Friday, April 28, 2017

Scary experiences and bad dreams

No picture today.

Because I'm writing about cats.

And I cannot just now stand to look at one.  For some reason, my Facebook and Instagram feeds occasionally erupt with a deluge of cat pictures, the result being that I am cured of social media for a spell.  Photos that some people think are cute or amusing can strike visceral terror into my body.

A couple of weeks ago, I was out in the back terraces, which we are trying to tame, clearing crispy brown leaves off the ajuga plants.   I'd squatted down to work, on the stone ledge edge of the terrace, enjoying the magical new growth of spring, when I felt the friendly brush of a small, furry animal behind me.  My first thought was, "Schubert," and my second thought was, "Shubert should not be out here if I'm not holding his leash!"  By the time I realized that it wasn't Schubert, I found myself turning to investigate, and there behind me was a large, supple, undulating black cat.  A shuddering wave of horror crashed over me.

The next thing I knew, I was standing upright in the same spot, trembling with nausea, and the cat was skulking at the far side of the yard.  I don't know, had I screamed?  Honestly, in trying to piece together the progression of events, I wonder if I actually lost consciousness, or if my mind simply blocked out a few seconds of trauma.  It has done that before.

For the rest of the day, I kept imagining the sensation of a cat brushing up against the back of me, followed by chills and nausea.  I wanted to wash my clothes, take a shower, and never go outside again.  It was so horrible, I wasn't even going to write about it.

But the night before last, I had a cat dream.  I hate cat dreams.  This time there were three cats, mangy orange things, all coming after me.  They stared at me, and they stalked me, and they got to me, touching me, three, from different directions.  That is the climax of the torment, the physical contact.  Once (I think I've written about it) I dreamed that a cat had attached itself to my forearm and was literally eating the flesh off my arm, in my mother's laundry room, next to where she's hung the picture of penguins I painted in fifth grade.  There was no particular pain involved in the act of flesh eating.  The proximity itself was the terror: being close to, touched, violated by a cat.  This is my worst nightmare.

One of the cats in my most recent dream was less malevolent than the other two, but it didn't matter.

Why do I have this debilitating fear of cats?

Also, what do dreams mean, and why am I dreaming about cats right now?

Will I ever be able to relax and enjoy my ajuga again?  Or is it forever associated with cats?



Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The eyes of God






The eyes of the Lord are everywhere,
keeping watch on the wicked and the good.
~Proverbs 15:3 (NIV)

This is quite a thought.

The eyes of the Lord are everywhere.

They used to say that mothers had eyes on the backs of their heads.

In our first house, a mirror hung over the kitchen sink.  The sink was against an interior wall, so it couldn't be under a window; hence, the mirror.  I remember hot August days, washing dishes by hand (there was no dishwasher in that house, nor any air-conditioning).  My wilted, perspiring, inescapable reflection in the mirror did not encourage me as I did my kitchen chores.

Yet, when we moved to a new house, one with a proper window over the kitchen sink, I felt blind.  I'd never noticed how much my old mirror had helped me keep an eye on things behind me, children at the kitchen table, coloring or playing with play-dough while I cooked and washed up.

Have you ever watched a nature documentary about insects, and seen a diagram of an insect's many-faceted eye, followed by a camera rendition of what it might be like to view the world through a lens so different from that of our human eyes?

The eyes of the Lord are everywhere.

We have two eyes, both facing forward.  Our eyes are mounted on one, single body, which at any given moment in time exists in only one location.  We have limited sight.

God is everywhere, and His eyes see in all directions.

"Am I only a God nearby," 
declares the Lord,
"and not a God far away?
Can anyone hide in secret places
so that I cannot see him?"
declares the Lord.
"Do I not fill heaven and earth?"
declares the Lord.
~Jeremiah 23:23-24 (NIV)

The eyes of the Lord are everywhere.

