Saturday, March 17, 2018

Biting Cat and the Spring Clean Up of Repentance

Several years ago, I decided I needed a cat at the barn to control the massive mouse population, so I hired Spike and his mama. I deposited them in my tack room with a litter box, fluffy bed, and food and water. Mama Cat ran up the wall, jumped onto the top of the freezer, then out the open window. 

I never saw her again. 

She left little Spike behind. He wasn’t happy without his mama, so I adopted a second kitten, Max, to keep him company at the barn and help him catch mice. 

The partnership didn’t work well. 

The two kittens lived at the barn until their little legs grew enough to carry them down the gravel road. As soon as they were able to make the trip, they followed me back to my house. I returned them to the barn. They scampered to the house again the minute I turned my back. On and on it went. Day after day.

They never caught a mouse. 

I don’t know what happened to Spike, but he eventually disappeared. Max stayed but refused to catch mice or go to the barn. He had a tendency to wander away for days at a time but, mostly, he hung around my back door. 

When Max was a young kitty, a bed fell on him and he was crippled, or so I was told. By the time he arrived at my house, his physical recovery was complete. 

His mental/emotional recovery was not as successful. He wouldn’t snuggle, couldn’t purr, and he bit anyone who picked him up. We changed his name to “Biting Cat.” One of my veterinarian friends called him “the devil cat.” Both names fit.

The problem of cat-dreadlocks

Max had another problem. He wouldn’t groom himself. Instead, he opted for dreadocks. Over the course of a winter, his dreadocks grew so long it was hard for him to walk. 

“You should do something for that poor cat,” Sam (my neighbor) told me.

“I’d have to shave him,” I insisted.

“You better put him in a feed sack to hold him before you try that.”

“Sam, if I put him in a feed sack, I can’t shave him.”

We went back and forth. Finally, I convinced Sam to hold the cat while I used the clippers to shave off his dreadlocks. Max bit Sam before the clippers touched him, and he let the cat go.

“You should sneak up on him while he’s not looking,” Sam suggested. We pondered that a while. Finally, I found some small, quiet battery-operated clippers. I stalked the cat and waited for my chance. 

One day, Max (AKA Biting Cat) was asleep in a chair on the patio. I tiptoed over, turned on my clippers, and raked his side. Several dreadlocks fell off before he awakened, growled, and ran away. 

The next day, I tried a different technique. I patted him with one hand and shaved a section with the other. This worked better, but was so awkward that I conned Sam into taking over the petting job. Because of the previous biting episode, Sam was skittish but agreed.

Days went by as we shaved one patch at a time. The cat looked pitiful. Finally, the dreadlocks were gone. Most of Biting Cat’s hair was gone, too. His few remaining patches of hair looked even worse than the dreadlocks.

Sam stared at the cat for a long time before he spoke. “I wouldn’t tell anyone that was my cat if it was me.”

The shaving project was an educational experience.

We repeated the shaving program every spring. After a few years, Sam and I grew more adept in our technique and Biting Cat grew accustomed to the spring shave. He let me hold him for a few seconds. He learned to purr and caught a mouse or two. 

This past Christmas, Max (AKA Devil Cat) had an unhappy encounter with my grand-dog, Bento, who wanted to play. Unfortunately, Biting Cat wanted to do what he does best. Bite. I’m not sure what happened next, but Biting Cat left in an angry huff and didn’t return for several weeks. 

Another spring brings more dreadlocks

I thought Max died in the winter cold, but no such luck. Sorry, Cat Lovers. I meant, I was so happy this mean biting cat found his way back home. He arrived covered in dreadlocks again, yowling like a demon-cat at the back door. I dished out one bowlful after another of cat pate until he finally quit howling.

Max apparently tired of his dreadlocks when the weather warmed up. He began to rub against my leg with his lumpy dreadlocks every time I walked outside. The first time, it surprised me so much I jumped off the steps onto the patio. He yowled and tried to rub my leg again as I went back inside. I wanted nothing to do with those freaky dreadlocks.

