A Lesson from My Dog

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. 1 Corinthians 2:9 NIV

She had no idea.

Three years ago, almost to the day, our rescue dog, Misty, arrived on the plane from Texas—a quivering, pile of red-brown fur huddled in the far corner of an airline crate. Knowing how noise-averse she is, how frightened she gets when faced with the unknown, I can only imagine what that plane ride was like for her. She landed at the airport completely shut down, terrified beyond terror.

Little did she know, when we finally managed to coax her out of that crate, she was stepping into doggie heaven. Unlike the hostile streets of Fort Worth where they found her, she would be safe and warm and well fed, with a clean comfortable place to sleep. All her needs would be met for the rest of her life. Never again would a hand be raised to her in anger. All she had to do was hang out with a couple of old people all day and go for easy walks in the dog park.

I looked into her trusting brown eyes this morning, saw that happy, wagging tail and said, “You had no idea three years ago and I couldn’t tell you. You were too busy being afraid.”

Then I heard that Whisper in my heart.  “She was just like you are, child.”

Ahh. I knew immediately what He meant.

You see, I’m at the stage of my life when I’m ever more aware of its end. I’m watching my friends weaken; losing them, one after another, knowing someday it will be my turn. But I don’t know when or where or how. It’s enough to make a barely-reformed control freak panic.

I’m like Misty climbing into that scary-looking crate in Texas: terrified of the trip ahead, afraid to trust, not knowing the end of it will be wonderful beyond my imagining. There’s no way God can explain it to me; I wouldn’t understand it if He could.

Misty came from a world where people called her, leashed her, then abused and abandoned her. Why should I have been surprised when she ran from me, hid when I offered to take her on a walk? Only now is she beginning to come, tail wagging, like every other dog I’ve owned.

Trust takes time for broken dogs. People, too. Yet trust is what it takes.

To the extent that I’m willing to trust God and believe His promises, I can be free of fear.

At last.

FATHER GOD: Thanks for the lesson. Help me remember it when the doubts come. Amen

First published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle, August 11, 2019.

Of Sparrows and Drivers’ Licenses

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered…” (Jesus) Luke 12:6,7 NIV

Do you doubt that? Yeah, me, too. How can the Lord of the measureless universe care about me at all, let alone the smallest concerns of my life?

A recent devotional reading suggested we fight that doubt by noting the little ways God shows us His love.

My first entry is a lulu.

Have patience with the details here. They turn out to be important.

It was 4th of July weekend—a holiday for many but a normal Friday for me. My “to do” list included buying groceries, getting some cash for the Farmers’ Market, and, looking at the stuff piled up in the garage, taking in the recycling.

I live in between two towns about ten miles apart. I’ve been doing the first two items in the smaller town—easier on a Friday afternoon—but the recycling in the bigger one.

Surely, I thought, the smaller town must have a place. I googled it, got a company and an address, loaded up my car and set off, only to find Google was wrong. The company no longer existed.

What now? I wasn’t going to unload all that stuff again. I couldn’t just keep going, either; I could hardly see out of my car. With a sigh, I went to the bigger town, only to find the first recycling place closed for the weekend. Third try: Wal-Mart. Success at last.

By this time, the afternoon was getting late. Should I just go home? No, I needed the cash as well as the groceries. With a frustrated sigh, I re-traced my steps.

Groceries bought at last, I chatted with a friend from church as I stood in line at the bank counter, while the teller smiled and handled his business.

My turn. I slid my check and drivers’ license over the desk.

“Did you know your license is expired?” she asked.

What? Sure enough, there it was. It had expired on my birthday back in April. I had no idea–and neither had all the people who been looking at it since then. Only this sharp-eyed teller had taken the time.

I ran home and checked the Department of Motor Vehicles website. Good news: I had three months’ grace period. Bad news: the first appointment I could get at our licensing station was August 28. I would have to go in Monday morning, hoping they could fit me in.

So there I was at opening time on Monday with a small group of other folks…most of us without appointments. They gave us a form and a number.

When I finally got to the desk, the clerk looked at my license and gasped. “You could be in serious trouble here.”

“Don’t I have three months?”

“No,” she replied. “It’s—90–days.” We added it up. My birthday is April 9; today was July 8. 30 days in April minus 9 = 21; plus 31 in May = 52; plus 30 in June = 82 days; plus 8 days in July. Grand total: 90 days!

Exactly.

Now all those unimportant details became critically important. If I’d decided to go home on Friday, or decided to shop at a different store, if I’d gone at a different time, hadn’t chatted with my friend who just happened to be there, giving the teller time to look, or had a different teller, I’d have been too late. My license would’ve been cancelled. In Montana, that means complete re-testing—written and driving. Since such tests are only done with appointments, I’d have to wait until the end of August before I could drive again!

You say all that was coincidence? Perhaps.

But you’ll never convince me.

 

 

The Gift of Forgiveness

…and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32 NIV

What are you giving your Dad this Fathers’ Day? How about something that will cost you nothing…except your pride and your need to be right? Something worth more than all the shirts and fishing gear and steak dinners put together? A gift that can yield you both peace into eternity?

Forgiveness.

Most of you know my father was an alcoholic. “Bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor” (vs. 31) echoed through our house on many nights, sending me under the covers, trembling in fear.

But he wasn’t always like that. When he was sober, he shared my love of history and a good story, enjoyed singing funny songs to make us laugh, cherished his beloved football and baseball games—first on radio and then TV.

I never knew which man was walking in the door at the end of the day.

