Footsteps Counted

My reputation as the family “Jack Russell” personality is temporarily on hold.  High energy, bouncing off wall behaviors were wiped out by chemo and surgery.

I’ve had to rest and nap.  My front porch has been used for what it was designed for: sitting.   Never one for hot baths, I’ve now chosen long soaks in Epsom salts.  I’ve sat, just sat, beside my husband and held his hand, knowing there was no energy for anything else. Because the girls and I have done fewer things, we’ve talked more and been on the go a little less.

My footsteps are fewer and easier to count.  Busyness has lessened.  The corners of my dining room hold clusters of ladybugs (how do they get in??) that need to be cleaned away.  The mums that graced the front walkway are brown, and the pots ache to spill over with the smiling faces of pansies.   Many other tasks have gone undone.  We’ve tried to keep up with school co-ops and the girls’ favorite activities, but some things have had to go on “pause.”

There have been times when my footsteps faltered to the point where lying down was the only option, and my mind could muster nothing but a prayer for endurance.  But, there have been other times, such as this week, on the upswing of surgery, where my mind, instead of my footsteps, wanders into unknown territory.

For example, I’ve contemplated how moving air is able to compose music in the chimes hanging from the corner of my roof.  Surely the wind is trained by the breath of God, swirling through the trees and setting the metal of the chimes to ring in harmony with the leaves.

With the stillness of my feet, sentences from God’s Word that might have gone unnoticed before whisper music into my ears:

Job 31:4  NIV

“Does He not see my ways and count my every step?”

How DOES He do this? Not just for me, but for every one of His children? Are there celestial trail cams set up around us, monitored in a heavenly command module, where God sits in a plush office chair, zooming in on lives that need extra attention?

The Word teaches that the truth is so much more than anything we can imagine or truly understand.

Galatians 4:6 NIV  (Italics, mine)

“Because you are His sons (or daughters), God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out “Abba, Father (Daddy).”

God counts our steps not from a remote distance, but from inside us!  At the moment of belief, when we become a child of God, Jesus comes to live in our hearts, as the Holy Spirit, walking with us on our life path, no matter where it goes, not as an impersonal trail guide, but as our loving, personal DADDY.

He knows the number and cadence of our steps.  He knows if they falter or waiver. Not because He is watching from afar, but because He is inside us, taking the steps WITH us.  He can count every one, because He takes every one.  He is part of us and we are part of Him.  (Read John Chapter 17 for more on that…)

Rest your feet in a favorite spot sometime today and ponder that thought.  Every step you take is one He takes WITH you.  If you truly hold on to that truth, what will  change…the direction of your steps, the scope of your worry, your fear of the unknown?

He who is Creator, Healer, Savior, Master, steps WITH you.  Allow that truth to generate change in you.

Header and story photo credit: M. Dalrymple

 

ALTERED SENSE

 

A priceless commodity.
photo credit: Morgan Dalrymple

Perhaps the cruelest side effect of chemotherapy has to do with one of a human being’s most comforting pleasures: eating.

The chemo drugs kill cancer cells like heat seeking missiles, leaving the body with destructive side effects, just like the aftermath of a bomb.

I’m told everyone who endures chemo experiences it differently. For me, it feels as if a giant grabbed my heel and slammed me into a wall, repeatedly.  Add into that nausea, other intestinal issues and a plethora of annoying but less major symptoms like burning, watery eyes, throat sores, loss of appetite and forgetfulness, and you begin to see the total picture.

After those effects begin to fade and appetite returns, the “altered sense” side effect makes itself known.

I was warned that the taste and texture of food would change.  It was a simple sentence uttered by my oncologist, combined with a long list of other potential effects.  I had no idea how that one thing would become my biggest source of discouragement.

Something about the drugs completely changes how food tastes and feels in my mouth.  After hearing about others’ chemo journeys, I’ve come to believe that while this is common, my experience has been on the extreme end of the spectrum.

