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Did you know?  Valentine’s  Day began as a memorial; held for a man in the early church ages known as Valentinus. In his book, “Foxe’s book of Martyrs,” John Foxe records the story of this amazing man.  Apparently, during the second century, Valentinus was imprisoned by the Romans for performing marriage ceremonies for soldiers forbidden to marry.  He also gave food, shelter and comfort to early Christians, which was also a crime.

While he was in prison, his jailor, Asterius, communicated with Valentinus that his daughter was ill and about to die.  In desperation, the jailor asked Valentinus to pray to his God for a miracle.  Within days, the woman was healed and had returned to her healthy self.  She began to visit him in prison, and the two became very close friends.

On the day Valentinus was to be executed, Foxe records he sent a letter to her, as she had become the closest person to him. In the letter, he declared his love to her, and wished her well; signing the letter with “from your Valentine” as his farewell.  According to tradition, his execution day was February 14.

As word spread of Valentinus’ experience, the practice was repeated by early Christians who were about to die.  The term “Valentine” eventually became associated with the concept of expressing undying love in the face of difficulties.

Several hundred years later, during the Middle Ages, knights were assigned to care and protect for the female members of royal families. Because of time spent together, and inevitable conversation, the term “courtly love” became accepted.  This term became a description of the unspoken love and attraction between a maiden and her protector.  In that age, a knight would be executed if he expressed love for his charge as his objectivity in the situation was considered a major asset in serving as her protector.  In his writings, Geoffrey Chaucer used the term “Valentine” to explain this frustrating circumstance, and as a result, the practice of sending notes from a secret admirer became a practice in England.

In our day, Valentine’s Day still has the same symbolism, but without its history, we can forget the depth of its meaning.  But no matter the depth of meaning, the words “Happy Valentine’s Day” communicate affection and the desire for closer relationship.

Blessings! Enjoy your day!

 

©2013 dcg/atg

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           Today’s post is a second excerpt from my historical account of the life of Mary Magdalene, entitled “Journey: a novel”.  The book recounts the lives of Mary Magdalene, Simon the Pharisee and many of Jesus’ disciples, and has received some exciting reviews …..  It is the result of over 8 years of research and a trip to Israel. If you would like to read it, it is available on Amazon.com.

This morning’s post is my feeble attempt to begin to explain what the power of the resurrection of Jesus means in my own life. ….

           Three days later, just before sunrise, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Jesus, made their way to Joseph’s garden tomb. “Surely they will let us anoint his body,” they told each other. “What should we do if no one is there? Who will break the seal and move the stone?”

            As they neared the path leading to Joseph’s garden, both women were unexpectedly knocked to their feet. The ground was shaking again, this time with more force and power than either of them had ever seen. Below them, the earth roared, thundering.

            Was the world coming to an end?

            Just beyond where they were on the path, a flash of lightning lit up the sky.

            “Did you see that?” Mary asked Magdalene.

            “Yes.” She answered. “Where did it come from?”

            “I wondered that too. It didn’t come from the sky.”

            Both women broke into a run. As they entered the clearing in front of Joseph’s tomb, they stopped in astonishment.

            The great flat stone, some six feet in diameter, had been rolled away from the door. Who had broken the mortar seal?

            Around them, on the ground, looking as though they were dead, were five Roman soldiers. 

            However unusual, these were not the things that drew their attention.

            Sitting on top of the stone, to the right of the open doorway, was a young man. He was clothed in a blazing, white garment. He shone with a piercingly bright light. It emanated from him and enveloped him. It moved as he moved.

            And yet, they observed, he was real.

            The young man looked at them, as though they had been expected. He smiled. “He is not here,” he announced. “He is risen — just like he said.”

            “What did you say?” the older Mary asked him.

            “Come and see.” The young man indicated the open doorway to the tomb. “Go in, and see the place where he was laid.”

            Not exactly sure what they should do next, the two women looked at each other. They would have to pass this glowing figure in order to go through the door.

            The older Mary took the lead. Taking Magdalene’s hand she led them through the doorway. Was it authentic? Magdalene watched the young man, to see what he would do.

            He seemed to be enjoying himself.

            He watched them as they passed. He smiled at them.

            Entering the grave, the two women were greeted by two more young men in glowing white garments. Both were sitting on the bench where Jesus’ body had been placed the day after the feast.

            Was it brighter in here, the older Mary wondered? Where was the Light coming from?

            Who were these men, Magdalene questioned? They carried the same Light and Substance with them she had encountered the night of her deliverance.

            Were these angels, then?

            She couldn’t stand up in this atmosphere, she realized. She fell to her knees. So did the other Mary.

            The angel sitting on the head-plate spoke, looking directly at Magdalene. “He is not here,” he said clearly. “He has risen. Look here. This is the place where he was.”

             The second angel, sitting at the foot-plate, looked at the older Mary and smiled. “Go and tell the learners — and Peter — He is going before you to Galilee,” he said.

            What? The women looked at each other, and walked out of the tomb. Upon their exit, they were greeted by Salome, Elsbeth, Joanna, Abigail and Hadassah. Each woman was carrying a bag of myrrh and spices.

            “Good morning!” Hadassah said.

            “What are you doing here?” Magdalene asked.

            “We came to anoint the body. We’ve decided we will unwrap him if we have to,” Salome spoke.

            “It’s not here.” The older Mary spoke with a new conviction.

            “What’s not here?” Salome asked.

            “The body; it’s not here.” Mary looked at them as she repeated her words.

            “Did you see the angel?” Magdalene asked. “He was sitting right here.”

            “No, we didn’t see an angel.” Joanna looked at her strangely. “But we did see the soldiers running down the road as we were coming. One of them said something about going to make a report.”

            “To Pilate?”

            “I don’t think so. They said something about giving account to Caiaphas.” Abigail answered.

            “I think one of them was in Commander Flavius’ regiment,” Elsbeth offered. “I remembered seeing him before.”

            The older Mary looked at Salome. “The angel said we should tell the disciples the Master is alive, and will be waiting for us in Galilee.”

            Salome’s face broke into a smile. “Are you sure?” she asked.

            Mary glanced back toward the open door. “Pretty sure!” she answered.

            The group of women left together, talking and sharing. It would be wonderful to share the news with John, and James, and Andrew…. They couldn’t wait to see their faces.

            But Mary Magdalene couldn’t find the strength to leave the garden area. Old emotions began to surface.

            If he wasn’t here, where was he?

            She looked back through the tomb door.

            Yes, the two angels were still sitting there. She just wanted to be sure.

Her thoughts began to race. Her eyes filled with tears. The pent up fears of the past few days began to rise in a torrent of emotion.

            She began to weep; the sense of abandonment overwhelming her once again. What would she do – without Him?

             “Why are you weeping?” The angel at the head plate asked, his voice coming through the open doorway.

            “Because they have taken my Master away; I don’t know where he is,” she answered. How would she learn to live her life, she wondered? Who would teach her the things she was still missing? Who could she ask?

