I Prayed for a Dog Today……

walking-shoes-530

Ok, yep, that really happened.

One of the unexpected results of walking nearly every day for a year or so, is that I’ve gotten to know my neighbors.

That certainly wasn’t the plan.  At all.

I’m an introvert.  I am happiest in my little, tiny house, by myself.  Oh, mind you, I can work a room, when necessary.  I can be the extrovert, if forced into it.  But, overall, I am satisfied with my introvertedness.  Give me that one bedroom cabin in Montana, under the big sky, and I’m good to go.  As long as I have access to Amazon Prime and UPS to bring me my books.  That would be the one requirement.

And, for a few years, due to events in life, my introvertedness kicked into overdrive.  I work from home, and there were literally weeks when I did not leave this house, for anything, except food or toilet paper–and then only if we were desperate.  Hermit status.

In fact, one of the hardest things in getting restarted with exercising at the beginning, was I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone seeing me out there walking; or, heaven forbid, any of my neighbors stopping me to talk.  In fact, for months and months, I would walk just to the edge of a fellow church member’s house, then turn around.  I was embarrassed that I was so out of shape, and the idea of a conversation was taxing.

But, slowly that has changed.  Now, most of my neighbors know me.  And I know them.  I don’t know their names, though I am starting to work on that some, but I know them.  I know the:

  • 70-year-old man who flies past me nearly every day jogging, and who tells me to not quit (he makes me look like a slug)
  • Family who either own or work for Sea Tow, with all their trucks that have “Sea Tow” painted on the sides
  • The woman in her early 60’s, with 2 big dogs, who likes to sit on her screened porch and drink coffee in the mornings
  • The dad who, every day, without fail, walked his middle school daughter to the bus stop, with their big yellow dog
  • The pastor and his wife of the church I live behind, who are so friendly and encouraging
  • The senior adult who lives across the street from me, who is wheel chair bound and has 24/7 in-home nursing
  • My church member friends, who I know I could contact if there was ever an emergency (such as when my air conditioning in the house went out)
  • The gentleman who gives me produce from his garden and who asks me nearly every day why I walk so much
  • The three senior adult ladies, with their 3 sweet dogs.  Barney is the name of one of them.  One is a white poodle.  One is a mutt.

At first, I couldn’t look at any of these folks, let alone acknowledge them.  But slowly I started to glance at them; mainly because I was curious.  Then I returned a wave or two, and now–well, now I feel like they are friends.  Kind of.

This morning, as I headed toward Back Creek road, I came upon one of my senior adult friends–with her puppy, the white poodle one.  But I could tell something was wrong.  She looked distraught, and the poor little puppy looked pathetic.

I stopped and we started to talk.  And I found my soul breaking for her.  Over her dog, of all things.

The poodle (she told me the name this morning, I just can’t remember right now.  Which is pathetic, as you will see in a moment…) had a pink band-aid wrapped around his thin leg, and she told me that the band-aid was to hold the catheter in place.  Yep, a catheter.  The little doggy’s kidneys were not doing well.  Cancer.  And, she was so heartbroken.

We talked for at least 20 minutes.  She told me all about her puppy, how long she’d had him (11 years), where she had gotten him, what companionship the puppy had been.  She then told me that she knew it would be her last dog forever, because her husband doesn’t like dogs, and so she has decided she will not get another one after this one.  She was nearly in tears.  And the little doggy just sat in her arms, shaking.

We talked about other things as well–she asked me if I went to the church that I live behind, and I told her no, that I attend the Baptist church down the road.  She asked about my kids; how long I’ve lived in Seaford.  And then we came around to her dog again.

And, that’s when I heard words come out of my mouth that I never expected to ever say.

“Can I pray for your dog?”

I’m still not entirely sure where that came from.

I still feel really, really odd about it.  Hugely odd.

But, for some reason, in that moment, it seemed to be the right thing to do.

I take prayer very seriously.  Very seriously.  Mostly because I don’t understand it very well.  But also because I feel it is a weighty responsibility.  I only pray for a small handful of folks; my kids first and foremost, and then a small group of others–friends, family, a co-worker.  But the number is small.  However, I pray furiously for that group of people.  Earnestly.  Prayer is very important to me.

