Paws and Purpose

The question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us.”  C.S. Lewis

I was deep in the midst of a hectic day at work when the phone in my pocket announced the arrival of a new picture message… IMG_6701Sneaking a quick peek, I glimpsed an image that was instantly familiar, but definitely out of place. There in the midst of wrinkled sheets and crumpled pillows lay a warmly familiar fuzzy bear. Face down, paws outstretched, in comfort or in reverence, I don’t know. Relaxed. At home. Comfortable.

A thousand images of dimpled cheeks, chubby fingers, and cozy bear hugs flashed through my mind and heart. It was my son’s bear. Was. Years ago. He had long left behind his fuzzy friend for the world of video games, high school, and cars. He no longer needed the presence, friendship, or comfort of Little Bear. Bittersweet, it took me a moment to fully recognize the importance of the candid photo my daughter had just snapped. Little Bear left us several months ago. My daughter works at an assisted living facility and had recently devised a creative, thoughtful idea: outgrown childhood stuffed animals may find new purpose in the faithful, tired arms of her elderly residents. It had been less traumatic for me to release Little Bear knowing that he would find a new home, a fresh start, and a renewed purpose. This was my first glimpse into his new life.

IMG_6695The following day I received a second Little Bear photo with the caption: “He got the place of honor today.”  There he lay atop the pillow of a worn soul, young yet old, offering comfort and companionship, love and acceptance.

I doubt Little Bear is really aware that he is loved and wanted and fulfilling his purpose… Walking out his calling as a companion and a comfort. He wasn’t knit together with a heart and soul longing for acceptance and communion. A place to belong and a purpose to fulfill. A calling. A knowing of who he is, why he is here, and how he can make a difference. A need to love and be loved. To comfort and be comforted.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” 

Is everyone created with a need to feel that they belong and are loved? That they have a purpose? An inner knowing that they can make a difference?

I started a new bible study this week. The promise and chosenencouragement for today: Philippians 1:6 says “…He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  Okay, so maybe the verse doesn’t exactly reference teddy bears or life goals and purpose but it does point back to a past, a beginning, as well as project forward to a process, and finally to an end. A completion. A purpose. It’s a promise. It doesn’t guarantee an easy journey and doesn’t say we won’t be repurposed along the way. But it says He knows, He plans, He gives, He completes. When there is confusion, loss, or lack of direction along the way, there is promise of presence, purpose and completion. And for that I am thankful.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from     beginning to end.   Ecc 3:11

Rescue

rescue

  • [res-kyoo]   verb  
  • to free or deliver from confinement, violence, danger, or evil.

“All I want for my birthday is a cat.”  That’s how it all started. So simple, yet so complicated.

We spent the weeks leading up to his birthday visiting pet stores, animal shelters and various rescue sites. He wanted them all. He loved them all.IMG_6368 He explored aisle after aisle, inspecting cage after cage with mixed emotions: excitement to find the perfect companion, mixed with the weighty sadness of looking into the eyes of caged, abandoned animals. Some knew no other life. They had been born into bondage. Others had been helpless victims of life situations they didn’t understand: health crisis, death, family move, divorce, new relationship, tiredness, or simply inconvenience and lack of commitment.

Then he saw her.

 She was a skinny, sad looking ball of uneven, not-sure-what-color fur. The hand-scribbled tag attached to her cage listed her color as “diluted” but I thought she just looked tired and faded..worn and sad, maybe even hopeless; but he reached down and chose her, lifting her out of her caged despair, abandonment, and neglect and into a new world of light and love and life. She leaned into his chest and enfolded herself in his arms and held on. Very close. Very still. She could hear his heartbeat and he could hear the revving of her hope and contentment as she purred like the sound of a thousand well-tuned engines. That’s all it took: leaning in, hearing his heartbeat, trusting his hold and his love for her.

Why did he choose her? Nothing special, she did nothing to earn his love. There were more attractive, well-groomed cats. Cats who jumped, played, made noise, and vied for attention. She was sick, imperfect: fleas, watery eyes, and a little off balance…not very pretty or desired by most standards, but he loved her. He reached in and pulled her close. He wiped her eyes, held her tight, and took her home. She was perfect.