            Would anyone else understand her heart?

            Perhaps she just needed to find a place to have a good cry, she thought. Looking down, she turned, and almost ran into someone.

            Oh, she thought. The gardeners are here to tend the grounds. I will have to go somewhere else to be alone.

            “Why are you weeping?” the gardener asked.

            There it was; the same question. Magdalene decided to get some answers. There had to be an answer. She would find strength somewhere inside herself to handle this. She took a deep breath

            “Sir,” she said. “You are the gardener. If you have taken his body somewhere, please tell me where it is….” Her voice broke, and she began to weep harder. Sobs were beginning now. She had to get the words out. “I …. will…come and take… his… body… away.”

            There was a short stretch of silence. She didn’t know what else to say.

            Where could they have laid the body?

            The Gardener spoke, gently; kindly, quietly.

            “Mary!”

            From the deep caverns of her soul, her being resonated with response. This was the Voice that shattered her chains in the storeroom. This was the Voice that called her brother back from beyond the grave. This was the Voice that had shaped her identity since the night of her deliverance.

            This was the Voice of her God.

            She fell to her knees, and took hold of his feet in worship, weeping. “Oh, Master!” she cried with relief. “Jesus!”

            He knelt down and lifted her to her feet. “I haven’t ascended to the Mercy Seat, Mary. Don’t cling to me yet.” He paused. “Go and tell my friends that I am ascending — to my Father; and your Father — to my God; and your God.”

            She stood up. Looking at him she realized he was shining. It was the same light she had seen surrounding the angels; but it was brighter, stronger, somehow. She took a deep breath, and smiled at him.

            “I will, Master,” she replied, her heart suddenly light. She turned to go, and then excitedly took a step to return to him. Thinking better of it, she turned again to go the other direction, returning to her task, remembering his words.  For a moment, she looked back at him. He was watching her and chuckling. Yes, it was Jesus.

            She ran from the tomb. Was this a song she was humming? She didn’t know. She had never been so full of joy. He had kept his promise.

            I will not leave you alone. I will come to you.

            Perhaps she could still catch up with the others.

            A few moments passed.

            The older Mary, Salome, and the others, were still moving towards the city. In actuality, they were not too far ahead of her. Coming off the pathway which led to Joseph’s family home, the group turned onto the main road.              Suddenly, a man stood six feet in front of them.

            “Good morning, friends!” he called in greeting.

            Stunned, the women looked up. No one had seen him walking down the road…. Where had he come from?

            “It – it’s Jesus!

            The older Mary stood in shock for a moment. Then, all at once, she ran to him, and dropped to her knees, grasping his feet. Was he real? Was it really true?

            The other women gathered around him as well; Salome and Joanna, Hadassah and Abigail. Elsbeth just stood weeping. Each one found themselves wanting to confirm what their eyes told them. They too, touched him, hugged him.

            As the discovery of reality became clear, a sense of fear emerged. The desire to be separated from such power; somehow given a “safe distance,” whispered to them.

            “Don’t be afraid!” Jesus looked clearly at Salome and those standing back, beginning to just observe.

             “It’s all right! Come closer!” he said. “Go and tell my friends I will meet them in Galilee.”

            The women had run elatedly to deliver the message.

            At first, it had not been well received.

            At first, the men had not believed them. “Silly women!” a few said. “Magdalene has always been too emotional!”

            But then, Simon Peter and John decided to confirm the story. John had gone into the tomb first. He was convinced, and had told them all so.

            Poor Simon, Mary considered. He had been sure it couldn’t be true: even when his wife told him her experience!

            Then, he had looked into the tomb’s doorway and seen the wrappings neatly folded. The handkerchief Nicodemus had placed over Jesus’ face that night was over to the side, as though he had wiped his face before getting up. In disbelief, Simon Peter had gathered the linen wrappings to his chest.

            He had wept, full of remorse, for hours.

            He still wept easily, and often.

            No one knew when, or where, but the Master found Simon Peter at some point during that first day. She could only envision the conversation which had taken place between them.

            Peter didn’t talk much about what Jesus had said to him, but just the mention of it in conversation always brought him to tears.

            The fisherman had been different since then too, she considered.

            He was gentler, less impulsive; certainly less forceful in his opinions.

            Elsbeth had confided that changes had taken place at home as well……

…. To read the rest of the story, look for “Journey” to be available later this spring, released through Advantage Books.

(c)2010 DG — Awakened to Grow — Duplication without permission prohibited.     

            After that, Jesus had appeared to so many.

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Good morning all — since today is Easter Sunday, I wanted tore- post an excerpt from ny book,  “Journey: a Novel,”now available on Amazon.com. The book is an account of the life of Mary Magdalene.  It is the result of 8 years of research and a trip to Israel.  This excerpt is from Chapter sixteen, entitled, “New Wine.”     It is a peek into what the day of the Crucifixion might have been like for people who were there to experience it.   —

               It was sunset before Antonio Longinus returned to his quarters in the Fortress. Justus Flavius had been off-duty for several hours.

               Taking off his sword, and his shoes, Antonius sat down across from him. “It was quite a day today,” he said.

               Justus did not look up. “Yes, quite a day,” he answered quietly.

               “Your man Atticus was a real help today, Flavius. I appreciated him getting that foreigner to carry the Galilean’s cross. Your men did well. I am going to include a commendation in my report to Rome.”

               “Thank you,” Justus answered, still quiet.

               Longinus sat down by him. “What’s wrong, man? Have you not eaten? Did you get bad news?”

               Justus lifted his head. “One of my best friends died today,” he said.

               Longinus nodded. “I understand. I’m sorry. Did he die here in Jerusalem or back home?”

               “Here,” Justus answered, looking down again at the floor.

               “Oh,” Longinus walked across the room and took two wooden goblets. He filled them with wine. Looking through the provisions on his table, he pulled out loaf of bread. He tore the loaf in two, and began preparing two plates of food. “Come and sit with me, at least. You’ll feel better if you eat something.”

               Unfeeling, Justus rose and came to the table. He sat down across from Longinus, who began to speak.

               “In all my years, I’ve never seen an execution quite like the one we saw today. I’ve never seen that many people, or that much blood. And, until today, I thought it was against the law to scourge and crucify a man. I thought the rulers were supposed to choose.”

               Justus looked at him. “It still is against the law.”

               Longinus took a drink of his wine. “You know, that one man; the one in the middle; what was his name?

               “Jesus.” As Justus spoke, his voice broke.

               “Oh,” said Longinus, tearing a piece of bread. “Was he your friend?” 

               The Capernaum commander nodded. “He was a Healer. He healed my servant. He raised my friend’s daughter from the dead. He healed several lepers that I know. He….”

               Longinus interrupted him. “He raised someone from the dead?”

               Justus nodded.

