A term I’ve heard fairly often referring to the animals that come into our lives; seemingly inconsequential when compared with children, but then again perhaps not. One of the three cats that Kathy adopted while I was in prison, C.J., became more than a pet or even a fur baby, at least to me. Through her brokenness and at times violent objection to being caged in a pet carrier (it was definitely a two-person job with much trickery involved) she taught me much of how my journey Home was far too often a real mess.
When Kathy adopted her, she was worm-filled and the treatment (that was repeated over several months) being neuro-toxic, left her with a rather scrambled view of the world (cross-eyed notwithstanding). If it were necessary to take her anywhere (such as when we moved), we would have one person sit with a beach towel on their lap. The other conspirator would pick up C.J. and approach the beach towel, petting and speak softly to her. Once she was placed on the towel, the idea was to wrap her QUICKLY up, then lower the towel into the cat carrier. Once Kathy attempted to do this without help; the scars on her arms and hands, while not permanent, were a reminder not to do that again!
Yes, C.J. had her violent side, but she wormed her way into my heart with the gentler side of her persona. Many a morning, while the coffee was brewing, she would walk over and hop up onto my lap so I could pick her up and hold her on my shoulder. This routine would continue for a few years and was something I looked forward to each day. I remember writing about her seeking me out (not only in the morning but throughout the day as well) and often thought that God would have me seek him with the same persistence and intensity. My ‘professor’ of Cat Theology was a patient instructor; spending many an hour perched on my shoulder purring into my ear as I held her.
That changed a bit over the past few weeks; she also began being VERY vocal as she walked around the house. We put it off to her Siamese side coming out, but I missed the frequent shoulder times. Even when she did assent to climb onto my lap so I could hold her, it was rare for her to purr as she once had. Again, I shrugged it off…
This afternoon, when I came home, Kathy told me that C.J. wasn’t able to climb into the litter box and had urinated on the rug we have underneath it instead. We decided to take her to a local veterinarian whose warm manner and gentle treatment of C.J. seemed to help her (and me) relax a bit. I knew something was very wrong when I picked her up (sans towel) and gently placed her in the cat carrier, but we were hopeful that whatever it was, the vet could fix it. As it turned out, C.J. was in the last throes of diabetic ketoacidosis, and there was only one thing to do. I crouched beside the treatment table and wrapped one arm around her as I continually stroked her with my other hand, telling her how much I loved her. Soon, it was over and our C.J., my dear professor of theology, was gone.
Between tears and regret for not being more observant, I have been pondering what this last lesson the professor wanted me to learn. Don’t wait to tell those around you how much you love them because you may not have a tomorrow with that person. Be ‘in the moment’every day, or, as Jim Elliot put it, “Wherever you are, be all there.” Don’t take for granted the love of others (even your fur babies); be sure they know that you care for them.
Thank you, C.J.; for all the wisdom you have given me; thank you, God, for sharing this creature with me for these far too few years.
Not a very popular idea in this me-first world we live in and definitely not something for a prideful, arrogant man to experience willingly. To have such a man debased and set aside by those who had followed and respected him was a blow that would crush his spirit. Further, to not be able to find any meaningful work after over 450 attempts. Oh, from the title you expected this would be about Saul of Tarsus, sorry but it is my own tale by which I by no means compare myself to my brother Paul, simply that it reflects how God does often work.
Being incarcerated seemed to me to be the ultimate in humiliation. While rightly convicted, the idea of throwing away a career as a paramedic and nurse to spend the rest of my life (a very real possibility), becoming a plaything of those employed by the prison system was a rude awakening. My first case manager warned me that there were two types of guards and officials in the so-called Department of Correction; those who knew I was in prison as punishment and those who believed I was in prison to be punished. Sadly, he told me, the latter were in the vast majority, and they loved their job! That was to be my experience for the next 23 years, 7 months and 25 days.