I won’t suggest that animal neglect or abandonment should be weighed on the same scale as human suffering.  There are greater, more urgent crises: orphans, slavery, addiction, oppression, starvation, victimization.  I won’t offer suggestions or supposed remedies. I will just simply reflect on how one small act can make a difference in a very small corner of a great big world. One choice, one rescue at a time.

IMG_6370 I will also remember what it means to be chosen: to be set free, to be held, nurtured, and loved. To be fed, provided for, trained. I will remember that regardless of the situation, the bondage, or the cage,  I can lean in, be still, and be rescued.   And for that, I am thankful.

Broken Pieces

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in         despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.               2 Cor 4:8-9

Hmm… This makes three consecutive weeks that the title of my Thankful Thursday post Marsha's Musingsmight seem a little unconventional…out of the box…maybe not what you would expect from a thankful heart and a pondering mind.

My son accidentally broke one of my small decorative plates this week. It wasn’t an IMG_6233expensive relic and it didn’t hold any special sentimental value, but I cringed when I heard it hit the floor. A small thing really, but I had bought it as a little token of encouragement and remembrance. As I held the broken pieces, contemplating whether to glue it back together or to discard it, it mysteriously seemed both strong and fragile at the same time. There was one clean, well-defined break when it could have shattered into a hundred pieces. For a brief moment that humble little plate reflected the lives, circumstances, and expressions etched on a dozen different faces.

I recently sat in a circle with a dozen godly women who introduced themselves and then proceeded to lay their hearts and their hurts open and vulnerable within the confines and security of the huddled group. Each described various losses she had recently sustained. IMG_6238Through tears, sighs, clinched fists, shallow breaths, and faithful prayers came testimonies of devastating losses: loss of home, loss of spouse, loss of security, dream, or direction, loss of job…and then what I initially thought was the ultimate loss: the loss of a child. They were each walking through various stages of loss, grief, healing, and restoration.  Today as my hands held the broken pieces of plate and my mind rehearsed the broken pieces and echoes of so many lives, I realized none of my precious friends had really suffered the ultimate loss: the loss of hope. Even through pain, lack of understanding, or brokenness, each faithful friend expressed faith in a God who sees and hope of complete healing, restoration, and purpose.

A bruised reed He will not break,
    and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.
       In faithfulness He will bring forth justice..  Is 42:3

My broken plate has found its new home on my foyer table: a reminder that we all have broken pieces and broken places, but also strength, beauty, and purpose. So today I am thankful that my life has intersected with others and, in our losses and brokenness, we have found common ground, connection, faith, and hope.

IMG_5426My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.  Ps 51:17

Friends In Low Places

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!  Ecc 4:9-10

It’s inevitable… We will all have a day, a week, a month, or an IMG_6078entire season when we hit a wall…experience discouragement… walk through the valley…shoulder the weight of the world. Not necessarily a dark night of the soul, but a dark cloud of the head and heart. A place where life and liberty and estrogen and serotonin collide. In the midst of trials, conflict, confusion, and darkness, today I am thankful for friends who walk the path, sit in the ashes, and travel though the valleys: friends in low places.

I suspect that the low, surly rumblings of the old, well-known country song are resonating in some ears right now. In the song, the “Friends in Low Places” were the people who were accepting, fun, welcoming …not necessarily wealthy and accomplished, but familiar and trusted. Elements of loss and rejection rang familiar…and maybe even a little retaliation for the hurt; but those are not the “low places” or the friends I have in mind. What about the friends who bend low, stoop, crawl, or just sit? The friends with big ears and big hearts and comfortable sofas and hot coffee? Those with wise words, bowed heads, outstretched arms, and knowing eyes?

The road to a friend's house is never long...
The road to a friend’s house is never long…

The world often measures success by material gain, social status, and ability to achieve. We’re encouraged, often feeling entitled, to do what we want to do, when we want to do it, regardless of consequences…to not be concerned with others’ opinions of us because we have”rights” and expectations; but with all this increasing independence, self-sufficiency, and self-focus often come disconnection and loneliness. We’re encouraged to do it our way, on our own, with no help or advice. Yes, I’ve been guilty. I’ve been prone to isolate, to keep silent, to smile and say everything is fine…and it is. But I’m learning to admit when it’s not: when life is hard, I’m struggling, or I’m just tired, discouraged, weary.