So that is one reason why the words surprised me when they came out of mouth.  And, honestly, it’s a dog.  I love my dog, Biscuit.  But I’ve never considered praying for her.

But talking with my neighbor, and seeing the look in her eyes, and hearing her voice–it just seemed like the right thing to do.  So I did.

It was short and awkward and odd.  I put my hand on that dog and muttered something akin to “God, please help ________ (and see, I can’t even remember the name, that’s ridiculous) to get better.  Thank you for our pets, they are such a comfort to us.  Amen.”

That was it.

She thanked me and wiped away a tear, and then we awkwardly laughed a little and she asked me where I work (from home, INTROVERT), she gave me a little hug and thanked me, and we went on our way.

I still feel strange about it.

But, here’s the thing I keep coming back to:

My neighborhood is full of hurts and needs.  Yours is too.  Doesn’t matter if you live in a gated community with million dollar homes, or if your house is in the inner city with drug deals going on in the alley behind it.  Your neighborhood has needs.  My neighborhood has needs.  And I can be so incredibly selfish at times and sit in this house and could absolutely care less about the world around me.  I do that well.

But that’s not what I am called to do.  It’s the stuff of 1 John 3:17-18:

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

I am not a very compassionate person, at all.  I can be very hard-hearted and cynical. I am guilty of this: “….yet closes his heart against him…”  Compassion is not my forte.  And I can sit in this house all day long, selfishly going about my life and caring nothing for the hurting young mom across the street.  Or the curmudgeon down the road, sitting alone on his porch.  Or the shopowner trying to survive on little business.  Or the teenager sulking in his backyard as he mows.  Or the neighbor kid with the terrible attitude.  All day; I am so good at being so blind to the world.

Or, I can quit preaching and teaching and writing and talking about love (“let us not love in word or talk”) and get off my butt and start loving in deed and in truth.  Meeting practical needs.  Mowing the yard.  Sharing groceries.  Showing compassion–real compassion, not shallow, not false.

And sharing truth–that God is real, that He sees and knows, that He is our only hope.

And maybe praying for dogs.  On occasion.

To Be Damaris (Thoughts on Acts 17)

Paul_Preaching_On_Mars_Hill

What was she thinking?

She listened to Paul for all of about 15 minutes (if that, although maybe Paul said more that wasn’t recorded here), and she.

And, here she is, now listed in scripture.

Damaris.  Acts 17.

I’ve always liked reading Acts 17, but maybe from a different viewpoint than from most other “normal” folks.

I think that the majority of sermons I’ve heard on Acts 17 (ok, so there aren’t a lot that I remember, but still….) and references made to Acts 17 in books (there are much more of those that I do remember) seem to focus on how terrible the folks of Athens were.  What horrible idol-worshippers they were.  How corrupt, how awful.

And yes, I suppose there is some truth to that.  Scripture clearly says that it was a “…city full of idols.”  But, why shouldn’t it have been?

We can’t expect people who do not know God–who do not know Jesus–to act like they do.  They were looking for God; and that search resulted in multiplicity of gods.  Why wouldn’t it, if they did not know the gospel?  Why wouldn’t it, if they didn’t even know that there was a gospel–good news–to know?

We know that this was new teaching to them, because of their reaction:  ”

Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.”

“We wish to know what these things mean.”  Yes.  I love that.  Me, too.  Although, really I knew what the words were, I just didn’t really understand what they meant.  But I wanted to know.  

I like these Athenians.

So, they took Paul to the Areopagus, which was a sort of cultural “center”–a place of temples and the high court.  A fitting location, considering Pauls’ message of the one true God; the one true judge.

And, then….Paul spoke, and his words were solid.  I read these words, often.  They help remind me—that the creator God is a known God, and that there is nothing that he needs from me, even when I wish there was–even when I wish I could perform check-list tasks for Him, to earn His approval.  He gives us life and breath.  He allots my days; they are numbered and He alone knows that number.

And, most importantly–He is near:

 “.that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us

Facts.  Truth.  Laid out in a logical sequence.  This is this and that is that.

