Saturday, January 15, 2011

Corduroy

I recently adopted two cats from my local animal shelter. One was a rambunctious little kitten, the other was a two-year-old female Torbie for which I did not have a name at first. “No Name” was undeniably sweet, docile, and responsive to human attention. She also had a sadness in her eyes, as though she wanted desperately to be loved, but knew that she was unwanted. I don’t know exactly what it was about her, but I was drawn to her, and so I completed the paper work for adoption on January 1, 2011 – New Year’s Day.

On January 4, I took my new cats home. I had to isolate them both from my existing cat, just to ensure that they were healthy, and so that my existing cat would not be overwhelmed by his new roommates. “No Name” was staying in my bathroom. She was coughing and sneezing, so I took her to the vet the next day, and began treating her with antibiotics for the cold. Over the next several days, I began to bond with this animal as I cared for her. She allowed me to do anything – clean her ears, clean her eyes, administer medication – she especially loved to be wiped down with baby wipes (I did not want to give her a bath just yet). She never scratched, bit, or fought me. It was like she knew I loved her, and she trusted me.

I noticed this cat had large paws, and that she most likely was going to grow bigger. I spent that entire first week on the internet, trying to determine if she was at least part Norwegian Forest Cat. In a nutshell, she reminded me of a teddy bear. So I finally settled on a name for her: Corduroy.

Corduroy was a book I owned as a child. First published in 1968, the story follows a little teddy bear named Corduroy who sits amongst the other toys in a department store, hoping that someone will buy him and take him home. One day, a girl named Lisa sees Corduroy, and tells her mother she really wants the bear. Lisa’s mother tells her that they’ve already spent too much money, and besides, the bear is missing a button.

That night, Corduroy searches the entire department store, trying to find a button so he can fix his defect. He does find a button, but he is returned to the shelf before he can do anything about it. The next day, when the department store opens, Lisa returns to buy the bear with her own money, and Corduroy gets to go home, even though he still is missing a button.

As an adult, I am struck by the profound similarity between this simple children’s story and the gospel.As a child, and I remember being overcome with emotion when Corduroy was finally taken home. But as an adult, I am struck by the profound similarity between this simple children’s story and the gospel. Here is a teddy bear who is not perfect, and in order to increase his chances of being loved, he tries to “fix himself”, and he fails. In an unlikely twist, a little girl spends all she has in order to purchase the bear, brings him home, and sews a new button on for him, making him like new again. The story doesn’t tell us why Lisa chooses this bear. We never know why. She just elects to take him home, even in his imperfect condition. The story continues to have such a profound impact upon me, even as an adult. It was only natural I name my new cat after the bear in this story.

On January 9, Corduroy showed marked improvement. She was no longer sneezing and coughing, and she was anxious to get out of the bathroom for a change, so I took her outside and sat with her on my screened-in lanai. There we were, just the two of us: creature and caretaker, delighting in each other’s company. For two hours, Corduroy sat in my lap and purred, occasionally looking up into my eyes as if to say, “Thank you!” It was magnificent. I imagined it would only be a few more days before I could allow her to freely roam the house and see her stretched out on my living room furniture in all her feline glory.

But Corduroy's improvement was short lived. On the evening of January 11, her eyes were weighed down by mucous and her breathing became quite labored. I took her to the vet the following day and had her x-rayed. Her cold was gone, but her lungs were nearly filled with fluid, and she had a few nodules on her lungs as well. The x-ray also showed that she had a BB lodged in her back. “I don’t know if this cat is going to live,” the vet told me, but she gave Corduroy an injection to help open up her airways, and sent me home with even more aggressive antibiotics. Within five hours, Corduroy took a turn for the worse. She began to panic as she realized she could no longer breathe. I acted quickly, and headed for the overnight emergency clinic to have her euthanized, but I was too late. Corduroy died on January 12, 2011, only 8 days after I brought her into her new home. I bawled, listening to her cries as she struggled for oxygen, and the final gurgling sound she made as she drowned right there in my car.

As a former existentialist, I tend to focus on what I've lost. But as a Christian, I can easily take these thoughts captive to Christ, and rejoice in what I have, knowing it will all someday be taken from me. The old Jen would have focused on how terribly Corduroy suffered. The new Jen rejoices, knowing that for 8 glorious days, I was able to provide this animal with the one thing she probably wanted more than anything in the world: compassion. Corduroy died a terrible, frightening death, but she died knowing that she had been chosen. And for those 8 days she lived, she taught me a great deal about the gospel.

