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Paws to Reflect offers gentle daily reflections for those who seek to grow spiritually by observing the animal kingdom and all the lessons it teaches.
Paws to Reflect offers gentle daily reflections for those who seek to grow spiritually by observing the animal kingdom and all the lessons it teaches.
Let Sleeping Dogs ... DREAM!
Awake, awake, arm of the Lord, clothe yourself with strength! Awake, as in days gone by, as in generations of old. —Isaiah 51:9
Some days, Daisy, our three-legged Dalmatian, is curled in sound sleep, when Henry, the miniature schnauzer, comes along to torment her with a curious sniff. Henry's curiosity and agitation can rouse Daisy from a dead sleep to a ferocious attack in zero to six seconds.
As humans, we have a metaphoric sleep as well, spending a lot of time in a comfortable "coast" in life's holding pattern. We fail to live up to our potential and forget to heed our calling. We need to be awakened to a fresh new life, without taking the heads off those around us, being jolted, as it were, out of our day-to-day rut. How to respond? How do we change and come fully aware and awake? We have to let go of the old habits and let ourselves forge a new path in obedience. When we empty ourselves of the world, we can be filled with God's light. We must let go of comfort—something that can be truly terrifying.
When you see a sleeping dog lash out, it's not usually out of a mean spirit. It's out of fear. We react just as ferociously as a sleeping dog sometimes because we are afraid to become new—afraid to become God's full potential for us.
On this first day of the year, let us wake up into a new day, where we have love all around us to encourage us. Let last night's nightmare fall away and become today's glorious dream. Be courageous in God's new world for you!—d.o.
Pink Slips and Chew Bones
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. —Philemon 1:3
I watched the golden retriever I had fostered for six months ride away with her new "mommy" as she stared at me through the back windshield of that little red Honda. She had come such a long way from the frightened abuse victim placed in my care. Her eyes never left me as the car left for the horizon. There was a chew bone in her mouth. Her tail was wagging. This dog knew she was going to a new home. Yet, somehow, she wanted to let me know she was grateful. She knew the dark place she'd come from and where she was now going, and I was just the spot in between.
Some things are not meant to be forever. They are just meant to get us there. Every friendship, every job, every place we live, is just a bridge to learning something we need in order to become who we are to be. People leave us because their part in our journey is finished. We never complete anything without having a lesson to be learned. Good-byes always leave us with a piece missing, don't they? Change is always difficult.
If you are saying good-bye to someone, something, or some place, reflect on what you have gained from the time you have spent. Let it be woven into the fabric of who you are becoming. Just remember, nothing is taken without being replaced by more of what you need. Just as I had been a temporary caregiver for that beautiful golden retriever, she now has a permanent place to curl up and call home. Say good-bye with grace and hello with hope, and leave with a lesson. Nothing leaves until it is time to let go. Accepting loss only comes with God's help and the wisdom of time.—d.o.
I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten. —Joel 2:25
When I was ten years old, my parents decided that I should have a collie. My dad negotiated with the breeder, who apologized for the one imperfect one left. My parents paid thirty-five dollars for her. I named her Shane. She was my princess, and to me, she was worth a million dollars.
I think of Shane and remember a lifetime. She represents my whole childhood. She was always by my side, a loyal companion, but I let her down when the pressures of growing up pulled me away. I moved away for school, and she died while I was gone. My parents were in a painful divorce, and I was gone—Shane must have wondered where I was. I carried the broken heart of never having said a final good-bye, and I was filled with the regret of knowing that she must have been terribly lonely when I was suddenly not there.
When we are hurting or struggling or striving to get ahead, we tend to let down the ones we love. Someone once said that hurting people hurt people. Sometimes hurting people hurt their furry friends too. The pain of that regret was a secret hurt in my heart for a long time, until one day my daughter and best friend gave me a collie. I named her Veronique. In Shane's honor, I would take care of another. I would give now what I didn't know how to give then. Regret cannot heal. Love can. Love does.
We can break the sad cycle that compels us to create hurt from hurt, and instead we can let the broken places in our hearts become places where there is more room for love.—k.m.
Then Job replied: "How long will you torment me and crush me with words?" —Job 19:1-2
I remember reading about a man who cut the ears off his dog, so that "when he was fighting other dogs, they couldn't pull him down by his ears." The dog almost bled to death. Even as they removed the dog from the home and took the man into custody on animal cruelty charges, the dog fought to get back to his master.
People who are cruel are often blessed with undeserved loyalty from an animal. The look from the eyes of an abused animal at its master is often sad, pleading—yet never angry. The eyes of an abused person are much the same toward a perpetrator.
