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Sunday
Aug312014

Lifting Up Our Hearts - 38

Proceed in True Piety

Grant, Almighty God,
since Thou has once redeemed us
by the death of Thine only begotten Son,
that we may not interrupt the course
of Thy favour by our ingratitude,
but may we so proceed in obedience to Thy gospel
that we may be brought at length
to the perfection of that grace
that is commenced within us.

And may we proceed more and more
every day in true piety,
till at length we are gathered
into Thy heavenly kingdom
and enjoy the inheritance promised
and obtained for us
by the same Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Friday
Aug292014

Of howling, hairy toddlers

I have a Beagle named Luna. Since I have become an empty nester, I feel like I'm living with a four legged toddler, except that this toddler has no hope of becoming rational at any time. On the upside, it's okay to lock her up in a cage when she's unruly.

Like a toddler, she believes everything belongs to her, especially the couch, although she cannot understand why I don't want her up there when she's licking her hindquarters.

Like a toddler, she has poor manners. Luna has no shame in satisfying her passion for cat food by pushing the cat away from his own dish as he eats. He's pretty stupid, though, because one swipe with an open claw, and she (like a toddler) would run away crying.

Like a toddler, she is a drama queen when she gets caught for her many infractions. Being sent to the crate when she's been busted is generally met with a lot of sass, as she lets out her houndy yelp when the door closes. That is followed by a pitiful wine of resignation. I wonder if the neighbours think we're beating her.

There are toys all over the the place, covered in drool, just like a toddler.

The other day, when she was successful in robbing the cat of his dinner, her hasty ingestion led to her vomiting the entire contraband all over the back door rug; a minute before I was supposed to leave the house. That is when I thought to myself, "My life has become consumed with a hairy, howling toddler." My self-pity didn't last long, fortunately. But this is indeed life as an empty nester. The pets take on a strange significance.

Yes, I miss my kids. This is year eight since the first one went away. They have busy lives, and while the first year away from home saw each of them return more frequently, their independence means that coming home isn't as easy. I've noticed their absence more this year. The quiet is more tangible because it's longer and the sound of their voices returning isn't as frequent. Luna, who desperately loves her pack, feels the same, as is evidenced by the her joyful apoplexy at their return.

But life is good. God is good to me. I am healthy, I can take care of my house, I'm not sitting in a hospital bed or confined to my own at home. I have enough to eat and a roof over my head. In between battles between the cat and dog, I have a full life. This is the way it is meant to be. We raise our children and then we watch them fly. If I became too consumed with melancholy at their absence, I would have a problem. I have had my moments, but when you have a dog who has learned to tip toe so she can sneak up behind the cat while your back is turned, life is intereseting. I'm studying more, reading more, thinking more, and working with my hands. Soon, I'll be back at teaching on Sunday and helping in the young mom's bible study. 

In the past few weeks, I have seen the bloggers who have shared about sending a child to Kindergarten, to high school, or to college. I nod along, because I know what those things feel like. Some share the reality of very mixed emotions. It's exciting, but at the same time, difficult. I get that.

Ladies, it gets easier. Being alone and without career is forcing me to really seek God, to really test that exhortation I frequently hand out: "Find your sufficiency in God." When the day lies open before me, and I feel like I don't know what to do with my time, God has a way of filling it with not only activity, but simply himself. In between missing my kids, I've had precious moments when I am left saying simply, "Thank you, Lord."

For all those women watching their babies fly the coop, it really does get easier. And if you're really bored, I know the name of a good Beagle breeder.

Thursday
Aug282014

Thankful Thursday

Have I mentioned that I love late summer? I do, and I'm thankful for beautiful weather this past week. Tuesday was very hot and humid, but it cooled off. I love the smell of late summer and the colour of the sky.

I'm thankful for time with our whole family this past weekend, including the grandparents. I'm thankful my kids have got to know their grandparents.

I'm thankful for fresh peaches. We're blessed to have a lot of local fruit at this time of year, including blueberries, cantaloupe, peaches, and soon, apples. I love it when the peach is ripe enough that you can peel the skin off in one piece.

I'm thankful for working with my hands. I'm almost finished an afghan I've been knitting, and then it's time to start on Christmas presents.

I'm thankful for God's Word, for time to study, and the privilege to teach.

Rebecca  and Persis are also thankful today.

Wednesday
Aug272014

To be the perfect friend

Many years ago, I was in a friendship that ended badly. All relationships have their ups and downs, but this one could only be classified as toxic. It started out very well, and then deterioriated.

How can you walk away from a friend?

