Take Care of Your Sheepdogs

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My dog has an obsession with our kitten.  He just wants to play and he wants the kitten to play too.  Sully, my Bernese Mountain Dog mix, was very interested in Jack, the orphan kitten, when he came to live at our house.  You see, Jack’s mother had been killed in the road and Jack was still sitting right by her side when my daughter stopped and picked him up.  Jack came home as a 5 week old baby who needed special help.  Sully, who is usually a rambunctious, ball of energy, laid right down and calmly licked Jack from head to toe and then wouldn’t let Jack out of his sight.  For weeks, Sully didn’t want to play, he just wanted to make sure Jack was safe from the perils of under-the-couch or too-near-the-stairs.  Sully alerted us to Jack’s whereabouts repeatedly.  When Jack would be put in the bathroom for eating or sleeping, you could almost see Sully breathe a sigh of relief as he laid down and his shift was over for a spell.  As Jack has grown, Sully has gotten more comfortable with Jack scampering through the room or sliding across the kitchen floor.  Sully will even chase him now and plant a large paw on 6-month-old Jack to get him to stay still for brief period of time.  Sully takes his job as the kitten-herder very seriously.

A traveling pastor came to our church years ago and his sermon was about his role as a sheepdog.  He explained that it was his job to keep the flocks together and headed in the right direction and that the Shepherd counted on him to take his job very seriously.  It was this sermon that came to mind as I watched Jack and Sully in their growing relationship.  Sully certainly wasn’t counted on to keep Jack safe, but he took his self-imposed role to heart and worked at keeping his little tiny flock, (Can 1 animal be considered a flock?) headed in the right direction.  Just as Jack came into Sully’s care from heartache and loss, we are in our Shepherd’s care with heartache, loss, worry, fear, frustration, and longing.  He cares so much for us in our needs that He sends sheepdogs to chase after each and every one of us.  Matthew 18:12 “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do?  Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost?” 

I am so grateful for all of the sheepdogs that have played a part in my life.  There have been pastors and aunts and parents and friends as well as grandparents and cousins who herded me back to God’s path when I had strayed away.  We need to heed our sheepdogs in whatever form they take and know that our Shepherd is looking for us and loving us.

Paul felt this duty too as we read in 2 Corinthians 11:28-29 “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.  Who is weak, and I do not feel weak?  Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?”

Take care of your sheepdogs.  Pray that they are fed and watered with spiritual food and drink that they may lead us to the path that Jesus has set for us.

Worry Worry Worry

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I’ve come to the conclusion that someone, somewhere, at some time, told me I needed to be worried about things. I’ve always told people I’m a worrier.  People always say that about me.  Oh, that Heather, she’s a worrier.  I apparently come from a long line of worriers.  I just accepted that’s who I was and it’s what I did.  I’m a really good worrier.  I’m also not proud of that, at all.  In fact, it’s something I want to get un-good at.  I want to be uncertified.  I want out of the club.  But how?

I have two grandchildren.  My granddaughter is 4, turning 5 soon.  Kindergarten is on her horizon.  She is smart, outgoing, inquisitive, shy, and about as bubbly and shiny as one kid could ever be.  My grandson has just turned 3 and he is a bulldozer of a boy.  He wants to know how everything works, what happens if you take it apart, how hard can you hit it or jump on it before it breaks, and who will get in on the action with him.  He shares his sister’s brilliant and happy mind.  They are amazing children.  I have seen them be afraid of a temporary, now, situation.  Those reactions are completely understandable and they look to the people around them to calm, soothe, and fix.  However, it wasn’t until recently, that I noticed that they don’t have future worries.  They live in the moment.  They are happy or sad or mad or scared or frustrated by what is happening in their lives right now.  I do believe this is where we’ve gone wrong, fellow grown-ups.

For Christmas, my grandchildren received worry dolls.  They are stuffed monster-looking things that have zippers on their mouths.  The printed directions that came with them told the kids to write down what they were worried about and put them in the monster’s mouth.  The monster would “eat” their worries and there’d be nothing left to worry about.  As an adult, I thought this was a cute little thing that may help ease any fears.  But, as my granddaughter pondered this monster, I could see that this was a turning point.

She wanted to know what she was supposed to be worried about.  She wanted to know what kinds of things people wrote down.  I started to tell her some things I worried about and then shut my mouth.  Why?  Why would I put my worries on this child?  Why should we be using this stuffed monster toy to tell her she’s got to find something to worry about?  Her brother was on to bigger and better things and already devising a scheme to disassemble said monster.  He was safe.  But my granddaughter was now afraid of this toy.  She was starting to worry about not having something to worry about.  She was downright scared.  Her aunts and I took the toy quietly away and stashed it on top of my refrigerator.  We then spent the rest of the day trying to help her forget that she should be worried.  Mission accomplished.  By bedtime, she forgot that she should be worried and went right back to being her amazing self.

That cute little monster gathered dust on top of my refrigerator until this past weekend when I was getting around to cleaning up there.  Don’t judge!  When I found him, I decided to send him along to the trash so that he didn’t disturb any other children but I was left to wonder, when did someone first tell me I needed to worry about something?  I know it’s not as simple as all that and that my granddaughter will grow into some worries as she grows up but for now, let’s just breathe and let it go.