I did make a profession of faith and surrender to Christ within 3 weeks of arriving at Central Prison; my growth as a disciple was haphazard at best as I continued throughout my stay in prison to deny my guilt. My fear was if I ‘fessed up’ my family and wife would abandon me as I had plead not-guilty and cost my family a significant amount of money. This was something I wrestled with for the entire time I was in prison and for years afterward. That refusal to ‘come clean’ kept me from much of what God would have done for me; “I” was still primary and on the throne of my heart as reflected in some of my behavior after coming to Christ. Time and again I had people tell me that my story reminded them of Joseph (Genesis 30 and following) for my being imprisoned unjustly. After a time, I actually began to believe this, and when reading Acts 9 and studying it, I began to feel that this was my time of humiliation.
Finally, the day came when I was released. I had attended the Chapel Hill Bible Church for some time after getting out of the Navy, but my main reason was for the ‘target rich environment’ with all the coeds. The pastor, James Abrahamson, sought to mentor me but much of what he shared with me went in one ear and out the other. Seeds were planted that would come to fruition once I was in prison (well, at least my journey in Christ did begin even if somewhat haphazardly at the time. I reconnected with Jim while in minimum custody and decided to start attending there even though Jim was no longer pastor. When I learned why and how Jim did not attempt to ameliorate the circumstances of his fall, it stil did not move me to be honest with anyone about my guilt.
Jay Thomas is the pastor there and was a wonderful expositional teacher of Scripture. I really felt this was where God wanted me and so my wife and I became members. Sometime later, while Jay was teaching through the Gospel of John, he said something that pricked my heart about my continuing disavowal of my guilt. After the service I spoke with him briefly, asking for a time in the coming week when we could meet. At the same time, I knew that I had to speak with Jim Abrahamson as well, but most of all with Kathy. I feared that she would be so angry with my lying over the years, that she would toss me out. When we got home, we sat together in the living room of our home, and I confessed to her what I’d done. She did not want to believe it at first; that was difficult as how do you tell someone you love deeply that you have lied to them for over 28 years?
Well, by God’s grace she did believe me and did not toss me out the front door. During this time I began experiencing many symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress but did not make the connection with those same symptoms from after I got out of the Navy. Even before getting out of prison, I had applied to multiple places for employment. I’d earned an Associate’s degree in Computer Information Technology and was hoping that would at least get me in the door. It did not; the one interview I had with an IT firm in the Triangle lasted well over an hour. At the conclusion, I asked the interviewer what the next step would be. He kind of laughed and then said he had no intention of hiring me, that my resume intrigued him and he just wanted to speak with me.
450+ applications using a variety of online and other services led to nothing more than the sound of crickets. No one seemed to want to hire an ex-felon, even those companies that specialized in such gave me a pass. It was humiliating to me not to be able to find work other than with Measurement, Inc., a company that had hired me as a reader while I was on work release. The work there was definitely seasonal and not really enough to be a real help in making me feel as though I was ‘head of the household.’ Yeah, that pride thing was still working. Once I passed the age of 62, a friend suggested I check what I could get from them if I ‘retired’ compared if I waited until 65 or 70. Due to the time in prison, there was really no difference, so at the end of that month, I filed for Social Security. That paltry sum I began to receive did help, combined with the episodic checks from Measurement, Inc., but still left me wondering if that was all I could expect.
It hurt me (still pride, but also something else) because my lack of income would force Kathy to continue working longer than she’d hoped. I tried other ventures (Real Estate Broker was a flop as the NC Real Estate Commission refused to license me as a broker) but continued with my $600.00 or so a month. The anger and frustration that I often took out on Kathy (or inanimate objects in our house) fueled more and more suicidal ideations. I just wanted the suffering to end; both mine and the pain I was causing Kathy. My attempts were often interrupted by a phone call or other such (one time as I stood on the Brewer Road overpass a Durham County Deputy just happening to roll by).