It is comforting to know that God sees us when we are sad or frightened, and when we are in danger.  The Bible tells us about how God watched over the unloved wives of certain patriarchs, men whom He chose to produce the lineage of Christ.  In her distress, Hagar called the Lord, "El Roi,"--The God who Sees (Genesis 16:1-14).  When Leah, likewise, was in distress, God saw her and opened her womb.  She praised Him, saying, "It is because the Lord has seen my misery," (Genesis 29:31-32).  God sees when a sparrow falls to the ground and when a hair falls off my head (Matthew 10:29-31).  He not only sees my tears, He gathers them up and stores them in a bottle (Psalm 56:8).

It is comforting to know that God always watches over us, but it is intimidating to know that God sees all of our mistakes, our failings, our sins.

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
~Hebrews 4:13 (NIV)

This is intimidating, and yet, isn't it a relief, too?  God already knows every single thing about us. We don't have to muster the courage to reveal our shortcomings to Him.  He already knows, and He loves and calls us anyway, with the unconditional promise to forgive as soon as we confess (1 John 1:9). I'm having chills writing this, pondering the unfathomable wonder of His great love for me.

The eyes of the Lord are everywhere.

When men have had visions of God, often things that appeared in their visions were covered with eyes.

As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature with its four faces.  This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: they sparkled like chrysolite, and all four looked alike.  Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel . . . Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around.
~Ezekiel 1:15-16, 18 (NIV)

Their entire bodies, including their backs, their hands and their wings, were completely full of eyes, as were their four wheels.
~Ezekiel 10:12 (NIV)

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back . . . Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings.
~from Revelation 4:6-8 (NIV)

God has infinite eyes, facing infinite directions, from infinite locations.  He sees and processes and understands everything.

He sees into wombs to watch babies develop before they are born (Psalm 139:15-16).  He can see the smallest DNA strand within a human cell, and He can see the farthest star in the universe, before it explodes and falls.

God can even see into our hearts and minds, to know our thoughts, our emotions, our motivations (Psalm 139:1-4).  He knows us better than we could ever know ourselves.  He is mindful of experiences that influenced us when we were very young, perhaps even before we had any language to encode our own memories.  Yet, He knows exactly how everything that has happened to us has affected us and shaped us, even when we ourselves have no idea.

When Jesus looked out and saw the crowds, He had compassion on them (Matthew 9:36, Matthew 14:14, Mark 6:34).  God sees us and has compassion on us.  Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to bring life.  God knows our problems, sees our sorrow, and offers His grace to cleanse and heal.

The eyes of the Lord are everywhere.

Tonight when you lie down to sleep, think about how God sees you, how He watches over you and loves you.

He will not let your foot slip--
He who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you--
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm--
He will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
~Psalm 121:3-8 (NIV)


Monday, April 24, 2017

Uncomfortable



One of the ladies in my Bible study picked, as her word for the year, "Uncomfortable."  Most of us had words like "hope," and "joy," and "trust."  I imagine that for this lady, even reporting to us that she had picked the word, "uncomfortable," might have been uncomfortable.  I admired her courage; how many of us are willing to step out and embrace the uncomfortable things?

God is a God of comfort.  Jesus was born amidst tidings of comfort and joy.  The Apostle Paul refers to the Lord as "the God of all comfort," (2 Corinthians 1:3).  And yet, God does not primarily concern Himself with soothing us in the near-term.  He comforts us when He knows we need it; this is not necessarily when we think we need it.  He often stretches us, pushes us to grow.  This is not usually what we consider comfortable.  It is uncomfortable, and He does it anyway, because He knows what is required to strengthen us, to make us fit for the journey to eternity.  He knows that our holiness, our sanctification, achieved through challenging and uncomfortable exercises, will result in eternal comfort and unending peace and joy.  Many people undergo terrible calamities, and many people wonder why God would allow such pain and suffering.  It's a hard thing, this trust we think we want.  It's hard to put aside our present trouble and believe that God has wonderful things planned for us, things He knows will delight us beyond anything we've ever imagined, if only we will persevere in the present.  The present can be so hard.

Today I am uncomfortable.

It's small, in the scheme of things.  Not a death or a divorce or a disability.  Just discomfort.  Have you ever noticed how your doctor never tells you, "This is going to hurt like no pain you've ever felt before."  No.  He says quietly, "Now, this will be a little bit uncomfortable."

