Bird or Leaf

Pine Tree

“It’s a game you’d like,” my friends insisted.

As they waited for their daughter to finish her activities, they would ponder whether the sudden flutter on a distance branch was a bird or a leaf.

“It’s harder than you might think,” they said.

“So how do you decide which it is?” I asked.

“Well, once you’ve sat there for more than an hour it’s probably flown away if it’s a bird. And if not, it’s a leaf.”

I was reminded of this conversation the other night when I unwittingly began to play this game. When the breeze ruffled the branches of a nearby pine just right, I glimpsed a flash of red. Was that a cardinal? (Those who are long-time readers of my blog may know that I have a thing about spotting cardinals.)

I waited for another glimpse, but when it came, I was less certain. Was it just dead needles? No, it looked too red! Or – when the wind blew again – maybe the sunlight was hitting some brown needles just right to make it appear red.

Several minutes passed while I pondered this tree. Then, not willing to wait the full hour of the official bird or leaf game, I wandered over to take a closer look. And the thought that came to me, the thought that felt as though God whispered it directly into my heart was this:

I can outwait you.

Pine Branches

I don’t think He was talking about just the bird or leaf game. I think He was reminding me that no matter what I do, no matter how badly I go astray, no matter how long I run, He can outwait me. The causes that seem hopeless, the pain that does not seem to let up, the struggle that seems to never progress – God can outwait it all. It may seem as though it is never going to get better, but God is still waiting. He can outwait the pain, He can outwait the struggle, He can outwait our stubbornness.

When we have given up, when the devil has given up, when the pain of this world has given up – God is still waiting.

There is hope in His waiting.

The vision is for an appointed time… the Bible tells us. Though it tarry, wait patiently for it. It shall surely come and will not be late (Habbakuk 2:3). He who endure to the end will be saved (Matthew 24:13).

Once closer to the tree, I could see more clearly. When the wind blew just right, the needles parted to let me glimpse not a cardinal, but a message. About waiting. And about having faith in the One who outwaits us all.

I’m Not Looking for a Dog

This post first appeared at inspireafire.com

Crate Bars

So what am I doing here?

The first time my answer was simple. I carried in a nearly new bag of dog food. Some flea and tick prevention. A bag of dental chews with just two missing.

“Do you take donations?” I asked the girl behind the counter.

“Of course we do,” she replied. “Thanks so much for thinking of us.”

And since I was already there, I signed the waiver holding the animal shelter harmless, and wandered back through the kennels.

Crate

That was the first time.

Three days later, my answer is much more complicated. I’m still not looking for a dog, but I cannot stay away from this place. With its noise and smell and sense of desperation, it is an unlikely place to find what I am looking for. And yet I know, instinctively, that here I am looking for the same thing each of these dogs is looking for.

Hope.

It is a terrible place to look. Amidst fear. Amidst rejection and abandonment. And yet isn’t that the very place to look?

Who hopes for what he already has? Paul asked. Hope that is seen is no hope at all. But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:24)

Hope is found in the most unexpected places. Because it is pain that begets hope.

I know this, as I look at the bars separating me from the inside. The spilled dog food, the soiled toys, the little touches that cannot hide the dismal nature of these holding pens.

Hope is not found in the sunshine; it is not needed there. Hope is found in the shadows.

The staff here know that I am just looking. Looking at cages. Looking at the lives inside of them. And looking at freedom.

Cartoon Dog & Hearts

Tags appear even as I wait: “On hold for someone special – adoption pending.” One staff member tells me he started just over a month ago, and already most of the dogs that were here when he started have been adopted.

This is both unbelievable and wonderful to me.

This place – this frightening and confusing and horrible place – can be the start of a beautiful new beginning.

If that is true for these cast-off canines, could it not also be true for me? And for you?

We have a Heavenly Father who is not only our supreme caretaker, but who can break off chains and knock down prison walls. When Israel was at one of the lowest points in their history and held captive in Babylon, God sent a word to them through the prophet Jeremiah: “I know the plans I have for you; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

While this particular proclamation was to Israel, the premise is true for us today. Our Heavenly Father has told us that he has good plans for us, and they are still unfolding. Because of His great love for us we are not consumed. He will teach us in the darkness how to hope. He will prod us in the present toward our future.

Hope can be found even in a cage. Do not forget this.

A Tribute to Fasting and Grief

Kitchen Timer

A post I wrote this week for Inspire a Fire http://www.inspireafire.com/a-tribute-to-fasting-and-grief

The details of my experience aren’t significant, but the lessons are. A few months ago I did my first-ever fast. Let me tell you what l learned.

First, once I knew the fast was approaching, I became hyper-aware of everything I ate. I expected a new-found appreciation for dinner time, I was surprised when that appreciation started even before the fast.

spoonfulSecond, I was tired and cold. And no matter how much water I drank, I still felt dehydrated. This made me appreciate food as energy in a whole new way.

Third, and most importantly, once the fast had started, there was nothing I could do to speed it up.

Fasting is not something you do. Fasting is something you endure.

Most things in life you can work harder and do better. You can work faster and finish quicker. You can put more in and get more out.

Fasting does not work that way. Because even though the fast may be planned, fasting is not an action you take. It’s an action you don’t take.

Several times over the course of just one day I would catch myself feeling the unpleasantness and wanting to do something. I was willing to go through this. I just wanted to go through it a little faster. And I would have to remind myself there was nothing to be done but to continue on with my day while the fast slowly ran its course.

I had no idea then that God was preparing me for what was going to happen next.

Exactly two weeks after my fasting experience, my father passed away unexpectedly. Exactly six weeks later, my dog of 15 years similarly passed away.

And here I am.

Paw print stoneGrief, like fasting, leaves me tired and cold. I sleep and do not get rested. I eat and do not get energized. I can tell I am not quite functioning like I should, but I am powerless to change it.

I find myself thinking back to that lesson from fasting.

Grief, too, is not something you do. It’s something that happens to you. It is something you endure.

Grief, like fasting, is not an action to take. It is the absence of a million small actions you no longer take.

There is nothing that can be done to speed the grief process. There may be grief-coping skills. There may be people who come alongside you. There is the Great Comforter himself who shows up in surprising ways. But all of that does not speed the process; it merely helps you endure.

Strangely, I find a modicum of comfort in recognizing this.

My job is to endure. That’s it.

Three strands and crossIt’s okay if I feel cold and tired and am not functioning like I should. My job is to endure.

It’s okay if I feel sad or angry or lonely. My job is to endure.

It’s okay if I try something new and fail. I will try again. Because my job is to endure.

I learned this lesson before, and I am re-learning it every day: there is nothing to be done but to continue on with my day while the grieving slowly runs its course.

“Let them grieve as one having hope,” my pastor often prays.

And hope, according to Romans 15:4, comes from two places: The Bible. And endurance.

Whether you are currently grieving or will someday face a new grief, hold onto this, my friends. Let us endure, moment by moment, to the end. We cannot speed the journey, but we can choose to live each moment while we wait.