Sitting in this man’s car and talking about life, especially for those who have come out of prison, combined with a speaker at a conference I attended as a USO-NC volunteer, opened my eyes to the fact that I had PTS. To say that the VA hospital was less than helpful would be putting it mildly, but with the help of Senator Burr’s office, I finally was not only diagnosed with PTS but given a disability rating that enabled me to receive over $1,000.00 every month. Still, it wasn’t work and sitting at home everyday (when not volunteering somewhere) just made me feel all the more worthless.
In October of 2016, I attended the annual meeting of an organization affiliated with Our Children’s Place (I’d been a board member since my release from prison). During a meeting with their board before the annual meeting, one of their management persons told me that while they did not have a position for me at that time, they would in the Spring. Others of the board of OCP who overheard our conversation were elated; for the first time since being indicted in 1987, I had hope of meaningful work. Kathy was elated, and since we had rented a place in town through Airbnb, we started looking for a place to live and a home church. That search brought us to Windsor Park and, more importantly, to the Bridge Church on Market Street in Wilmington. We moved in January 2017 to a rental from VRBO until our house in Windsor Park was completed (end of July 2017).
I checked the website of this company everyday (sometimes more often) and was elated when I saw the position listed. Within an hour I had transmitted my cover letter, resume and other material requested; then I waited…and waited…and waited. Later that month, the position was no longer on the website; apparently, they had filled it without even calling me in for an interview!
It seemed that no one was interested in hiring me; despite our hopes, we were back to ‘normal’ with me the house-husband and Kathy working. I was REALLY frustrated and angry but was at the point in my walk with the Christ that despair and depression did not happen…much. Then this past week it was as if cotton wool had been taken off my eyes (nothing to do with my new Rx of glasses); if all I could do was serve others through my volunteer activities, then that is what I would do. Today I was reminded by an old friend (Chuck Swindoll, Insight for Living) of something A. W. Tozer wrote some time ago that has been true in my life over and over.
It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly unless He has hurt him deeply.”
Amazingly, as a result of this past week, I am content with being a professional volunteer with both the USO-NC (Jacksonville Center) and the Battleship North Carolina. There are some things I do to contribute to The Bridge Church; these activities (along with cooking for my beloved) are enough.
This past week, during one of my times of volunteering at the USO-NC Center in Jacksonville, I had the honor and privilege of sharing some gifts from the USO to a Gold-Star Family. This was especially poignant to me because of the circumstances. Apparently three different families lost loved ones this year, all from the same neighborhood so one lady came to pick up the presents for all three. Seeing the three little ones with the mom brought into sharp focus the pain that can be a real part of this time of year.
We are a nation at war; within and without are forces that seek to destroy our nation. In every town and city we have those who stand watch over us; shielding our nation from anarchy and lawlessness. Paramedics, nurses and doctors work throughout this time as well as many other municipal workers, often unsung and unnoticed until needed. But it is, for the most part, the police and military whose lives are offered up in the carrying out of their duties; again, sadly, unnoticed but for those directly affected.
I only ask that those who read this missive share it in the hopes that we will come to recognize as a people the debt that is owed to these men and women. Pray for their families and for those who have physically survived the horrors of war (whether overseas or on the mean streets of our own nation), but struggle with the memories that just will not go away.
God bless America.
This time of year we celebrate the birth of a single baby; many would have him remain such as a baby is not at all threatening to the world and its’ ways. The fact that he did become an adult, minister in and around Israel and Judah for about three years, performing feats that even extra-biblical sources extolled was the hinge on which history turned. From that point on, mankind would have real hope that had been given away long before in a garden; not because of his life, but because of who he was, how he lived and died and his physical resurrection from the dead. But that is not the focus of my thoughts here; instead, it is how God did invade his creation, not in might and power, but in weakness and humility.