               “I knew there was something about him. You should have heard the things he said from the cross. He gave out forgiveness. He asked a man to take care of his mother. It was like he was looking out for people.” He paused. There was one thing he said I didn’t understand; garbled, you know….Then he said, ‘it is finished,’ like he had completed some sort of job or something.” The centurion paused to take bite of his food.

               “Anyway, usually I have to break a man’s legs so the lungs collapse. That way they die before sunset, and the birds don’t get to them. Some of the men don’t do it that way, but I hate going back the next day and seeing places where the vultures have had their fill.”

               Justus shuddered. Longinus continued, his mouth full of food. “This man was already dead when I went to check him. Just before, he had said, “I’m giving my spirit into your hands.” I thought he was talking to one of his group that stood there all day. But just after he said it, he let out a long yell.”

               “I wanted to be certain he was dead, so I took my spear, and opened up his side. It’s important to be sure the lungs have really stopped working, you know. It’s more merciful, really. I wouldn’t want to be buried alive, would you?”

               He swallowed his mouthful.

               “Anyway, I told my captain ‘this man must be the son of God!’ When the spear hit the lungs, a fountain of blood and water came rushing out of him. It went everywhere.”

               “Is that unusual?” Justus asked

               “It’s never happened before; at least not to me.” He paused. “I left my men there to finish the burial detail.”

               A knock sounded on the door. Justus rose to answer it. “Go ahead and eat, Antonio,” he said. “I’ll get it.”

               When he opened the door, Justus was greeted by young messenger, dressed in the regalia of Pilate’s court. “Commander?” the messenger said.

               “Yes,” Justus answered, not remembering the message would be for Longinus. He took out his hand and took the sealed scroll.

               The young man put his fist to his chest and saluted, then walked away. Closing the door, Justus looked at Antonio. “It’s a message from Pilate, I think,” he said.

               “Go ahead and read it,” came the reply. “Are you going to eat your meat?”

               “No, I’m not really hungry.”

               Longinus moved Justus’ plate in front of himself, and continued eating. Justus opened the message and read.

               “We have both been summoned to come to Pilate’s palace.”

               “Why?”

               “It doesn’t say.”

               “Let’s go then. Let me just clean up a little.”

               When they arrived in Pilate’s court, the two officers were ushered immediately to the throne room. Pilate looked up from the scroll he was reading. He rolled it up and gave it to the scribe who stood by him.

               “Yes, that is what I wanted to say. Make sure you include the extra details I told you.”

               “Yes, sire,” the scribe responded.

               Pontius Pilate looked at the men before him. “So, Longinus, I’m sorry to call for you. I know you’ve had a long day.” He looked at Justus. “Who is this?”

               “My name is Justus Flavius, sire. I serve Rome in Capernaum. My men and I were summoned as support for the Passover detail.”

               “This has been a nasty business,” Pilate commented. “At least it will be over tomorrow.” He looked around the room, and raised his hand to indicate a man in priest’s robes standing just to the left side of the bema, or judgment seat where he sat.

               “Longinus, this is Joseph of Arimathea. He is a wealthy man; well respected in the city. He has asked for the body of Jesus, the Nazarene. He wants to take care of the burial requirements for us. He will need help getting the body down.”

               Longinus and Flavius looked at Joseph. “We will see to it, my lord,” Antonio answered.

               “There’s more,” Pilate said. “I also called you here because we have a small complication. Caiaphas has yet again managed to put a fly in my ointment. He has ‘requested’ that we set a watch on the tomb for three days. It seems this man said he was going to rise from the dead or some such nonsense. I want you to seal the tomb and set a watch. Rotate the men if you have to. I know they are all tired after the week.” He paused, thinking.

               “That’s all,” the Prefect finished. “You can go.”

               As Justus and Antonio turned to go, they heard him speak to his assistant. “I asked you for water and a towel.”

               “I brought them to you, sire,” the assistant responded.

               “I know. I used those. They are soiled now. I need another basin of water,” Pilate commanded.  “I need to scrub my hands again.”

               “Yes, sire. I will do whatever you say. But if you keep washing your hands, you will rub them even rawer than they already are.”

               “Don’t presume to tell me what to do, man!” the Prefect angrily replied. “Who are you to tell me if my hands are clean or unclean? I have to get this blood off of them!”

            Outside the palace, the three were met by another priest. He was waiting in a wagon. “What did he say, Joseph?” Nicodemus asked.

            “He gave me the body,” Joseph answered. “But these gentlemen have been asked to seal the tomb and guard it.”

            “I have myrrh and aloes to anoint his wounds and prepare him for burial, here in the wagon,” Nicodemus told him.

            “It will take a huge amount,” Joseph said, with a sad sigh. “How much did you bring?”

            “About a hundred pounds,” came the reply.

            “That might be enough,” Joseph answered. “We had better hurry. Nightfall is coming.”

(C) 2010 DG- AwakenedtoGrow. Duplication without permission prohibited.

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Did you know?

 The busiest time of the year for counseling offices and psychiatric hospitals in the United States begins December 1 and continues through the middle of January each year.

 Why?

In the deepest part of us, we each have hopes and expectations, some life-changing, which are linked to this season of the year. It is the time of year when we are most vulnerable, and when disappointments we have experienced in our lives usually surface. 

The Holiday Season is the time of year when every adult becomes a child-at-heart, and when every child hopes for their wishes to come true.

So How Can I Experience Truly “Happy Holidays?”

 Determine beforehand (now!) how you will respond in given situations.  Listed on this page are a few common “Joy-Robbers” that can sabotage life’s meaning and fulfillment during the Holidays.

Stress                        

 Simply put, stress is Fear telling us that we can’t possibly do enough to gain the approval we feel we need…

Settle it now – it’s impossible to get everything done.  Let yourself off the hook.

Decide what you can reasonably accomplish, and then don’t push yourself to do more. Relax.

Make appointments during the Holiday to enjoy the time with your family. Let yourself have fun.

Conflict                  

Conflict happens because we don’t think about what our actions and attitudes are doing to those we  love.

Choose to refrain from having conflict during the holiday; this is not the time to settle deep issues, or  discuss areas of pain and                  disappointment.  Journal the things that you want to work through with your family – AFTER CHRISTMAS

Illness                     

The Holidays are no fun when you don’t feel good. Don’t push yourself.

Pushing yourself and your body past your limits decreases your ability to fight infection, and lowers your immunities—so slow down your pace. 

Make sure you get enough rest; research indicates we each need 9 hours of sleep each night to be healthy.

We each need 5 hugs a day to maintain emotional health.  Stay close to your friends and family. Studies show that a healthy community increases well-being and healthy living.

Wash your hands at least 3 times a day; – after restroom breaks, before eating, after contact with others.  Try to keep your hands away from your face.  Antibacterial cleansers are a great help. (Purel, GermX etc.)

Set your focus to search out and find the good things in the season. Look for the good in your family too. Try to focus on, and give thanks for those things.

 Financial Demands

 Determine beforehand how much you plan to spend on each person on your list, and don’t violate the amount you set.

 Plan at least one meal out for yourself (and your spouse) during the season.

