, all these people need to be going to church somewhere nearby…॥why not The United Church of Penacook? Not meaning to be redundant because you know I’ve said it before, but, if they don’t hear about our church from you, how will they know it’s a fabulous place to call home?

The Curtis Mayfield song that loops through my mind about this has the lyrics, “People get ready, there’s a train a-coming. You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board. All you need is faith to hear the diesel hummin’. You don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord”. Once again, who is meant to tell people about this marvelous train….the United Church of Penacook? Well, my friends, that’d be YOU. And just in case you’re still waiting for someone, anyone, whoever it is that’s just got to be on their way to do this spreading the news, inviting the people, bringing the people, teaching the Sunday School, being on committees, coming to church, working in the ministries, well, in the words of Alice Walker’s book title: We’re the Ones We Have Been Waiting For. Actually, the title of this book comes from a poem by the late June Jordan. In context it’s, “Do you realize who you really are? We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

So my friends, do YOU realize who you really are? You are most precious, gifted, marvelous and wonderful. You are gifts to the church and to everyone else. You have been given talents you may not even realize or ones you’ve let rest too long. But please ponder this in the quiet times of listening about how Jesus would have you organize your priorities not only for the benefit of the community, but for you own fulfillment and most of all joy! Just so you’re not too overwhelmed by all this, here’s something to make you smile about changes. Life going forward means things change! Yes, it’s another book but you don’t even need to read it to *get* it: Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers: Ministry Anywhere, Anytime by Anyone by William M. Easum about ministry in churches struggling to grow but burdened down with the “this is the way it’s always been done.” Fear not, though. I’m not talking about electric guitars and drums in the sanctuary (choir members, you can now let go of the worried breath you just took).

Rejoice! It’s August. Yes, fall is coming but summer’s still here. Time for that extra sit down, sip that lemonade or iced tea. Listen and chat with the Lord about the upcoming fall and the “train” of The United Church of Penacook getting ready to board, moving again in its regular schedule and the harvest needing workers. So, do you realize who you really are? Why, we’re the ones we’ve been waiting for!

OH! What You are Missing...!

It was an ordinary Tuesday early evening, around 5:20. Just when you’d think people would be at home from work, getting ready for dinner or eating it, relaxing, catching the news on TV, doing homework, hanging out, doing chores, or just being home and glad the day was over. But no, not these people. They came individually or by couples as adults, or a group of two or three kids at a time. Men and women in their twenties, thirties, the nebulous forties-fifties, the older gray haired folks as well as teens. People dressed as through they’d just come from work as well as those dressed very casually. The kids were generally in jeans…but neat and well groomed. Everyone seemed genuinely glad to be there with one another, and in the peace of the place.
When they’d arrive, you’d see them step over to other people they knew and warmly greet them with a hug, brief conversation, or just a hand on the shoulder as they’d pass on their way. And they kept coming. Only a few who came in just solitarily took a seat.
I was amazed, simply stunned at their numbers. What would bring so many here at 5:30 on a Tuesday, an ordinary, nothing special Tuesday? It surely wasn’t up-beat, contemporary music because there wasn’t any music at all. It wasn’t a charismatic, magnetic, supercharged dynamic speaker that drew them because the man who spoke, while expressive, was quietly mild mannered and had a rather thick Italian (or perhaps Spanish) accent. While I didn’t actually count the number of people, there must have been a few more than 50 altogether. On an ordinary Tuesday evening at 5:30.
Okay. You may have guessed by now and if you haven’t, I won’t keep you in suspense any longer J This was a church. Not a special service, but a regularly occurring service at a church in Concord. It was an evening when a little earlier, after an appointment, I had so wished there was a church which was open nearby just so I could be in a service of worship and quiet. Poof! I happened to be driving right by Sacred Heart church and there on the sign it said they had services at 5:30 on Monday and Tuesday night. Wow! I wheeled my car over with a quick prayer of thanks and that’s how I happened to be there myself.
What’s my point in all this? Clearly these are people who LOVE their church, love one another, and love God. They didn’t have to be there….I checked. It wasn’t any day of “obligation” and it didn’t “count” as Sunday worship. It was clearly something for THEM. Know what? I happened to be out after a similar appointment on a Monday evening at the same time and I stopped in for a service and saw/experienced the same thing with the same kind of numbers again. Know what else? It’s the SAME thing I see among those of you who attend our church on Sundays! So many of you have come up to me or said to me on the phone that even sometimes when you don’t feel like getting up and coming to church, you leave feeling so glad you came. That the week just doesn’t “go right” if you miss church and the fellowship of everyone there. But for those of you who don’t keep the covenant of the “Statement of Faith” in the back of our hymnal which surely doesn’t say we *must* come to church, OH what you are missing if you don’t attend! The warmth, the fellowship, the peace which you just can’t find anyplace, else no matter how much you may enjoy being outdoors. Not to mention hearing the Word of God and maybe getting a different and helpful perspective on a difficult situation you’re dealing with, and being with people who deeply care about you. It’s a family of faith you can count on being there for you in celebration as well as helping you through times of sorrow.
But my friends, I’m worried. I’m concerned about the very human tendency of taking for granted that “Oh it’ll always be there when I want or need it” and are instead lured into thinking that the hour and a half (max) is just TOO much to take out of your Sunday recreation. OH what you are missing! But here’s something else you may not know. YOU are missed, as well! We are diminished by more than just the numbers of those of you who choose to do something else beside come to church on Sunday (except when you are ill or convalescing, or away on vacation and worshipping wherever you are). Our fellowship and morale is eroded by this ominous feeling that something is amiss when you are not here. We are a family, dear people. Connected to one another whether present or not. The days are growing shorter and darker, and the wind is getting sharp and cold. If you have been among the missing, come home! Come back to the table and be enfolded in the warmth our church is so famous for. Because OH what you are missing! And OH how you are missed! Plus, we have music you enjoy singing and the preaching is pretty lively, too :-)