Think of it, had the Son come to earth as the mightiest, most majestic ruler of all time; taking the physical form to walk among men, even then that would have been a humbling beyond our imaginations. God in the flesh; try to wrap your mind around that! From eternity past, the Father, Son, and Spirit had reveled in the relationship they had as God and from their great love overflowed creation. But also from eternity past, he knew of man’s fall and had a plan (not a Plan B as some suggest) to restore the broken relationship even before creation, before it happened; amazing grace indeed!
This plan was something that would never have occurred to any human as it seems the reverse of what was needed. As with the conquest of Jericho (Joshua 6), this plan appears insanity itself and any who would believe it right equally crazy. As with God commanding Joshua to have Israel march around the city in silence until the last day, then just shouting? Ridiculous any sane military mind would say. But it worked!
Paul, once the up and coming Pharisee Saul, put it like this;
“ 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,[b] 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:5-8 ESV
Scholars have wrestled with what it meant when Paul wrote, emptied himself. One source within Bible Gateway Plus seeks to explain it in the following manner;
2:7 made himself nothing. Or “emptied himself.” He did this, not by giving up deity, but by laying aside his glory (see Jn 17:5) and submitting to the humiliation of becoming a man (see 2Co 8:9 and note). Jesus is truly God and truly man. Another view is that he emptied himself, not of deity itself, but of its prerogatives—the high position and glory of deity. nature of a servant. Emphasizes the full reality of his servant identity (see Mk 10:45 and note). As a servant, he was always submissive to the will of the Father (see Lk 22:42; Jn 4:34 and note).
NIV Study Bible Notes
NIV Study Bible, Copyright © 1985, 1995, 2002, 2008, 2011 by Zondervan.
God in diapers! In this weak form, this helpless form, Christ came to his creation, growing into adulthood while remaining a carpenter’s son until the time for his ministry came. John the baptizer introduced him at the river Jordan, and he began to gather disciples even then. Walking in the middle of the Jewish people, unrecognized by most as he just did not fit their preconceived ideas of who Messiah would be. Finally betrayed and denied by those closest to him, he was executed by the Roman government at the behest of the religious rulers; but there the story does not end, it was only beginning.
His-story (history) continues today; an inexorable march to an end he predicted through prophets long ago. This God in diapers is helpless no longer, but mighty to save for any who seek him. Sadly, for many, the day is coming when they will be forced to kneel to this King of kings; those who refuse him now are in that majority condemned forever. Until then it may seem the world is out of control, but the story (His-story) is not yet concluded.
How can I understand all that has happened? At times I feel like a plaything, a toy boat tossed about on a pond by the dirt clods some boy is throwing at it. Can I be sure that it is God who is talking to me? Does it not seem presumptuous on my part that the Lord would communicate with this son of Eli? The dream or vision, could it not have been that spicy meal I had eaten or maybe some sour wine I’d drunk? I am no priest or scribe, how can I expect God to speak to me?
Lord, those who laugh at me openly don’t hurt so much, but I grieve at the sneers and whispers about my beloved Mary. Others shake their heads at me when they think I don’t see; am I a fool to believe all that I think you have told me? When she told me that she was with child, my heart stopped, Lord. She of whom I have loved and longed for had been with another! After all, that is what is needful for such to happen isn’t it, Lord? How could I marry her now, but if I publicly confront her, she’d be stoned! Lord, how can I let such happen to my Mary? I still love her, Lord, and I am trying to understand all that is happening. How can I, a simple carpenter who has become a plaything of God?
She looked so beautiful at the betrothal; my breath left me whenever our eyes met, so much promise in a look! How I worked to prepare a home for us, then the whispers began. Mary returned from visiting Elizabeth already showing her condition- and the story she told me! How can such things occur in our simple village? We are not related to the priests in Jerusalem, Lord. We are simple people!
Have I erred in keeping Mary as my wife? The dream I had, what the angel said about her – and the child within her! I would have to be mad to believe it! But when I talked with Mary, the tears in her eyes… Lord, I love her so!