 If you haven’t done so in the past, consider putting aside monies specifically for Christmas usage beginning in January.  Save throughout the year for the season, so that you are not pressured when it arrives next year.

Remember, the Holidays are about relationship; enjoy your family, and the gift of God’s Grace; don’t strive. Consider:  What homemade gifts could you give – without using a credit card?

 Depression          

Statistically, the busiest season of the year for psychiatric wards and hospitals is the Christmas and Holiday season. Most attribute this to the fact that creating the “perfect” family image tends to compete for our time during these weeks, conflicting with the realities we all experience. If this is true for you, take some time for solitude and spend it in prayer and meditation.  Ask the Holy Spirit to show you things you can give thanks for, in every circumstance you find yourself depressed over. (You would not be the person you are today without those circumstances.) Then, find someone who is in a worse situation than you are. Determine to bless them during this season. Many people have literally “served their way out of depression” by serving someone else in need. If you need counseling, or a friend to talk to, don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Let someone else into your life….

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Have you ever been distracted?  Driven to distraction? Been behind the wheel and missed a turn because something took your attention on the side of the road?  Of course, we all have.  One of my clients was telling me this week how frustrated she gets when her teenager won’t look up from their laptop, or nintendo unit, when she is speaking to them. “They just seem to be lost in their own world,” she exclaimed.  “I don’t know how to get them to listen.”

When our own children were at home, I remember experiencing similar emotions. I remember Bill and I walking into the living room one evening, to find each of our three girls engaged in different “screen activities.”  For those of you not familiar with what I mean; “screen activities” are, by definition, anything that involves a screen: a laptop, a cell phone, a game system, a television, etc. 

 “It’s time to go,”  Bill said that night. No response came.  Each of the girls continued their activity, not hearing him; completely immersed in whatever had taken their attention.  Raising his tone, he repeated himself. “I said… it’s time to go.”  Still nothing…. We looked at each other…  Did they need hearing aids?

At that point, my husband walked over to our oldest daughter, Rachel,  sitting in the chair closest to the doorway where we were waiting.  Deftly, he closed her laptop. Surprised, she looked up.

“Dad! I didn’t know you guys were ready. Hey, I was in the middle of a game!” 

“I thought it might be something like that,” he said.  He pointed to her two sisters, who were still engrossed in cell phone and game system.  She followed his gaze to them.  They still did not look up.

“Girls,” he repeated. “It’s time to go.”  Then he called them by name.

Amazingly, both of our almost grown teens (at that time), looked up with bewildered faces. “What, Dad?”

“Didn’t you hear me?” he asked. “Your mother and I have been standing here for some time now.  It’s time to go.”

“Can I finish this game first?” the youngest asked. (You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought… and …. no.)

Even remembering that day as I am typing, I find myself smiling.  We had a really good talk about distractions over dinner that night — how things we enjoy can begin to consume all of our energy, and prevent us from missing the real deal.  How a cell phone chat isn’t quite like a conversation in person with a real live human being; how getting to the next level of a video game can destroy all your energies to actively do something in real life.  And, I have to say that  the girls learned the lesson well.  The initial training began that day, and took a little time and reminding.  But now, more than six or seven years later, we will joke about the lesson when one of us forgets and brings a cell phone to the family table.

Nothing replaces real life — ever.

Nothing replaces the real thing — ever.

Its the same in our relationship with God.  Continually, through the Scriptures, we are presented with an explanation of who God is — He is love, He is peace, He is the author of Grace and forgiveness, He is gentleness, He is patient, and He is good.  He is also All-Powerful, All-mighty, and the Creator/Sustainer of all things. Without the Presence of God;– the planet — and each of us — would just disappear, disintegrate… ..

The book of Colossians tells us that  He holds all things together within His Person.  He is the Advocate; the Healer; the Comforter; the Teacher; the Refuge.  He is the Perfect Parent.  He identifies with and understands what we feel.

He accepts us and loves us — just as we are — and when we experience Pain, when we invite Him, He will meet us there.  He will use that Pain to somehow birth something new and fresh through our lives — something that will make us wonder if the painful experience had actually been part of His plan.  And yet, He is the giver of Life — He is good.  It isn’t His nature to plan the bad stuff…

That comes from somewhere/someone else.

It is so important in our lives with Jesus, that we continually keep our hearts open to remember who He is….. and how much we have to be thankful for.  It is too easy to become distracted, perhaps with the need to defend position or debate and argue.  Recently, I have been exposed to a mindset that contends it is necessary for believers in Jesus to have heated debate in order to grow and learn…. I found myself walking away saddened somehow; perhaps because the opportunity for real fellowship had been lost….. Such a life approach destroys and prevents deep relationships — because the participants become distracted by the need to be right.

There are those who feel it is necessary to become immersed in angry discussions before they feel empowered…. Anger doesn’t really do much relational building.  Instead, it isolates us, and pushes those we want to be close to farther away.  Those who practice Anger never really understand how to have enduring friendships — they are distracted by the areas of disagreement, rather than by the areas where the Blood of Jesus covers all.

While I am sharing about this so candidly, let me just say that there is a final area of distraction.  It is the trap of feeling responsible to define, label and critique the words and actions of others….  It’s an appealing trap, because it can become our defense mechanism; providing some sort of false protection, if you will.  The end result with self-defense is that we eventually alienate everyone around us; only holding onto relationships with people who also hold our same viewpoints and religious posture.  In the end, there is no one left to agree with us..  In the end, we will be alone.

We are called to love. We are called to listen.  We are called to seek to understand.

As believers and followers of Jesus Christ, our first call in the Kingdom of God is to love each other the way Jesus loves us.  We are never called to weigh in and prove a point.  I have learned the hard way, just this week, in fact, that you cannot even defend yourself when someone has made up their mind to disagree with you.  When the faulty communication showed itself, online yet, I tried, unsuccessfully to defend myself.  I should never have done so…… I came away wounded and disappointed; feeling let down somehow by a lack of…. of what? 

Perhaps by my own lack of ability to explain myself…. or the polarity of our two basic beliefs about how God reaches people. Perhaps I had said more than was necessary. Whatever the reason, half-way through the discussion it became evident to me that the conversation was going nowhere.  What do you do in such moments?  

Do you “slap” the other person’s cheek back?  If I do that, I become just like the one who hurt me… or worse, I identify with the entity driving their behaviors…. When did good manners and the practice of civility take such a hit, I wonder?  I found myself flat-footed, surprised….. with no arsenal in the emotional “backpack” …

Now, looking back at the conversation, I’m glad my “backpack” was empty…. Defense would have served no purpose.  And thinking about it, what if this person is my neighbor in the Kingdom to come? 

We each have a purpose.

I am comforted by the example of Jesus and His disciples. 