How about you? Do you have friends in low places? IMG_6081Brothers or sisters to shoulder the load, bear the weight, be the hands and feet of Jesus?

The group Need To Breathe has a popular song out right now: “Brother.”

Let the lyrics fall on open ears and a receptive, teachable heart. Today I am thankful for friends in low places.


“Brother”

Ramblers in the wilderness, we can’t find what we need
Get a little restless from the searching
Get a little worn down in between
Like a bull chasing the matador is the man left to his own schemes
Everybody needs someone beside em’ shining like a lighthouse from the sea

Brother let me be your shelterIMG_6075
I’ll never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call
When you’re low
Brother let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way
Bring you home

Face down in the desert now there’s a cage locked around my heart
I found a way to drop the keys where my failures were
Now my hands can’t reach that far
I ain’t made for a rivalry I could never take the world alone
I know that in my weakness I am strong, but
It’s your love that brings me home

Brother let me be your shelter                   
I’ll never leave you all alone
I can be the one you call
When you’re low
Brother let me be your fortress
When the night winds are driving on
Be the one to light the way
Bring you home

And when you call and need me near
Sayin’ where’d you go?
Brother I’m right here
And on those days when the sky begins to fall
You’re the blood of my blood
We can get through it all

 thankful

Visit http://www.marshasmusings.com to share thankfulness. You will be blessed. (Even though it’s Friday 🙂 )

A Time For Everything

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:  (Ecc 3:1)

thankfulI’m getting a late start on this thankful Thursday…too busy sitting on the porch sipping tea and watching the birds, butterflies, and falling leaves. This is probably my favorite time of year. As the long, oppressive “dog days” of Summer are retreating to their IMG_5866quiet slumber, 😉 the days eagerly offer warmth and sunshine while the nights have began hinting at the cooler, more refreshing time to come. The blooms of Spring are still painting a vivid tapestry in my back yard while the leaves on the trees are showing signs of becoming weary and worn. Today I am thankful for the continuing faithfulness of changing seasons.

A refreshing Summer storm blew through this week and dotted my porch with IMG_5883splotches of brown and yellow and green. There was a distinctly different feeling in the air: crisp, light, refreshing. Birds and butterflies were alive IMG_5899with the busyness of living and enjoying the dampness of the air and the coolness of the breeze. The sky seemed brighter, the grass seemed greener, the sun seemed friendlier, and even the moon seemed larger and more mysterious. I’m continually amazed at the marvel of creation when I simply take the time to stop and see, feel and breathe.

It’s mesmerizing to watch leaves twirl and drift IMG_5902to the earth, butterflies explore the intricacies of wildflowers, and hummingbirds dart and dance. I marvel at the sight of sunflowers stretching for the sun and crepe myrtles exploding in color. I bask in the the warmth of sunshine and wind on my face. Thankfulness comes with remembrance. I’m reminded that today is a gift and this moment, this season, is fleeting. There will come a season when the leaves have fallen and the butterflies are stilled, the
IMG_5893sun will seem distant and the wind bitter IMG_5905and cruel. So today I will sit, stop, and be still in this moment..thankful for a lingering moment in this season.

IMG_5903

Small Town, USA

My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.   Isaiah 32:18

My family and I recently helmeted up, refreshed our water bottles, IMG_5696and hit the trails: the wooded trails, outstretched bridges, and intersecting pathways of our very own hometown. While some may prefer the lights, sounds, and bustle of a larger, busier city, today I’m thankful for life and love and liberty in a small Southern town. Small Town, USA is the only town my children know… “born and bred” as the local farmers and horse breeders might say. We’ve traveled and stayed and seen and felt bigger, more populated and sophisticated venues, but there’s nothing quite like the fit and feel of our small Southern town. Well…maybe it isn’t exactly small. We do have four Walmarts and eight Starbucks. Eight! People around here like their coffee. 🙂  So maybe I’m actually thankful for the blessing of living in a medium-sized town, or using Starbucks terminology, grande-town, USA. But the feel is the same: warm, inviting, friendly…always somewhere to go, something to do, someone to see.