This morning I awoke to gorgeous, bright sunshine streaming in my eastern facing window.  What a beautiful day, I thought, as I rolled over to see my clock.  It was about 6:45, and my alarm wasn't even sounding yet.  I decided to bask in the beauty of the day, and pray a little bit while I waited for the alarm to signal time to get out of bed.

I snuggled into the soft bedclothes, warm and bright, rested and relaxed, turning to the Lord with that thing which is always foremost in my prayers these days.

The doorbell rang.

"Who rings the doorbell before seven?" I asked Shawn, who groggily began trying to put on his pants.

It was roofers.  Surprise!  Here we have it: The Surprise Roof Job of 2017.  I'd had this job quoted back in October.  Last week, Shawn finally called the guy to see if he was still planning to come, ever.  This morning, a crew magically appeared on our doorstep at 6:55am (well, a little before that--6:55 was when Shawn had finally made himself decent enough to answer the door, after the bell rang several times).

What ensued has been a day of earth-shaking shudders, booms and crashes.  When we had our kitchen renovated, I couldn't keep workers here much past 2:30 (probably part of the reason it took over four months).  It is currently 5:43 p.m. and these guys are still working.  Schubert is distraught.

They threw tarps all over my plants, and threw all the refuse from the tear-off onto the tarps.  I quail to think what has become of my sweet columbine that was just about to bloom.  And my bleeding heart.  And the tender new little bedding plants I'd put out and mulched over the weekend.

Yes I am uncomfortable.

I took Schubert on a walk to escape the noise for awhile, and we had to dodge quite a lot of sharp objects in the yard, particularly roofing nails.  The roofers will probably pick up some of them when they are done.  We will find the rest over the course of the season.

I've been uncomfortable lately.

Sometimes discomfort makes me feel guilty; I must be being punished for something, I think.  But this is not strictly true.

There is gain in bearing discomfort and trusting God to sustain us and bring us through.

A few days ago, I sat down and wrote about an issue that was troubling me.  It was hard work, soul-searching work.  At the end of it, I felt drained, exhausted, physically spent, although I'd only been sitting and writing, not lifting or digging or vacuuming or planting.  Breaking an issue down, working through it, examining the different sides of it, trying to understand my own perceptions, and then also working to understand other people's perceptions, this is exhausting work.  I worked for hours, and at the end I had a long document.

The next day, I was working on something else, some little mundane computer task.  I don't remember what it was.  I didn't have my glasses on.  A document came up on my computer screen, and a pop-up window asked me if I wanted to save it.  I thought it was this mundane thing I was working on, right then, so I quickly, without considering, clicked, "Don't save."  And thus, in that one single fraction of a second, I unintentionally wiped out everything I had worked on for hours the day before, the expressions of the depths of my heart, scrutinized through my mind and painstakingly formed into words and phrases.  (aside:  It was a Pages document.  Pages is a terrible program, and Mac software engineers ought to be ashamed of it.  I am still beside myself that they simply took away the "Save as" function when they updated this program from my original version. How could they think this was a good thing?  Why?  It's awful!)

Anyway, unlike Gmail and Blogger, and all the places where I ordinarily compose, this program, Pages, does not autosave.  You have to remember to save, like back in the old days.  I did not remember.  It was a brand new, unnamed document, and when I clicked on "Don't save," it was gone forever, not even stashed in my Mac trash.  Shawn, who is a master at retrieving things, searched for a couple of hours and tried every trick he could find.  Nope.  Nearly a full day of my life and unmeasured quantities of my energy have vanished forever.  It is hard for me to comprehend the utter goneness, something that simply can't happen to you if--for instance--you write in a notebook.  God has graced me with an unexpected and unexplainable peace in the aftermath, though, and that, in itself, is a beautiful thing.