Peter was an impulsive and mouthy hot-head;

James and John were  anger based (“Sons of Thunder”);

Philip too analytical;

Thomas couldn’t decide what he believed;

Nathaniel (Bartholomew) was too innocent, trusting all of himself quickly;  

Andrew and Thaddeus didn’t talk much, but observed;

Simon Zealot was a nationalist, confusing his patriotism with his faith; 

Matthew had come out of politics and money-laundering; 

James Alphaeus was too logical…

…and then there was Judas Iscariot, who lived and walked with Jesus, was sent out with the twelve, and with the seventy; who saw miracles; who passed judgment on worshippers; who verbalized his criticisms… and never let people see who he really was on the inside.  Scary stuff.

One of my pastors preached a sermon many years ago.  It was titled, “Kicked with Clean Feet.”  You guessed it…. it was about how Jesus handled His human responses to Judas’ betrayal — just after the Lord of all had washed his feet….   It was about what we do when relationships in our lives turn out to be something other than what we expected.  How do we handle betrayal? Or worse, condemnation and disapproval from those who also claim to know Jesus?  We’ve all had it happen.  Sadly,  our human-ness sucks us in sometimes, and we want to defend ourselves. But Jesus never did that…. although He did explain Himself for who He was (is) and His purpose in coming… over and over again. 

Its better to be vulnerable; to be known; to take risks — even if you get hurt in the end….

But… at the end of the day, it is just a distraction.  Pulling our attention — From Him.

Disagreement, debate, and defense are sent to immerse us into a life that isn’t real… like a teenager with a laptop.  Our Father speaks, and we can’t hear Him.  “It’s time to go,” He says.  Still we persist in our argument, or our defense….

We are distracted from the real calling — to press in to broken-ness to know the Lord.  To seek Him for His plan and purpose to be made known on the earth; to find our own Calcutta.

Jesus is the only one who can change a heart.

So take heart….when disagreement happens in your sphere of influence, don’t be discouraged….. Recognize it for what it is — a distraction.  You are called to love others.  You are called as an agent of change for the Kingdom…. Look up. We are aliens and foreigners on this planet; it is not our home.  We belong to the unseen Kingdom. We can’t afford to get immersed in the “not real.”

Dad will be standing in the hallway soon to take us to dinner.

Blessings,

(c)2010 DG Duplication for profit requires permission.

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I love YouTube videos… Recently I found one that showed a prank played by several college students on the public-at-large.  They had super-glued a quarter to the ground, and then set up a camera “blind” in a local mall. The results were hilarious.  People would walk by, most of them looking down.  Some would notice the quarter. Some would walk by it, oblivious.  Those who did notice the coin, stopped.  Almost all bent down to pick it up, after looking around to see who was watching. When it became difficult to lift the quarter from the ground, responses varied.  A few even got down on their hands and knees and tried to leverage the coin from the ground. 

Watching the video started me thinking…

Like most glues, Superglue is called a “bonding agent.”  Anything it touches will become bonded together; like my thumb and forefinger; or the china cup I’m just not willing to get rid of yet…. And it only takes a couple of drops too…. The results are almost instantanious; becoming permanent…  (unless I have a chisel handy…)

Don’t you wish it was the same with relationships?  Don’t you wish there was some fantastic agent that could be applied to a relationship, or even applied in drops to our inner understanding, deepening and sealing those relationships we sometimes fear might be slipping away?  Such an element could take us back to the formative years, when our self-concept was being formed; when we were experiencing imprinting; when our morals were developing; when we were being instructed in our values…. 

It would change our perceptions, and help us to see the world … well, properly…

Studies have shown that healthy emotional bonding in a child’s life is crucial in building a solid sense of personal belonging and confidence later in life.  Interestingly enough, the same studies have shown a link between uninterrupted, positive bonding during childhood years (ages 0-12), and the development of the adult moral conscience.  It seems that we each are born with the desire to receive approval; to be understood as having “meant well” in our lives.  Additionally, we are born with a temporary, and fleeting innocence that predisposes us to believe the best, to learn, and to live motivated lives. 

I’ll throw in an illustration here: As salt and baking soda is to a cake’s batter, so healthy bonding causes our lives “to rise.”

That doesn’t mean that we are born without a sin nature… Instictively, we all possess the ability to choose ourselves first — that goes without saying…. There are things that we must be taught; like sharing; like listening; like empathsizing with others’ pain, like taking the smaller piece of pie because the apple pie on the table is our brother’s favorite…  No, we are each inherrantly selfish, with our personal orbits rotating in loyalty around our own comforts and sense of safety.  But early years are the best season to shape unselfishness. 

Early years are the time when, as Anne Ortlund stated so eloquently years ago, “children are wet cement.”

Two studies come to mind, both of which I re-read recently, involve the mindsets of sociopathic killers over the past 200 years or so.  The studies included the lives of murderers such as Ted Bundy, Jack the Ripper, Hilter, Josef Mengele, as well as more modern mass murderers, such as those who have perpetrated school shootings; like Colombine, like Paducah, Cleveland, and New Orleans.  There have been more than 60 in our country to date.  And lest we believe that the problems exist only in our own sphere of influence, we must remember that school shootings have taken place in other countries as well:  Finland, the Netherlands, Germany to name a few.  These studies show that whenever a person becomes sociopathic, it is a result of emotional numbness, of ambient depression, of isolation — in short, an un-bonded-ness in the life.

But….

Yes. I hear you. Not everyone with a bonding issue becomes a socio-path.  However, we were created to bond — at Creation, God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.”    When we are not well bonded, and are designed to bond with someone — who do we bond with?  We bond to ourselves. We feel alone.  We become our own sense of “rightness.” Even within a family, we feel  “outside” somehow.  We don’t sense much emotion, unless it is negative; like anger, depression, fear.  We try to meet our own needs — even when we don’t know what they really are — and we are tempted to overindulge.

Can you fix the cake as it comes out of the oven?  Can you add salt and baking soda then — when the layer hasn’t risen, and it “tastes unappealing.” No, for the cake to rise properly, those things must be added in at “batter stage.”

Sadly, the majority of people I see in my counseling office represent our culture pretty well. Most are trying to work through bonding issues — gaps in emotional development.  They are people who thought life was “just breezing along,” until a crisis presented itself; something they were emotionally untooled for; something that released a torrent of deeper pain from early life. Typically, men cover these gaps with anger; women with fear and depression.  And bonding gaps in children — become love needs that drive us in adults.

So,

How does a parent, or authority figure,  impart bonding to their child?  Consider: can they give away something they never received?

How does a mother guide without nagging or complaining?  Consider: can she follow a pattern she has never seen modeled?

How does a father become involved and empathetic towards his family?  Consider: where would he learn those examples?

Does our busy-ness and driven-ness as a culture explain away a child’s inherrent need for bonding? Why do we seek to be “normal,” rather than “healthy?”  

Answer: We can only do what we have seen done, and repeat what we have experienced…

Unless….  The solution is not an easy one.

Our culture is in need of healthy fathers, healthy mothers, …… and healthy churches. 