Now, here outside this ….CAVE! Dear God, I would expect such a child to be born in a palace with many attending to Mary. But this filthy place! How can I but wonder at where this child came from when we are forced to a hovel such as this to bring a child into the world? God of Israel, help me to understand! Help me to see your hand in all this. How can Messiah be born in such a place!
There! I said it! The Messiah! After all these years of waiting is this the time we’ve yearned for, or am I the victim of a hoax? Help me, Adonai to see you in all this. Calm my heart that I may comfort Mary and protect her son. Her son! Is it pride, God, that has me so worked up? Am I jealous of the father of this child? But who is he? What the angel said. How is that possible? Am I, like our father Jacob, wrestling against God? Help me to know what is true, Lord. Calm my heart.
If this child is indeed Messiah, how can I teach him? How does a carpenter raise God’s Son, the King of kings? Lord, every time I accept this, more questions come. What do I do, Lord, to provide for all that will be needed? My shop and my customers are all in Nazareth. How can I hope to begin all over again here when I can’t even find a clean home – such a provider to birth a baby in a cave?
A baby, your Son? Incredible! The Son of God coming to visit us by being born to my Mary? Here? In a stable? Insanity! Dare I believe this?
Dare I not?
The ‘holiday’ season is upon us (officially at least; the stores have had decorations up before Halloween). What I always stop and wonder each year is not so much what we are to be thankful for, but to whom are we thankful? As a disciple of Jesus the Christ, I recognize that it is to God that my thanks go, not just on Thanksgiving, but every moment of every day. To the Jew, we are speaking of the same eternal Creator, who is in control no matter how scary the world may be right now. But what of others, particularly, what of the professing atheist?
To whom (or what) are they thankful for what they have. True, we are in a period of history where enemies abound (both to personal as well as national security), but who do they thank?
The first observance in this country goes back to the Puritans’ landing in Plymouth in 1621 as harvest, though in the case of the Puritans, it was more the anniversary date of their initial landing the year before, the harvest in that area occurring earlier in the year. The argument between Virginia, Plymouth and even two separate claims of earlier celebrations by Spanish explorers in the New World; 1598 in Texas and 1565 in Florida added to what was referred to as the “…marvelous nonsense…” surrounding that day.
George Washington, on November 26, 1789, proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving; "…as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God." From then until Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, Thanksgiving Day was celebrated at various times, depending on which state or area in which you lived. The final Thursday in November became the unofficial observance of this holiday, further made official when in 1863 President Lincoln made it so by official proclamation. This continued until December 26, 1941, when President Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress changing the national observance of Thanksgiving Day to the fourth Thursday in November.
That this observance of a national Thanksgiving Day has a link to faith in God was observed by President Kennedy on November 5, 1963, when he stated;
"Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts, far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving. On the appointed day, they gave reverent thanks for their safety, for the health of their children, for the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together, and for the faith which united them with their God."
So, that is a very abbreviated history of this day we call Thanksgiving Day, but the question remains; to whom or what are we thankful?
There have been times in my life when I’ve felt strongly about something and just knew that those feelings were supported by facts; but then…
I’m not exactly sure when Colin Kaepernick first ‘took a knee’ during the playing of the National Anthem, but my reaction was rather visceral (especially when others began to emulate this behavior). It seemed to go against all that I’d ever learned or known and I felt was disrespectful of our nation’s flag and those who have died to protect us. That we do have problems still in this nation between ethnicities is all too true. We have made great strides in establishing a more level playing field for employment and housing, but there is much more that needs doing.
Mr. Kaepernick felt this strongly and struggled with how to express his concern. The average person can just yell, protest or even post to Facebook (enough surely do that, regardless of the veracity of their claims), but those protestations are usually lost in the din of life every day. As a second-string quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers, he perhaps had a wider audience than most. He spoke with other players, including a veteran, and decided that ‘taking a knee’ during the playing of the National Anthem was a way to garner the most attention to his concern. Unfortunately, in the furor following this, his remarks as a way of explanation were mostly ignored. His previous work in the community to better the plight of the disadvantaged was overlooked as well as his continuing efforts on their behalf off the field.