Max needs a spring shave, but this is my first year without Sam, who moved to heaven not long before Thanksgiving. I’ve lost my cat-shaving partner. If anyone is interested in the job, which pays nothing but is good for a few laughs (or a few bites) leave your comment below.

Max needs more than a spring shave

There is no way to describe how bad Max looks with his winter dreads. He’s in dire need of a spring shave, which will greatly improve his appearance. Cleaning up the outside of Max will make him more presentable, but it won’t help what’s wrong on his inside. 

As far as cats go, Max is grumpy and mean, even to the people who care the most about him. He bites indiscriminately before he stops to consider, “Is this the lady who feeds me very nice cat pate every day?”

Max needs a spring cleanup on the inside, too. What he needs most is a change of heart.

I realize I need a spring clean-up, too, but I need a repentance clean-up.

I’ve had a hard few months. I don’t deny it, but I don’t mention it as an excuse, either. One hard thing after another came in quick succession, then the eye problem began. Eye pain alternated with eye blurriness and, most of the time, I had them together. I struggled to get the new website going, made much harder because part of the time I could hardly see my computer screen.

The longer the eye problem lasted, the more discontented I became. I wanted it to be over. I was tired of discomfort. Ready for clear vision. Uncertain about the future. Fear crept in and grew like kudzu. I rebuked it with only temporary success. 

I took a digital break, then slowed down the blog.

Finally, I quit writing.

I didn’t tell anyone except myself, but I grew tired of the struggle. What difference does it make if I write or not? I asked myself. 

It doesn’t matter at all, I replied. 

Thank God for friends who speak the truth in love.

A friend yesterday said, “You never write anymore. You never even post on Facebook.” I denied it, but I knew it was true.

Later, my sweet mentoring partner and I met for coffee and to catch up. I finally voiced my distress.

 “You need to go back to what God told you to do and keep doing it until he tells you to do something else. What did He say about the blog?” 

“Well, it was His idea in the first place,” I confessed.

“Did God tell you to stop writing?” she asked me.

“No…not really.” 

“Sounds like you better get back to writing then,” she said with a smile. 

I laughed. “I’ll have to repent first.”

And so I did. I confessed my disappointment, my disillusionment, and my fear. Then, I repented of my refusal to persevere and asked for one more second chance, which God freely gave.

I doubt I’m the only one who grows weary in the midst of difficulties and wants to give up. Am I the only one who, in the midst of a hard time, secretly decides to quit what God has called me to do? Am I the only one who needs a spring heart clean-up? Probably not. 

Here’s good news. 

We serve a God who’s already paid the price for all our sin and is both ready and willing to forgive and cleanse us. He doesn’t lurk for a chance to pounce on us or sneak up on us with punishment. 

He simply waits for us to confess so He can forgive and do what only He can do. Cleanse us completely. It’s spring cleaning at its finest.

We can be washed white as snow, if we admit our sin, confess it, and sincerely repent. (Isaiah 1:18) Why not join me in a spring heart-cleanup? I think you’ll be  glad you did.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Prayer of Desperation or Through the Roof Prayer

I can’t imagine the difficulty of life-long illness or a prolonged physical problem. My shattered finger several years ago was bad enough. I’m left-handed but, with my right hand in a cast, I had difficulty putting my hair into a ponytail, zipping pants, and buttoning shirts. It was miserable. Although it was temporary, the experience gave me considerably more compassion for those who struggle with illness or disability.

My recent cornea problems were, in a way, worse than the fractured hand. The vision problem stopped me in my tracks. It limited reading, internet use, writing, driving, and almost everything else I wanted to do. 

I felt desperate for healing. I prayed and fasted. My friends and acquaintances prayed. The pastor and elders prayed. They anointed me with oil and laid hands on me, more than once. Healing didn’t come as soon as I hoped, nor in the way I expected.