We looked at this passage this week at church, as we started a new study titled “Counter-culture”.  I think the study will be good, but–admittedly–I didn’t hear much of what the speaker–David Platt–had to say after I saw this next section in scripture, because when I read Acts 17, I usually stop at verse 31.  I’ve never really paid any attention to verses 32-34:

32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul went out from their midst. 

That word “mocked”—whew, I have definitely known that word, in my own response to the idea of a Savior.  There is much shame in that.

But then, much later, I have known the “others” response–the one that says “Ok.  I’m going to think about this a bit.  I will hear you again about this.  I think there may be something to this, and I’m willing to think further on it, to read further on it, to listen further about it, maybe to debate some about it, definitely to question this.  I want more information, before I decide if this is truth or not.  I want to understand….and then I will make a decision.

Sometimes, I am still that way, with God.  “Let me understand this first God.  I will hear you out some more on this.  Then I will decide if you are __________ (fill in the blank.  I have a Doctorate in this approach to God and scripture.  And, that’s not necessarily something to be proud of.”

And, then there–at the very end–is Damaris.

Where did she come from?

And, where did she find the–ability?  Trust?  Faith?–to believe?

Right there.  In that moment.

No “Let me argue a bit.”  Or, “Let me do some research.”  No “Let me think, and I’ll hear you say your piece on the idea that there is one true God again, at another time.”  No questions; at least, none that we are made aware of.

Just this:

34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

Just settled belief.  “This is truth, so I will believe it.”

That astounds me.

I want that.  I see it in others, even today.  People who have such a deep trust of who God is, that it can truly be said that they abide in Him.  No unsettledness on who He is.  No unwavering that He is Father, that He is near, that He is the shepherd, that He hears and sees and knows and answers,

…..that He is God.  And that His grace is sure.

I even–probably sinfully–envy that in others.

I want to be Damaris.

And, the only way I know to keep pursuing that, hard, is by doing the (sometimes) hard work of scripture work and real prayer.  Because Romans 10:17 is truth, too:  17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

And, to continue to make the prayer of the father in Mark 9, my daily (sometimes hourly) prayer as well:

“I believe; help my unbelief!”

Our Only Good

Ocean

……you have made us, and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.  St. Augustine; Confessions

The truth of that is astounding.

Our souls–for, I believe, that is a much accurate word than heart–our souls are so very often unquiet.  They churn–they are not still; they do not settle well.

They are very often, very noisy places.  Filled with so many thoughts that, if we allow them to, become much larger than the God who created our ability to think in the first place.  And, so often, our thinking is so wrong.

I have read Augustine’s Confessions before, but somehow I missed this passage.  It may be highlighted in my copy on my shelf, but I’m too wired to stop writing and go find it.  I want to sit down with Augustine and tell him that he has captured perfectly, here in Lib 1,1-2, 2.5,5: CSEL 33, 1-5, what I wish I could have said myself.

And so, tonight I borrow from Augustine, and pray:

Oh! that I might rest on Thee! Oh! that Thou wouldest enter into my heart,

and inebriate it, that I may forget my ills, and embrace Thee, my only good.  Augustine

Our God–my God–you are my only good.  My only good.  There is no good in me, and there is no good around me.  There is good in my life; that is so very true.  But there is also much not-good.  And, what good there is, is only there because you are my only good.  The good that I am graced with–my children, a job to provide with, a home to live in, the sky, music, sleep when it comes, laughter–all these things are good because they are graces from you, my only good.

That I might rest on Thee!  That you would be what inebriates my soul, what a word God!  What a word, that Augustine chose.  And, not only chose, but recognized the power in that word to produce forgetfulness of ills.  But this is not forgetfulness that returns in a matter of hours, once sobering comes.  No, this is a forgetfulness that recognizes that though the ills still remain, they are colored by grace.  And, changed, even, to some degree, in the light of your sovereignty.  Enter my soul, o God.  Enter our souls, because that is the only–the only–avenue to quiet our unquiet hearts.

And, tonight, my heart is so very unquiet.

Be still, and know that I am God.  Psalm 46:10

….and you will be exalted.

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Oh, have mercy on me and tell me,

0 Lord my God, what You are to me. Augustine

So often my mind turns to your grace, God, and I am grateful for that.  Your grace is a ribboned theme through my life.  But I also need your mercy. We, each, need your mercy.