In the weeks and months since that first time, others have ‘taken a knee, ’ and the NFL has taken a huge hit in its’ revenues as well as having some long-time advertisers back away from their commitments. It seems that in all the furor and vitriol, we have lost sight of what the original concern was; it has become (to many) an issue of patriotism and disrespecting law enforcement. But is it?
A vast majority of law enforcement are worthy of the badge and responsibility they carry (witness the recent mayhem in Las Vegas where only Veterans and police were running to the gunfire to save lives); sadly, there are many within both the military and law enforcement community who are not so honorable. The very real fear that any black person may feel, especially at night, when pulled over by the police we cannot ignore. It seems what is lacking in our sound-bite centered news cycled world is empathy. Can we not at least try to put ourselves in their place? Is it beyond the realm of possibility to recognize that this is an issue that must be addressed?
Let me be clear; I hate that this has become a shouting match between two ‘sides’ when we are all Americans. Our country was founded by disparate groups, speaking different languages, with different cultures, but they TOGETHER forged a new nation dedicated to the fact that ALL men are indeed created equal. After serving in the Navy during the Vietnam era and having my uniform spat on by those who saw it as a symbol of evil I am very much offended by anyone who does disrespect our flag or those serving to keep us free. It angers me (as Mr. Kaepernick’s protest), and most of the time I refuse to even listen to the reasons why someone would do this. What is equally true, however, is that those doing so are exercising their First Amendment rights. If we prohibit such, what other ‘free speech’ is next?
Colin Kaepernick’s action had consequences that he probably did not foresee. Could he have done this in a better manner or forum? I don’t know; I’ve never yet met the man and can only go on what I’ve uncovered regarding his motivations for doing so. In that research, by no means comprehensive, he has my respect for using the forum he did to garner attention to those who have no voice. I wish there had been a better way that was not so controversial, but then the Boston Tea Party must have caused a stir when the patriots of long ago carried it out.
Those who have jumped on this particular bandwagon may have done so out of good motives; again, not having spoken with them or known any of them, I cannot and will not condemn them outright. As a citizen of this country and Veteran of military service, I love this nation and all it stands for (that is all it can and should stand for). My hope as a citizen of America is that we can get past the vitriol and LISTEN to each other. This nation is more divided now than any other time since the Civil War; as one lady in our community group at The Bridge Church ILM put it, “We need to be kind to people.” As a citizen of God’s kingdom, that is something that resonates deeply within me; we need to be kind to each other.
I am and will always be a patriot and proud of being an American, but this does not mean that I have overlooked those things in this country that need changing. We can be one nation undivided, but it will take work and, as my old friend James put it so succinctly, “…let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…” (James 1:19 ESV)
A Song of Ascents. Of David.131 O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
3 O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore.
David's song, written some say during his flight from Saul, echoes a heart that longs for God; not so much for the things or presents God may give David (relief from Saul's persecution or to be elevated to the throne as had been prophesied over him so many years before). No, David's heart longs for God's presence, not the things God may give.
Matthew Henry's commentary on this Psalm echo what God has been speaking to me through it;
"This psalm is David’s profession of humility, humbly made, with thankfulness to God for his grace, and not in vain-glory. It is probable enough that (as most interpreters suggest) David made this protestation in answer to the calumnies of Saul and his courtiers, who represented David as an ambitious aspiring man, who, under pretense of a divine appointment, sought the kingdom, in the pride of his heart. But he appeals to God, that, on the contrary, I. He aimed at nothing high nor great, Ps. 131:1. II. He was very easy in every condition which God allotted him (Ps. 131:2); and therefore, III. He encourages all good people to trust in God as he did, Ps. 131:3. Some have made it an objection against singing David’s psalms that there are many who cannot say, “My heart is not haughty,” etc. It is true there are; but we may sing it for the same purpose that we read it, to teach and admonish ourselves, and one another, what we ought to be, with repentance that we have come short of being so, and humble prayer to God for his grace to make us so."