I highly recommend the book Corduroy, by Don Freeman, and believe it will be an important addition to your child’s library. If you are unfamiliar with the story, you can have it read to you here:

Friday, January 7, 2011

God Our Refuge

Today's topic weighs heavily on my heart. In fact it is a continuation of my last post simply titled "Fallow Ground". In that article I touched on how trials can lead to loss of expectations, cause us to slow our pace, and when we have been hurt there's a tendency to withdraw. As it so happened I was talking to a dear sister about this very issue which she also had been recently going through. It was a timely conversation and much needed time of fellowship. I have decided to share here what the Lord has shown me in order to bring help to those who are also experiencing any of the issues we have raised.

It is discouragement which can also lead to hope deferred which "makes the heart sick", Proverbs 13:12.We don't have to go through some major trial to become discouraged. As I touched on before just our being weary of doing good can cause discouragement. It is discouragement which can also lead to hope deferred which "makes the heart sick", Proverbs 13:12. There are times where we perhaps do need to withdraw a little from activities and maybe even some friends to spend time waiting on the Lord. Retreats are ideal for this but for those to whom it is impossible to spend time at a retreat, a quiet room at home will do, as will walks in a park or countryside, anywhere that gives a degree of privacy to commune with God. Physical withdrawal alone is not the answer, for our refuge is not in a place but a person. We must also keep in mind the scripture where we are commanded:

And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together. Hebrews 10:24-25

Withdrawal should never mean withdrawing from God. It is in these trying circumstances where we ought to in fact draw closer in communion with God and wait on Him.

"But those who wait on the LORD
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:31

As the above text shows our strength is then renewed so we are enabled to not only run and not be weary but even have the strength to get up! We can become so tired and weary that we cannot even muster the strength to move. Ground becomes fallow when in these situations we lose heart and become lax in seeking God. It is crucially important in these times to press into God even when we feel in life we can no longer run and press onwards. There may be seasons in a saint's life where she has been confined to the sick bed. These can be places of great spiritual blessing in communion with God. Two saints who come to mind are Jesse Penn Lewis and Amy Carmichael. Both drew their strength from God and went on to write about the deep things of God. You could tell through their writings they had been with Jesus!

Scripture also tells us that in the heat of the battle God hides us. In 1 Kings 17 the word of the Lord came to Elijah saying:

“Get away from here and turn eastward, and hide by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan. And it will be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” Verses 3-4

There Elijah was provided for and when the brook dried up, his source for water, the Lord, moved him on to a widow who would provide for him. Only the provision was not going to come from the widow but from God! The widow said to Elijah:

“As the LORD your God lives, I do not have bread, only a handful of flour in a bin, and a little oil in a jar; and see, I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Verse 12.

In Psalm 31 David seeks his refuge only in God. Not only is David's refuge in God alone but his trust also:

"IN YOU, O Lord, do I put my trust and seek refuge" Verse 1

In verse 20 he says:

"In the secret place of Your presence You hide them from the plots of men; You keep them secretly in Your pavilion from the strife of tongues.

What a verse of encouragement to those who are being persecuted. Who are the victims of not only their faith but jealousy, misunderstanding and false accusations. The rest of that Psalm is so encouraging I must go on to quote the rest:

"21 Blessed be the Lord! For He has shown me His marvelous loving favor when I was beset as in a besieged city.
22 As for me, I said in my haste and alarm, I am cut off from before Your eyes. But You heard the voice of my supplications when I cried to You for aid.
23 O love the Lord, all you His saints! The Lord preserves the faithful, and plentifully pays back him who deals haughtily.
24 Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for and hope for and expect the Lord!

The worst pain comes not from those who are our enemies but brothers and sisters in the Lord. As David says in Psalm 55:

12 "For it is not an enemy who reproaches me;
Then I could bear it.
Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me;
Then I could hide from him.
13 But it was you, a man my equal,
My companion and my acquaintance.
14 We took sweet counsel together,
And walked to the house of God in the throng."

