Hugging A Squirrel

Although I dearly love my puppy, he has some bad habits. One of my least favorites is that he wakes up very early. I know some of you feel that early mornings are sacred. You love to rise before the household and accomplish your tasks. Responsibility and duty drive you, and quiet mornings allow you to thrive. Mornings with Cooper are anything but sacred or productive. He wakes, usually before 6, and begins scratching. He scratches on whatever is closest at that time. Maybe it’s the bed, the carpet, the floor or the wall. He is not picky, he just starts scratching. It makes an awful noise so I am always immediately awakened. I have to admit, I do not pop out of bed quickly so the dog has to move to his next tactic to get me up; whining. He is not a very verbal dog but he has a nice little high pitched whine that he has perfected just for mornings. He sings it ever so softly so I will hear him. If I fall back asleep or do not say something to him, the whining gets louder. Eventually Cooper succeeds in waking me and I reluctantly get up and take him out. But Cooper’s antics don’t stop there. Morning is his favorite time of the day. He runs out to potty and then races back to the house, exploding with excitement. The day has begun and he is ready for it! He is ready to play, to run, to chase the cat or do whatever he can to fully engage in the moment, the very early moment. 

On this particular day I was exhausted and foolishly thought I could get him to get back in bed to snuggle with me. I snuggled under the covers and called him. He bounded into the room and jumped excitedly onto the bed. To my surprise, he did lay down next to me in an attempt to receive some belly scratches. Unfortunately, the next several minutes felt like a circus. It was as if I was trying to hug a squirrel. He could not lay still. His body would wiggle and twitch and flip over. He would lick me and then nibble a little too. I diligently attempted to hug him while he squirmed and twisted back and forth. He was impossible to snuggle. I wanted to be close to him, and he was not having any part of it. 

I layed there in bed and wondered if God ever feels that way about me. He tries to hold me, to show me His love, and I squirm my way out of it. He wants to comfort me, and I take a little, then push Him away. He wants to be close, and I wiggle and flail and move around until I get myself free of His grasp. I know being still and allowing God to be near me is healing, and would be good for my soul. But I struggle to have the discipline to do just that. Like Cooper, I just can’t sit still, be quiet, or vulnerable. It is hard to calm my mind and just be in His presence. 

Thankfully, God knows my heart. He knows when I am restless, He knows when I need a calming touch. He is patient when I need time and He is always ready to share His love with me.  I just need to quiet my soul long enough to allow Him. Although some days we feel restless and squirmy, He wants to hold us close and love us. He wants to fill us with His presence, His joy, His life. He is always offering it to us, we just need to settle down and allow ourselves to receive it. Psalm 46:10 says “ Be still and know that I am God”. The hardest part is our part; “be still”. It’s the only part we need to play. As the world continues to swirl around us, God forever remains the same. 

Sit. Be still. Pray. Know. God is still God, and that is good. My prayer for you today is that you still your heart long enough to know that God is pursuing you relentlessly. 

Devotional Moment:

  1. Can you identify a time in your day when you can still your mind and focus on the presence of God? Commit to 5 minutes today.
  2. Write down what it feels like to be still before God. It’s ok if it feels uncomfortable, vulnerable, overwhelming. God is Holy and that can feel intimidating. Remind yourself that God’s love for you is the first and last feeling He has for you. Allow yourself to sit in that for a moment.
  3. Pray that God would surprise you with His presence today. Pray that you would be aware of all the ways He is trying to get your attention. Pray too that you would have the ability to receive the love He is pouring on you!

Peace on Earth

I turned on Christmas music today. I know, to some of you this is sacrilegious. It’s only November 1st. But it’s cold, it’s beautifully sunny, and it caught my attention so I turned it on. I was tapping my feet to all the joyful songs about happy feelings and heart warming emotions. I was feeling that “hot chocolate on a snowy night” feeling. When your nose is cold but the rest of you is warm and a beautiful coat of white snow blankets the ground making everything look sparkly and pristine. As I sat in that moment, a new song began to play. It went like this

I heard the bells on Christmas day 

Their old, familiar carols play,

And mild and sweet the words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said

For hate is strong and mocks the song 

Of peace on earth good-will to men

Then rang the bells more loud and deep;

God is not dead; nor does not sleep

The wrong shall fail, the right prevail 

With peach on earth, goodwill to men

Did you know this song was written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on December 25, 1863? He wrote it in response to the horrors of the Civil War. Wadsworth’s son had been shot and he was, of course, as any parent would do, anxiously praying for his son’s recovery. Out of his sorrow came this beautiful cry for peace. 