Matthew 19:14  But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

Phillippians 4:6-7  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Tuesday School

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When I was 3 going on 4 years old, my grandmother taught at Tuesday School.  This was an after school program that her church sponsored for school-aged kids in Washington D.C.  I loved going with her and seeing the big kids who got to go to that magical place called school.  I loved their backpacks, their school supplies, their stories, the sound of the bus that dropped them at the church, the smell of their school clothes.  All of this seemed so foreign but I knew that school was the place for me.  I wanted so much to be like these kids and go to school.  So, I set about doing what they did so I could go too.  I had supplies and played school all the time at home.  My poor brother suffered horribly through my home classroom and I think I did the poor guy in.  He probably looked at me and said, “Please make sure I’m not like her so I don’t have to go.”  I’m sorry, Jeff.  I ruined it for you.  But I had my role models and I was on a mission.

We had an aluminum storm door on the front of our house.  The bottom part was solid and had the mandatory barn-door X stamped into the metal.  The top held a screen in the summer and some filmy window in the winter.  When the main door was open, the light would shine through the top of the storm door and make a warm, perfect square on the carpet at the bottom of the stairs.  It was there I set about making sure I could go to school.  I laid my little body right down there on that carpet for as long as a kid could keep still.  My mother would walk by and ask me what I was doing.  “Getting ready to go to school,” was my standard answer.  My brother was glad to have me out of the classroom and out of commission so he didn’t say a word.  One night, before bed, I climbed up on the side of the tub, got one knee up on the sink, grabbed the medicine cabinet, and pulled myself fully up to the mirror.  What I saw was heartbreaking.  I still looked exactly the same.  I carefully jumped down, avoiding a collision with the toilet, and went to my parents in tears.  Through my little sobs, I told them I just wanted to go to school.  They responded by saying that soon I would be on my way.  I pointed out that I had been laying in the sun every day and my skin wasn’t getting any browner.  They were puzzled so I explained about the kids at Tuesday School and the fact that only kids with brown skin got to go to real school.  I had tried so hard to make my skin brown.  It just hadn’t worked.  I’m sure they laughed at me.  They may have taken turns talking to me while the other one giggled or maybe they waited until I had gone to bed but we had a talk about the fact that all kids could go to school.  My mother assured me that it didn’t matter what color anyone’s skin was, everyone could go to school.  That was an earth-shattering revelation to my little brain and I believe I was so happy I skipped right upstairs and started picking out something to wear for whenever I got to head off to my first day of school.

While I innocently thought that my appearance was the key to getting something I really wanted, I was to grow up in a world where that assumption was reinforced at every turn.  I had many more times during my life where I felt inferior because of things I couldn’t change.  I have felt like I was not good enough on many occasions.

We are told, by the media, that we need to be thinner, have silkier hair, wear this brand of clothing, drink a certain soda, drive that car, graduate from this college, all in the name of having what we want.  Many chase those dreams to the exclusion of their faith, their friends, their families, and their own happiness.  Instead of chasing after the things of this world, instead of feeling like we aren’t good enough, we should look to our Father who tells us that we are His.  No matter what color our skin, no matter what language we speak, no matter where we live, we are the children of the most high God.  He loves us and calls us redeemed.  I don’t have to look like you or think like you but you also don’t have to look like me or think like me.  We just have to love what makes us different and continue walking each other Home.

1 Peter 2:9  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 

The View from the Bottom…

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Have you ever hit rock bottom?  Have you ever felt too far away to call on God?  I sure have.  I wish I could say it was only one time and I learned my lesson but so far the counter is still ticking.  There are so many time and places that our life paths can get derailed by the enemy.  He convinces us that we should step out on our own.  We should run our own life.

You may have been taken in by some financial scheme that sounded great and promised to improve your money situation.  Maybe you thought that credit card offer or that easy-to-get loan was the answer.  It was the quick fix to get you back on your feet.  You found out later that it plunged you deeper into debt and there didn’t seem to be any way out.  You felt that you had fallen too far away to ask for help.

You may have been taken in by some relationship promises where you found someone who would be so great if only you could help them change.  Maybe you thought it was you who needed to change.  You may have put all your eggs in one basket only to discover that divorce was looming or a breakup was impending.  You tried to convince yourself that if you just kept plugging away, things would be better.  You felt lonelier than you ever had before.  You felt like the dark was closing around you.

You may have decided to take a job that you thought would be your dream job.  You brushed away the red flags that threatened to block the view of the top that you would surely have if you just jumped on this bandwagon.   The distance wouldn’t be too far.  After all, you could use the quiet time in the car.  The pay wasn’t so bad.  Surely, they’d give you a raise after they saw how amazing you were.  The reputation of the boss didn’t matter.  You wouldn’t have to deal with him or her on too many occasions.  When the stress and anxiety overwhelmed you, you realized this job had taken you further away from where you wanted to be.

In these instances, there is one thing that should have happened before the decision was made.  Prayer.  Praying for wisdom and praying for God’s guidance are sure-fire ways to get those feet of yours on a right path.  When we listen to the enemy, he convinces us we don’t need to ask for help.  Maybe you did ask for guidance and wisdom but then ignored all the signs saying, “Surely this doesn’t apply to me.”  We want God to want it our way too.

I am encouraged as I ponder the view from the bottom.  You see, I have always known the story of Jonah and the Whale from the Bible but I never knew the story of Jonah.  God told Jonah to go somewhere and do something for Him.  Jonah flat-out refused and high-tailed it the other direction.  Sound familiar?  God sent the storm that caused Jonah to be thrown over the side of the boat and sink to the bottom of the Earth.  The furthest, physical place from God.  But do you know where God was?  He was right there with Jonah.  Right there in the belly of that fish at the bottom of the ocean.  He wanted to give Jonah another chance.  He did give Jonah another chance.  He wants to give you another chance too.  Take it.

Jonah 2:4-6  I said, “I have been banished from your sight; but I will look again toward your holy temple.  The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.  To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever.  But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit.”