How many times I have cried out to God for His presents, but how often have I really only wanted His presence as a child no longer desiring the breasts from which they received nourishment, but only to be with or to be held by their mother? My 'Professor of Theology,' has been at it again. Many times through the day she will seek me out, crying so piteously that you'd think she was in severe pain. As soon as I pick her up, the purring begins as she just snuggles into my shoulder. She wasn't hungry or thirsty; she just wanted to be with me!
Do I pursue God as C.J. often pursues me, longing only for His presence? In his book, The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer speaks to this subject much more eloquently than I ever could, but many of the themes in there echo deep within me whenever I re-read it. I long for God, but often wonder is it because I know He is such a gracious giver. My heart longs to be of a mind that I seek Him throughout the day only to be with Him! Many times C.J. will seek to interrupt me in something I am doing, touching my knee with her forepaw seeking to gain my attention. How can a loving servant (some would say owner, but cat servants know) say no to such an appeal? So, I know that whenever I call to my King, He will be there to listen, to 'hold' me, and to provide the best gift of all; His presence in my life.
I have been taught different truths before by C.J., our somewhat brain-damaged cat, but this morning was particularly wondrous.
My mind awakened this morning running at warp 12; it just wouldn’t shut up and let me get back to sleep. Finally surrendering to the inevitable, I got up and went into the ‘reading room’ to spend some time just trying to calm my spirit. C.J. normally follows me around in my morning ablutions and medicine taking, waiting (impatiently) for me to pick her up and hold her on my shoulder. It had never occurred to me how persistent she was throughout the day in having me do this; yes, she liked it when I refilled the food bowl or put fresh water in the water dish (with some ice mind you), but mostly just to be held on my shoulder and stroked. To be completely honest, at times it was rather distracting, even irritating to be pursued by this little creature. She would not stop crying until I acquiesced to her demands and picked her up!
Then, finally, this morning…
Awakened by a multitude of worries and problems, I just couldn’t go back to sleep. Getting out of bed and getting dressed, I wandered out into the ‘reading room’ and sat down to begin my daily devotions. It seemed that something was bothering me deep down and it just escaped me. Opening my web browser on my laptop, I connected to Bible Gateway and began searching for a study or devotional centered on the Psalms. Not finding what “I” was looking for, I just started looking for what was there and found Eternal Words, a series that combined Scripture readings with music designed to, “…bring Joy to your heart and Peace to your soul…” I opened the first one, and within it, a quote from Psalm 131 struck my heart as what I’d been looking for;
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
Psalm 131:2 ESV
Okay, but what does that have to do with my roiled thoughts and anxiety this morning, and how does that fit in with C.J. normally following me around and crying to be picked up. Wait a minute; it’s been over 30 minutes since the bed spat me out and no C.J. Then it struck me; she wanted nothing more than to be held and cuddled by me. No treats, food, water (even ice!); she just wanted to spend some time being held on my shoulder.
A weaned child wants nothing so much from the mother other than just that thing. They may be hungry (especially once they are teenagers!), but the Psalmist is speaking of the desire for God’s presence rather than His presents. Magically (stop your laughing!), C.J. appeared crying to be picked up. We spent over 30 minutes with my holding her close to my shoulder as we both reveled in the time spent together.
That is what God seemed to be telling me; more than all that He has already gifted me with, He desires my heart to long to be with Him, to pursue Him and for that to be not only sufficient but to be completely satisfying to my soul.
Amazing how my little professor of Theology has once again taught me so much.