In today's scripture, we meet Job, who was hurt by a friend's rudeness and constant badgering of "you deserve what you're getting." So-called friends and family can be more hurtful than the evil we meet in the world. We take this abuse hoping the repetition might lead to a different outcome. This is an unrewarding way to live.
Or maybe we expect God to effect a change in the people who hurt us. Perhaps, though, the change is supposed to be in us. Are we to remain loyal to the world that hurts us, expecting a miracle of change? Or are we to ask God to deliver us, fully ready to make a change if he asks?
God wants us to live in light, love, and joy. He will offer a way out, in peace and compassion, allowing the person inflicting pain on us a chance to change—because this person is hurting too. Maybe God has a plan for this person to learn tolerance, patience, and love through the loss of companionship. What if loneliness helps this person become who God wants him or her to be? Ask God to guide you to a compassionate solution.—d.o.
"But get me a musician." And then, while the musician was playing, the power of the Lord came on him. —2 Kings 3:15
In the daily reading from 2 Kings, we meet Elisha, who was in need of an answer. But first, he asked for a song.
A Chinese proverb says a songbird does not sing because she has an answer; she sings because she has a song. Today, I am seeking a song of peace, hope, courage, and love. The song must break forth, seemingly out of nowhere, but it is not out of nowhere. It is a gift. It is as natural as the song of the songbird.
The gift we receive is the Spirit. The Apostle Paul writes, in 2 Corinthians 3:6, that the Spirit gives life. It is the Spirit who puts the song inside you. Interestingly, the Spirit in Scripture sometimes comes in the form of a bird.
"Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart," the psalmist wrote (Psalm 37:4). Maybe we take delight in our accomplishments, or in the number of errands we can scratch off the list in a day, or in a bank account that offers some sense of security, but these things are no answer to our happiness. Maybe they are the answer to a temporary good mood, but they are not the song-givers. What brings happiness is something quite invisible and difficult to describe. Jesus compared it to the wind. You can't see it, but you know it's there by the way you feel it brush across you. This is the Spirit that gives the songbird her song.
Are you waiting for a song? There are a thousand ways to seek the song. You can be still and wait. Take a walk. Say a prayer. God is listening for your call. Nothing pleases the Lord more than a heart that longs for true happiness. However you search for the song, know that you are not seeking an answer; you are seeking the true song, the design of your life, shaped by the Spirit. You are the songbird. Your life is the song.—k.m.
A Spotty Politician
You are always righteous, LORD, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease? You have planted them, and they have taken root; they grow and bear fruit. You are always on their lips but far from their hearts. —Jeremiah 12:1-2
Have you ever wondered why, as Jeremiah writes, "the wicked prosper"? This came home to me when I witnessed at a public event accolades being given to the wife of a prominent politician for saving children and calling for humane treatment of animals.
But the reality told a different story behind the glowing facade: the woman had recently taken their healthy, happy Dalmatian into a veterinarian's office to put the dog down. "This dog is just not fitting into our lifestyle," the woman told the vet.
"But she's healthy," replied the vet. "Couldn't we just find her a good home for you?"
"Absolutely not. I would just rather have her put down right now. I wouldn't want her to be in a shelter," she said as she left, not wanting to be present as the deed was carried out.
The vet assistant took the dog back to the kennel, and instead of carrying out a lethal injection, sneaked the dog into her car and later to her home. She found a beautiful home for the dog with a couple mourning the recent death of their aged Dalmatian.
A few weeks later, on public TV, the same woman who ordered that her dog be put down received an award for community service. Not all bad people lose. Not all good people win. Not everyone gets a spotlight on the truth.
As individuals, we cannot control or determine justice. That's not our job. It's God's job. Perhaps, God was answering the prayer of a mourning couple, and the politician's wife was just part of God's plan. Maybe in the darkness, the couple prayed in pain for a dog to replace the one they had lost. God answered their prayer. This may be the only justice needed.—d.o.
Catch us the foxes, the little foxes, that ruin the vineyards—for our vineyards are in blossom. —Song of Solomon 2:15
At my house teeth marks are on the legs of the wooden chairs. Somehow the rubber gorilla, the yellow bouncy bell ball, and a thousand rawhide bones were not enough to get Veronique through the teething phase. But that's what puppies do. It's like little foxes, always needing to chew things.
Every day you have a vineyard to tend in order to yield a harvest of fruit. It is a vineyard full of dreams, gifts, hope for the future, and joy for today. Maybe you want to write or play guitar or plant a garden. What is in your vineyard? What makes your life beautiful? What is calling that needs your attention?