There was no open conflict for a long time. I told myself to overlook the offenses and the way she manipulated. I needed to be more forebearing, more loving. When I discovered quite by accident that my situation with her was only one in a long line of similar ones with other women, I began to wonder if perhaps I wasn't all to blame. My husband said he thought I should consider just stepping back. I found that hard to contemplate. I couldn't bear the thought of giving up. Surely, walking away from a friend meant I had not loved enough. 

I finally had to confront her about an issue, and was met with a cold, hard stare. She wouldn't speak to me after that. Now the feeling of failure really did set in. It was only after quite a number of years of distance that I finally understood that I could not be the perfect friend. I could not love enough to make the necessary difference. For a long time, that bothered me, but when I realized that it actually revealed my own pride, it was easier to accept what had happened. I was indeed culpable, but perhaps not in the way I thought.

God reassures our hearts

Recently, I was reading I John 3, the passage about love. Christ laid down his life for the brothers, and we are to do the same (I John 3:16-18). This is, in fact, the way we know we abide in Him. Later in this passage (I John 3:18-24), John provides comfort for those who feel their heart condemning them in this area of love. He reminds the readers that whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater, and knows everything. God knows our motives. We may carry guilt because we feel like we have not loved enough, but God knows our hearts better.

In the context of this passage, Karen Jobes in her commentary on I John, has some wise words about this issue:

God recognizes that our flawed, inadequate attempts to love others are genuine acts of faith and love. He knows all about people we attempt to love and the situations that have given rise to their needs. Our attempt to respond to another's need may be misguided or miscalculated. The person we try to love may rebuff our good intent. Our loving act may actually flow from motives that are not unmixed with selfishness or our own needs. There are many reasons why even our best acts may leave us feeling unsettled, unsure, and confused inside. Love can be complicated, and God knows that; his own love for the world has been misunderstood, rebuffed, and rejected. Still, he continues to love his creation by providing what we need to sustain life physically and spiritually.

The apostle knows that his readers need to quiet their hearts in order to continue in their faith in Christ and in their love for others. For a heart that constantly accuses us of disappointing God will erode our resolve to love.

Love is non-negotiable for the Christian

We can love others without expectation, squash our feelings of being offended, and offer as much of our hearts as we can, and things can still go wrong. But God knows our hearts. We should be encouraged by John's words, that God knows our hearts, and that he can wash away any lingering guilt. Guilt can make us build walls without our even realizing it, and we may be reluctant to love others. That must not be; love a non-negotiable for the Christian. John has just made that clear. But God can reassure our hearts, and that's a wonderful truth.

Tuesday
Aug262014

Chasing the light

I love the sky. I love its many moods, and I love watching how its light changes with the rising and setting of the sun, and how its own colour casts shadows on the earth below. 

My desk faces into the east, and into my back yard. This is an older neighbourhood, full of stately maples. We have a huge one in our yard which provides privacy, but as the sun rises, I can see snatches of light peeking through its branches. Yesterday, when I looked up from my book, I could see a brilliant orange coming through. I immediately got up and got my camera, because I knew an orange that brilliant indicated a lovely sunrise. 

The clouds were soft, and ripple-like. I put my sandals on and went out in between my house and my neighbour's house, in the wet grass, to take a few pictures.

I think I took about eight in all, and was out there for less than five minutes. When I got back into the yard and closed the gate, the light had already faded, again changing the colour. There have been times in the winter when the sun comes up and I want to take a picture, and by the time I grab my coat, the moment is gone.

When I got back inside, I thought of how fast the light changes. And then I thought that our lives are like that in the face of eternity, fleeting. As children, our lives feel so slow at times, but as we age, things go so fast. When we contemplate it, we see what a mere breath our lives are.

We think we have time, so we put things off. Perhaps it's restoring a fractured relationship, or getting involved with that bible study we've heard about, or helping with a ministry at our church, or even visiting an elderly neighbour. I know people who have stopped attending church. They say they love the Lord, but it's been years since they darkened the door, and it's all becuase they're offended and bitter. We think we have time to get right with God, to take him seriously, to learn about him. But maybe we don't have that time.

Psalm 90:12 is one of my favourite verses in the Psalms:

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

I love the connection between evaluating our lives and the outcome of gaining wisdom. If we don't know we're a vapor, I don't see how wisdom will come very easily.

This is still a verse for all of us. We will not be here forever.  A year ago at this time, my husband's best friend from high school, and the man who was best man at our wedding, died suddenly at the age of 53, leaving three teenagers and a wife. That could be me or it could be you. Our lives are brief and just like that perfect moment to take a picture passes quickly, so do our opportunities. Let's make the most of them now to learn of God, to love him, to serve him and to proclaim his name.