The Ninety - Nine Dollar Montblanc Pen

The currency of credibility. Oh my goodness. There I was in my $13.00 navy blue wool Pendleton suit from the consignment store staring at this expensive instrument which held the ability to wordlessly let other professionals know that I was…um….I don’t know precisely, but that I and the counseling agency I had recently established was just that. Established.
Our suite of offices was next door to an office supply store where I had first asked for onion skin paper. You know, well, some of you do who are old enough to have learned to type using that thin paper you put with a sheet of carbon paper when you needed to have a copy of what you were writing. When I’d made the request for onion skin and a package of carbon paper, the young woman waiting on me confusedly asked, “You want what?” and a nice gray haired lady came right over and told her she knew exactly what I meant and that she thought there might be some in the basement. Soon she appeared with a dusty ream of onion skin and packet of carbon paper for me and knowingly said with a smile, “Not in the market for a photocopier yet, right?” In October of 1988, with lots of prayer, faith, and a dollop of desperation, I’d put my entire savings account of $3000.00 on the line to start up a Christian mental health full service out-patient clinic in Manchester, NH (complete with phones, business account, stationery, furnishings, lease with room to grow as we’d add counselors, and all the things needed to run a credible professional enterprise) and no way was a photocopier nor even a secretary anywhere in the cards for us yet. But there I was, visiting this Mont Blanc pen every week at the office supply store because the lady who knew about onion skin paper said one of these days it’d be going on sale.
You need to know I was NOT trying to *impress* anybody with this fancy pen. It’s just that in every negotiation I’d been in as the Assistant Director of another mental health clinic, all the important contracts with hospitals and psychiatrists were signed by key people holding these quietly dignified black pens with the all-important white logo on the top. When I participated in negotiating/mediating these big meetings, I could see the eyes around the room silently taking in who had these pens of power and who did not. Those who didn’t were treated politely and then more or less dismissed as not being in the right “club” to do business with or qualified to offer services for their organizations. Pretty stupid, right? But that’s how it was, and if I was going to play in the big leagues, I’d have to have the credibility to get the meetings I needed to present what our clinic had to offer. So I started saving up in a special account for that important pen. Good thing all the meetings were inside and I didn’t need to have a Mercedes!
At that time Catholic Medical Center (big hospital in Manchester) only had an “in-house” Employee Assistance Program. This meant any time an employee needed to talk with or be assessed by a counselor, they had to go through a particular door in the hospital where everybody knew why they were there. Not very conducive for effective utilization of these services, especially by those who needed them the most. I was positive our clinic could administer and provide quality services within the format of an affordable off-premises Employee Assistance Program and after tons of research, I wrote a proposal to do just that. Now I just needed that pen. Yes, it went on sale and I plunked down my $99.00 and the rest is history. Brookhaven Christian Counselors won the contract for this historic change in Catholic Medical Center’s policy and a successful off-site Employee Assistance Program built from a “loaves and fishes” philosophy (how we ran our agency) of economy was born.
Loaves and fishes. Know the story? In Mark 6:34-44 you can read about how Jesus, though it was late, wanted all the people who’d been there on the hillside listening to His teachings (food for the soul) to be fed (food for the body) before they left. His disciples were appalled saying it would take 8 months of a man’s wages to do that. Undaunted, with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fishes, and the amazing multiplication factor of faith, 5000 people were well fed with baskets of food left over.
In the 14 years our counseling center was open, thousands of people from more than 54 cities and towns in 3 different states and every possible denomination (and non-denomination, or no particular faith at all) received help at below “market” prices, with or without insurance, hundreds of hours of which were given for free. From day 1 until the last day of operation, a Bible in our waiting room was always open to Psalm 91, as this psalm together with the “loaves and fishes” philosophy formed the cornerstone of our organization. Our staff did not become financially affluent (no Mercedes), but were compensated very well, were fulfilled and happy, and had health and dental insurance and several other perks also.
Our first fruits of income always went to the Lord (regardless of what the numbers were on the stack of bills….that’s where the “loaves and fishes” economy came in, rooted together in our belief in God’s continued promises of protection of us in Psalm 91), next came our staff compensation [salaries and benefits], responsibilities paid to our creditors, and a portion of the last to the Director (that’d be me) and I prospered as well. Oh…and we did progress to having a photocopier, fax machine and computers along the way, too.
Psalm 91 and the “loaves and fishes” economic philosophy is central to how Pastor John and I live our personal lives as well. We sacrifice much, tithe and give more, and are very blessed. A couple of weeks ago I told everyone in the congregation that we’re all on the “Stewardship Committee” in that we’re all responsible and accountable for our church and its ministries, not just some of us. The Bible doesn’t tell us to SELECT which of our talents we’re to give back from (time, money or personal abilities), but to give from all these areas, including our ongoing, consistent presence, fellowship and worship together! After all, everything we have is from God, even ourselves: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17); “You are not your own, you are bought with a price.” (1Cor 6:19).
The Lord intends that we are to be life-long generous managers of His resources, as our “giving” in every way is part of how we worship God. As you prayerfully contemplate our upcoming Faith Promise commitment as well as our Capital Fund Campaign, I encourage you to stretch your thoughts around the “loaves and fishes” concept and steep yourself in Psalm 91. Think about how to increase your gifts back to the Lord from the storehouse of what He has given you. Challenge yourself and step out in faith. I can testify with my life and life’s work that the Lord will not let you down when you keep Him first in your life. Recently I read this phrase somewhere: “The possibilities are endless when the people of God use their resources in a godly manner. Utterly unstoppable momentum”. Think of it! Amen.