Trusting God.  Having faith that He knows, that it is all for the best.  My Father in heaven knows how many hairs are on my head.  He knows my name.  He knows when it is best for a document to vanish from the earth.  He sees the roofers crawling over my house, and He sent them today for a reason, and it is good, even though it is no guarantee that the roof will come out nice, or that my plants will survive the onslaught.

I can thank Him because He is in control, and He has purposes and plans that I could not hope to understand today, but I can trust Him with the future because He is good.

I can thank Him even if my pink and white columbine doesn't bloom this year.

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
~Habakkuk 3:17-18


Kind of puts a perennial garden into perspective, doesn't it?




Thursday, April 20, 2017

When joy comes



At the Bible study I attend, we've been studying the gospel of John, and we spent the last month working slowly through the crucifixion.

It is important to look closely and carefully at the crucifixion, because this is where God clearly and unmistakably demonstrates the depth of His love for us.  God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).  It is important to try to grasp the agony that Christ willingly subjected Himself to, in order that we could be forgiven and saved.  It is hard to think about, hard to face our culpability in it all, hard to ponder the physical abuse that He subjected Himself to, and nearly impossible to wrap our minds around the spiritual anguish that God--the God of all Creation--experienced, as the Trinity actually somehow temporarily fractured, while Christ bore the sins of the world.

It is important to study the crucifixion because this is where our sins were forgiven.  This is where the blood was shed.  This is where God settled the sin debt, once for all.  This is where the love poured out.

It is also important to study and understand the resurrection, because here the power, victory and triumph of God shine out in amazing, astonishing clarity.  Sometimes people from other religions try to mock us, saying we worship a man who was so weak that he couldn't keep from dying a humiliating death.  Many details about the death of Christ demonstrate the foolishness of their argument--for instance, the way Jesus peacefully turned Himself over to the authorities after they had fallen to the ground, powerless before His presence (John 18:6), and the way He told Peter to put away his sword (John 18:11), and the way He refused the opportunity to bargain with Pilate for His life (John 19:10-12).  Many points in scripture reveal the willing meekness of Christ as He restrained His divine power, but the resurrection blows all allegations of Jesus' weakness out of the water.  Jesus is our victorious, triumphant, magnificent King.

We have finally arrived, in our study, at the resurrection.  John's story about resurrection morning is my favorite, because it includes the very personal encounter that Mary Magdalene had with Jesus outside His tomb.

Mary stood outside the empty tomb, crying.  Jesus' body was gone.  John and Peter had come and investigated, observing the linen grave clothes with no body in them, the shroud that had covered His face, folded and laid aside.  John and Peter left, but Mary stayed behind, bewildered and overwhelmed.  Just days ago, Jesus had ridden triumphantly into Jerusalem, amidst cheering throngs and waving palm branches.  Yesterday, He was tortured and crucified.  Now, even His body has disappeared.  Imagine Mary's sense of loss, the great emptiness that replaced her earlier excitement and expectation.  Imagine her confusion.  Nobody understood Jesus' plan to die and rise again.  Of course He had talked about it, but He spoke in so many parables, said so many things that were hard to understand.  How could a person tell when He was being literal and when He was being figurative?  Hadn't He spent a great deal of time teaching them to glean the hidden meaning from His stories?  How could they know that His words about dying and rising were more than a parable?  At that moment, Mary didn't understand anything but the sharp pangs of loss that took her breath away.

She must have been sobbing hard, the kind of crying that fills your eyes so you can't see, and engulfs your body with trembling so your skin can't feel the world around you.  I'm sure she was doing what we call, these days, "ugly crying."  Blinded by grief, Mary was unable to recognize Jesus when He stood before her.  She was unable to notice who was speaking to her when Jesus asked, "Woman, why do you weep?  Who are you looking for?"

Desperately, assuming this was a gardener, hired help, she pleaded, "If you've moved Him out of the way, please tell me where you put Him, and I'll get Him."

He spoke her name: "Mary."

Then she knew who He was.

He spoke to her by name.  I love this.  Jesus calls us each by name.  He knows us intimately, calls to us tenderly, and we, His sheep, recognize His voice when He calls.