The Bible spoke to my need. 

I learned more than I wanted about physical problems and disability. In the midst of my struggle, I read the story of the paralyzed man and the four friends, all likely just as desperate for healing as I. For the first time, I identified with those five men. (Luke 5:17-26)

You probably know the story, but here’s a quick recap. Four men, determined to bring their friend to Jesus, went up on the roof of a house because it was so crowded they couldn’t get through the door to the Healer. They lowered the paralyzed man down into the middle of the crowd. 

No vandalism needed.

As a child, I believed the friends ripped the roof apart, then left the owners with a gaping hole. It seemed the worst kind of evangelism possible and I recoiled from the story. 

Two trips to the Middle East taught me a different possibility. The roof on most Middle Eastern houses is flat. In Jordan (and in Israel) the roof is used for storage, drying clothes on the line, and large water tanks. There’s room for children to play and a grill or small fire pit for cooking outside.

In some houses there’s an entrance from the roof leading directly inside. For others, there’s one door with both a street approach and a roof approach. 

Maybe it happened like this…

I now believe this story went something like this: (Leanna paraphrase coming up)

“Hey, my paralyzed friend, you need to see that teacher from Nazareth, Jesus. He gives sight to the blind and makes the lame walk again. He might heal you, too.”

“How would I get there? Doesn’t he teach out in the wilderness?”

“Mostly, but sometimes he’s in town. I’ll take you. Let me get some people together.” 

They made a plan and waited for an opportunity. One day, Jesus came to town and was teaching in a house nearby. The men quickly hauled their friend on a blanket through the street, but a huge crowd arrived before them. The door was blocked by people.

The friends refused to give up. The four buddies looked around the house, and, suddenly, the excitement began. “Hey,” someone probably said, “We could go through the roof door.” The four men hauled the paralyzed man up the stairs to the roof, then down a ladder into the house. They landed right in the middle of the crowd, in front of Jesus.

“Through the roof prayer”

The most remarkable part of the entire story is what happened when they got inside the house with their friend. The men didn’t know if Jesus would heal their friend or not. They simply presented him to Jesus. No request. No description of the problem. Nothing. 

The presentation of their friend to Jesus was the request. In a way, their action was a desperate, “thy will be done” prayer.

I pray this way sometimes — I simply call out the name of the one for whom I’m praying. I know they need Jesus’s intervention, so I take them to God in prayer. It’s a prayer of desperation, a “through the roof” prayer. 

It may be the purest form of prayer because it expresses utter dependence upon and surrender to our Lord and His wisdom. 

Going through the roof brought their friend straight to Jesus and left the choice of intervention to Him. Are there people for whom you’re praying? Are you desperate and nearly without hope? Have you run out of words to pray? Maybe it’s time for “through the roof” prayer. Take them to the throne of God and leave them there. Ask God to intervene, then leave the choice of intervention to Him. He’s more than able to deliver. 

But not finding any way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down through the tiles with his stretcher, into the middle of the crowd, in front of Jesus. (Luke 5:19 NASB)

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Monday, March 12, 2018


I thought I would never forget the miracle, but I did. 

Christmas morning, 2012, started out great. Ryan and I awakened early, had coffee by the tree, read the Christmas story, and opened gifts. The dogs bounced and raced around, excited because we were. 

I went to the kitchen to start breakfast and decided a treat of peanut butter in their Kongs would settle them down and keep Maggie and Mamie occupied for a while. The unopened 40-ounce jar of peanut butter sat on the top shelf, just out of reach. I stood on tiptop, used my right hand to steady myself, and stretched. Just as I grabbed for the jar, the dogs caught my attention and I turned my head. 

In a quick instant, my life veered off course.

The jar slipped out of my grasp and crashed to the counter. It landed on my right pinkie and instantly shattered the bone. Pain shot from my finger through my entire body and I thought I might vomit. Instead, I collapsed to the floor, held my hand, and rocked back and forth. Finally, I summoned enough strength to call for Ryan.