IMG_5691

The flag still flies high at the town square. Benches are scattered, welcoming and offering rest. A bible sits encased, open, inviting. There’s a city cafe, a coffee shop, a hardware store. A very traditional, welcoming, historical area rejuvenated by small business and specialty shops, it still hosts jazz festivals, farmers’ markets, and various community activities. We biked right up to the local ice cream shop and enjoyed cold homemade treats as we sat outside, watching the traffic lights turn and neighbors stroll  by.  We explored the sidewalks and storefronts: window shopping, talking to fellow sojourners, and admiring history and the beauty of the sun setting over our quiet little town. Statues, monuments, and other historical markers dot the square and provide admiration and recollection of the history and privilege offered to our generation from those who lived, fought, and died before us. Did I mention it’s a Civil War town?   IMG_5564IMG_5563   IMG_5689 Constantly changing and growing,  it is progressive and contemporary, offering adult and family activities, shopping, and restaurants, yet quaint and comfortable enough that we still run into friends when we’re out on the town. It is    steeped in history, agriculture, education, and great economic development, but also strife, sickness, and civil war. It is both small but large, new but old.

The final trail in our journey led us through the Stones River IMG_5708Battlefield where our footsteps and tire tracks retraced the steps and the lives of soldiers, generals, and giants. Larger than pages from a history book, we heard the very echoes of history and smelled the gunpowder signaling strife and division as the cannons fired in reenactment of the tragic battles. I won’t lie… My eyes were misty and my heart heavy as the smoke cleared and the echoes faded. Such a strange combination of pride, sadness, relief, and thankfulness.  From the carefree refreshment of bike trails and ice cream to the heaviness of reflection at the tales of war, it’s still home.

IMG_5694 IMG_5695 IMG_5693 Yes, I’m thankful to be a part of small town life, work, and worship; but I’m also thankful to be connected to the big world of others living and loving through thankfulness at http://www.marshasmusings.com.  Come visit and give thanks.  🙂 thankful

Hope

Well…here it is Friday morning and I’m writing a thankfulThankful Thursday blog post. I’m thankful that Marsha at http://www.marshasmusings.com is full of grace and mercy, as well as thankful for the opportunity to participate in joining with others to express our thankfulness on her page.

Honestly, I write with heavy heart. Another shooting, a senseless tragedy…this time much closer to home. Over the mountain and down the street.. The streets where we go and play and laugh and sight-see…where we visit the aquarium and ride on the trolley and sip our coffee on the corner…where we stroll and shop and wonder at the art, the river, and the history…where we explore the mountain trails and rocks and marvel at the beauty of creation.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?  My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.   Psalm 121:1-2

Washington, D.C 085The air, the conversation, and the media are all filled with fear, anger, accusation, hateful words, images of loss of life and hope and dream. I don’t understand the hate-filled taking of innocent lives: brothers, fathers, sons, friends. I don’t understand how a person, a group, or a nation could be filled with so much anger, hatred, contempt, deception, and ill will. People are broken. Ideas and beliefs are broken. The world is broken.

So where is the hope?

“In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you…In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”  1Peter 1


IMG_5313“But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them…

For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, IMG_5425who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.

We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”  (2 Cor 4:3-9)

IMG_5424The fragility of humanity… We stuff our vessels full of dreams, desires, and material possessions and pack them around until our backs are bent and our energy spent; or we hide them away, hording and saving, insecure, fearful, uncertain. We scheme, we plan, we intend; but all our plans may crumble and slip away in a matter of moments. Today I am thankful that no matter how unpredictable, unfair, irrational, or maddening our life and our situations may be, no matter what the enemy attempts to steal, kill, or destroy, we are promised hope and deliverance.

My heart is still heavy. It cries out for justice and relief. It hurts for the anger and the IMG_5426hate and the grief and for those who feel the hurt and the hopelessness the most. It can’t make sense of the all the pain and suffering in the world…even right down the street. The world is broken, but we are not of this world, and we have hope. Praying for hope in Chattanooga.