Thursday, March 28, 2013

Running in Circles or Destroying Blue Cushions!

Today is Thor's birthday - he is 2 years old. This is a picture of him with his birthday present. In honor of him and all God does to teach me about life and love through him and my other dog, Scooby, I offer this - Running in Circles or Destroying Blue Cushions!

“Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever.” Hebrews 12:2 (from the Message)

When you have a minute, put the following link into your browser and listen to the song “Running in Circles” by United Pursuit Band. 

Some of the lyrics:
I’m so forgetful, but you always remind me, You’re the ONLY ONE who brings me peace…
So I come, Lord, to tell You I love You, to tell You I need You…
To tell You I’m sorry for running in circles, for placing my focus on the waves, not on Your face…

Are you like me and find yourself running in circles on some days? An endless list of tasks stares at you mockingly and you fail to complete them all. When your head hits the pillow at night, that wonderful feeling of completion is not in bed with you. I have the passion and the purpose. I even see the path. But still, I forget the big picture of what I am trying to accomplish with my life and I focus on anything else. I look for drama, I feel for comfort and I sniff out empty opportunities that waste my time.

I end up running in circles.

I remind myself of Thor.

Thor, my half Chihuahua half Pug, or Chug, is nine pounds of ferocious determination. Today he turns two. I admire his Napoleon like attitude towards the world, be it a Great Dane Thor thinks he’s bigger than or a stuffed toy he attempts to conquer as if it were a battle to the death.  

I gave him a treat yesterday and he took it and ran so as not to give my other dog, Scooby, a chance to steal it. He jumped up on his blue chair and began the battle. He chomped away but unbeknownst to him, a piece of the treat fell on the floor. He didn’t know what happened, but he knew more treat existed, so he began digging in the chair. Ferociously.

“Thor.” I called him and he ignored me. I walked over to him and pointed at the treat on the floor. He single-mindedly continued his excavation of said chair for said treat. Meanwhile, Scooby entered the room, observed the situation and dived for the treat with the elegance of a Russian ballet dancer trapped in a Puggle’s body.

All of us contain a little Thor. We forget to focus on the One who is gently pointing the way to what will give us fulfillment. We dig and dig, determined to conquer a list of tasks but we forget to follow Christ and we end up running in circles. Or destroying a blue cushion.

Jesus showed us how to live. Right now, take a minute and ask Him to guide you. He will. Let’s not run in circles this week. Like this song tells us, He is the only one who can bring us peace.

You are loved!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Joy Comes

(I haven’t written for a while. But now I’m back and this Joyvotion is a very personal one. Hope our Lord loves on you through my scribbling and my sister’s strength.)

Karen has been my sister for fifty years. Half a century of squabbling, talking, laughing, and crying. We haven’t always been friends, but we’ve never been enemies. But after our mother died, Karen and I entered a realm of deep friendship. She lives in Ohio and I in Colorado but we talk every week. She’s my prayer warrior and best girl friend.

Out of the 18,057 days I’ve known Karen, (I did the math) none are more precious to me than the twelve I recently spent with her in Columbus.

Why? Well, it wasn’t the laughter, the movies, the clubbing at a grocery store, the meeting her workmates and friends or spending time with her family and dog.

It was simply the blessing of watching. 

When I got on the plane to go see her, I expected to be a nursemaid to a sister with cancer, a cheerleader for someone terrified, and a comedienne for my friend’s tears. I wasn’t. Not really.

Instead, I was an observer to the supernatural grace and strength that God gives to His kids when they need it. When they enter times of desperation or difficulty. Karen amazed me.

When I sat with her through chemotherapy, she suggested we watch Pride and Prejudice. The old one, the real one, with Colin Firth. He floats both of our boats. I took my portable DVD player and we sat together, holding hands unashamedly, and we watched a masterpiece of God’s creativity. Colin Firth, that is, not the movie. We laughed at our girlish twitterpation. At one point a nurse came over and said, “You two are having a ball over here.”