We cannot hide from them but we can seek our refuge in God, drawing strength from Him and the grace to move on. In a previous post I touched on Psalm 84 on the valley of Baca, meaning "weeping". David being chased by his enemy (the enemy being not a heathen but one of God's annointed!), was in hiding so could not join the other worshipers in pilgrimage to worship God. Instead David watched them from the valley of Baca and in His despair penned Psalm 84. Yet look at Gods bountiful provision in this valley!
If you are in pain, discouraged and/or weary as I have also been, let us today find our refuge and provision in God. May He alone be our hiding place.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fallow Ground

”Sow for yourselves according to righteousness (uprightness and right standing with God); reap according to mercy and loving-kindness. Break up your uncultivated ground, for it is time to seek the Lord, to inquire for and of Him, and to require His favor, till He comes and teaches you righteousness and rains His righteous gift of salvation upon you.”Hosea 10:12

The coming in of this new year I did not really celebrate. It was nice to be with family watching the fireworks and Chinese lanterns in the distance. But I set no resolutions, no new reading plan or had any sense of expectation. 2011 felt to me like just another year. Actually, to be honest, part of me just wanted to brace myself for more pain. So I guess there was one expectation . . . that of getting hurt again!

However, deep down in my spirit I can sense something . . . something good! Before I touch on that however I need to lay open my heart. On New Year's Eve I found myself going to our fellowship to meet with the church to see in 2011. I was caught totally off guard and the pain was awful. So I reacted . . . badly! Normally I would stay at home with the children watching the fireworks but I felt the Lord was prompting me to go and join with the church. And I knew why. It has to do with relationships. I was very clearly led back to the fellowship I'm in now for the reason of reconciliation, building and nurturing relationships with my brothers and sisters. This I did but ended up getting really hurt again. I was caught totally off guard and the pain was awful. So I reacted . . . badly! After time with God in prayer I was able to forgive and move on, the relationship quickly restored. After that however I became more withdrawn. By the end of 2010 the main purpose for going back to my fellowship came to a halt. I sensed it was important to be with the church where God has placed me to see in the new year. Funny thing was only the people I had yet to form a relationship with were there. That night I took the initiative to start the conversations, something I'm not great at as I'm actually pretty shy with new people. As a result new relationships were formed.

Back to this feeling in my spirit I mentioned earlier. Many have been anticipating great things for the new year. Many always do. But I hadn't been feeling all that positive about things lately. The past couple of months have been petty idle ones. Idle in the sense that I haven't really been pressing on but plodding on. I have grown weary in well doing. I always thought that verse meant in doing good deeds but I now understand it to mean in doing what is right in every sphere of life. In this case it's keeping the peace, maintaining and nurturing friendships while getting hurt in the process. The Amplified translates this verse well:

”And let us not lose heart and grow weary and faint in acting nobly and doing right, for in due time and at the appointed season we shall reap, if we do not loosen and relax our courage and faint.”Galatians 6:9

Also, other factors which have contributed to my weariness have been this harsh winter here in the UK and sickness. These have all brought me to a slower pace spiritually. Yet deep down I have sensed those people were right expecting great things for they were pressing on!

In summer last year God laid on my heart very strongly Hosea 10:12, ”Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.” I knew what the verse meant but at the time nothing really ever came of it, though I did for a while ponder on it. Then this past Sunday our pastor preached on that verse. Suddenly it quickened me! Arthur Wallis commenting on the fallow ground writes:

”What is fallow ground? It is not desert that has never been cultivated. The application therefore is not to unbelievers who have never experienced God's grace. Nor is it necessarily land that was once cultivated, but has now been abandoned and returned to a desert state. So it is not a particularly the backslider who is in view. It is land that has borne fruit in the past, but now lies idle through lack of cultivation.”

That's it! If I carried on the way I was, just plodding along, there was the danger of the ground in the garden of my soul eventually becoming fallow! And what happens with fallow ground? It becomes hard AND weed-bound! Of this Wallis writes:

”One of the main objects of cultivation is to eliminate weeds that would overrun the good seed or the growing plants. 'Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns,'exhorted Jeremiah (Jer.4:3). The people did not heed him, for we learn later that they reaped the thorns that they had refused to weed out (Jer. 12:13). As every gardener knows, weeds do not have to be cultivated to thrive. They are the inevitable product of neglect.”

The exhortation to break up your fallow ground has become a clarion call for me! A warning of what could happen if I just kept plodding on instead of pressing on!
So how are we to break up our fallow ground and keep it from becoming so? Repentance is always a good start but there must first be a self-humbling and contrition. Arthur Wallis puts it well:

”Humbling ourselves is the first step. This gets the blade of the plough into the hard soil. Then comes the contrition that turns the soil over.” When we humble ourselves we ”come out from our hiding place, expose our hearts and lives to the searchlight of God's presence, with a willingness to come to grips with reality.”