Currently, I am one of those who serve in a congregation of believers.  My counseling practice includes some from my own congregation, as well as many from outside our church walls.  Too many times, I hear the words, “I don’t go to church anymore, because I didn’t feel I was good enough; I couldn’t keep all the rules. I didn’t know how.”  Too many times, sadly, people in bars have proven to be kinder than people inside a church structure.   And worse, the only people who are offended when I repeat these statements, usually are those who feel they already know Jesus Christ.  Those who don’t know Him yet agree…. or even enlarge the statements.

How do we learn to bond?  My simple answer, humbly offered is this:  We must allow our hearts to receive the love of God.  It is not something we can earn, or prove to be worthy of.  But it is the only substance that can take us each back to “batter stage.”  Jesus said, in Matthew 18, “Unless you be converted (changed) and become as a little child, you will not see the Kingdom of Heaven.” 

Stop and think about that for a moment… reread the last paragraph… I don’t know about you, but I really want to see the Kingdom come — on earth, as it is in heaven… don’t you?  What would it take for you to let your heart go back to “batter stage?”  Can you believe that God deeply and thoroughly loves you — really loves you — just because He made you? What bonding needs were not addressed in your “batter stage?”

The only one who can help us become who we are designed to become, is the One who made us… Jesus Christ…. He is the bonding agent.

The salt and baking soda part of the proposition includes finding real disciples of Jesus who will allow you to learn as you grow; and will love you as well, without judgment, or give you a list of rules that must be “kept.”  I say that, because it is important that we realize that when we allow Jesus to really love us, we will begin to hear and feel His Spirit speak to us.   On the inside of us. And when the Holy Spirit speaks, He teaches us; encourages us; and helps us to make changes from the inside out.  It’s always better to work with Him, because He is our Creator; He alone knows who we are destined to become.  

When the Holy Spirit leads us, He never leaves us alone. He always leads us into a safe community.  In the Bible, that community is called “The Body of Christ,” or “The Family of God.” 

If you would like further study about this, please email me at awakenedtogrow@yahoo.com…. or find me on facebook.

Blessings!

“…. there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother…” (Proverbs 18:24)

“…. (Jesus said,) I will never leave you or forsake you….” (Hebrews 13:5)

(c)2010. atg/dg  Duplication for profit requires permission.

  

 

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We don’t know what we don’t know…..

When we realize we don’t know, most of the time we don’t possess the correct questions to help us begin to know what we need to know….. (now stay with me..)

And, most of the time, we only discover what we don’t know after we have made mistakes, and wish we could fix them.

It’s so true, isn’t it?……

Each month, through our ministry at Awakened to Grow, I teach workshops for personal growth and development.  This morning, the subject was “Parenting: How to Discover and Develop Gifts in your Child.”  For three hours, we discussed personalities, parenting styles, bonding gaps, learning styles, and the process of connecting with children on a heart-level. I was particularly touched by one participant who came.  She is a single gal, who came not because she has children of her own, but because she is a teacher who wants to help her more emotionally disconnected students.

Why, you might ask….

Because emotionally disconnected students don’t really learn or absorb.  They just memorize facts, and forget them later on.  This woman knows instinctively knows that if she can get her students to connect with her as the teacher, they will learn.

When our children were smaller, I mistakenly thought that a more structured and somewhat rigid environment would help them to become better students.  I scheduled, made task-lists, and sometimes over-organized our home-schooling/learning environment.  It didn’t work.  Wow, that’s an understatement. It really, really didn’t work.

I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

When I discovered that I didn’t know, I realized that I had no idea what questions I should ask in order to learn a different pathway.

It is the same way in emotional development, which, by the way is necessary for both genders.  When we count the male gender out of the process during boyhood, we damage their souls.  We stunt them as men; turning them angry and violent… or worse, we cripple them in their leadership skills later in life.  They find it difficult to find the courage to walk forward without looking over their shoulders.

We hinder them from hearing the Spirit of God as adult men.

Emotional development does not track with the growth of our physical bodies. In his research on the levels of moral development at Harvard, Lawrence Kohlberg divided the steps of emotional/moral development into five stages.  Level 1 descibes a person who is emotionally infantile, unaware and out of touch.  At the other end of the spectrum, Level 5 describes a person who is able to fully invest in relationships, connecting with and investing vulnerability in others unselfishly on a consistent basis.  Sadly, even as adults, more than 90% of the world’s population does not move past level 3 — self-centered, self-absorbed, unable to really understand other people around them. 

So what prevents us from growing?

Here is the the first key:  Unless a person intentionally addresses an area of relational living; assessing, addressing, and changing it; they will not, they cannot grow.  They might try to imitate a behavior, or keep a rule in order to save a relationship — but they will not be able to make real steps towards adult living. For example, if a man has had a difficult childhood, say, where he could not relate to his mother; that man will find it difficult to relate to women in his adult life in a healthy manner.  He will also find it difficult to relate to his daughters.  He won’t be a good communicator.  He might be struggle with being tempted to be unfaithful, or even cold and unfeeling….

If he has sons, his manner of relating is passed on; imitated and followed, many times for generations…

The same types of symptoms occur in women, when emotional development has been stunted; or bonding issues exist. 

Here is the second key:  Emotional development does not happen in seclusion or isolation.  It happens in community — We were created for relationship — Therefore, we need it in order to be happy, healthy and whole. 

This kind of growth many times cannot happen unless hidden wounds are addressed in a person’s life.  And please, for those of you who have been in Christian circles for a long time, please understand that it doesn’t happen quickly, or overnight.  Rather than a one-time event, where a person comes to change; it is a journey, with one step following another; happening incrementally, and intentionally. 

The first lesson we learn in emotional development, is that we must be willing to be honest; assessing where we live without fear, blame, guilt, shame or denial. 

The second lesson is more difficult. Choosing to trust a safe person; asking them to give us a new set of questions to ask about our lives.  

For more, let me recommend a great read. “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” by Pete Scazzaro. 

To close, let me say this:

My friend, Mike likes to post funny things on his Facebook page. Today, his quote came up, “God has already figured your stupidity into His plan.”   At first, I laughed, and then, thought, “It’s a good thing!”  You know, if God had to wait for me to “get it” every time, my life would have more delays than an airport….. He is the only One who knows all the things we don’t know….. and at the end of the day — He is the only one who can heal us!

Blessings!!

(c)2010  DG Awakened to Grow.  Duplication without permission prohibited.

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Friday night is date night; has been that way for over thirty years now.  Each week, Bill and I will retreat into the niche we have carved out in our marriage — and spend a few hours together, just being together.  There have been moments, like our twentieth wedding anniversary, when we had no money, and sat in the car at Taco Bell. We found ourselves thankful for small things.  Some Fridays, we go out to eat; sometimes, we sit on our deck; sometimes, we take a day trip…. The point is that Friday is a hallowed time — set apart for our relationship.  We lay aside our responsibilities. We get to remember why we got together in the first place….

I love that time…. mostly because we both guard it so fiercely….