I now understand things I didn’t know back then—how my great-grandfather had abandoned the family when my grandfather was little, leaving a sad legacy of men not knowing how to be fathers. How my father was forced by the Depression into a job (in sales) he was completely unsuited for, how he fought down the fear of rejection and failure every day in order to make a living. How he worked in a milieu saturated by alcohol, one in which a man was measured by how well he could “hold his liquor.” How admitting he couldn’t and getting help to overcome it was more humiliation than he could bear.

Knowing how life wounded him helps me forgive him. Bible teacher Joyce Meyer, who knows a few things about forgiving a toxic family, says “Hurt people hurt people.”

Life in this broken world wounds us all. We all then do things which hurt other people—usually the ones closest to us. We all fail to live up to the potential God created in us.

That’s why Jesus came.

On the cross I believe He took all our failures, imperfections and sins upon Himself. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, God pours His blessed balm of forgiveness on my wounds, offers me love and healing and acceptance without condition.

How can I then refuse to offer that same forgiveness and love to my father?

My Dad never repented. It doesn’t matter. My Dad never asked for my forgiveness. That doesn’t matter, either. I forgive him as God through Christ forgave me.

So we are both free.

Forever.

FATHER GOD: Through and because of Jesus, I forgive my father for his failure to be the Dad I needed. May my children forgive me. Amen.

First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” June 16, 2019.

 

Remembrance…and Gratitude

 

The Nazis invaded Norway on the day I was born. Before I was two months old, Poland fell, ending the so-called “phony war.” Europe was crumbling like a piece of rotten wood; England was hanging on by the tips of its fingernails; Japan was sweeping through Asia, crushing its subjugated peoples with sadistic brutality. I was about 18 months old when the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor.
I grew up in a world at war. One of my earliest memories was praying with my mother for “the soldiers and sailors overseas.”
I didn’t know what it meant. At age 3 or so, I had a dim idea of what soldiers and sailors were but I remember wondering about “overseas.” Was it a place? If so, where was it? And why did people there need prayer?
Many a child of my age throughout the war-torn world knew only too well what we were praying for, why we prayed, as they trembled in bomb shelters, fled as refugees, knew hunger as I have never known it.
I met some of them the other evening.
Flipping through the channels on a rainy afternoon, I stumbled on a PBS special called, “America’s Finest Ambassadors.” Did you happen to see it?
Germans of my age shared their memories of the names and the faces of American GI’s who had showed them kindness and compassion at the end of the war, sharing their rations in a time of great hunger, protecting and helping them, playing with them, giving them candy bars and gum. One battalion stationed in bomb-wrecked Berlin even held a Christmas party, complete with a turkey dinner and gifts of candy, for 200 children of their neighborhood. 75 years later, their eyes filled with tears and voices with emotion. They are still grateful.
I, too, found myself moved to tears. I was so proud of those young men whose faces filled my TV screen—ordinary boys from ordinary backgrounds, fresh off the horrors of the battlefield, who could show such compassion for the hungry, frightened, traumatized children of the enemy.
They were real soldiers who had just fought a real war, war that demanded terrible things of them. What they had seen and done there would haunt them forever.
But they were good men who had fought for the future, for the children of the world…and I was one of those children. They gave their lives, their health, their safety, their innocence so we wouldn’t have to. They bequeathed us a better life than they could ever have dreamed of.
I pray my life was worthy of that sacrifice.
For on this Memorial Day, I look back…and like those Germans, I am grateful. And humbled.

The Final Word

It was a cold rainy Saturday morning. December 1983. My first time to Europe, to Paris, to Notre Dame. I walked through the west doors under the famous sculpture-covered arches and was stunned to silence. The vaulted ceiling curved high overhead, the arcades along sides spread into candlelit gloom, the central aisle stretched away in front of me. It was immense. Quiet. Awe-inspiring.

Then I got to the “crossing” where the arms of the church meet… and stopped dead, speechless.

For at the end of the transepts on either side of us glowed the huge rose windows in all their red and blue glory. I thought of the all devotion, the artistry, the skill which created this wondrous sight, all the history this place had seen and survived. I was moved to tears.

I’ve been to Paris many times since then and gone to Notre Dame every time. It became my place to go on that first afternoon when I was too jet-lagged to go anywhere unfamiliar, a special spot to simply sit and absorb the ageless beauty.

So, like the rest of the world, I was shocked and horrified to see it burning last Monday. Someone said it was “like a punch to the gut.” Yes, that was the feeling. I could hardly believe something that had survived so much for so long might not survive me.

Despite the inferno which consumed the 12th century “forest” of trusses and beams under the roof, the flames shooting hundreds of feet in the air, the collapse of the spire at the very top of the cathedral, Tuesday morning revealed the cathedral, though deeply wounded, was not destroyed. The ancient walls still stand. Most of the relics and treasures were rescued. Even the rose windows I so cherish survived—something I think is pretty close to a miracle.

But that wasn’t all that survived.

In scrolling through the photos posted after the fire, I came across this one.I noticed something a sharp-eyed commentator on the evening news also did. What do you see first? What stands out to you beyond the gloomy scene, the heap of blackened rubble?

The cross. The golden cross behind the altar glows brightly as ever.

I was reminded of the cross formed by the steel beams in the wreckage of the World Trade Center, the huge face of Jesus I saw painted on the underside of the onion domes in the Kremlin. To me, they all whisper: “I’m still here. No matter how bad things look, how far My people have wandered from Me, I’m still here. I have not abandoned or forsaken you. And I will prevail.”

“The cross has the final word,” writes Cody Carnes in a recent song with the same title,

“The cross has the final word
Sorrow may come in the darkest night
But the cross has the final word. …
The Savior has come with the morning light
The cross has the final word. …
He traded death for eternal life
The cross has the final word.”

What a message for Holy Week! No matter how dark things look in the world or in my own life, God is still in control. And He has the victory.

Christ is risen, indeed. Hallelujah!