I hope it is not disrespectful for me to say this, but I imagine that Jesus found delight in presenting Himself to Mary, fully aware that His resurrection was the cure for all her fears and longings.  While He waited for her to realize who He was, He must have held back a smile, knowing how ecstatic she would be when she recognized the truth.

I believe that Jesus must feel similar delight each time a lost soul gains the sight to see who He is: the Savior, the one full of love and full of power, the one who will restore all things, bringing eternal comfort and joy just as He has promised.  When heaven rejoices over a sinner receiving salvation, it isn't just angels singing, it's the Lord Himself, full of triumph and jubilation.

He is so good, so good to be overjoyed by the way His victory releases us from the despair of our broken world.  What a good God He is, to go to such lengths to purchase this priceless gift for us, and then to delight in watching our mourning transform into joy as we receive what He imparts.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, that you are faithful and good.
Thank you for the joy of your salvation.




Thursday, April 13, 2017

My beauty strategy

So.

It is said that, over time, dog owners transmorph to look like their dogs.

Growing up, I had a Boston terrier.  This made me insecure and paranoid.  When you have a dog that is known for being "so ugly, it's cute," it is not a comforting thought that you might conform to that ugliness in your own appearance, eventually--even if it is supposedly a "cute" ugliness.

As an I adult, I decided to get the prettiest dog I could find, in hopes of improving my own appearance by osmosis.  This is my style of beauty therapy, my kind of strategy.  No waxing, tweezing, tinting, contouring, highlighting or wrapping for me.  No, I just want to sit and hold a dog, thank you.

Piper was a gorgeous dog.  Dear little Pi.



Then we got Schubert, who is as cute as a dog could possibly be.  He's not "pretty," exactly, but he is absolutely darling.



This gave me hope.  As I go out with my aesthetically stunning dog, and reap compliments (once at the vet, another dog owner looked past his own pup to our little Schu and said, "That is seriously the cutest dog I have ever seen"), I have hope that the aesthetics will rub off.

The other night I was brushing Shubert's teeth before bed.  Shawn holds him for me in our hallway, and I brandish the toothbrush.  Wielding a brush laden with poultry-flavored toothpaste, I looked at these two guys that my heart throbs for, and I noticed:

Shawn is the one who looks like Schubert.  Shawn.  Not me at all.



Oh well.





Wednesday, April 5, 2017

God helped me



Driving, famished, picking through my trail mix in search of dried cherries and macadamia nuts, I pulled up at a stoplight yesterday behind a white truck whose rear bumper read,  "Restoring lives through Jesus Christ," in crisp, black font.

I'd been at Bible study all morning, followed by conversations, a walk at the track with friends, and then a shopping trip which took me to three different stores.  For me, with my lupus, this is unprecedented.  At least I'd had a slice of pound cake for breakfast, because usually I can only handle a cup of coffee in the morning.

Anyway, there I was, at the corner by the worst apartment complex in town.  Each time I drive through this intersection, I make a habit of praying for the light of the Lord to shine into darkened hearts, for Jesus' followers in the area to be emboldened and empowered and encouraged, for little children and vulnerable women to be protected from evil, for those in despair to find hope, for grace to be strong, and for God to be glorified.  This is what I try to do, but yesterday I was tired, distracted and tremendously hungry.

So I plunged my hand into the bag of trail mix in my lap as I pressed the brake down for the red light, and then I looked up and saw, "Restoring lives through Jesus Christ."  Right there, in my face.  (Restoration was my word for 2016.)

I thanked Him then.  I thanked Him for the laborers who are out working to bring people to truth, healing and freedom.  I thanked Him for this clear reminder and encouragement: when I was weak and struggling to pray, He put a cue right before my eyes.  I thanked Him that He is at work, and I prayed that the work would yield good results.  I prayed for the person driving the truck, whom I could not see.

God helped me yesterday.  God is good.  I love when He makes it simple for me to see His goodness.




Something I have learned:  drive time is a good time to pray.  So is the time I spend waiting in line to pay at a store, and time waiting in a doctor's office.  God provides so many opportunities for redemption.