Marked

Beau marked his “Half Birthday” last week.  And, as if a switch had been flipped in his little doggy brain, he immediately began “marking” his territory.

INSIDE the house.

I was reminded of all the reasons we wanted a female dog.

We in turn celebrated the milestone with a trip to the vet for a few “alterations.”  (Sorry, Beau.)  We’re hoping this will “fix” his little leg-lifting problem.

But I have to share Laurel’s response when we discovered her dog’s newfound compulsion to mark his territory.

“Beau!” she scolded him, “It’s already yours!”

Then she turned to me.  “This could be an illustration.”

“Of what?” I questioned.

She went on to describe how as Christians we often work so hard, trying to gain something that has already been given to us.

She’s right, you know.

When we were adopted into the family of God, what was His became ours.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. (Ephesians 1:3, NLT)

There is no longer any reason to feel insecure.  He has given us every spiritual blessing in Christ.  We have a place in His heart forever, and a full inheritance as sons.  We are marked with His seal of approval.

So, RELAX.

Stop strutting your stuff.  Cease striving to prove your worth.  Quit worrying about “making a mark” for God.  (That last one was for me.)

Just live in the joy and freedom of your Father’s house.

It’s already yours.

Beau at six months

(Now let’s pray Beau also figures this out.  And soon.)

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Tail of Two Pups

Beau crop

Our puppy, Beau, is almost six months old.  That’s him, right there.

The Good News?  He’s “pad trained.”

The Bad News?  We never meant to “pad train” him.

My friend Kim and her family adopted their new Cockapoo puppy, Maggie, the very same week we adopted Beau.  (It’s important to note that we both did this despite the fact that neither one of us has a fenced yard.)

Here’s Maggie:

MaggieKim and her hubby made the necessary sacrifices (even setting their alarms at two-hour intervals during the night!) to take Maggie out in the frigid MN temperatures to do what Cockapoos do.

I admired their dedication.

But I cowered at the thought of enduring sleep deprivation while battling the WY winter wind.  I honestly had no intention of freezing my tail off (no pun intended) in the middle of the night, waiting for Shih Tzus to do what Shih Tzus do.

The result?  Their pup is potty trained.  Ours is, well, not.

They had a plan.  We did not.  So we got something we hadn’t quite planned for.

There are worse things, I suppose.  I mean, at least he goes on the pads, right?  But at $23 a pop, puppy pads are a significant, unanticipated monthly expense.

And did I mention the feeling of panic that comes over us when the snow outside is mounting and the pad count inside is dwindling?

Or the fact that numerous puppy pads arranged strategically around the house aren’t exactly the kind of dramatic decorating statement I was looking to make?  (Welcome to our home.  Watch your step.)

He who fails to plan is planning to fail. (Winston Churchill)

I am not by nature a planner.  But I am learning that a failure to plan means I will most likely succeed…at something else.

Careful planning puts you ahead in the long run…
(Proverbs 21:5a, The Message)

Wise words from King Solomon, illustrated by my wise fellow-puppy-parent friends.  While we pick up soiled pads, they enjoy a clean house and a potty trained pup.  Planning, you see, has its perks.

I may not be a planner.  And I may be a slow learner.  But who says you can’t teach an “old dog” (that would be me) new tricks?  It’s never too late to begin again.

It might just be time to make A PLAN.

Potty Training?  Take Two.

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The Gospel According to Beau

We kept hoping he’d figure it out.  Sleep on this side of the Pack ‘n Play.  Poop on the other side.  It was so simple even a puppy could understand it.  But after seven long weeks of hoping (along with almost daily baths!) we finally had to admit that it just wasn’t working.  It was time to try something new.

So we put away the Pack ‘n Play and invited this untrained puppy into…our bedroom.

It felt foolish.  Risky.  Counterintuitive.  He certainly hadn’t earned the privilege or proven himself trustworthy.  But desperate times call for desperate measures.  So we did it anyway.

We scattered a few puppy pads around the room, praying that he would choose them over the carpet.  We made him a little bed next to ours and held our breath as he curled up, without whining, in a contented ball.  He slept peacefully, happy just to be near us.

I slept, fitfully, fearfully.  The next morning I cautiously peered over the side of the bed, dreading what I might find.  But lo and behold, he was clean and dry!  And so was the carpet!  We jokingly called it our Christmas Miracle.  In fact, he’s now gone an entire week with nary an accident or a bath!