It is amazing the ways that God has of speaking, of teaching anyone who has ears to hear; even using cats.
One of the three that graciously allow us to share their home and care for them has been an illustration God has used before, but especially more recently. Kathy and I are members of The Bridge Church in Wilmington, N.C. and recently the lessons have broached topics that not many will come near. The series “I Am Done” spoke to how the superficial ‘I’m fine’ so often masks sorrow and pain that we are afraid to share with anyone (or even admit to ourselves). We see others and ask them, “How are you?” not really wanting to know, just being ‘polite.’ When asked the same, we almost always automatically respond, “Fine.” But we are far from fine or okay or great; even committed disciples of the Christ are often anything but that. The series had four separate lessons; “I Am Defeated,” I Am Depressed,” I Am Discouraged” and “I Am Disillusioned.” Not the usual sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows that are proclaimed from far too many pulpits each Sunday; instead a frank look into the souls of the majority of us who are afraid of what seems a world of division that is bent on self-destruction. Yes, in Christ we, more than anyone else on this sad planet, do have hope; but life on this world WILL involve pain no matter who you are and denying that (or worse, ignoring it) does the Gospel no favor. The Good News cannot be perceived as good unless we also face the very real BAD news.
Today we began a new series, “Hurting Out Loud, The Psalms of Lament,” beginning with Psalm 130. The opening verse screams with the anguish that we all have experienced, whatever the cause. Clayton spoke of how weeping is a vital prolog to worship; heartfelt and genuine worship cannot come unless that person has had a season of weeping or, as Chuck Swindoll once put it (paraphrasing), ‘God cannot use anyone unless He has first crushed them.’ This may seem cruel and heartless; how can a God of love do such you may ask. Only a heart that has been through the crucible of suffering can be open to God’s work in their heart, and it is that suffering that often does speak loudest to anyone. Still, we choose to ignore this; instead, we pretend that all is well and by wearing this façade we hold our Creator at arm's length.
Getting back to our cats, or rather to one in particular, C.J. She is a rescue (as all of our owners, excuse me, cats are), but when she first arrived in our home was full of worms. The treatment for this was an extensive course of medication that, unfortunately, was neuro-toxic. This critter became somewhat ‘different.' She is usually very lovable, but can without warning return petting with claw and fang! She is one of the neediest animals I’ve ever seen (outside of a mirror anyway) that constantly seems to need assurance that she is loved. I can be in the same room with her, and if I am out of sight of her, she begins the most piteous wailing imaginable. Sometimes just speaking to her will silence the anguished cries, but it can be necessary to go to her to comfort her.
Another cat that owned me was Charlie. He adopted our family when we lived in Cape Carteret and was feral; much more comfortable outside than in and not usually willing to suffer being petted (though he did make an exception for me). To say he was self-sufficient was an understatement of galactic proportions! He was unafraid of any creature; once fighting off a bobcat that had wandered onto his turf and killing a hound that had begun to attack my brother. Yes, Charlie was his own ‘man’ unwilling to accept any master; he would come inside briefly during inclement weather, but soon would be standing at the door wanting to go.
I used to think that Charlie was my all-time favorite cat but recently have come to change my opinion on that. C.J., as pitiable as she is, has supplanted Charlie simply because she is so pitiful and needy. C.J. is much more like me than Charlie; indeed despite what I’d like to pretend at times, Charlie is NOTHING like me! Tony, as with C.J., is a creature broken by life who is destitute of any ability to survive in a world gone mad. Even surrounded by those who do love me, I often feel isolated and bereft of hope. I cannot ‘see’ God, and so feel all the more isolated and alone; I smile at others and keep my façade in place, but within I am, like C.J., calling out for comfort and reassurance. Sadly when such does come from God, I am prone to fight back and push such comfort away.
Being in a body of believers whose leadership is embracing this topic has breathed within me the realization that I am NOT alone in my struggle. There is hope for me and the many like me who silently struggle.