A Cat Tale Everyone Needs to Read!

Oh no! How can it be that my sweet Samantha cat, my own dear blue-gray cat with the huge crystal amber eyes we raised from a teeny kitten (together with her even younger sister Violet), my loving, dear, affectionate cat is……HISSING. Yes, hisssssing. Meanly. How is this possible! As are all our “tribe” of cats and a dog, she’s adopted and a loving member of our family. The object of her bad behavior, though, was our newest cat, a handsome loving male named Jazz, whom we integrated into our family. He is such a dear cat, so laid back, doesn’t rush to get in front of anybody else trying to guzzle from the food bowl or grab a drink of water. He always waits his turn….which is usually last of all. But he does it so calmly and gently! No trying to hurry anybody up or get in their way. It was clear from the start that he watched from the background to get the lay of the land and adapted to the particular protocol, or “cat-i-tude” of our felines in the household. And patient? Jazz is the most “longsuffering” cat we’ve ever seen. When hissed at and we rush to comfort him and scold the offending hisser, he looks at us as if to say, “don’t worry about it…..I’ve been through this before… things will get better”.
But things DIDN’T get better. Well, things were relaxed so long as Samantha and Jazz (a handsome part Bengal cat with the sweetest disposition) were not in the same room, and then not on the same couch or bed. But I could tell that Jazz was becoming frustrated. He wanted everybody to be friends but he clearly didn’t know how to *be* in this household. He’d tried being quiet and the “give them space” mode, and STILL got hissed at. Then he tried the ultimate “show them they can trust me and I can be vulnerable” move which was astonishing to watch. In front of a conflicted and well, nasty acting Samantha, I witnessed Jazz perform the act which is the ultimate in vulnerability among both cats and dogs (and wolves). He slowly lay down near Samantha, with eyes averted in a submissive manner and rolled over to expose his vulnerable soft neck. Samantha’s eyes got even wider than usual and I dared to think things would be lovely from here on out. Wrong. She watched Jazz perform this exercise in vulnerability and trust and waited two or three beats…..before she HISSED at him again with wild eyes and ran off.
Next, Jazz went through a time of hissing at Samantha (can you blame him?) because I think he felt maybe the vulnerability move he’d done caused her to lose what little respect she’d had. Ah, well, this didn’t work either. With both cats and people, hissing is never a good thing. I’m happy to report that FINALLY, perhaps due to being in closer quarters on vacation, or realizing that when it comes to traveling they’re all in this together, but there is no hissing and at least d├ętente on Samantha’s part. There is improvement every day toward a happy relationship together.
This got me thinking about our church. Are you a “Jazz”, laid back but also maybe allowing others to mistreat brothers and sisters in Christ, perhaps even making excuses for them (like, “oh that’s just how so-and-so is”) regardless of how hurtful their comments might be, or are you sometimes how Samantha was….hissing in your own way at others and being far less than how Christ would have you be?
As September begins and we resume our regular schedule, it’s a good time to take stock and think about what the Bible says about how to be encouragers to one another, instead of those who might participate in tearing people down…even by standing silently by. Here are some scriptures to assist in sharing how the Lord would have us all be with one another: “Therefore encourage one another and built up one another…” 1 Thess. 5:6. “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the things of building up of one another.” Romans 14:9 “Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.” Romans 15:2 and “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29
What we can learn first hand from our animals! This year why not look more deeply in your Bible ( your “owner’s manual” for living life) and practice what you see as encouraging, edifying behavior and words which build up others…..and will make your life more satisfying, too!
From the latest mailing from the Pat Brody Shelter for Cats: Live simply. “Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. And leave the rest to God.” Amen!