It’s AMAZING.

Yet isn’t this how Grace works?

We, too, couldn’t help ourselves.  Try as we might we just couldn’t stay clean.  Then, one day, the Father lifted us out of the confines of the Law, which we had been unable to keep, and set it aside.  It was time for something new.  Jesus came, took our filth in exchange for His righteousness, and escorted us right into the very throne room of God.

We did not deserve such kindness.  We had not earned this trust.  Yet it was given to us anyway.

Grace.  AMAZING.

“Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law.  Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.”  (Romans 6:14, NLT)

When we gave Beau the run of our room, we weren’t sure how he would handle his newfound freedom.  We knew he could abuse it.  That’s the risk grace takes.  But being in our presence calmed and settled him.  It changed him.

“Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace?  Of course not!  Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2, NLT)

Grace changes us, too.  When we experience the thrill of being in God’s gracious, holy presence, sin loses its pull.  His law is now written on our hearts.  (See Hebrews 8:10.)  We want  to please Him.

We don’t do it perfectly.  Accidents still happen.  But our hearts are inclined in a new direction:  to stay near this One who has showered us with such extravagant grace.

As I lifted Beau onto my pillow for a snuggle the morning of The Miracle, a tear slipped down my cheek.  If I could love a helpless, ignorant puppy through this messy process, how much more must God love me?  If being brought near to us could change him, how might nestling even closer to God’s heart change me?

“So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God.  There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:16, NLT)

Chris' pillow--his favorite spot!

Chris’ pillow–his favorite spot!

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Reality Check

“Just pull down his lower eyelid and squeeze a strip of the antibiotic cream onto it, three times a day,” the vet explained.

Riiiight.

She made it sound so easy.  Don’t be fooled.  Innocent looking, 3.2 lb puppies are deceptively strong.  And if applying eye cream three times a day wasn’t overwhelming enough, we had the added challenge of squirting ear drops twice a day to treat an ear infection.  Uh huh.

Just livin’ the doggie dream.

Having a puppy is so much more demanding than we anticipated.  I had pictured all cuteness and cuddles.  And while there is certainly that, a puppy also comes with inconvenience and puddles.  And vet bills.  And other stuff I’d rather not discuss.  (Refer to my previous post.)

I guess I hadn’t fully counted the cost.

It’s easy to glamorize something we desire without adequately preparing for its difficulties.  For example, we focus on planning an elegant wedding instead of establishing an enduring marriage.  We dream of an adorable baby, when what we’re really getting is a child, along with a two-decade long assignment to shape them into a responsible adult.  We tend to be short-sighted, surprised when things turn out to be more than we signed up for.

So what do we do when reality disrupts the dream?  The way I see it, we have two options:

1–Hang onto the dream and develop resentment.
2–Let go of the dream and develop contentment.

I went into marriage expecting something along the lines of Disneyland.  When my reality didn’t match up with my fantasy, I had a choice to make.  I could continue to chase the dream, or accept and love the man God gave me.  (Most of the time I’ve chosen the latter.  Except on Valentine’s Day.)

Parenting has proven to be one of the hardest (and most rewarding) things I’ve ever done.  I love my daughters.  They truly are the delight of my life.  But (surprise!) they don’t always measure up to the ideals I have for them.  Can I let go of control and allow them to grow into the people GOD envisioned, loving them unconditionally along the way?  I’m learning.

Puppies ARE cute.  AND expensive.  AND high maintenance.  It’s like having a baby in the house.  Wrapped in a toddler.  I’m adjusting my expectations accordingly.

And just about the time I’m exhausted and think I’ve had enough, he’ll lick my chin affectionately and plop his fluffy little head down on my shoulder with a contented sigh.

A reminder that I, too, can be content.

Cuddles, puddles and all.

This face. If only it were this easy to keep him clean!

 

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Puppies and Poop

BathThat’s right.  You can’t have one without the other.  The trick is to keep the ‘other’ from getting on the ‘one.’  And on any other surfaces you’d rather not have to immediately sanitize.

Our first week with a new puppy brought a not-so-slight increase in laundry and baths.  (Good thing we live in the county, where we don’t have a water bill.)  I kept hearing that puppies don’t like to combine their bathrooms with their bedrooms.  Well, this little guy didn’t seem to mind that combo one little bit.