Over the years, if we miss one, we always make it up…..

All that being said, this week’s date was a movie.  It’s been hot lately, so we opted for an afternoon matinee and a pizza joint closeby.  (Pizza is no good unless it comes in huge by-the-slice pieces, and is served with a New York accent, we’ve discovered.)  The movie?  We went to see the remake of “The Karate Kid.”  Now, I’m not a movie critic; nor would I want to be.  And, I have a difficult time watching movies that are remakes of old favorites — it’s like watching Jack Black try to be Humphrey Bogart.  That image just might ruin “Casablanca” for me forever…  You just can’t replace the original.  

But I loved this movie… not because it was done “better,” or because it was “more relevant.”  It’s presentation and setting were unique and different.  And yes, I know, it should have been titled “The Kung Fu Kid.”  I don’t care. I loved it because it brought me to a personal discovery; one that I will know the Lord will be working on for some time into the future with me.  I found myself weeping through the beginning parts of the movie; so much so, that my husband reached over and gently touched my hand. “Are you okay?” he asked.

I nodded, even though I couldn’t quite put into words what what happening within my own soul. 

“Was this the wrong movie?” he asked, with a smile.

I shook my head. “No,” I answered. “I’m okay. But, I might need to get out of here for a minute.” 

Fight or Flight had kicked in.

But I stayed.  I was fascinated by the storyline.  As I continued to watch the account unfold, I made some discoveries.  As a missionary’s child, like the boy in the story, I too, had been the “new kid” in a foreign culture.  My parents changed countries and cultures several times during my “in the nest” years. And, in each new place, I had been the “different” child, who had needed to learn the unspoken rules. 

And, while I hadn’t been required to learn a new spoken language (I was in Australia and England growing up), there had been a complete encyclopedia of cultural expectations I found myself unable to decipher. Handicapped by my young age, and lack of ability to communicate, I dealt with one bullying situation after another; even when we returned to the United States.

A lot is being said about bullies these days; from movies like “Mean Girls,” to classic texts like “Raising Cain” and “Saving Ophelia.”  It seems that the violence so prevalent in our culture, is trickling its way down into the playgrounds and classrooms, the living rooms and back yards of our nation. It never used to be the case, but now it is a normal thing to see a four year-old enrolled in karate, or kung fu classes.  When I ask a parent “why,”… the answer?  “He has to know how to defend himself.” 

There was a day when we encouraged our children to take care of those who were weaker than themselves; to look out for the underdog; to stand against the bullies…..  I have had clients; eleven and twelve years of age, mind you, who find it difficult to find a reason to go to school in the morning; who have discerned the world to be an unforgiving place in their childhood — when everything should be about the fun of discovery.

Not survival.  And how well we have all learned the meaning of that word — survival.

Fear and intimidation are terrible things, especially in one’s childhood; especially in one’s adolescence; especially in one’s adulthood. 

And, although they began in Eden’s Garden long ago, they have maintained their continuum through the ages. Satan’s goal has always been to use hierarchy, false authority, and manipulation in his process of bringing death and destruction.  I have seen the effects of bullying; emotional and physical; on all kinds of people over the years.

It’s funny how a person who thinks they are “just expressing themselves,” will fail to see the effects of their selfishness and bullying nature on those around them. Or, how a child who has learned to cover his insecurities will grow into a man who abuses; bullying others to keep him happy.  Or how a student, who struggles with feeling intelligent will take it out on those students around him who understand the materials. Having been the underdog, I now find myself seeking to serve as one who can throw a rope. 

As believers, God calls us to help one another; to serve one another, to turn the other cheek  — but not at the loss of our own identities.  Dear reader, never let Fear or Intimidation keep you from becoming the man or woman God has called you to become…. stand up against that Inner Bully — speak the Word of God — stand on the Truth —

Do what I am doing; at 53. 

Let yourself heal. Find a safe place; a group of safe people — and choose to open your heart.

Injury was never part of the original Design…. but Healing is part of the Divine Solution. The Fear didn’t come from God.

“God has not given us a spirit of Fear (timidity); but of power, love, and of a sound mind.”  II Timothy 1:7

Blessings.

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At church yesterday, someone was giving away fresh peaches.  A large box was placed by the door, filled to the brim with at least a bushel of the yummy fruits. “Our trees are full,” my friend said. “Please, take as many home as you like.” She and her husband had even brought shopping bags for the interested peach-lovers in our congregation. 

As people were heading towards their homes, (or lunch out), I noticed treasure collections of peach-filled bags in the hands of many. “Did you get some peaches?” my friend asked those who had forgotten.

“Oh! I forgot!” was the usual reply. “Thanks for bringing these.” Many made plans for their peaches — jam; pies; just peel-n-eat.

I love serving in ministry. Did I tell you that?  For the past thirty years, Bill and I have worked together as senior pastors; first in the north, and now in the southeast. We have learned and evolved over the years; relaxing a little somehow.  Hopefully we are a little wiser; stronger; more mature; hopefully we are just better.  In the process, our marriage has been through storms and summers. As our personal family has grown, so has our ministry style.  In fact, the years have solidified lessons about ministry, and my own approach to it. 

For my own part, I have decided it is more profitable to live on a learning curve.

I can’t give out what I haven’t received — so I have to stay open. To the Spirit of God, and to other people…

I can’t ask people to do what I am not willing to do myself — so I need to invest myself. Not living with an entitled mindset that “someone else will do it.”

I can’t carry the water of Life to others; in worship, the Word, or even in example, if I am empty. So it is vital that I hear Jesus speak to my heart continually.  Manna is good; day-old bread, not-so-much.

Most importantly, ministry is my job. It is not my relationship with Jesus.  If and when I confuse the two, trading one for the other, a terrible treadmill is the result; a trap whose lure is success and man’s approval — a tendency towards contemporary trends and relativism.  No, Jesus and I must meet and discuss my heart attitudes, the development of my personhood, my discipleship.  Jesus and I must meet and explore what it means to be a human being, rather than a human doing.  Without that daily meeting with the Spirit of the Living God, I cannot find substance or depth. Nor will I be able to live my days with passion for Him.

My life with God should be about my loving God — not about duty…..

In the early days, Bill and I were sitting in a Denny’s restaurant, studying for exams in our pastoral epistles class. (Thanks, Jim and Jean Hodges!!)  We weren’t married yet; or even engaged. We were just study partners. We were talking about I Timothy 3, and what the office of a bishop/pastor would look like.  In our conversation, we came to some conclusions. For a minister to have his home “in order,” the instruction was not discussing the portrayal of an image, or a flawlessly spiritual existence.  It meant that the God-order of relationships had to rule the minister’s family; that we treat each other well — safely.  Without control, manipulation, domination, anger or strife.  It meant that we seek to out-serve each other, and seek to enter each other’s world, like Jesus did for His Bride. …

Practically put, I can’t give away what I don’t possess. If I haven’t mined it out for my own life, I can only describe it to others — I can’t take them there. 

