Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Are you up now?"

Jean-Luc woke me up this morning. That's not unusual, though. He wakes me up every morning. Repeatedly. Usually starting somewhere around 5:00 am. He spends the night on my pillow, or on the pillow beside mine, trilling expectantly every time I move around in bed. When the sun is starting to think about rising, Jean-Luc is starting to feel the effects of not having been pet or fussed over for 6 hours. It is at this point that the trilling becomes more insistent. The pacing starts. From my pillow to his, down to the end of the bed, up over my chest with usually a bit of a bounce on my full bladder for good measure and then several moments of staring into my cpap-masked face, waiting for my eyelids to flicker. All the while, the trilling has graduated into full-fledged meowing, always a question, always the same question - "Are you up yet?"

I try to ignore him. The meows escalate into mild desperation. He offers ankle rubs, only on my head because my ankles are covered with blankets and besides, that much distance from my ears would seriously interfere with the annoy factor of the meowing. I stretch my arm out onto his pillow, and for a few moments he makes due by rubbing his face into my hand. A compromise. No, I'm not going to pet you because I am SLEEPING, but feel free to pet yourself using my hand. My limp, asleep hand. He makes do, for a while. Curls up next to my arm and buries his face in my hand. Pathetic. I send guilt scurrying with a low hiss. He's a cat, fercryingoutloud!

As the sun continues to rise, Jean-Luc gets more and more restless. He starts roaming the room, pulling books off of the bottom shelf of the book case. I'll fix it later. I can hear him playing with a gift bag. That should keep him busy for a few minutes. It does, until he shows up on the bed, meowing, and through one open, bleary eye I see that he has both string handles of the bags wrapped around his neck and is dragging it behind him. Sigh. I release him, and he rejoices. I am awake! Afraid that it will occur to him that self-strangulation is the new morning alarm, I roll over and mumble, "Oh no, I'm not."

He's not out of ideas yet, though. Swinging on my cpap machine hose is always good for a swat and a frantic dash out of the room. The old bum-in-the-face trick usually results in my trying to push him away, which, if handled well, can turn into a few moments of petting. He's persistent, if nothing else.

And the meowing. Questioning. Insistent. Inviting. Vulnerable. Lonely. And really, really hard to ignore.

Once I am up, even if he has wandered out of the room in desolation or for a trip to the litter box, he instantly arrives back for his good morning loving. I sit, blurry and dysfunctional, on the edge of the bed while he rubs my ankles in joy, leaping up onto the bed for a pet, since I am up anyway. Walking out of the room and down the stairs is a challenge, as he trips ahead, right in front of me. He looks back, to see if his good fortune is real and I am still upright and following. He doubles back and figures eights around my ankles, purring with pleasure. I just focus on trying to remain on my feet.

We arrive downstairs, I put the water on for tea, he finds a toy mouse and chases it around the living room. All is well with his world.

So, why do I put up with it? Maybe it's the memory of the fear and anxiety in his kitten blue eyes when we rescued him from a long, cold, hungry, lonely week of abandonment. Maybe it's the knowledge that his devotion is rooted in gratitude. One of my favorite Bible verses is in Psalms 18:19, "He brought me out into a spacious place. He rescued me because He delighted in me." I know that we rescued Jean-Luc because we delighted in him. It just makes sense that, having been rescued, he delights in us as well.

I think the biggest reason I "put up" with Jean-Luc's insistent devotion is because he is a constant reminder of the overwhelming love and passion that comes from knowing that God has rescued me. Oh, to be so devoted, so needy, so hungry for the Presence of God that I would risk irritating Him by standing over His face in the middle of the night, grinning sheepishly, "Are you up yet?"

"How 'bout now?"

"How 'bout now?"

"Now? Are You up now?"

Monday, July 25, 2011

Love or Hate - The Choice is Ours.

I had an interesting conversation with a friend yesterday. He told me that he had been in a situation where he had overheard someone talking very rudely about me, saying terrible things that weren't true. My friend seemed really upset by what he had witnessed. He shared that he had been so angry at what he was hearing, he couldn't trust himself to respond. Just talking about it to me seemed to inflame his anger again.

Then he asked me something interesting. He asked me if it encouraged me, that he was so angry at the fact that someone was slandering me in public. I think the interesting part is that it didn't encouraged me. It saddened me, for my friend. I searched my heart, more than once, because to be honest, I was surprised that my friend's outrage didn't make me feel more vindicated, protected, or cared for.

