Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Power of Prayer

     The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray.  Having experienced the mighty power through His miracles, they knew that the source of Jesus’ power and strength came from His relationship with His Holy Father.   The disciples didn’t ask Him to teach them to preach, but to pray.  They wanted this same kind of relationship.  

      Don’t all believers desire a closer relationship with God?  The Bible tells us that God is rich in mercy to those who call on Him.  But how many of us recognize prayer as two-way communication?  Too many of us do all the talking and asking, and then we wonder why our lives are not going the way we think they should.  We strive to handle all of life’s challenges on our own, and only when we mess things up do we turn to Him for help.   Doesn’t God already know all our needs?  So why do we need to ask?   God wants us to humble ourselves and put our trust in Him, admitting that we need Him in our lives.  Sometimes He allows us to stumble and fall so that we must look up to Him in humility from our knees. 

                It is a mistaken belief that God answers all prayers of those who believe in Him.  If we, as sinners, petition for His mercy while we have yet to seek his forgiveness for our sins, then He will turn a deaf ear to our pleas.  And we are all sinners, every day.  So we must pray that He will reveal our sins to us so that we can ask forgiveness for them.  It is no wonder so many people don’t believe God answers prayers.  He has to hear them first, and the first one He needs to hear is the one seeking atonement.

     The power of prayer comes through the Holy Spirit.  Are we tuned in to God’s voice so that we recognize the Holy Spirit?  Whether His voice comes to us loud and clear, a distinctive voice we cannot deny, or whether it is a tiny, niggling on our conscience, we must learn to tune in and to obey.  New mothers often get little sleep the first few weeks of their newborn’s life, not because the baby isn’t sleeping, but because the moms are so attuned to the slightest noise.  This is how we should be focused on God’s voice.  Perhaps if we actively sought His voice at all times, we would more easily recognize it and learn to follow His direction.  Imagine what powerful lives we could lead if all believers learned to heed his voice!

          I can’t even begin to fathom the change in America if all God’s people started actively seeking a closer relationship with Him through the Holy Spirit.  If all believers would begin each day asking Him to show us our sinful ways so that we might turn away from them and then ask forgiveness for those sins, imagine the smile on His face!  I believe He wants to shower us with blessings, more than we could imagine, if we just learn to trust in Him in all things.  If we want to see a stronger country, to see change for the better, then that change must start at home -- with you, with me. 

God of grace and God of glory, we humble ourselves before you this day.  We know we have sinned.  Reveal all our sins to us, Lord, so that we might seek Your forgiveness and turn from our wayward paths.  Help us to tune in to Your voice, to seek Your guidance and to be willing to follow the direction You choose for us.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen       (repeat as often as needed)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Words Unspoken

                                                                  Words Unspoken

       Two stray dogs, a black lab and a blonde cocker spaniel, ran toward our car as we rounded the corner, and they followed us the half mile to our country house.  We had seen our share of animals “dumped” in the country on several occasions.  People who do this are under the mistaken belief that these animals will be all right; someone will take them in.  The owners don’t think of the dangers of starvation, coyotes, and road traffic.  And while it angered me, I played into that scenario by being the sucker that would take them in.  So when these two dogs reached the house, I hesitantly met them at the back door to ascertain their temperament and signs of ownership. 

            We had recently lost our family pet, but I still had some dog food, so I poured out a generous serving of food and water for the tired, matted newcomers.  They ate ravenously, and when I opened the back door, the cocker dashed in, straight to the couch where she lay down and slept as if exhausted.  It took some coaxing to get the lab in the door, but she finally stepped cautiously in.

            Both dogs seemed to have been traveling together, for how many days I hadn’t a clue.  Over the next few days, I made contacts to area vet clinics, put up notices in the grocery stores, and an ad in the local paper.  I received one phone call from a young boy who thought the lab was his, but when I tried making arrangements for him to see the dog, his father got on the line and reassured me it wasn’t his dog.   I wondered how he could be so sure without having seen the dog. 

            By the end of the week, the cocker had wormed her way into our hearts and onto our laps, and we had decided if no one claimed her, we would call her Maggie.  Those first few days we agreed we’d try to find a home for the lab.  The longer she was in our possession, however, my husband said, “I hear labs make pretty good pets.”  We named her Mo.