When family comes before ministry, the result is healthy living.   The God-example of the people before the machine comes into play. In my own understanding, this is the conduit God intends when He calls us.  He calls us to healing. There is no other way for our lives to become the pipeline Jesus wants us to become. 

 It means that my relationships within my family, and the life I am living at home, become the avenue through which ministry comes.  In priority and principle, it looks like this:  #1. Relationships before Tasks; #2. Take the time for the individual;  #3. Some tasks will take longer because of #1 and #2.

After thirty years of living our lives in ministry this way, I keep making discoveries of how well I love our church family.  And they have become our family; a community of safety; a Safe Haven.  

Hopefully, we are bearing good fruit.  I realize we won’t really know the end-results of our efforts until the end of days; sometimes, though it’s good to get a glimpse, just to encourage yourself.

“Mommy! Look at the peaches!” My dollhouse-toehead tugged on her mother’s pant leg.  “We need some!”  (If you want to know who she is, please see the blog entitled “Doll-house Toehead.”)

Her mother and I had been in the midst of a quick conversation.  You see, we head to court tomorrow.  We are seeking to rescue her from the effects of abuse; to create a safe place for a child who needs to relax in order to heal and grow.

In my heart, I hope we get a judge who listens. I hope we get a miracle for this little girl and her mother…. I hope.

In my heart, I give thanks that healing happens in the midst of community — mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters.  Learning what Jesus meant for our lives to look like when He put two “fruit-pickers” in a Eden’s Garden….. sharing the harvest fruit of our lives with one another; growing up into the image of Him, with roots going deep; people of substance and relationship.

Sounds peachy…. (sorry couldn’t resist!)  Blessings.

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“We caught him!”

I looked up from my laptop, to see my husband’s face shining with excitement. “Come out and see him!” 

So, we walked out to the yard, where, under the trees in a “have-a-heart” trap, was a large, full-grown, vanquished, male raccoon.  It looked up with pleading eyes, frozen in place, watching us as we assessed him.  Now, before I go on with the story, I must give you a little history. 

Context is everything…

Three weeks ago, Bill set the trap.  He used a full can of sardines as bait.  We had tried everything else. In the morning, the trap had yielded a neighborhood cat. Disappointed, we let the pitiful little thing go to its home, feeling guilty for setting the trap in the first place.    The next night, the same, brand new trap had almost given its life as an offering towards the quest… Wonderfully, the raccoon had found the trap, and taken the sardines.  But, in the process, the not-so-little bandit had all but destroyed our trap.  It lay in bent and battered pieces the next morning, a tribute to the raccoon’s cunning. In response, and, as a tribute to his own tenacity, my husband wired it back together with bailing wire, reinforcing the trap door.  “There!” he declared. “The little jerk won’t do that again!”   

Why this raccoon?  Why this focus of energy?

Well, it all began several years ago.  It has become a quest; a mission; a passion, if you will.  Like a knight in search of a grail, my husband has discovered a priority. The raccoons are the enemy from hell; similar to St. George’s dragon, you see. For the protection of our home, they must go….. The quest has enveloped each of our family members in one way or another, at one time or another.  In the course of his quest, we have discovered all sorts of theories, and falsehoods about how to deal with the little breed.  

It all started when our oldest daughter, Rachel, came home from college one year.  We had known there were gaps around the dormers on our roof needing to be repaired; filled in. But, when you are refurbishing a church campus, limited  in finances, and working, there is only so much energy to go around.  So, understandably, the dormers had waited.  

After unpacking her suitcases, Rachel, then 21, pulled the hinged stairway down that leads to our attic. Her attempted task was to put her bags away. After extending the stepladder, she  began the short climb, looking upwards, then down.  She reached down to gather her empty suitcase from the floor, readying herself to swing the bag up into the open access.  In her peripheral vision, she saw a movement.  She almost fell off the ladder with a stifled scream. She looked again towards the access. 

A rather large raccoon was standing on its  haunches, front feet up, teeth bared.  It was hissing and growling.  Apparently, she had invaded its home.

Its home? I had thought it was our home…. 

Rachel came running downstairs. So startled was she, that she forgot to close the access stairs. “Mom! Dad! Did you know there are raccoons in the attic?”  “Mom! How did they get in there?” Thankfully, the raccoon “king” was satisfied that he had defended his domain and had not ventured down the stairway…

Did you ever discover something that suddenly needed attention?  A lot of attention?  Unknown to anyone living in our home, elements of destruction had been working for a long time.  Repairs were extensive and time-consuming; requiring strategy. They were expensive.

It was like the painful discovery of a blindspot; like seeing a need for change. 

Upon inspection, Bill discovered a family of raccoons in the attic.  How long they had been there, we couldn’t tell.  But they had certainly created themselves an environment.  They loved it there..

But so did we…. 

In the process of getting rid of the ones in the attic, a few got away…..causing us to begin a journey. Over the past six years, we have caught and relocated many raccoons; all of which have come from this one little attic family.  (We have also worked to repair the roof….) And, as far as we know, the male Bill caught this morning was the last of them.  

As I stood, considering the little imp in the trap today, I found the inevitable words coming out of my female mouth. “But, he’s so cute, honey! Look at him! The poor thing! How long has he been in there?” 

My husband looked at me in disbelief, his mouth open. “What?” 

“I’m sorry,” I replied. “It’s just hard to believe this is the one.” 

Bill put his arm around me. “He’s the one.”

In my heart I know he is right. The long list of repairs we have done because of this particular raccoon came to my mind.  He has broken the glass in the birdfeeders, and bent the metal suet feeders, rendering them almost unusable.  He has chugged full hummingbird feeders, leaving them empty, with trails behind him. He has chewed. He has dug.  He has destroyed the finch feeders, requiring their replacement.

And he is done.  So am I.  Looking at him, I realized my personal need to face the facts. He might be cute, but he was destructive.  He might be cowering now, but he had wreaked havoc with his siblings in our home.  As a whole, the raccoon race had cost us hundreds of dollars.  My battle?  I found myself wanting Bill to let him go because I momentarily felt sorry for him.  If we did let him go into the neighborhood once again, our frustrations would continue, and the quest would return… 

For that moment, the raccoon was full of regret — of his appetite for sardines, and his destructive patterns.

For that moment, I felt guilty — for impeding his processes, for his capture, for his impending relocation.

But regret and guilt don’t make changes.  Repentance does. Strategies and Intentional Action make changes.  Feelings don’t dictate growth. Character dictates growth.

Context is everything…

It is sad, but I have met many people who are stuck in the perpetual cycles of guilt and regret…. allowing a quest to be revisited because they hope a quick apology will undo years of bad behavior.  They wrongly believe it is their responsibility to maintain the happiness of those they love who carry destructive behaviors….. 

King Solomon said “is is the little foxes that spoil the vines.” And he was right.

Beware of the masked bandits…..

Blessings!

(C)2010 DG Awakened to Grow. Duplication without permission prohibited.

 

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