He ambled into the kitchen and stopped in his tracks when he saw me on the floor, his eyes wide. My hand hurt so badly, I could barely speak, but I finally managed to say, “I think I broke my hand.” 

Ryan stood, speechless, for a moment then asked if I needed some ice. I needed more than ice, I thought, but it was a start. He helped me up and I held tight to my hand, uncertain what to do. “I am NOT sitting in the emergency room on Christmas,” I insisted.

My mind focused on our family celebration in Starkville at my sister’s house. It was our first Christmas without my mama, and I determined to make things as special as possible. 

I did what must be done.

Since we had a 90-minute drive to my sister’s house, I decided to splint my hand. In the haze of pain, the only solid things I could find were two peppermint candy canes. Somehow, Ryan and I managed to drape my pinkie finger around the curve of the cane and strap it in place. 

It looked ridiculous. I knew that at the time, but it hurt too much to figure anything else out at the moment. 

I drove to Starkville and paced and moaned the entire time there. My nephew, an EMT, insisted I let him see my injury. We removed the gauze and viewed the bruises and swelling together. “Oooh, Anna. That looks bad,” he told me. 

“It is bad,” I assured him.

Things got worse…

After we returned home, I devised an infinitely more comfortable splint from a small wooden spoon. Ryan padded my hand and wrapped it in gauze. I had a full schedule the next day, and was the only doctor in the clinic, so I worked as usual, my hand still splinted with a wooden spoon.

I can’t imagine what the patients thought.

And even worse…

Four days after the injury, I had surgery. We opted for eternal fixation to lessen the likelihood of long-term sequelae. It sounded good in theory but meant I had three pins sticking out of my finger. I won’t bore you with all the details of that ordeal, but it was painful, hard, and long.

Finally, the surgeon removed the pins and I began physical therapy. My right pinkie and ring fingers were frozen in place. It took months of exercises and rehab to regain function.

The first time I clenched my hand in a fist felt like a miracle. When I picked up a feed bucket with my right hand and held it without dropping it, I wept with joy. 

I thought I’d never get over the miracle of healing, but I did.

Today, I saw something that reminded me of the blue external fixation pins and thought about my amazingly complete recovery. My hand works well now. I have a strong grip and full flexion and extension. A few years ago, I thought that degree of function impossible, but it’s real. 

Healing happened.

I expected to treasure my healing every day for the rest of my life, but it didn’t take long to fade from memory. These days, I rarely consider how well I can use my hand, nor how hard I worked to have that function.

Hard times are always temporary.

My difficulties were temporary, but they didn’t seem that way at the time. This morning, I’m reminded that all hard times are, in a way, temporary, including my recent cornea difficulties. 
Because of the hope of heaven, even a devastating medical illness only lasts a short time compared to eternity. In heaven, no hard times are allowed. No sickness or sorrow invade those gates. 

No matter what we face today, God is with us and He will help us through. No matter how difficult, our situation will end and we can get through it. Even when we think we can’t. 

Let’s take heart in the words of Scripture. 
God cares for us. (1 Peter 5:7 )
He loves us. (John 15:12)
He will never leave us nor forsake us.(Hebrews 13:5)

We can do what we must because we need not do it alone. 

Take heart in that truth and press on. May we, like the apostle Paul, press on to the prize set before us and keep our eyes, hearts, and hope focused on the goal.

 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:14

Sunday, March 11, 2018

When I Traded My Happy Heart for Grumbling and How I Got it Back

I realized a terrible thing recently. My heart is grumbly. A quick look back over old blog posts (in anticipation of something to transfer to the new website), revealed a sense of celebration reflected in my writing. Although I wrote about pretend birthday celebrations yesterday, the excitement of days past is not an all-pervasive feeling lately. 

Joy turned to grumbling.