            Having never spent much money on vet expenses, we made these dogs the exception.  Maggie had to be groomed from the cockleburs that dug into her skin the first week. The vet surmised both dogs to be just under a year old.  They were vaccinated and eventually spayed, and the grooming became a quarterly routine.  Mo and Maggie became farm dogs, tag-teaming to catch rabbits and moles and providing us with laughter and the animal companionship we had missed over the past weeks after losing Leon.  They were, officially, our dogs.  Maggie would sit on my lap and nibble at the buttons on my shirt.  And Mo had that doctor trait that some dogs possess, licking profusely, and always having to carry something in her mouth.  She never chewed up anything but had the soft mouth of a hunting dog.  We learned not to take her toys out of her mouth because the licking would commence. Large dogs had always been our choice on the farm, so I was surprised when Maggie became my husband’s lap dog.  She was special.

            About a year after coming into our lives, suddenly one day they were gone.  We drove the county roads searching for several days.  Then one of my husband’s co-workers said he thought he knew where we could find them.  One of his relatives, who lived six miles up the road, suddenly had a new cocker spaniel.  When we drove up to her house, we were reunited with our dogs.  From the tale she gave us, we determined that the dogs had wandered up to the corner where we had first spotted them.  This lady must have seen them as she drove past and decided they were strays, so she pulled in and picked the cocker up.  The lab followed the six miles on foot until she was reunited with her buddy.  They eagerly jumped into our truck and we returned home.

            That Christmas, my daughter brought home a boxer from vet tech school.  The animals used in the vet tech program were doomed to euthanasia unless the students found homes for them.   If the dogs all got along, we would keep her boxer after she finished school until she moved into her own place.   After the initial get-acquainted phase, the dogs were an inseparable threesome.  Jackson, the boxer, who had never barked, learned to bark on the farm.  Free of the technical school’s dog pens and able to run untethered, his once coprophagic habit disappeared.  After Christmas break, he returned to one more semester with my daughter at the vet tech school where his old habits returned.  The end of May couldn’t come soon enough for either of them.  And Maggie and Mo returned to being the rabbit-hunting duo.  One morning, they even caught a large raccoon.

        One spring day I went outside and saw only Mo.  Calling repeatedly to no avail, I worried that perhaps a coyote had gotten Maggie or that she had been run over by one of the many employees who worked there at the company headquarters where we lived. I drove down the road searching for her body, thankful when I didn’t see it, but worried, also.  Periodically, I would return to the back yard and call again.  I saw one of the farm hands pull in at the shop and throw something into the bed of his truck and drive out.  He looked at me from across the lot as I called for Maggie before driving away.  Mo stood at my feet and whined, as if trying to tell me something.

            At lunchtime, my husband told me he was afraid something had happened to her.  It was not like her to disappear without Mo.  Later in the afternoon I again went out to holler for Maggie.  Mo appeared and dropped something at my feet.  When I looked down and saw one of Maggie’s paws, I knew she was dead.  I later found out she had been following the tractor as it pulled the oversized mower behind it and had been caught in the mower.  I realized then that what the farmhand had thrown into the back of his truck was a shovel, and he was trying to save me the pain of seeing my dog in that state.  And here was Mo communicating what had happened to Maggie the only way she knew how.

            Mo nudged my hand and whined, her way of seeking comfort from her loss, while I retreated with her into the confines of the house and together, we mourned.  She laid her head on my knee, looking at me with sad eyes as I cried and petted her, reassuring her that soon Jackson would be back and she would have a playmate again. 

            Weeks later, when my daughter’s car pulled in and Jackson bounded out the door, we laughed at their heartfelt reunion as they tore around the yard, leaping and chasing one another gleefully.  Jackson was now free for good, and Mo’s eyes sparkled with joy once again.

You Can't Take the Country Out of the Dog

          You Can’t Take the Country Out of the Dog

             Change is sometimes hard.  Making a move to town after almost 30 years of country life would be an adjustment.  I was more worried about my husband adjusting to town life than myself; after all, I grew up in this community, and it wasn’t until we married that I lived in the country.   He, on the other hand, had never lived in town.  Little did I know, the biggest adjustment would be for my two dogs, Jackson and Mo.

            Mo was a black lab that we had taken in as a stray three years prior to the move.  Jackson, a boxer mix, was actually my daughter’s dog which we were keeping until she could find a place which would allow her to take him.  Both dogs had been freely roaming the countryside but now would have to be contained in a fenced-in yard.

            Jackson had other ideas.  We soon realized our six-foot privacy fence was no challenge to him.  He could scale it in a heartbeat, and Mo could dig a hole and crawl under almost as fast.  By the time Jackson rounded the corner to the front of the house and we marched him back into the yard, Mo would be out front wondering where he went.