My family is fascinated by the altered sense concept.  Not in a sadistic way, but with an engaging curiosity.  When I try a food, make a horrid face and spit it out, their first question is “What does it taste like?”  To me, the taste is indescribable: totally alien and disgusting, depending on the food, but usually like something you shouldn’t be eating. The partner to that is a texture change which creates a gag reflex for most things, including water.

There is a little game on the market called “BeanBoozled,” by Jelly Belly. It provides a great parallel.  The game consists of a number of sets of jelly beans, several of each color.  Spin an arrow and eat the jelly bean color the arrow points at.  If you’re lucky, you get a jelly bean that tastes as it should: lemon, strawberry or peach, for example.  If you’re the unlucky sort, you might end up with a jelly bean that LOOKS like it’s going to taste good but actually tastes noxious, like skunk, diapers, dog food or grass clippings.

“ChemoBoozled” does the same thing, except the stakes are higher.  Combine an altered sense of taste with a hollow belly, an intense desire for comfort and flavor and you have an equation that equals discouragement and anxiety.

I’ve begun to tense up before I eat.  The fear that the food, which I desperately want to taste good, will instead be disgusting, makes me dread eating.  That sounds extreme, but right now, it’s my reality.

The other reality is that I’ve lost the ability to taste salt.  Even Ramen noodles do not taste salty.  Never a “salt- food junky,” now, I crave salty things.

I have one more chemo treatment to go.  Prayerfully, that will be it. Over time, I’m told that the altered sense and texture issues will fade away.  I’m already daydreaming about the things I will eat, cook and bake.  The list of restaurants I want to go to increases daily.  I can’t wait to eat a thick, juicy burger, loaded with bacon and cheese, along with a heap of salty French fries. But, I’d settle, right now, for a can of Pringles, if I could just taste the salt and get past the texture.

In the Word, Jesus tells us that we are the salt of the earth.

Matthew 5:13 (NIV)

“You are the salt of the earth. But, if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.”

As believers, filled by God’s Holy Spirit, we are to be as salt, flavoring the world with the character of Christ.  Never before has this verse meant as much to me as it does now.

What do others experience when they cross paths with me?  Is the flavor of my character that of Christ or is it one that turns people away, leaving them with a bad taste in their mouth?  I’d like to think that most of the time people see the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, (from Galatians 5:22, NIV), but I know sometimes I fail.

As Christ followers, we are all still at war with our humanity. God does, however, expect us, enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit, to adhere to a higher standard of behavior.  Thank goodness our salvation doesn’t depend on how well we do that, but someone else’s salvation might.  If they meet us, and are drawn to our character, they may want to know the source of that character. Then, we get to share the other quality of salt: preservation and the gift of life eternal, through Jesus Christ.

I challenge you to be thankful for every bite of food that goes in your mouth.  Genuinely, passionately thankful that you can taste, relish and enjoy the food God has provided you.  In addition, I encourage you to consider salt.  What would meat be without it? Salt is one of the most important seasonings.  Food is bland without salt!  Are you striving (not in your own power, but the power of the Holy Spirit) to bring the flavor of Christ to a world that craves it?  Craves it, in fact, without sometimes knowing what they crave.

Be thankful.

Be salt.

LOVED

Rainbow colors for my head.

Chemotherapy drugs work by targeting cells that divide quickly.  Unfortunately, they can’t distinguish between cancer cells and other, beneficial, fast dividing cells, such as white blood cells and hair cells.

Chemists have developed a drug, given to cancer patients 24 hours after chemo, which helps re-build the white blood cells, so the bodies’ immunity system is not overly compromised.

However, there is no drug that helps re-build hair cells. That’s why most chemo patients lose their hair two to three weeks after chemo starts. Generally, it re-grows when chemo is over.

Knowing that side effect would come, I went from chin length to pixie to buzz cut for transition, and had determined I would shave my head as soon as the fall out started.  I’d always tried to teach the girls true beauty came from a woman’s spirit, character and heart; but I certainly wasn’t looking forward to the most obvious side effect of chemo.