It’s November 1st. Unrest, deceit, pain, and greed are all around us. Our eyes and ears are bombarded with negative sights and sounds. Friends, the next few days could be really uncomfortable. They could be scary.  But they don’t have to be. This is not the first time in history we have been at an impasse, and it will not be the last. As Christians, rather than praying for your candidate, what if Together we all prayed for; 

Peace

Unity

Love

Safety

Health

Not for some, but For ALL.

These things are not party specific. What if we pray for God to help us love one another, even in our differences? We don’t need to be God and choose who is right or wrong. God put us here to love one another, not judge. We can make a difference. I don’t just mean in the world around us, I mean in ourselves. 

Spinach in the Freezer

I was cleaning the kitchen the other day when I noticed something strange. As I sorted through the freezer I found a bag of spinach sitting on the top shelf. Spinach in the freezer. Wrapped up tightly with a little clip and everything. I looked at it for a few seconds and wondered if I was seeing things. It looked almost like it was meant to be there. Stacked directly next to the frozen fruit. Spinach in the freezer. That’s not really a thing. As long as I have been eating, I do not think that people freeze their salads. In fact I’m quite sure that will ruin the greens completely. As I continued cleaning, I wondered how the spinach got there in the first place. I have no recollection of putting it there myself but, because it is placed next to the frozen fruit, I can surmise it was put away after making a smoothie. That’s my best guess. 

If I’m being completely honest, I’m not overly surprised I might have made this mistake. Spinach in the freezer actually represents how my mind and emotions have been feeling lately. Confused, out of place, maybe even lost. The world seems to be spinning faster and faster each day. Uncertainties are commonplace and truth seems to be just out of our reach. I feel overwhelmed, disoriented, almost numb. Obviously I must be distracted if I don’t even remember putting spinach in the freezer. It is at times like these where we can easily become discouraged, depressed, or anxious. It would make sense if feelings of despair crept in and began to take over. It is now when we need Jesus more than ever. 

2 Corinthians 4:8 boldly states “we are afflicted in every way but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” When I read that I am reminded that God is bigger than all that is swirling around me. Although I feel overwhelmed, almost lost, I know God is in this big mess with me, and you. So friends, if today you feel down, disheartened, close to despair. Remember that God is still alive. 

He is still good.

He is still kind.

He is still God. 

God is with you and for you and He promises to walk with us in every trial we face. My prayer for you today is that deep in your heart, in the place that hurts, you would be reminded that God has got you in His loving arms, and He will never let go. In the times that feel dark, confusing, and lonely, God is with you. In the times that feel unsafe, unfair, and unjust, God is with you. Call on Him today and allow Him to sooth the very depths of your soul, knowing that we may feel: 

Afflicted, but not crushed;

Persecuted, but not forsaken;

Struck down, but not destroyed.

  1. What heavy feelings are you carrying? Can you name them?
  2. Speak them out loud as if you are giving them away to Jesus.
  3. Pray that God would take these feelings and replace them with feelings of peace, joy, love that only comes from Him. 

Chewing on the Wrong Thing

I took my eight month old Labrador puppy on a walk the other day. We walk the same route, day, after day, after day. Sometimes we walk it several times a day. By now he knows which way to turn, where the treat stop is, where the other dogs live and to look out for them. He’s a pretty smart little puppy. But he does still have his moments. If given the chance he would chase a squirrel, say hi to the neighbor dog and or even aggressively show the cat his love. Today he was having one of those moments. He was sniffing the ground like a bloodhound. I could not get him to pick up his nose. Before I knew it, he had something in his mouth. I watched him for a minute because typically he will chew the object and immediately spit it out when he knows it’s not worth eating. But this time he was moving it around in his teeth for quite a while. I noticed he was crunching and chewing quite vigorously. I wondered if he had an acorn or walnut, or something that had fallen from a tree. I wondered if someone had dropped a piece of an apple or a leftover bread crust. Labradors are motivated by their stomach and they can smell any little bit of food within a mile! But as I watched him chew a little longer, I noticed it was not food. At least not the kind that you eventually chew up and swallow. He continued to chew, loudly, aggressively, determined to bite the object. I bent down to grab whatever it was and pull it out of his mouth only to find he had been chewing on a large rock. He was happily just chewing the rock like it was a piece of gum. I watched him for a minute and wondered what he was thinking. Did it taste good? Was the rock soothing on his puppy teeth? I could not understand what was possibly enjoyable about chewing a rock. He continued to eat it, however hard and dirty it was. He continued to chew it, even though it was not chewable. “Silly dog” I thought, chewing on the wrong thing. 