            Our new neighbor, a sweet elderly lady, was very understanding and kind as she described Mo digging a hole, wriggling her way into her back yard.  As she told us how funny it was to watch Mo squirm this way and that, working her way to the other side of the fence, she was politely informing us that her rose bush had been damaged in the process.

            Worried that they might escape while I was at work some day, I had them micro-chipped.  On more than one occasion, the dog catcher would receive a call regarding a black lab and a brindle dog running the streets, and he would know exactly where to take them.  And they very willingly followed him back into the yard.  He was on a first name basis with them.  My dogs made the police notes in the local newspaper more than the town drunk.

            One day the dog catcher pulled into the drive to put Jackson back in, but when he did, Mo managed to get out past him.  He went back into the front yard to catch Mo, securing the gate behind him, and turned to find Jackson sitting in the front seat of his pickup.  Jackson had jumped the gate on the other side of the house and was ready for a ride.  I may own the only two dogs that look forward to a ride with the dog catcher!

            My husband replaced multiple fence boards, as Mo learned a faster way than digging a hole big enough to pass through was pulling at the base of the board until it snapped off.  She lost two teeth doing that.  One day, several family members came to our house where we all hung out in the garage, reminiscing and catching up with one another.  The dogs had gotten out by way of a busted fence board, so my son and nephew nailed a brand new one up in its place.  (We had begun keeping extra on hand.) About thirty minutes later, here came Mo, walking into the garage carrying a piece of the very board they had just nailed in place.

            My husband’s solution was nailing some of the broken off pieces of fence boards  crosswise at the base of the fence, not only providing additional reinforcement, but also fodder for redneck jokes.  It did partially curb the delinquent dog capers, but the only way to keep Jackson from jumping was to tether him to a long tie-out chain, something I had been determined not to do prior to the move to town. 

              Sometimes, if I was to be gone only a short time, I left them loose, taking a risk that they might escape.  Most of the time, they stayed put.  One afternoon Jackson jumped over to go visit my neighbor as she worked in her flower bed.  She stopped and petted him and went back to her task, figuring he’d go home after awhile.  But he followed her around to the backyard flower beds.  When she needed a restroom break, she went into her house and came back out, but Jackson wasn’t there.  She assumed he had gone back home.  Thirty minutes later, when she went inside, there lay Jackson, stretched out comfortably on her couch, wagging his little stump of a tail, but otherwise unmoving.  He had followed her into the house unnoticed earlier, and now seemed quite content in his new surroundings.  Eventually she coaxed him out the door.  When I pulled into my drive and saw him sitting in her front yard, I had no idea that he had paid her a house call.

            One night I heard Mo’s tell-tale sign that Jackson was out: a high-pitched, frantic whine, her way of tattling on him for leaving her behind, since she was now too fat and arthritic to dig a hole large enough to wriggle through.  Well past my bedtime, I grudgingly crawled out of bed, threw my robe on, and opened the sliding glass door.  I let Mo in the house while I went after Jackson, who had misjudged his leap over the gate and landed in the neighbor lady’s back yard and had now set up a mournful howl right under her bedroom window.

            Her fence had no gate on this side of her house, and I didn’t want to set off her security light by sneaking around in my bathrobe to the other side.  Surely if he jumped over there, he could jump back.  I shushed him and tried luring him back over the fence.  I dragged one of the lawn chairs to the fence, lifted it over as quietly as I could, and tried cajoling him into the chair with the idea that I could grasp his collar and help lift him over.  Silly me.  After nearly an hour, trying first one tactic and then another, I finally left him to sleep in the chair, on her side of the fence.  At least he quit barking and howling.  But now I lay wide awake, unable to sleep after my outdoor bathrobe excursion.

            Very early the next morning, before anyone else awoke, I dressed and quietly went to the far side of her house where I immediately found the latch, opened the gate, and snapped my fingers.  Jackson walked around the corner of her house, straight past me and into my yard.  Now why hadn’t I just done that last night?  I reached across the fence and pulled the lawn chair back over, and no one was the wiser.  At least, my neighbor never mentioned it if she knew.

            After six years, my town dogs now are adapting to change again.  Jackson has moved into my daughter’s new house in a larger city and is rapidly adjusting to the role of protector for their one-year-old.  Mo is adjusting to senior life as an only pet.  Change is hard, but if we stop adapting to it, we stop learning.