My husband, Brian, told me he was going to shave his head too.

“Please don’t,” I asked.  “I love your hair.”

He has thick hair, the color of ripe wheat with the sun on it.

No amount of persuasion would change his mind.  He was determined, even when the girls found out and begged him not to.

“It’s bad enough when one parent has to go bald,” said my eldest daughter. “Not two.”

About a week before my hair had even started to fall out, he did it.  I was in the bathroom, completely miserable after my first rough week of chemo mess, trying to brush my teeth, so I could crawl back into bed for the night.

His 6’5” frame blocked the light coming in the doorway.  I turned my head and saw the shine on his.

“Oh, no.  I wish you hadn’t,” I blurted out.  “I loved looking at your hair.”  I was totally sick, discouraged, blurred by chemo fog and completely unable to appreciate what he had done.

“I did it for you,” he said.

“But that just makes it all seem so much more REAL,”  I whimpered.

He turned and walked away.  Even in misery, I knew that my response was not the one he had wanted.

I hobbled down the stairs.  I knew where I’d find him: the front porch swing.  Our spot.

I sat down beside him and put my hand on his knee. Rain was falling softly, bringing freshness and relief from the heat.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“You have to understand how I feel,” he replied. “All I can do is stand by and watch you suffer.”

“But you support me in so many other ways and take care of me.” I offered.  “You didn’t have to do this, too.”

“It isn’t enough, he said.  “I would take every needle prick, every scary procedure, every drug that makes you sick, every hurt, every side effect, times 100.  If I could suck all the cancer cells out of your body and put them into mine, I would. But, I can’t. I feel so helpless.”

“It’s also not going to feel good,” he continued, “when I wake up in the morning and wash and comb my hair, knowing that you are dealing with losing yours.”

“Besides,” he added, “I want all the men at work to know that I love you, support you completely and am standing by you every step of the way through this.”

My eyes filled with tears at how loved by him I was, finally able to accept his gift.

We sat in silence for awhile, just listening to the rain.

“Thank you,” I said, gazing up at his precious, bald head.  “Please explain that to the girls, so they understand, too.”

Later that night, he did, and reported back that they were quiet for a minute, then immediately started calling him “Egghead” and “Baldy.”

I think that was a good sign.

When it comes time for them to choose a spouse for life, I pray they accept nothing less than the complete devotion their daddy has for their mama.

In Ephesians, chapter 5, Paul writes this:

Ephesians 5:25-27 (NIV)

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle, or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”

If you love Jesus, and believe in Him, then you are part of His church. The church isn’t a building, it’s all who call Jesus “Lord.”

As His church, we are His bride.

Jesus didn’t want to stand by and watch us suffer. Being fully man, and yet still fully God, He WAS able to take all the sin cells out of our bodies and put them into His.  The death that was ours to die because of sin became His.  He carried it to the cross, died our death and was raised to life; giving us life in Him.

1 Peter 2:22-24 (NIV)

“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth. When they hurled insults at Him, He did not retaliate, when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.  He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live for righteousness.  By His wounds you have been healed.”

Jesus took your place: He became sick with sin, so you would be well, miserable, so you could be free, blamed, so you could be blameless. He chose death so you could live.

You are LOVED by Him. 

INDELIBLY STAMPED

My first born just turned 16!  I remember holding her tiny hand as if it were yesterday.

Scientists estimate that the distance between the earth and the sun is 92.96 million miles.  If all the molecules that make up one human’s DNA were placed end to end, the strand would reach to the sun and BACK, over 600 times!  I don’t need to do the math to be amazed by those numbers!

The study of DNA and genetics is one of the many reasons why the Theory of Evolution doesn’t make sense to me.  That and many other physiological wonders point to an intelligent Designer, not a random happening where life began out of primordial slime and took on order and extreme complexity.

One of the tests my doctors scheduled for me was a genetics test to determine if I carried the breast cancer gene mutation.  Although breast cancer isn’t in my family history, there was still a chance I had that gene.  If the test was positive, they recommended that I have  a double mastectomy and my ovaries removed.