Then it hit me,I can be just like that. Sometimes I like to chew on the wrong thing. I don’t mean literally, but figuratively. Often things come to my attention and I can get really stuck chewing on something that is just plain not good for me. Although I know it will not help me, although I know it may even be bad for me, I continue to chew on it. I chew on it long enough that sometimes it causes damage. It may make me resentful or angry. It may hurt my relationships or worse, my trust in God. I need to learn to spit those things out, to let go of them and not keep them close.

On the flip side, God has a guide for us on what will keep us strong and healthy. Philippians 4:8 reminds us “ Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things.” (NIV)

That’s quite a list. Imagine if I practiced thinking in such a way as Paul suggested. Would my thoughts have an effect on me? Would they lead me to be more kind? More positive? More Holy? I imagine they would. If I were to meditate on God’s word, the way I sometimes stew over other people’s words, wouldn’t my life be richer, fuller and more purposeful? God wants us to surround ourselves with people, activities and content that will encourage us, build us and help create the person He intended us to be. By “chewing on the good stuff” we are choosing to follow Jesus’ plan for our lives. 

What about you? Are there things you hold onto? Is there something you are chewing on that you know is negatively impacting you? Could you “spit it out” today and choose something better? Could you “chew” on God’s word and let that fill your mind and your heart?

My prayer for each of us this week is that we ask God to show us what we need to let go of to fill our hearts with thoughts of Him.

Devotional Moment

  1. What is something you have been “chewing on” that is negatively impacting you? 
  2. Write it down and then crumple the paper up and throw it away.
  3. Ask God to help you “spit out” what you need to in order to more fully focus on him. 
  4. Pray for guidance on ways to fill your mind with things that are good!

There’s Something About the Dark Sky

Today the dark sky rolled in. As I took my morning walk I hurried along while I noticed big billowy clouds overhead. Towering dark clouds eventually filled in the background of my scenery. My pace continued to quicken as I wondered if I would be caught in a pop-up thunderstorm.

The further I walked, however, I began to notice something unexpected. The darker the sky grew, the brighter, more vivid, and more beautiful the other colors began to show. In front of the dark sky, each tree popped with vibrant color. Bright greens, warm reds, glowing oranges and happy yellow leaves were suddenly exploding in the air. Their colors appeared even brighter as the stormy background contrasted them sharply. I could not help but be struck by the difference. The gloomy, ominous, almost threatening sky covered the horizon; yet, bright, beautiful, vivid and glorious colors pressed against it. The colors seemed even more glorious because they were against a dark sky. In fact, it was the darkness that made the colors pop so beautifully.

Friends, right now the world feels dark. Not only does the background of our lives have that heavy looming feeling, but some days it feels like it’s right in front of us as well. I know many of us feel a sense of fear or hopelessness as we wade through each day. I get it, I have those feelings too. But then, in my better moments, I wonder what kind of goodness and beauty is going to “pop” onto the scenery and change my view. I want to know where kindness and honesty, joy and love, will shine, in the midst of these dark days. As these thoughts swim in my head, I come to the conclusion that I cannot wait for someone else to be a change-maker. Instead I need to question myself; do I live in the overcast, shadowy feelings of the storm, or do I choose to be someone who stands in contrast and brings peace, kindness, and joy?  The darkness is pressing around us, which means we need goodness even more. Matthew 5:15-16 says “let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your father who is in Heaven.” Friends right now we need people who shed light, not darkness, we need unity not judgment, we need kindness not anger. We need to show the world love, not hate. 

So what would my days look like if I committed to bring joy and peace with me into every conversation, every relationship, every interaction? Would it change my family? My job? My life? Would it change the lives of those around me as well? I think it would. What about you? Which space do you live in? Imagine if we all choose to be change-makers, for peace, for unity, for love. Not for ourselves, but for the world we want our children to inherit. Now that’s a picture I get excited about. I’m in, are you?

Devotional Moment:

How can you be a light to those around you? Could you sit with someone at lunch who is alone? Could you hold the door or help someone at work even if it takes extra time? Commit to looking for ways to bring light into the world today!.