I’m not sure when waning excitement turned to grumbling. A lot happened in the last year, not all of it pleasant. Weeks spent in the Middle East. A respiratory illness after the first trip that hung on for months. I coughed my way through spring. Then, there was Sam and the long season of caregiving that kept me inside all summer long. Exhaustion. Holidays. Cornea problems. The long, hard roll-out of the new website. Beautiful, but a big learning curve. Add in a few disappointments along the way, and, before I realized it, my joy de vivre faded into a vague sense of not-quite-happy.

Maybe you’ve been here, too. Life kicks you in the teeth and you get back up, but it kicks you again. Every trip back up seems a little harder, takes a little longer. The struggle is real, isn’t it? It’s all too easy to enter a cycle of grumbling that never ends. 

Easy doesn’t mean right.

The Hebrews discovered God’s view of grumbling, and it didn’t take long. They begged God to take note of their suffering in Egypt. He finally sent a deliverer. Millions of God’s people left Egypt, a land decimated by plagues, with the best of the land — gold, silver, jewels, leather, fabrics. 

The excitement of travel and adventure soon faded. Food stores ran low so they grumbled. (Exodus 16:2-4) God provided manna but they tired of it and grumbled again. God sent the meat they demanded, but it wasn’t the blessing they expected. On and on it went. God blessed, they rejoiced for a season, but soon tired and grumbled again. The people lived in an endless cycle of complaining.

Complaining becomes a habit.

Complaining became a way of life. Moses grew sick of it and God did, too. Lately, though I don’t often express my complaints aloud, they ring in my heart far too often. I’m sick of my own complaints. I’m pretty sure God is, too.

Am I the only one with complaints and grumbling in my heart? Judging by my social media news feed, I’m probably not.  

The high price of grumbling

Grumbling and complaining spill over into every part of our lives. They cast a pall over even the sweetest times and leaves a bitter taste in our mouths, no matter the circumstances. They rob us of joy and steals our contentment.

Discontent isn’t limited to lives of uncertain financial stability, nor to those who grieve or experience unexpected tragedy.  Some of the most financially secure people I know are dissatisfied and desperately lonely. The hope of heaven is sufficient to sustain those who mourn after the death of loved ones and blessings are found, even in the midst dire tragedy. 

How to regain joy

My perusal of old excitement-filled blog posts revealed the secret to joy: Gratitude. During November a few years ago, I wrote about “the unexpectedly grateful heart” every day that month. I found something positive, something to be grateful for on a daily basis, then celebrated it in words, both spoken and written, and in thanksgiving to God. By the end of the month, I felt awed by the number of blessings in my life.

My joy grew as I thanked God for all His blessings, both big and small. I learned an important principle that month: It’s hard to grumble when your mind is focused on all the good things in life

If we want a happy heart, we must choose it.

After Ezra read the book of the law to the recently-returned exiles, the people wept in sorrow for their sins. He and Nehemiah spoke to the people. (Leanna paraphrase coming up) “This is a holy day. Don’t weep. Instead, rejoice in all God has done. It’s time to celebrate.” Then, he spoke beautiful words we do well to remember.

The joy of the Lord is your strength. 

Nehemiah’s formula was simple.
  • acknowledge your sorrow 
  • dry your tears
  • choose joy
  • celebrate the blessings of God
  • gain strength

It’s that simple. It’s that hard. If we want a happy heart, we must choose it, dry our tears, stop our grumbling, and decide to move past our sorrow, our dissatisfaction, our disappointment. 

Nehemiah was right. I tired of my grumbling and made the decision to move past it. I traded grumbling for thanksgiving and rejoicing. I chose joy. When I did, my strength and happy heart returned. 

Transformation is one bent knee, one sacrifice of thanksgiving away. 

Do we want happy hearts? Start by thanking God for all He’s given. Joy will follow, and so will strength.

“It’s time to celebrate, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10 

#happyheart #joy