Clearly, God was giving me another chance to place fear into His hands.  The potential for that extensive surgery was scary.  Another, darker fear lurked there as well: if I carried the mutated gene, I could have passed it on to my girls.  The fear of that was more intense then the fear of personal pain and suffering.

The first genetics test I took was early on in my diagnosis; I thought I would have an answer in two weeks.  Time stretched by slowly.  There was a snafu at the lab, and I had to retake the test. More opportunities to trust!

The night before the second test results were scheduled to come back (10 + weeks after the first test), I stretched out on the floor of my closet. Anxiety crept into my heart. I was more worried about my girls than I was about myself.  A downward spiral tugged at me, and I couldn’t stop the tears.

After a moment, I breathed deep in the dark space and made myself think about the amazing way God formed my body inside my mother’s womb. I thought about how He formed my precious babies inside me.

Psalm 139:15-16 (NIV)

“My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

I told the Lord, “You have known my genetics from the beginning.  You know every gene in my body.  You know the genes that make up my daughters.  I trust You.  “Whatever the result.  I trust YOU.  Help me always to choose trust.”

I pictured my beautiful girls in God’s big hand and I curled His fingers around them in my mind.

“I trust You, Lord, with them.”

The next morning, the nurse called.  I felt my heart beating faster.  I stepped out on to the porch.  “Lord, this is it,” I thought.

“It’s good news,” she said.  “You don’t have the gene.”

“Praise the Lord,” I yelled. “Hallelujah.”  She probably thought I was crazy.

I told the girls.  They were so relieved, for me and themselves.  Brian and I celebrated all day. In fact, I’m still thanking God.

When Adam and Eve took a bite of the one fruit in the Garden of Eden that God had forbidden, they chose rebellion instead of love.  Their act of disobedience shattered perfection and humanity was impaled by the shards.  Our spiritual DNA was indelibly stamped with sin, mutated by rebellion and disobedience.  That act impacted all of us, shaping a diseased humanity that could not be in the presence of the Holy God.

God is multi-faceted: Fully just, hater of sin and capable of wrath; but also a loving Father whose heart was broken when His children chose to rebel against Him. He could have zapped Adam and Eve after their sin, but instead He killed an animal in their place, symbolizing, first of all, that the consequence of sin is death.

Then, He made Adam and Eve clothes to wear from the skins.  He knew how hard life would become for them.  The perfect garden could no longer be their home. Toil, trouble, hard labor, bitter cold, sweltering heat, sickness, disease, thorns, insects, and wild animals were all part of the broken world which was now theirs.  The Garden where they walked with and talked to the Lord was closed.

Read the whole story in Genesis chapters 1-3. But, look closely at this now, because Genesis 3:21 reveals an amazing look into God’s character:

“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and Eve and CLOTHED them.”

God could have thrown the garments at their feet: “PUT THEM ON!” He might have yelled.

But, He did not.  They were His children.  He knew what faced them outside the garden.  He loved them, so He clothed them.

A perfectly just God required consequence for sin, but yet, He was a loving God who cared deeply for His rebellious children.

Can you see it? God, helping Adam and Eve into the garments.  Carefully, tenderly,  clothing them. They hadn’t needed garments in the garden because they were as innocent as young children.  Now, with open eyes, they saw their nakedness and were ashamed. They also hadn’t needed clothes in the Garden because conditions were perfect.  Not too hot or too cold.  No sunburn.  No insects or thorns or sharp rocks. No bad weather. No wild animals.  No need for clothes. No need for protection from anything.

I clothed my babies until they could do it themselves.  If you are a mom or dad, you’ve done it, too.  You helped them because they didn’t know how, and you wanted to protect them and keep them warm.  You did it lovingly and tenderly because they were your precious babies.  You clothed them out of love.

That’s what God did.  He clothed His children.  Lovingly, sadly, tenderly.  Scripture doesn’t use those words, but I believe it because I see those things in God’s heart throughout the Bible where His character is on display.