Contrition, as a state of repentance, acknowledges as true what God then reveals, then goes on to confession and repentance. Forgiveness and cleansing is sure to follow.

So this is me exposing my heart. Revealed by the light of God's Word I now “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus,” for “it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.”

As I meditated on all of what the Lord was showing me, all the exhortations presented before me I suddenly realized something. Something quite wonderful which would bring me full circle back to the feeling I have deep in my spirit of good things. Attached to each of these exhortations are the most wonderful promises! Let us finish today's post by taking a look at some of them:

The exhortation in Hosea 10:12 "Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD..."
The Promise; "...till he come and rain righteousness upon you."

The exhortation in James 4:10 to "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord..." comes with the following promise, "...and he shall lift you up."

The exhortation in Galatians 6:9 to "let us not be weary in well doing." is followed by the promise that "in due season we shall reap, if we faint not."

And the well know passage in 2 Chronicles 7:14 comes with the following exhortation; "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways;" and is followed by the promise "then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

The last verse is always found when talking about revival. But if we are to see revival in our land we must first experience a personal reviving. We can then go on to pursue revival for our nation. Can you identify with anything spoken of in this post? If so may you go on to humble yourselves, and pray, and seek God's face! Break up your fallow ground, do some gardening and look for the fruit which is sure to come!

Arthur Wallis quotes are from his classic writings on revival Rain From Heaven.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Friendship: A Dose of My Own Medicine

Over the years and most recently, God has allowed people in my life to mirror back to me the harshness I've dished out. When this happens, I am relieved at how suddenly I'm ready to DROP all pending cases of ongoing offense I argue in His court. I walk away from those encounters thinking, "Okay, this is what they were meaning about grace. Lord, is this how I made so and so feel?"

Tonight, I came heart to heart with a wounded heart. One that looked and felt like mine not long ago. My heart is still hard, dark, and wounded, by the way, but these days I'm way more inclined to weep profusely in prayer (Praise God) about its poor condition than rationalize and defend it.

Consider this malady called pride and a few of its choice manifestations. Not long ago, when I would be offended and had opportunity to vent my offenses, I proved harsh and ungracious--like the guy who was forgiven his million dollar debt only to choke the servant who owed him ten dollars. My ungracious spirit, wanting my offenders to pay, was cloaked in mild diplomatic rhetoric but inwardly I was a lion ready to bite off heads--because I was a slave to my hurt feelings.

And even though my tone of voice was relatively mild; the things I chose to focus on revealed my tone of heart was adversarial, weak, and self-righteous. The ladder reared its head in my compulsory need, in my arguing my case, to compare myself to others who offended me. That is pointing out how "unreal" and insincere they were juxtapose to how fearlessly honest and sincere I was. I took pride in my ability to "be honest."

In my mind, as long as I was keeping it real and being honest, I was justified in my all conclusions about the matter. Keeping it real and being honest is of the essence and utmost importance, of course, but the tone underneath my honesty was bitter and censorious. One didn't have to be too discerning to pick up on it.

It was obvious in the records of wrongs I kept. I was the sacrificed victim, of course. I gave and gave sacrificially of myself to no like exchange. Plus, I was 100% accurate in my version of the story. Conveniently forgetting the proverb that says it is foolish to come out blazing in your position without the HUMILITY to hear the other party's version. In other words, it is perfectly okay to say,
Hey when you did this, it made me feel like that--while being HUMBLE enough to be open to the slightest possibility that your feeling this way may just be about the condition of your heart and not an intentional offense. For many things can be done to hurt someone's feelings--UNINTENTIONALLY.

That said, often times feelings prove to be absolutely correct. But how different would the conversation go, if in saying how you honestly felt about something, you are not ascribing evil to the person at the same time? What if your heart was tender instead of hard when you communicated how you've been hurt? How well would it go over, if we kept in mind that we all stumble in many ways and are imperfect? How well would it go over if we could just accept "I'm sorry", turn the page, and begin new?

The foremost reason this is a dose of my own medicine is that recently I've had a very hard time forgiving someone who hurt me. When they said they were sorry, it wasn't good enough. I didn't believe them. And honestly, I still don't as there is hardcore evidence to suggest that I was accurate in concluding that they were NOT really sorry for or about me, but sorry over how embarrassing the matter made them feel and look in front of their valued peers. They were sorry for wasting more of their time.