Like any victim of abuse or bullying, I have day dreamed about being rescued by a superhero, someone who swoops in to save the day.

One thing I have learned, though, is that hatred and bitterness are infectious. My friend had been infected, and my immediate concern was that the anger would begin to destroy him as well. I shared with him that there is no power in hatred, that it does not protect us. In fact, when we allow anger and hatred into our hearts, we are locking ourselves up with the enemy.

I can do my part to create a peaceful, loving, safe home for my daughter, my room-mate Cathy and I, only as long as I do not bring anger and hatred into this home. It is my choice. I wanted my friend to know that as much as I appreciate his protective heart for me, I did not want anger and hatred to steal his joy or peace.

God does not allow us to hate for a reason. We think that hate will protect us, help us avoid being hurt again, keep us from foolishly trusting others, equip us to defend ourselves. But hate is itself destructive. It is kind of like getting a serious infection on our hand, and deciding that to avoid further infections, we will cut off the hand. No hand, no pain. We permanently cripple ourselves to avoid painful injuries that would eventually heal. Hatred does this to us.

I have seen it. In fact, the voices that my friend heard were the distorted, crippled voices of hatred. I remember when that voice could only speak loving words about me. I remember when that heart was soft. Hatred was seeded by childhood wounds, watered and fertilized by undisciplined thoughts, sinful behaviour, unforgiveness, denial and other hate-filled voices, until it has blossomed into full-grown, destructive rage, bitterness and hate.

It is a heart-breaking reality that the one violence we cannot protect others from is the one they willfully inflict on themselves. I encouraged my friend to choose love, and to recognize that love is tough, and truth-telling, and honest, but it is also a shield against hate. Love limits the immediate effects of hatred on us and protects us from any long term effects. It is true power.

I have to go to God's Spirit within me continually for the love that I want to flow out of my life. I do not have what it takes to love those who hate me. I daily, hourly, sometimes minute-by-minute, ask God to love others through me. When God commands that we love, He is also gracious enough to understand that He is asking the impossible and so He offers the means of obeying Him along with the commandment. Our difficult moment comes in making the choice to love rather than to hate. For me, this choice is made easier when I see the fruit of hatred in the lives of those I love. I don't want that in my life. And as I told my dear friend yesterday, I don't want it for him, either.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

My gratitude list

I usually don't ascribe to lists. At least, not to legislated ones like daily gratitude lists. I tend to be a pretty grateful person anyway, but there are times when I find it useful to take the time to write down some of the things that I am grateful for. I think the usefulness of gratitude lists comes in their ability to round out reality, to help us see that beyond all the difficult, painful things that may be going on, there is also joy. Just as Christians are called by God to examine our hearts with honesty and faith, to make sure that we do not miss any attitude or belief within us that is unpleasing to God, gratitude lists provide us with an opportunity to examine the happenings around us so that we do not miss the good things that are taking place in the midst of the struggles. It's a reality check. And today, I needed a reality check.

So, first on my gratitude list is my amazing daughter, who is wildly passionate about Jesus, eagerly wanting to do His will and deeply devoted to His work and presence in her life. Connected to this particular object of my gratitude are her experiences at Burke Camp and the teachings, ministry and stellar example of her youth worker, Nathan Johnson, at the camp. He highlighted for her the one thing that she needed to hear - that Jesus is everything. Everything.

Actually, in his duties as preacher, Nathan was able to highlight that message for me as well. Grace and I have often spoken of our devotion to this truth, that Jesus is everything to us. Where once we were content to ask Jesus to help us in the difficult parts of our lives, now we are convinced that we need to just step aside and ask Jesus to personally deal with our difficulties, leaving us with the joyous task of praising Him for His faithfulness as we see Him work in our lives. Gratitude is a weak word to describe my feelings about Grace, and the wonders of watching my daughter not just fall deeper in love with Jesus, but determine to make Him her Lord and Master, the Forgiver of her past, the Constant Companion of her present and the Architect of her future.

I am also grateful for wise, devoted pastors and friends who swoop into my life at hard times with wisdom, encouragement, tea, hugs, truth, Kleenex, prayer and love. These days, I am never quite sure when the next heart-wound is coming, but I do know that within moments of its infliction the phone calls, Facebook/email messages and prayers are let loose in a flurry of encouragement and love. No boo-boo goes unkissed, no tear is left unwiped and no fear is left untended. All of it is God ordained. So often, calls come at just the right time, without my having to ask for help. Gifts arrive unexpectedly. Kindnesses abound without warning. It is all so gloriously God. The thing is that while the initial kindnesses minister to my initial feelings, the knowledge that it all originates in God gives me hope for the future, and in the reality that if a miracle doesn't happen, there are much worse wounds on the way. My friends cannot stop it, nor can they heal a ravaged heart. But God can. Therein lies my hope.