Ever notice how difficult it can be to get around to the things you really want to do? One trip to the grocery store can turn into a day full of errands. One rushed hour fighting traffic to get to the office can kill your ambition. Peace slips away, and dreams fade. It doesn't happen suddenly. It happens one disappointed thought at a time. Those are the little foxes that spoil our vineyards.
Words misspoken or encouragement withheld can chip away at your confidence and steal your joy. Fears and doubts can blind you from the grace that is right there waiting to give you your heart's desire.
What is your heart's desire? Want to learn a secret? If you pray to have God's desire be your desire, miracles will happen. Love God first, wholeheartedly, and watch the vineyard blossom! Devote every new day to the Lord, and he will catch the little foxes that spoil the vines.
Those little foxes don't mean to spoil the vines. They're just being little foxes. Trust in God as you cultivate your vineyard.—k.m.
Breaking Fences—Breaking Chains
This is what the LORD says: "Although they have allies and are numerous, they will be destroyed and pass away. Although I have afflicted you, Judah, I will afflict you no more. Now I will break their yoke from your neck and tear your shackles away." —Nahum 1:12-13
I number among my friends those who've broken through fences, sneaked into backyards, and stolen animals away from inhumane conditions after discovering the evil of people who allow the chaining of helpless creatures with no food or water and leave them to the agony of the elements. I have seen the power of humans over the weakness of animals.
Subdued and held captive, the weak animals lose their will to live; their spirits morph into quiet, pain-stricken ghosts of their God-intentioned purpose.
As people, we can also become enslaved and weakened by things that surround us. Jobs can place a yoke on us, keeping us from joy. Individuals in our sphere with impure motives can be controlling, sucking the life force from us.
In the moment of feeling powerless with overwhelming factors in our lives, we can call upon God to become strong within us. There is no bond of captivity in our world that cannot be broken by God. Gaining our freedom over the strength of people who seek to bind us means being willing to become free in the first place. We have to trust that God's way is more rewarding than staying in the captive shadows.
Freedom often involves a surrender. We must surrender our need to be accepted by the "cool" group. We must surrender our desire to have all the things the world says are essential. In that surrender, God can give us the blessings waiting in store for us. Let God break through the fence and into the yard to rescue you.
The dream God has for us is always bigger than the dreams the world has for us.—d.o.
In all that they do, they prosper. —Psalm 1:3b
Once I chased a bear. My parents and I were in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina when the baby black bear went running past. I took off after it as my parents yelled for me to stop. They knew a mama bear would be close behind.
Maybe it's best not to catch a wild bear, but the bear offers valuable lessons. She sleeps through the winter and enters the cave of dreams. This reminds me that I need to take time to dream too. In the quiet resting place, dreams are born, and it is by first dreaming that the prosperity of happiness comes. Sometimes, the most productive thing you can do is nothing. But it is not the nothing of negligence—it is the nothing of finding a resting place.
The psalmist writes that those who delight in the Lord are happy. We are created to be happy, but I have to ask, what is happiness? The answer is not wealth or fame, though both may happen for some this year. True happiness comes when you allow God's dream to dream through you.
Delight in the ways of God. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Compassion. Love. Understanding. You know the list. Now it's time to live it. Really believe in these things when the world is swirling around you. If these attributes are your goal, just wait and see what miracles will happen!
In this season of winter, as people begin to set expectations, let us set our expectation in God. First things first. The most important thing you can do today is to rest in God. Rest like a bear. Take the time to connect with the Source of your strength, and you will emerge from the quiet cave alive, sure to live the dreams that came in the waiting period.—k.m.
Fleas and Flies
When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." —Matthew 8:18-19
Teaching any animal to fit into our human existence brings all sorts of challenge. For instance, getting a male dog not to lift his leg on the couch, when everything in his being wants to let the world know it's his couch, can be difficult at best. Training cats not to climb on the kitchen cabinet when they know that tuna cans are opened there seems almost impossible. Getting a fifteen-hundred-pound horse to put an annoying, even painful piece of steel over his tongue, allow humans to climb on his back, and take them places is a miracle. We teach our animals, and they acquiesce when all goes as planned. But animals do not ever have to do what we ask. We cannot actually make a cat, dog, or horse obey. Animals agree to do what we ask because they want to.
Excerpted from Paws to Reflect by Devon O'Day, Kim McLean. Copyright © 2012 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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Posted October 7, 2012