And yes we were. Even as poison was filling up my sister’s body. Why? Because my sister chose to be silly with me, instead of sitting in despair. I looked around the large room, marked by easy boy loungers lining the walls, filled with folks in all shades of emotion. I remarked, “This room has angels in it, Karen.”

 “Oh yes,” she said. “Lots and lots. But there are also demons. It’s a battlefield.”

I looked at her and she smiled. Such strength I got to watch.

When I went with her to have her head shaved, she set the tone. “Let’s have fun, Robbie. This is going to be difficult, but I don’t want to just sit there and cry.” God heard her request. As difficult as it was for her to go bald, she asked the hairdresser to cut her hair in different ways so she could see the styles. First a bowl haircut that looked like a young Chinese girl. Karen laughed, “Um, no. Keep going!” Then the hairdresser gave her a pixie hair cut. I liked it, but Karen didn’t want to look like Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby. And finally, a Mohawk. My sister looked like a rock and roller and she laughed and put her hands up in peace signs as I took a picture. The final moment we laughed about later was when another hairdresser offered to help her fit her new wig. He was from New York and had worked with wigs for prostitutes and the Rockettes. Now that’s a wig man!

After the shock and awe of being bald died away, (it took about 24 hours) the joy and freedom of no hair led Karen into playing dress up. She said she’s always been a closet hat lover and now, well, now she can play and play. And she did. What a hoot we had hat shopping.

When I went to her church with her, I asked if she wouldn’t mind if I sat in the back. Her church is charismatic and I wanted to enjoy it but not be a distraction to her. So I sat in the back and watched the liveliness of everyone with glee. We all experience the Spirit differently and her church, well, they let it all hang out. I loved it. The church has two white prayer chairs on either side of the sanctuary for folks who want prayer during worship. Karen sat near one of the white chairs. As she got up slowly and moved to the chair, I watched from the back. The prayer team gathered round her, laid hands on her and prayed. And I watched and prayed with them. When they finished, my sister’s smile of strength burst forth as she thanked each of the prayer warriors. I cried. She is so beautiful.

On my last day, I took Karen to Cracker Barrel to have breakfast. I love this restaurant. As we sat, we chatted easily as we had the entire visit. But this time I asked Karen, “Do you know how strong you are? Do you know that joy emanates from you?”

She responded, “Rob, I didn’t know how I’d be in this situation. But now that I’m in it, I keep thinking of a night after Josh (her 14 year old) was born. We brought him to the house that first night and he had an oxygen tube and an apnea machine hooked up to him. So we put his crib by the fire place and I sat up with him and slept in a chair while Paul slept in a bed in the next room. I remember watching him, so grateful for my son. I felt it was getting cold, so I put an extra layer on him and myself and drifted off. Paul woke up in the middle of the night and came in and remarked how freezing it was. He checked and the furnace had quit. It was January and really cold. He called a guy to come fix it and I took Josh next door to wait until it was running. That night was so, so long. I kept thinking that when the sun rose, it would be better and warmer. And this worship song came to mind and I kept singing it called Joy Comes in the Morning.”

That song is inspired by Psalm 30:5:

For His anger is but for a moment,
His favor is for life;
Weeping may endure for a night,
But joy comes in the morning.

“Rob, as I sang that song, I knew that joy would come in the morning, right along with the sun. And as I sang it, that hope turned into joy. The same thing is happening right now.  Joy will come in the morning and as I hang onto that, the hope turns into joy right now.”