I am grateful, too, for many small things that make my days pleasant. A silly kitten. A kind cardiologist. My fan. My herb garden that is doing incredibly well. My room. My books. A safe and comfortable place to call home. Tea. The Huntingdon library. A car to use until my car gets fixed. Did I mention my fan?

So many things! So many people! So much gratitude!

Friday, July 8, 2011

These are the ones I love...

I was given Steve Bell's Kindness CD by a close friend, and the lyrics of this song touched me. Steve wrote this about his trip to Ethiopia, "One evening I was asked to play a few songs for the villagers and in return the youth, adorned in mesmerizing colour, danced for us; their feet and fierce pride pounding the sands into billowing plumes as the sun set behind. It would be hard to overstate the deep-down beauty of that moment. We were on sovereign soil and we knew it."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

I'm feeling grateful today

Recently my daughter, Grace, told me that since we moved into this apartment with my close friend, Cathy, she has felt spiritually free. I know what she means. In the little over a month since I have been here, I am amazed at how peaceful and loved I feel here. I am taking half the amount of medication to reduce anxiety than I was taking at home, my bladder has been feeling better save for the odd flare, and I feel a noticeable freedom from fear, anger and confusion.

Of course, I am in pain. I cry more easily, I am often distracted and when I think about the future I have to hand it quickly over to God, before I sink under the weight of it. I am also still having angina issues, and have made an appointment with my cardiologist and urologist.

The heat and humidity will cause problems for most heart patients, but I cannot overlook the fact that these years of anger, aggression and fear may have left me under so much stress, I may have damaged arteries. The theory is that I have coronary artery spasms which is hard to diagnose unless the arteries are compliant enough to spasm during a test, which apparently mine aren't. Given my symptoms and the circumstances of my heart attack, it's still the most likely choice. Every angina attack, especially when they come repeatedly for days or even weeks, carry the threat of arterial damage, heart attack and even...gulp...sudden death. So, I'm thinking it might be a good idea to have it all checked out.

But still, over all, I am enjoying the peace. I have had anxiety problems since before Marc & I married. Because of our marital issues and my health, I have been praying about my anxiety and working on lessening the unnecessary fear in my life. God knows, there was enough to be necessarily fearful of! Now, I find that over the years, I have been released from much of my unnecessary fear. How utterly cool is that?

Instead, I find myself blissfully free of fear, anger, peace. Which is odd. Those of you who know Cathy and are her Facebook friends know that she is in a huge amount of relational pain herself right now. Add to that a 16 year old teen-aged girl who is also hurting. Mix in the fact that we have all been dubbed "100% the problem". Logically, this apartment should be comparable to a looney bin, what with all the broken-hearted, maniacally-hormonal, mouthy, overly emotional, out-of-control women in here. Really, it's a wonder we're not all foaming at the mouth! But we're not.

What we are doing is listening to each other. Giving each other space. Hugging each other. Taking care of each other. Feeding each other. Establishing and respecting each others' boundaries. Giving to each other. Nurturing each other. Being honest with each other, and trusting each other.

No, we are not perfect. There may be issues, but everything gets solved (or will be solved), with *gasp* words, respect and love. And occasionally, Grandma Betty's peanut butter fudge, as made by Grace who has memorized the recipe. Wonderful child.

I am a grateful woman. There are so many struggles that lie ahead. I love my husband and pray daily for him. I, better than anyone, know who he is under all that anger. I refuse to lose hope, to disrespect him by believing that he is not able to make the right choices. I know what is possible. I am living what is possible. I also know that it starts a long look in the mirror.

Taking responsibility for ourselves, our own emotions, thoughts, words and actions, may feel like a burden, but it is the burden that Christ would have us carry. Jesus said "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matt. 11:30

Having refused at times to carry the burden of responsibility for myself, and having carrying the burden of sin that wasn't mine, I can attest to the fact that the responsibility that belongs to us is the lightest burden to carry. God's forgiveness, through Christ, awaits every honest and repentant confession, every heart that turns to God and seeks a new life. It is not the acknowledging our own sin that will kill us, but the denial of it. Through acknowledgment, we begin to walk the road to freedom. When we are confronted about our sin, our confronter is not putting us down. We are putting ourselves down by committing the sin!

