Aging Gracefully

page47colorThe righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God.  They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.  Psalm 92:12-15

During the last few weeks of her life it seemed that Sheba was sweeter than ever.  Time after time, even as we waited to cross a street, people would stop, roll down a car window, and comment on what a great dog she was.  And invariably, as practically every person we met on the sidewalk would pause to pet her and comment on her wonderful personality, that curly little tail would wag back and forth and those beautiful, big brown eyes would overflow with love.

Galatians 5:22-23 tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  My prayer is that I will age as gracefully as my sweet little Pug, and that at the end of my days, my life will overflow with the Holy Spirit’s fruit, proving to the world that I am God’s and He is mine.

Fear’s Antidote

Sheba circleGod, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful…There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  1 Corinthians 1:9 & 1 John 4:18

Sheba loves people and has no awareness that there are those who would abuse her, and even if she did I doubt that she’d be afraid because she knows that she belongs to us and she trusts us completely to take care of her.  As a result, she happily goes up to anyone and everyone she sees with no fear of rejection.  She also knows what behavior is expected of her and that she will be reprimanded if she misbehaves; yet she remains unafraid because she loves and trusts us.

Perfect love casts out all fear, and God loves us perfectly, so why are we afraid?  He’s not “out to get us.”  We don’t have to fear his wrath unless we disobey his commands; and even then, while we can expect a gentle reprimand, isn’t that what we need—what we want?  A master who loves us enough to correct us, to show us the right way to behave; yet a loving master to whom we can take our problems as well as our joys without fear of rejection.

As Sheba reflects our love for her by fearlessly loving others, so should we also reflect God’s love for us by loving even those who may seem frightening to us—those whose lifestyles are different than ours, those of whom we don’t approve.  Jesus himself reached out to the sinners of his day, even living and socializing with them!  They were the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the people who were looked down upon by the religious leaders.  He was criticized for it too.

Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers.  “What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?”  Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.” Matthew 9:10-13 The Message

What a role model! Lord, let me love as Jesus did—fearlessly!

Bitter Medicine

Sheba on PillowNot only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.  Romans 5:3-5

Like most senior citizens, Sheba has a collection of pills that she takes daily, medications and food supplements to maintain her health and relieve her allergies and arthritis.  These are very effective treatments, and as long as they’re consumed she moves around quite comfortably.  But Sheba doesn’t like her pills—apparently they taste bad—and if they’re given alone she won’t touch them. Added to dry dog food, she’ll eat all around the pills and leave them in the dish; every morsel will be gone except the few tiny bites that will keep her healthy and pain free.  So we disguise them with moist food, coating each pill so thoroughly that she never even realizes she’s eaten something that’s good for her.

Life typically hands us a lot of ‘bitter pills’, and we all endure unpleasant experiences that ‘taste bad’.  But amazingly enough, these hardships that we despise so much may be the very medicine we need—opportunities disguised as problems that God allows so that we can become stronger.  And when it all just seems too much to swallow, Take the old prophets as your mentors.  They put up with anything, went through everything, and never once quit, all the time honoring God.  What a gift life is to those who stay the course! You’ve heard, of course, of Job’s staying power, and you know how God brought it all together for him at the end.  That’s because God cares, cares right down to the last detail.” (James 5:10-11, The Message)

Hurry Up and Wait

 Kev & Sheba on Wade PorchBut do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  2 Peter 3:8-9

It seldom fails that Sheba decides it’s time to go outside at the most inconvenient times, and she is notorious for taking a very long time, sniffing everywhere for a place that meets with her satisfaction.  Now, Sheba may be deaf, but she’s not blind—in fact, she can probably see farther than I can.  So, though all I want her to do is hurry up and take care of her business, she’ll stop and gaze off into the distance if she catches sight of someone walking toward us.  Without moving, she’ll watch every step until they reach us.  Then she turns on the charm and usually manages to get the inevitable attention that she wants—few can pass her by without stopping to give her a pat on the back or a scratch behind the ears.  When they finally move on and turn the corner out of sight, she’ll get back to the reason we’re standing out there in the first place—and meanwhile I’m praying that another neighbor won’t decide to go for a walk so we can finish up and go back inside.

How often do we have an urgent task that needs to be accomplished—a purpose to be met—a destiny to be fulfilled by becoming all that God has called us to be; but we get sidetracked and let our attention waver toward other activities that appear more gratifying at the moment?  Unlike me waiting impatiently for Sheba, God is patient, and he waits lovingly and faithfully until we regain our focus and turn back to him and his agenda for our lives.  Then, he brings us back into his house where we are welcomed as “fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household…with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” (see Ephesians 2:19). I can’t think of any place I’d rather be!

Running in Circles

Kev Sheba CouchFind rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.  Psalm 62:5-6

One of Sheba’s favorite pastimes when she was younger was to run around in circles and entice people to chase her; and there was no way to catch her either, unless you managed to get tricky and trap her.  Such fun! But it was a temporary pleasure.  She would eventually get tired and have to rest (and so would we!)—and then go back and do it again…and again…and again… Always pleasurable, but always tiring, and needing to be repeated in order to experience the joy.  Never really getting anywhere either; just going around in circles.

Do we ever do that?  Run around in circles, spinning our wheels, to achieve the satisfaction of being the best, with nobody able to keep up with us because we’re so fast, or talented, or efficient?  If we do, we eventually fall into a trap—it may be that  someone else outperforms us, or it may be that we simply get tired or old and can no longer manage the pace.

Now that Sheba’s an old lady there are very few circles anymore; just a deep contentment that comes as she rests at my feet.

Perhaps we also need to learn that there is a level of peace that cannot be achieved by our hectic lifestyle, a quiet contentment that comes from learning to rest at the feet of our master.  We no longer have to work so hard to feel good; all we need to do is follow Him around, do what he says, and we will be rewarded with constant peace and joy, not just a temporary “fix.”

Making a Statement

Kev ShebaWhoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.  Matthew 10:32

Kevin had a t-shirt with a picture of a pug on the front.  On the back, lots of paw prints and the words, “My dog walks all over me.”  It was a statement of his love for her, that he was proud of her and wanted to show her off; and also a joking admission that she had a lot of influence over him.

May my life be as that t-shirt, portraying a proud witness of my love for God.  May the marks on the back be God’s fingerprints; and may the words be, “God holds me in the palms of his hands.”  May I never be ashamed or afraid to identify myself with Him.

Body Language

Sheba on grassAnd my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:19

Sheba has a cute, curly little pug tail. When she’s happy that funny little tail wriggles back and forth with joy—and anyone watching invariably laughs right along with her.  But when she’s sick, or tired, or frightened, or in a hurry to find just the right spot on the grass; that cute, curly little tail will just go straight—hanging down between her legs—no joyful anticipation, no contentment—just a sure sign of stress.

Sounds a lot like life.  When we’re happy or excited, we exude enthusiasm.  Instead of a curly tail we may have a smile on our face, a twinkle in our eyes, or a confident spring in our step.  But just let the trials of life come—sickness or fatigue, financial problems, misunderstandings, sorrow or loss, failures, fear—and all of a sudden the smile/twinkle/spring is gone.

When Sheba’s tail is straight, we’re alerted to either help her meet her immediate needs or to comfort her through her pain.  God does pretty much the same for us; for every problem, He has a solution; He’s always there. Jesus promised that He would not leave us alone—that He would ask the Father to send his Holy Spirit of Truth to be our Comforter. (see John 14:15-28)