I began to dread the scene that awaited me on the other side of the bathroom door each morning.  There he’d be, all 2.1 pounds of him, jumping and scratching on the sides of his kennel, desperate to be picked up and held.  I was genuinely happy to see him and eager to embrace him.  But his condition was not exactly conducive to cuddling, if you know what I mean.

Laurel and I would fly into crisis mode, gathering supplies and scrambling to fill the sink with warm water.  He’d whimper and wiggle as we tried to work some orange-scented “Puppy Fun!” shampoo into the offending areas.  I wanted to say, “Stop fighting me!  I can’t hold you until I get you cleaned up!”  Eventually we’d get him bathed and bundled in a dry towel, where he’d sleep, spent from the struggle.  By then, Laurel and I needed a nap too!

Just like that four-letter word that begins with ‘s,’ SIN happens in our lives.  It goes hand in hand with our human condition.  And when sin happens, we also have a tendency to step in it, track it around, and make an even bigger mess.  We wonder why God appears to be distant as we cry out for comfort.  The truth is He longs to hold us close, but the issue of our sin must first be addressed.  We are helpless to clean ourselves up.

This is why Jesus came.

If you are still resisting Him, might I encourage you to stop?  Submit to His capable care and let His love and mercy wash away sin’s stain.  Relax in His strong grip.  Rest in His tight embrace.

You can trust Him.

If you know Him as Savior, then why not be quick to run to Him when you make a mess?  There’s no need to wallow in it or cower in shame.  Just confess your sin, gratefully accept His forgiveness and get back to enjoying your relationship with Him.

“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, NAS)

It feels good to be clean.

And even better to be held.

Held

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The Answer

“You are the answer to my prayers!’

This was the sentiment on the front of a greeting card I once came across.  I still remember it years later, because upon opening the card the recipient was hit with this zinger:

“You’re not what I prayed for exactly, but apparently you’re the answer.”

Um…thank you?

Perhaps I can also still recall this particular card because it exposes a deeper reality, one that is often unsettling and confusing:

Sometimes God’s answers don’t exactly match our requests.

Can I get an Amen?

My latest experience with this has come through our recent quest for a puppy.  In July I made an appointment with a local Shih Tzu breeder, hoping to find a female puppy in time for Laurel’s upcoming birthday.  On the way there I prayed and asked God for wisdom and direction.  Instead of choosing one of two available female puppies on site, I felt inexplicably drawn to a sweet expectant mama, “Katie,” who was due in mid-August.  Believing this to be God’s leading, I nervously put down a deposit to secure the pick of the litter, and began praying that she would have at least one female pup.

We surprised Laurel on her birthday a couple of weeks later with a tiny pink polka-dot dog collar.  She was thrilled and quite content to wait for her special puppy’s arrival.  In the meantime she picked out a cute little girl’s name and prayed for her daily.  (Can you see where this is going?)

Last week, the long-awaited call from the breeder finally came.

Only there was no ‘Her.’

Just a ‘Him.’

Huh?

There were some tears.  Disappointment.  Confusion.  A mini crisis of faith.

We went and met the little guy anyway.  Took some pictures.  Tried to adjust to the idea of having a boy instead of a girl.  A restless night followed.

The next morning I noticed a change in Laurel’s countenance.  She was now confident that this dog was God’s answer to her prayers.  When I asked her to elaborate, she said, “Mom, I know God led you to choose Katie and that He wouldn’t mislead you.  He knew all along that she wasn’t going to have a girl.  So God gave me a boy instead.”

And that settled it.

I admire her faith.  It’s the kind that says, “God, I trust Your heart and Your character, even when the outcome isn’t what I had hoped for.  You are Good.  You give good gifts.  Therefore, I receive what You give as good.”

When I grow up, I want to be more like my daughter.

So, meet “Beau.”  (Chris is just fine with that name, as long as Laurel agrees to have only one “beau” at a time.  He is praying the dog will lead a long and healthy life.)

He’s not what we prayed for exactly.

But apparently ‘he’ is the answer!

IMG_3813

Little Beau at one week old

“Indeed, the Lord will give what is good…” (Psalm 85:12a, NAS)

P.S.  The pink collar has been exchanged for a sparkly silver one.  He may be a boy, but this boy will have his bling!

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