Trust God

Every vacation comes with its own adventures. For PJ and I, though, we often have “adventures” in the process of getting to the vacation part. This summer was no exception.
Because the beginning of this story is a bit “indelicate” in nature, I hesitated to write about it except that the lesson in it is so profound। And, after all, if anyone has ever had a child, cared for a baby for any length of a time, is related to one or friends with someone with one, you’d be familiar with this concept. So that pretty much makes this universal.

We are grateful that the cottage we rent by the ocean allows us to bring our entire “tribe” of 4 cats and 1 dog। The cats ride in three carriers with me (an immense one for 2 cats and regular size units for the other two). This is the second summer of bringing our marvelous cat Jazz with us. Those of you who’ve met him know he still has a wildness about him in appearance and nature, yet he’s not “feral” or antisocial. He is affectionate, polite and has an amazing quiet sense of “catiquette” in dealing with his three adopted female feline siblings. He is a total gentleman, very proud, yet retains that certain wildness which makes us even more thankful that he chooses to make us his family.

So, the cars were loaded and the carriers stacked in their usual configuration on the passenger side, easy for me to talk to the cats and reassure them with a finger through a vent holes now and then। We made marvelous progress to the ocean with good timing and little traffic. Despite some cat conversation on the way, we seemed to be doing very well. Pretty soon we were near bays of the ocean where the tide was out with its unique, strong and not particularly pleasant “the tide’s out” smell, with some other overtone to it I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Yet after passing these areas, the smell persisted and I detected another distinctly feline aroma – even more unpleasant. No - it couldn’t be. Well, nothing to do about it now and the cats appeared to be calm in their carriers.

I called PJ in the car ahead of me to alert him of our “situation” and we devised a plan for me to quickly bring Jazz’s carrier (his was the source of the foul smelling problem) directly into the bathroom of the cottage immediately upon arrival।

Wow, I felt so badly for Jazz and couldn’t understand the reason behind his dilemma। I dashed his carrier into the bathroom, stopping only to grab a roll of soft paper towels and closed the door behind us. Zipping open his carrier and lifting him out, I saw what can only be described by those who are acquainted with babies, something similar to the results of the amazing exploding diaper. The poor cat. He was cooperating, but just barely as I held him with his hind legs resting on the sink while I ran the water to a comfortable temperature. Soothing him the best I could, he was not a happy camper and a complete mess from his hind legs, private parts and tail. Talking reassuringly the whole time, I was doing my best to clean him with wet paper towels, washing where I could reach and dabbing discretely in his more sensitive areas.

This was just not working। It was doing a slow bit of good, but I really needed to bathe the entire bottom half of the cat and gently hand wash his most personal areas. I knew he realized what I was thinking and his expression clearly told me he was not in favor of this idea. But truly, it was in his best interest. So, I stopped the entire process and, with his hind feet still comfortably on the sink edge, I looked him in the eye and gently but firmly (with a lot of hope) said two words: “Trust me”. INSTANTLY everything changed. His look met mine and he stopped squirming to let me do what was necessary and to his benefit. I knew he wasn’t enjoying the process, but he had completely relinquished control to me. This was not resignation nor giving up, but a choice on his part - a deliberate choice made while we were looking intently into one another’s eyes when I said “Trust me” and he elected to do so.

This story has a happy ending and rather quickly Jazz was a clean, sweet smelling and toweled dry cat. Afterward, he was very attentive to me and extra affectionate as if to say “Thank you, thank you, thank you”. My friends, how similar this is to our own wrestling between doing things our way and relinquishing our will to God, to trusting Him. In John 14:1 Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” There are countless other scriptures about trusting God, but I would leave you with this challenge. September is a time of new beginnings. Why not make this a time you intentionally, consistently, prayerfully decide in every instance where a decision is to be made to trust the Lord and do it His way. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13).