We need to know what You are to us.

You do tell us, the nouns of who You are, in your scripture.  You are the way.  You are the truth.  You are the life.  You are the resurrection.  You are the shepherd.  You are I AM.  That all-encompassing, incomprehensible I AM.  And yet, sometimes we need you to still have mercy on us, and tell us again.  To settle our souls.  Sometimes we need you to have mercy on us, and remind us who You are.

And, sometimes, we just need you to have mercy on us.

Mercy, please God.

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Say to my soul, “I am your salvation.”

Say it loudly enough that I may hear.  Augustine

Speak to our unsettled, restless, unquiet souls, O God, and speak loudly.  Loud enough that your voice becomes a whisper that says “Shhh” to our minds and souls, and that that whisper is so quiet and yet so loud that it drowns out the cacophony of noise in our souls–that drowns out the grief and anxiety and irrationality and illogical and fear.  Oh God, especially the fear.  The fear can be so loud.  We need You to say to our souls “I am your salvation” loud enough that we might hear.  Salvation from our sins.  Salvation unto you.  And salvation from our unquietness.

Say to my soul,
    “I am your salvation!”  Psalm 35:3

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Hide not Your face from me. Let me die, so that I will not only die.

Only let me see Your face.  Augustine

Hide not, our God.  Help us to sense your presence, when so often our souls are too loud to be able to.  Help us to sense that you are real, that you are near.  That you have not abandoned.  That you will not abandon.  And then, someday, home.

You are our only good.

 

 

Sitting with Psalm 73

Chairs

God, we need to sit a little while, in your presence, to be reminded that You are real…

that you are sovereign.

that you see.

that you know.

Certainly, there is the very real sense that you are omnipresent, and so we are always in your presence.  Or, put much more selfishly, you are always in our world.  You are, after all….

all-knowing.

all-wisdom.

all-everything.

We are not alone, even in our most loneliness-ness, because you will never forsake us.

You will not abandon.  You will not throw us away.

But, sometimes God, it is us who abandon you.

It doesn’t even have to be some huge, grand decision to leave our belief in you and our beliefs (the correct ones) about you in the dust.

No, sometimes it comes upon us with much more stealth…

we get busy.

we become anxious.

we become bitingly cynical.

we become tired.

we even become happy, sometimes, with our “success” and the smorgasbord the word presents us.

And, we forget you are there.  We forget that what John Greenleaf Whittier said, is truth:

Before us, even as behind, God is…..

And so, God, tonight, we need to sit with you awhile.  In your presence.  No huge study, no commentaries, no apologetics, no huge revelations, no answers.

Just your presence.

To sit in your presence is to acknowledge that the words found in Psalm 73:23-28 are truth:

27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
    you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
    I have made the Lord God my refuge,
    that I may tell of all your works.

It’s knowing that, even when I foolishly choose to not sit in your presence, you are still continually with me.  It’s knowing that you guide me with your counsel–your all-wisdom counsel.

It’s knowing that, there will be a day.  A home-going day.

It’s knowing that John 6:68 and Psalm 73:25 confirm each other.  Interpret each other.  Peter’s words of, essentially, “What other choice is there?  You have the words of eternal life…” resonate with the words here in Psalm 73:25—Who else do I have, God?  No one.  Only You.  You will not abandon.  You will not forsake.

It’s knowing that even on nights when the weariness is bone-deep from the responsibilities of parenting and work and to-do-lists and caring for others, you are my strength to get up and do it all again tomorrow.

It’s knowing that when the weariness is soul-deep from so-much, you are also the strength of my heart.

It’s also recognizing the rightful place of fear in verse 27–those far from you, shall perish.  God, help me to know your salvation.

So, grant me the grace to sit here, for a few moments, in your presence.  To settle.  Because it is grace.  To know, at the core of both mind and soul….

that you are real

that you are here.

that you are near.

I think this rendering of the thoughts in verse 28, sum it up best:

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good…

Your nearness–your presence, is my good.

Whom have I in heaven but you?

God, to whom shall we go?

You have the words of eternal life.