Maybe you have young children and you clothe them now: onesies and cute sundresses and little, bitty shoes. Treasure every moment; because soon, your child will say, “Me do it! Me do it!”

A bitter sweet sadness comes with those words, because you know that little milestone takes your baby one step away from you, one step closer to independence.  God must have felt that sadness as He watched Adam and Eve walk away from the Garden.  I believe there was a bitter sweetness for God as well.

The bitter came from a broken heart and the sweetness came from the knowledge that He already had a way for His children to come back home.  He had already authored the story that would bring  reunion before the creation of the world.  It’s called the Story of Redemption.  It would come to completion in the person of His own Son, Jesus, who loved us so sweetly and completely, that He would choose to give His life to pay for our sin and rebellion.

Only Jesus, the central figure of God’s plan, can erase the sin mutation that was indelibly stamped on our spiritual genetics by the first children, Adam and Eve.

You can’t re-write your physical genetics, but you can re-write your spiritual genetics.  Write a love letter with the words of your heart to Jesus.  Tell Him you are sorry for rebelling against God.  Admit your sins and  accept that you need a Savior who can indelibly stamp these words on your spirit:      FORGIVEN.

SURVIVAL MODE

 

A fully hydrated mountain stream

In the depths of the chemo aftermath or “chemo abyss” (as one of my new friends who is also going through treatment calls it), food and water are less than appealing.  Loss of appetite, changes of taste, burning mouth, coupled with nausea, (only mildly suppressed by medication), do not make even the thought of eating or drinking imaginable.

Combine all of those symptoms with sore gums and extremely tender mouth tissues, (from Thrush, an overgrowth of yeast in the mouth; another common chemo side effect) and a general feeling of misery and malaise,  the difficult becomes the impossible.

I’d heard how challenging eating and drinking would be after chemo. I assumed I could bully through it – hard headed, determined, strong willed genetics are in every fiber of my DNA.  It was, however, a humbling experience.  Despite my family’s sincere efforts to get me to eat and drink enough, I failed.

Eight days after my first chemo treatment the ER became my preferred destination.  Brian took me late that night.  We both thought I had some weird infection raging through my body.  After tests the doctor found the root of the problem: I was severely dehydrated and calorie deficient.  My body had gone into survival mode: feeding on itself, sucking fluid from less essential organs and cannibalizing tissue, releasing toxins in the process.  Three bags of fluids and some meds made a big difference in how I felt.

The massive infusion of fluid was a turning point in re-hydrating my body and setting me up for a better week.  Undoubtedly, the specific prayers of friends engaged God’s mercy as well, and I have been able to eat and drink more since then!

Once the fog had lifted and I felt less like a zombie, a crystalline spiritual application became evident to me.

How many times have I gone around, feeding on myself spiritually?  How often have I looked to myself for wisdom, before seeking God? How many times had I tried to fix the hurts of the past or just stewed about outcomes and circumstances?  How many times had I relied on my strength instead of the Lord’s?

The world teaches us to do this. Think about the slogans and pep talk we hear every day: You can do anything you set your mind to! Feel empowered! Believe in yourself! Nurture the inner woman!  Be self-confident! Just do it!

On the outside, those words seem harmless, even positive, but they all encourage a downward spiral of toxicity that just can’t end well.

Our body isn’t designed to feed on itself physiologically.  We must have an outside source of food and water to survive; If we don’t get enough water and nutrients the result is sickness and malfunction.  In the same way, our spirits need an outside source of truth, power and love: the God of the universe who is able to meet all of our needs, including our greatest survival need: salvation.

We do not possess all we need to survive the storms of life, the miseries of disease, the disappointments, heartaches, fears, troubles and the different variations of abyss that our fallen human condition and broken world opens up for us.

We try, but the result is toxic.  Only God can supply the wisdom, truth, hope, peace and contentment that our spirits need.  Only God can supply salvation through His Son Jesus Christ.  The Great Overcomer became sin, endured death and rose to life, so that we could have eternity.