Turtles in the Sun

Every day I walk past the same pond. Every day I look at the scenery and the setting because it’s quite beautiful. There are typically geese in the grass, ducks in the water, kids throwing stones, and all sorts of other happy activity. However, Last week when I went past the pond I noticed something quite different. The sun was shining bright that day so the pond was a popular place to be. On this particular afternoon I noticed several people crowding around to look at a branch that had fallen into the pond. A portion of one of its limbs was sticking out of the water, and on that branch was quite a sight. Perched on the branch with their faces to the sun were three turtles. They had obviously swum to the branch, crawled onto it, and stuck their heads out to sit in the sunshine. Now, I don’t know how common it is to see turtles sticking their heads out, but on this day, it sure was fun to see. Because turtles are animals that like to stay close inside their shell, and they are generally shy, reserved, and keep to themselves, I don’t feel like I get to see their faces very often. And on this beautifully sunny day,  these turtles had something different in mind. It was spring, the sun had finally thawed the last bit of Minnesota snow, and the turtles were stretching their faces toward the sun. I watched them for a while. It was such a sweet picture. Three little turtles, sitting on the branch sunbathing. As I sat there watching them, I had to ask myself, “do I need a little push to crawl out of my safe space? Do I need to take a break and look towards the sun?”  

Whether the turtles know who God is or not I could not tell you. But I do know turtles understand nature, and all of its beauty. They know when it’s a good time to come out of their shell and look towards the sun. How about you? Are there times you find yourself staying safe inside your shell? Are there days or seasons that you would like to crawl back into your spot and avoid the goodness that is all around you? How good and healthy and holy is it for us to lean our heads out towards the sun. God knows when we need some spring healing. He knows when our hearts need to thaw, whether it’s from a long cold winter or whether it’s from a hardened relationship, or difficult space. God wants to shine his brilliance all over you. He wants to warm your heart with the glow of his glory. Nature is God’s masterpiece, and he shares it with us. Have you turned your face to the sun recently? Have you let the warmth and goodness of God spill all over you? I pray that you do, and that you are filled with his presence. 

“the heavens  declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands”.

Psalm 119:1

Road Closed

It’s summer in Minnesota. That means it’s construction season. For the past several days there has been a road closure near my house. It is on my usual route that I take to most places. Each time I leave the house, without really thinking about what I’m doing, I drive myself straight into the construction. Each time I have to turn around and find another route.You would think after several days of doing this I would figure it out. You would think after several times of being waived down by construction workers, whipping U turns to avoid trucks and large holes, that I would get it. That’s what you would think, but somehow I don’t. No matter how inconvenient it has become, no matter how obvious the large orange signs might be, I continue to try my usual route, seemingly thinking I know best.

I wonder if God ever looks at me like the construction worker. I wonder if he wonders if I’ll ever get it? Despite all the signs, despite making several U-turns, and despite driving into a mess, I continue to make the same mistakes. When God re-routes my life how hard is it for me to listen? If suddenly there is a roadblock or a change lane sign, do I drive right past it without noticing? I would like to think I don’t – but I do. I would like to think I’m more observant, a better listener, more open to change. But the truth is, I am quite used to my regular route. I’m quite comfortable with the way things are so when there is a change in my plans it bothers me. So many plans have been changed the last few weeks and so many routes are different. I wonder how long it will take me to embrace the new scenery? I wonder if along the way I will meet new people, pick up a new hobby or gain new wisdom. I wonder how many times I will drive past the road closed sign before I accept the new way? I am so glad God is patient with me. I’m thankful he has unending wisdom to direct me even when I think I know best. I wonder how many signs I’ve missed and wrong turns I’ve taken? Even still, he continues to gently guide me back to the right path. Proverbs 16:9 says “ in their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps”.

I’m glad God makes the ultimate plan as I would lead myself into trouble! Maybe someday I’ll see the signs a little faster! Maybe not. Either way, thankfully God continues to bring me back to him.

Yellow Car

Several years ago my family started playing a pretty ridiculous game. It actually all started on a road trip to Green Bay Wisconsin. We were traveling for a gymnastics competition. One of the gymnasts taught us this game, it’s called Manners. I have no idea why it’s called that, it makes no sense, but that is it’s name. The game goes like this: every time someone sees a yellow car they yell “manners” as fast as they can. The person who says it first, gets a point. As you can imagine, the game caught on quickly between my husband and my son. The competition grew fierce. The yelling was loud. The game suddenly had a life of its own!

Who knew there were so many yellow cars? I had never looked for yellow cars before this. Actually, I would tell you, I have never even noticed yellow cars until I played this game. Now I see yellow cars everywhere. I cannot help but see them. My eyes have been trained because If I am first to notice the car, I get the point – even if I’m not playing the game. I’m not as fast as my son, but I’m getting better. So the game continues on, it’s been running for about four years. And you would not believe how many yellow cars we see.