In any case, as I have said and will say again and again, I am a grateful woman. I love my family, and my friends. I love, love, love having Jean-Luc here. What a God-send he turned out to be! I wrote about saving Jean-Luc in the Chicken Diaries, but now I am seriously wondering if he came to save me! Most of all, I love God, who is my strength and my hope. I read a quote today by Graham Shaw that said, "And all this pain can’t stop my believing and all this joy can’t stop my grieving" . Wow.

Kitten Courage in my Human Heart

This is the story that was accepted by AllWorship, and was sent out in their weekly devotional email.


It is hard to know how old little Jean-Luc was when he and his mother were dropped off at the end of our lane this past spring. His mother, just a kitten herself, was sleek and black. She was gorgeous. She was also hit and killed by a car on the road soon after she and her baby were left. I found her, lying across the mouth of my kilometer-long lane one morning.

Later that day, my husband said that he had seen a grey kitten near where I had placed her body in the grass. He tried to catch him, but the little guy was so frightened, he actually jumped into the cold dark water of the ditch to avoid capture. I placed food in a dish near the ditch and looked for him, but he was well hidden.

For a week, every night when my husband and I went on our evening walks down the lane, I looked for the kitten. It had been a cold, rainy week, and I assumed that either he had traveled to a farm nearby or had also been killed on the road. The food I had left for him had been eaten up within the first few days, but I knew that anything could have eaten it. I thought about him often, and wondered how and where he was.

Then one evening, as my husband and I passed the front field on our walk, we noticed that our two dogs had dug up all the grass and mud under a baler that had been parked by the field. Both dogs were covered in mud and had obviously spent the day gleefully trying to get at whatever was hiding in the machinery. We assumed it was a chipmunk, or maybe a raccoon. We proceeded with our walk, the dogs taking a break form digging duties to accompany us. When we returned home, it was almost dark. We walked past the baler, chatting and laughing once again at the huge patch of dirt the dogs had managed to dig up.

As we approached the house, we heard it. Meowing. The loud, frantic cry of a terrified kitten. He was the poor creature in the baler. I put the dogs in the house, grabbed some food and within minutes he was in my hand, scarfing down the food so quickly he accidently bit my hand twice. He was beautiful, grey and soft. He was also painfully thin.

Once inside, we allowed him to eat until he was satisfied. The dogs were curious, and from the safety of my lap, the kitten narrowed his eyes and growled manfully at them. Clearly, forgiveness would take time. I named the kitten Jean-Luc, for my favorite Star Trek captain, Jean-Luc Picard. He quickly became a part of our family, a sweet, very affectionate little friend.

Part of the reason I named the kitten after a Star Trek captain was because of his incredible courage. He had survived a week in the cold, wet wild. He'd had little to no food, was alone and defenseless, and had spent the day of his rescue being tormented by two well-meaning but very scary dogs. It
just may be, though, that his most impressive act of courage was making the decision to ask for help. He had, effectively, hit rock bottom. He was too hungry, too cold, too tired and too frightened to keep trying to make it on his own. Where at one time he had run from help, a week's worth of misery had gotten him to the place where he was willing to cry out for it.

He heard our voices as we walked by the baler. He knew we were there, and he had only a small window of opportunity before we got to the house and went inside, where we would not have heard him crying. He took a deep breath, put away his fear, and called out to us. As loudly as he could.

And we heard him. We came running. We wanted to save him. We already cared.

"Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe." Psalm

It takes courage to admit that we need help, that we cannot walk this road alone. Shortly after Jean-Luc came into my life, I was hit with family troubles that left me blindsided, in pain and afraid. I have something in common with Jean-Luc, though.

When I feel alone, I am not.

Just as my thoughts were always on Jean-Luc, even as he was lost, so am I always on my Heavenly Father's mind and heart. God is eagerly waiting for me to reach out to Him, to admit that I cannot do this alone, to cry out to Him for help and sustenance.

When we are in pain, wounded and broken, it can be hard to trust ourselves into the hands of another, even one as faithful as God. We feel fragile, as if one more disappointment might break us into pieces.

God is loving and true, and is worthy of our trust.

If someone like me, a mere human, can reach out and scoop up a kitten into the safety and comfort of my arms, how much more does our holy and righteous God want to scoop us up and hold us close to Him?