When we believe that truth, then the Outside Source of all life comes to live inside us.

That’s the mystery that becomes the wonder: God, living in us, meeting our needs, hydrating our spirits, providing hope and comfort where none exists anywhere else.

Philippians 4:19 (NIV)

“And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

A NEW PATH

Breast cancer: two words that can strike fear in a woman’s heart.

When those words sank into my reality, I knew that fear, not cancer, was my biggest enemy.

Fear waited on the threshold of my life to terrify my sweet girls and scare my husband.  Fear was rising up to steal my joy and overshadow my blessings.  Fear wanted to take a front seat and steer me down a path choked with sleepless nights and days that were drained of strength.  Fear, not cancer, would cause the Lord’s light in my life to grow dim.  Instead of seeing God’s glory along the path that was mine to walk, others would see fear.

Fear is one of satan’s most effective weapons, used to suffocate, stifle and poison.

Through the surrealistic haze that swirled around me, God’s words came to my mind, tumbling in their rush to head off the soldiers of fear marching toward me:

Do not fear, for I am with you… Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for YOU are with me…Be strong, do not fear…Don’t be afraid, just believe…

A collage of verses repeated in my head and I gripped on to them.  The Lord’s hand stretched out to me in the truth of His Word; living and real and present.

The devotion I had read to my girls the morning of my first appointment was about choosing faith over fear in a world that rages against our faith.  I didn’t select the devotion, it was simply the one for that day of the week;  definitely not a coincidence! It was the divine hand of an all-knowing God, prepping me for a decision He knew I would be faced with:  faith or fear. God was setting the stage for me before I knew what the next act was.

I chose faith.

I have chosen poorly in times past.  This time, though, I knew there was  too much at stake to make the wrong choice.

I chose faith, not because my faith is strong, but because God is strong. I knew He could stand against the hurricane force winds which would destroy me if I tried to stand alone.

Through this journey that is just beginning, I have chosen faith more than once. Each appointment, procedure and new level of information has required a choice.  satan dangles lures of fear before me, especially when I am tired, but God is gracious, and His hand remains outstretched and firm, even when my grip on Him begins to slide.

I know God has a purpose for the path I’m on.  It is not a derailment. It’s what God will use to fulfill the purposes He has for me, and perhaps others, as well.  Though it’s not the path of my choosing, it’s the path God has allowed me to travel.

This new territory will give me chances to cross paths with people I would not otherwise have encountered. I pray that others will see God in my life, shining with a light that pierces their storms. In spite of my weaknesses, He will do this!

He who commands the ocean waves and sets the boundaries for the waters of the deep is mighty enough for any fear YOU have to face.

Are ominous clouds of fear brewing on the horizon of your life?  Fear can spawn from many places:  disease, financial problems, divorce, relationship issues, addictions, heartache, depression, anger…the list can go on and on.

The world is a fallen place.  Tragedy, sickness and heartache abound.  But, know this: God loved you so much He sent His Son into this broken world to pay for your sins. If you believe that is true and have taken Jesus as Lord of your life, then He stands with His hand stretched out, waiting to comfort you, give you strength and be your refuge when the gale force winds hit.  He wants you to trust Him.  He wants you to choose faith over fear.

Choose Him. Choose faith. God will supply the strength to hold on.

Isaiah 41:9-10 (NIV)

“I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant;’ I have chosen you and not rejected you. So, do not fear, for I am with you.  Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you.  I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

$20 AND A HEART OF MERCY

 

Deep shade

My sister often quipped that our family farm was the first no-kill animal shelter in Kentucky.  It’s true my daddy had a heart for helpless creatures.  He kept every stray that crossed his path. Once, on a cold and rainy fall day, a pink piglet ambled up to our porch.  My daddy fed him milk out of a hubcap.  We named him Arnold.  It was a mystery where he came from, but from that day on, he had a home.