This game reminds me of how I see God’s hand in my life, and how I want to encourage you to see God’s hand in your life as well. Before I was looking for yellow cars, I didn’t notice any of them. I am sure I would drive past several every day and they would not catch my eye. Now that I am looking for them, I see them everywhere. God’s presence is like that. If we do not look for it, we will not see it. If we do not train ourselves to recognize it, we will miss it. We will miss it several times a day. But when we train our eyes and our hearts to see what God is doing right around us, we will begin to see His presence everywhere. It’s not like God is just showing up for the first time, he’s been here all along. It’s that we finally have eyes to see Him. We will be trained to look for all He has done and is currently doing. So my prayer each day is that I will recognize God‘s holy presence in my life. In my daily interactions, daily routines, relationships, joys and challenges. Because when I open my eyes to see Him, I suddenly noticed that God is everywhere.

“Keep your eyes open for God, watch for his works; be alert for signs of his presence”

Psalm 105:4

Running the Hill

The morning was bright and crisp. The house was surprisingly quiet so I decided to sneak away for a run. I use the word run lightly. It’s actually more of a trot, or a light jog. I could hardly tell you I am actually running. But my feet are moving forward, and I am covering some ground so it’s a start. Even though I may be slow, the scenery is beautiful and it’s always good for my brain just to be out and moving. I took my usual route,  down past the park, by the pond filled with turtles, ducks and geese. Then I swung back up the hill to go towards home. On this particular morning I chose not to run with music so I could hear the birds and really feel the outdoors. Spring is healing for me. The sun, the fresh air; I feel most alive when I am outside. So I slowly made my way through my route, accepting that I was slow and steady, enjoying the journey not the finish line. It felt good to not worry about my time or even the distance I had run. I wasn’t trying to beat anyone else, I was simply running. And enjoying it. 

As I began to head home and started up the hill I noticed a woman from the neighborhood running towards me. Her headphones were in her ears so I chose not to engage in much conversation. She too seemed to be out enjoying the beginnings of a beautiful day. Then something funny happened, as we drew near to one another she pulled one of her AirPods out, looked at me and simply said this, “good job on the hill”, She smiled and then put her headphones back in and continued on her way. That was it. One simple phrase. It was kind, hopeful, encouraging. She wouldn’t have had to say anything, that would have been acceptable, but she did. It impacted me so much all day. Not because I was crushing that hill, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t. But I was running it, slowly, but running it nonetheless.  What’s stuck with me was that she did not have to encourage me, she chose to. She saw a moment and took it. A few words. Simple. Profound.

This made me wonder how often I take the opportunity to encourage others. It reminded me how important and life-giving it is to build others up. Especially these days. People seem scared and withdrawn. We can’t see faces and smiles behind masks. Oftentimes others will move to the other side of the street when I approach as if I am dangerous. But today, I was shown kindness and encouragement. And I know, without a doubt,  I want to be one who builds others up. Not because I should, but because I can.

It’s Monday, an easy day to feel tired and discouraged, let’s choose to share some simple words of encouragement with those around us. Not because  they accomplish something, not when they impress us. How about when they are just being themselves. Let’s encourage one another not because we should, because we can!

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing”.

1 Thessalonians 5:11

On my Feet

Yes this is another story about the puppy. I apologize, but these days he is probably the one I spend the most time with! Due to social distancing and  my kids being busy with online school, I spend a lot of time with the dog. I have begun having full conversations with him as well. Maybe some of you feel that way too!

Over the past few weeks I have noticed a new habit he has developed . He likes to sleep on my feet. Not at my feet, ON my feet. If I stand at the sink, he walks over and sits on my feet. If I move to the table, he follows me and promptly sits on top of my feet. If I move to the dishwasher, you guessed it – he follows me and again, and sits on my feet! Each time I change locations, Cooper changes locations with me. Each time I find a new place to stand, he finds my feet. I watched him this morning and laughed a bit. Poor guy is constantly moving. Although it can initially seem a little annoying, it is quite sweet that he finds comfort just sitting on my feet. I had an image of all of those religious pictures where folks are sitting at the feet of Jesus. I looked at my puppy seeking comfort, and wondered if all those folks were seeking comfort, from Jesus. It must have been amazing,  just to sit by his feet. Then I thought to myself, who do I follow when I need comfort? Do I find myself sitting at the feet of Jesus? Even with less activities, I still find myself distracted. I still seek other things. But I want to be a person who seeks comfort in Jesus. I want to find myself at his feet. Will I move myself until I find Him?

 I love that coming to Jesus brings me comfort, so why don’t I do that more often? The puppy is persistent. Am I? Do I truly seek Him or do I let other things temporarily comfort me? Jeremiah 29:13 says “you will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart”.

Today, with all its challenges, frustrations, and joys, I will seek Him. Knowing and trusting that just being in His presence, will comfort me.