I got to watch my Lord’s grace and strength overflow in my sister. And as it poured out of her, it splashed onto me. My sister is doing well in her battle. I went to one of her doctor’s appointments with her and he said, “We’re going for a cure.” He didn’t even use the term remission. Karen is beating this and on the other end of all this treatment, she will come through like the morning sun, smiling God’s strength. Joy will come. And miraculously it is already here. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lessons from a Bipolar Dog

In a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, a half Yorkshire Terrier and half Jack Russell Terrier lives in a home she constantly tries to conquer. Trixie, named thus because Psychopath did not fit on the doggie record, wants to be the big dog. Paul, the owner of the home and my brother-in-law, refuses to allow Trixie’s domination. After spending over a week with my sister, her husband and two kids, I have come to love Trixie, despite her obvious mental deficiencies and constant desire for control.
Six months ago, my sister and her family decided to adopt a dog. A friend told her about Trixie, a sweet dog with some problems, that was headed for death, unless adopted. Little did Karen know, Trixie’s history included some sort of abuse involving abandonment or separation.
Trixie’s number one problem is with doors. Suppose you go to a door and decide to walk through it. Trixie shows up on your heels. Being a friendly human, you ask the dog if she, too, would like to go through the door, whether it leads outside or to another room. Trixie’s eyes say yes. However, she won’t go. No budging. So you go through and shut the door behind you. Trixie now goes insane. I mean, insane. Yelping and barking and screeching. The psychopath, bi-polar, schizophrenic sides of this sweet dog appear.
And apparently Trixie has gotten much better, under the guidance, consistent discipline and love of the Pratts. Whatever family could not handle her anymore has lost out on a wonderful little dog. The Pratts are the richer for this sweet thing, inconvenient as her sometime behavior might be.
So what have I received from this dispensary of doggie disorders? Well, three lessons have I learned:
  1. Everyone Freaks Out Once in a While!
Sometimes it is a door closing and sometimes it is a door opening. How many times has God provided opportunities for me and instead of going through them or walking away, I sit, paralyzed in fear, which leads to freaking out born of indecision. Doors can be scary. But with the guidance, consistent discipline and love of the Father, I am finding that doors to adventure are not to be avoided and they are not to be catalysts for chaos. They are simply opportunities to experience life. And if the door leads to something not so great, just wait a while. Another door will open. God has a way with this. Didn’t Jesus say, “I am the Door.” Hmmm…
  1. Everyone Needs to Play!
Trixie is fast. When I watch her run, she actually bounds and leaps. She is a speed dog. But it’s cold in Ohio and she can’t stay out all the time in the cold, so indoors she often makes her wishes known. She wants to play. One of her favorite toys is a rope perfect for tug of war. She will pick it up and bring it to whomever she deems worthy of a play date and drop it at their feet. Then with eyes that don’t hint at insanity, she pleads. (Think of Puss N Boots’ eyes in the Shrek movies.) As I’ve watched and yes, sometimes been chosen, to play with this dog, I’ve realized how important play is to all of us. I’m in Ohio to be with my sister who is fighting through cancer. But this has not been a depressing time. She is in a battle and she is winning. And though she gets tired a lot, she wants to PLAY! Karen invites others, those she deems worthy, to share in her Joy with her. My sister’s laugh is loud and boisterous like my dad’s. What a kick to hear it OFTEN during my time. What a delight to sit with her in a movie theater and feel the joy emanating from my womb-mate? How cool to play Words with Friends with her and keep up! The girl knows how to play, even during a battle.
  1. Everyone Can Offer Comfort, Even a Psychopathic Dog
Trixie is not just a playful psycho. She is also a comforter. Karen told me that after her surgery and now, Trixie sits with her and they take naps. No schizophrenia in sight. Just a dog loving her master and offering a little bundle of fur to comfort. We can all comfort each other, in difficult and not so difficult times. And Trixie doesn’t speak. She just sits with Karen. The best kind of comfort – her presence. God does that kind of comforting often. He sits with us. His presence is supernatural and cozy and warm and wonderful. I’m learning that like Trixie and God, I don’t have to talk and talk to comfort. I don’t have to do much at all. But I have to be. Our presence for those around us who need us, is a vital comfort.
I miss my own dogs Scooby and Thor and I pray they never read this. I’d never hear the end of it. But meeting and getting to know Trixie has been an added blessing on this trip. Dogs are such incredible gifts.
Until, of course, a door opens.