Our Rescue Hall of Fame included a beagle-terrier mix with a crooked tail my dad and his nephew found in a junkyard when I was six.  I creatively called him Spot.  He quickly became my best buddy and partner in crime. There was also a dog-coyote mix daddy found in a trap.  He nursed it back to health and told stories about how fast his wild girl learned to run on three legs.

There were many others, but my favorite story is the one of the black dog. When my dad was in his late seventies, he would walk to visit his friends who lived about a mile from our home.  His route took him past a trailer.  In the yard of that trailer was a light pole.  Attached to the pole was a chain.  The end of the chain was wrapped around the neck of a big, furry, black dog.  My daddy saw him first in the middle of summer.  The dog had no shade and had turned over his water dish.  It was clear he was suffering. Dad took the bowl, got water at his friends’ house and brought it back to the dog.  Then, he walked up to the door of the trailer and knocked.

“I’ll take that dog off your hands,” he said to the man.

“No!” the man replied. SLAM.

Every day for several days, my daddy did the same thing.  The man said no each time.

Finally, Daddy knew that asking wasn’t enough.

It was an incredibly hot day.  The dog had dug a hole in the ground to try to get cool.  This time, the water dish wasn’t turned over.  Instead, the dog had kicked dirt in it, making a slurry of mud.

My dad didn’t bother with the water dish.  He knew the dog was about to die in the heat.

He knocked on the door.  The man appeared.

“I’ll give you $20 for that dog,” Daddy said.

In a poor part of Kentucky where dogs are a dime a dozen, the offer was too good to refuse.

My dad pulled that furry, black dog out of the hole and took the chain off his neck.  He brought him home and gave him clean, cool water and deep shade.

A few years later my dad had a bad car accident that kept him in the hospital for a long time.  When he finally came home, my mom said the only thing that got him up and moving was that he thought the dog needed exercise.

At the end of one of my trips home, Dad and I said our good byes outside.  I got in my car and started it up, but couldn’t leave.  My dad and Blackie turned to walk through the orchard.  I watched them as they slowly made their way across the grass, covered by the thick shade of the fruit trees. My dad’s broad shoulders were stooped and his steps were slow. Being off leash, that dog could have run ahead to chase rabbits, but he matched his steps to my dad’s. Every few feet I could tell daddy spoke to the dog, because he turned his head and looked up at his master. The place he took at his redeemer’s side showed devotion, loyalty and obedience.  The two of them made a beautiful picture of merciful love and gratitude, etched forever in my mind.

It’s the way I want to be with my Redeemer, Jesus Christ, who paid a price beyond compare for me.  He pulled me out of the pit where I was choking on a slurry of sin and brought me from death into life. He un-wrapped the chain tangled around me and offered living water and a new beginning.

All too often, though, I run ahead of my Master, chasing after distractions that cross in front of me.

I want to keep that picture of my daddy and his big, black dog in the forefront of my mind, to remind me to match steps with my Savior and to listen for His voice.

Where are you?  Running ahead or zig-zagging around, enticed by life’s distractions?  Come back to your Master’s side. Seek His face and will for your life.  Follow His path.

Or, perhaps, you are in the pit of despair, sweltering under the oppression of sin. There is One, named Jesus Christ, with a heart of mercy, who wants to unwrap the chains and bring you home.  He has already paid the price to set you free.  Drink the water of life He wants to give you!

God’s compassion is beyond measure.  If you know Him, share His compassion with those whose paths you cross.  Share the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ that will set them free.  Tell them there is shelter in the shade of the Almighty’s wings.

Psalm 40:2-3 (NIV)

“He lifted me out of a slimy pit, out of the mud and mire, He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymm of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.”

John 5:24 (NIV) 

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned.  He has crossed over from death to life.”

John 8:36 (NIV)

“So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Psalm 91:1-2

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Thank you for your encouragement, Vicky. You are right.  The most important thing is to share the Word. A gift left in the box brings Him no glory.   Every word, every thought is from Him and for Him!