I am crying out to God today. If there is one thing I have learned from little Jean-Luc, it is that I don't have to wait for the dogs to try to dig me out of my hiding place before I call on God to help me.

His ear is turned to me now. His heart belongs to me now. His love and care are mine now. And so now, I cry out to Him, giving Him my life and my trust. Now, I can relax and rest in the love and peace of God's care for me.

by Kelly Dyck

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Setting Boundaries, Finding Freedom

For many of us, the concept of boundaries is not something that we think about. Ideally, it shouldn't be that difficult to know which behaviors, feelings and thought belong to us, and which belong to others. We embrace the concept of boundaries in many other areas of our lives. The boundaries of our properties or yards are clearly marked out by fences, hedges, driveways, and streets. Parking lot designers mark the boundaries of each parking space with painted lines, and most people react negatively to the odd driver who uses up more than his or her allotted space, essentially violating the boundaries of the parking lot. Fences around school yards show children where the boundaries of their play space lies and walls and doors make clear which room is mine and which room isn't mine. We would all agree that boundaries are an important part of society, enabling us to provide and maintain peace in our social and familial relationships.

And yet, where boundaries are arguably the most important, they are also the most difficult to recognize and maintain. Much of our relational angst lies in the fact that we too often deny responsibility for that which is ours, and accept responsibility for that which isn't ours.

Think about it. When was the last time you said, or even thought, "That person makes me so mad"? Have you ever reasoned that a behavior that you would normally consider inappropriate would become appropriate if it was in response to someone else's behavior? Have you ever used anger or sadness in hopes that someone will change their behavior because of your expression of your feelings? Do you change your behavior in response to the anger or sadness of others? It all seems so benign, so normal. Yet many of us are watching relationships with our dearest people slide into the sea because of these seemingly benign issues. Without even thinking about it, we cajole, manipulate, intimidate, threaten and whine until we get our own way. And in the face of the emotional pressure from others, we cave into things that we don't want, feeling used and abused and not knowing what to do about it.

How extreme can it get? I was in a relationship once where my loved one announced to me that I was only allowed to be "sad" for three days, maximum. After that, if I wanted to remain in the relationship, I was to behave "normally". I had come through a time of serious, traumatic loss and was finding myself having times of deep sorrow. There was no weeping, wailing or gnashing of teeth going on. In my sad times, I just became quiet and contemplative, not my usual bouncy, talkative self. This person told me that when I was down, he felt down, and he didn't like it. The solution, in his mind, was to limit the amount of time I was allowed to be down.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? Is it sad that while I felt hurt and trapped by his proclamation, I didn't recognize how inappropriate it was right away? I took a few moments to pray about it, and God brought to my remembrance the many times I had offered support to friends and loved ones who were depressed, some seriously. God asked me, "Would I ever have allowed you to put such a limitation on any one of these dear people?"

The light came on for me when I realized that I would have been in serious trouble from God if I had tried such a thing. I was as precious to God as any of the people in my life, and if it was wrong for me to make such a demand, it was also wrong for someone else to demand it of me. I turned to my loved one and told him what God had showed me. I told him that it was inappropriate for him to expect what he was asking, and that it was his responsibility to deal with his feels about my reality.

Of course, more fighting ensued and I was not schooled enough in the area of boundaries to effectively handle the hurtful words and demands that were being piled on top of my own pain. This event marked the beginning, though, of my understanding of boundaries, and of healthy, godly relationships. I learned to accept my loved one's refusal to take responsibility for his own feelings and actions, and to detach from the chaos that usually surrounds those who see the entire world as responsible for making them happy. In other words, I grew up.

Life is not kind to those who refuse to take responsibility for themselves. Even when they seem to be getting everything that they want, they are still miserable. They are slaves to those they depend on, and seem to constantly be fighting to get the one more thing that will make them happy. They miss out on the joy of truly loving another, because love is not selfish or self-serving. They mistake desire for love, and fall out of love quickly when what is desired does not or cannot come to pass. They cannot commit, to jobs, relationships, even pet ownership because all of these things involve times of hardship and self-denial.

The message of responsibility may seem like a boring old buzz-kill. The truth is, for those who have chosen the freedom that comes with being responsible for their own thoughts, feelings and actions, there is nothing attractive about the slavery that comes from losing oneself and spending one's life fighting to get the world to adapt and behave in ways that enable them to be happy.
My Zimbio