Now that is okay with me--I saw and accepted what was and forgave as Christ gave me desire and power--genuinely wishing this person well. I even think I've grown in forgiveness to a point that I could be in the person's presence and enjoy them with no NEED or desire to recall the matter. I already pray affectionately for them. But at the time, I felt the nature of the situation demanded more--and so did my pride. I gave up so much; I trusted their word and they let me down big time. My anger and hurt were justified by all the spectators watching the situation. In other words, it was not just me or just in my mind. There was a cloud of witnesses, if you will, and a trail of similar fall out to confirm.

But when they said sorry, I judged their motive to be insincere, perfunctory, self-righteous and self serving--just like my friend did with me tonight. Even if we talked, my bitter heart would have poisoned them to death with a cocktail of my record of wrongs brewed from my hurt and misery.

With strong doses of self-righteousness and bitterness like I received tonight, the proverb that says everyone seems right in his own eyes until another comes and examines him--puts me in my place and sets a guard about my mouth. It makes me think twice about how I frame my concerns--even legitimate ones. How humiliated I've been when I had to concede that my version and perception of events were skewed by a hard, unclean heart--full of bitterness, envy, and self-righteousness!

While talking with this person tonight, I was horrified as I replayed the exact same critical stance I took with others (when I felt offended by them). How trapped, in my conclusions, I must have made them feel. I was trapped tonight. I felt defeated; like I could not win. I totally understood how they could have felt the way they did, but they were holding me to a standard that I didn't even know I was being expected to meet. But more than that, my friend was wrong in the conclusions they drew. Their conclusions about my actions were exaggerated based on partial information at best. It left them the victim of my implied selfishness as they didn't seem to concede how some of the legit conclusions they drew about my behavior were warranted by their critical "attitude." It felt very "tit for tat."

I was way more relaxed in the relationship and they were keeping score. I realized tonight that, like me at one point, I had been sized up and measured and didn't pass their constant tests of friendship. Instead of humbly telling me what they needed from me as a friend, they held it against me when I didn't deliver to their expectation. Not fair or fun and a way to set yourself up to be a very lonely person.

The scary thing about all this is such a hard approach to friendship is often rooted in unresolved hurts that morph into pride and self-righteousness because these feelings have no other outlet. There is no concept of forgiving and moving on--just because I CHOOSE to love and accept you when you are unacceptable. Or just because life is short--and in the grand scheme of things, this is trivial and not worth losing a solid friendship over. Because these type A personalities, of which I am a kind, follow all the rules, they do everything right the first time; therefore, they expect others to do the same. They are intolerant or impatient with those who do not follow the rules. Three strikes and you are out. They cut you off easily and quickly. They rarely look back and if they do, there will not be any movements of any kind toward reconciliation on their part. They are great responders but poor initiators. They are the elder brother in the story of the prodigal.

Legitimately wrong, yes, some of my offenders were, but I had to realize that we are all humans capable of horrible mistakes.

Therefore, I had to ask a hard question of myself and make a choice. First, am I not human, too, capable of the same errors? Second, the choice: Forgive or not to forgive? That was the question and bottom line if I wanted freedom. I had to do the hard work of struggling in prayer in order to get God's perspective on the situation or continue isolating myself and becoming a critic of all things good--like friendships. For make no mistake about it--these kind of personalities are UNHAPPY ISOLATED PEOPLE.

Another contemplation is I have to wonder if a large part of my being single has to do with the roar I left off when some unsuspecting person stepped on one of my landmines of insecurity or pride. For I actually remember someone responding to me the exact same way I responded to my friend's hardness toward me tonight.

You know when I brought up some past minor detail that the offender forgot, thought was resolved, or thought nothing of, I was "hurt" over it and ascribed an evil motive to it and used it as "Exhibit A" to justify why I'm right for feeling like I felt. Like them, I was horrified and perplexed. Again, I see why the Lord says we must be quick to forgive. It causes problems.

My lessons learned tonight are not new--just reinforced.

  1. As much as it depends upon you--let there be peace.
  2. Some relationships are for a season.
  3. Some people are not at the same level of abandon to Christ which is often the chief reason for relational breakdowns.
  4. Trust God with the lives of His own people and keep in step with Him.
  5. Don't be afraid to lose and let go.
  6. Learn how to hold my relationships--not to tight, not too loose.
  7. Be thankful for a light heart and one quick to turn the page--even if the other party refuses to turn it with me.
  8. It only takes one to forgive. It takes two to reconcile.
  9. Let God add to or subtract from my life.
  10. Let God choose my friends and He shall strengthen the ones that remain!