I May Look Like A Poodle, But I Don’t Always Act Like One

Jazzy is my cockapoo; part cocker spaniel, part poodle. She looks like a poodle, but she doesn’t act like one. I always thought poodles were prima donnas. You know, spoiled and prissy, sporting coats of soft fur and flashing diamond~studded collars with bows in their hair. I’d seen so many pictures of poodles on the end of a leash looking smart and well~groomed. Can I just say, pictures can be very deceiving.

Jazzy is anything but a prima donna. The girl digs in the dirt and chases squirrels. She lies in the soot by the wood stove in winter and on the cool cement porch in the summer. She jumps on (and over) furniture, turning over chairs and knocking pictures off tables. I dare not leave anything around that is too precious to be broken. She pounces crickets that find their way into the house and she barks at every Tom, Dick and Harry that walks down the road. She’d rather run around in the rain, splash in the puddles and (I almost hate to tell you this) roll around in stinky you~know~what. Seriously, when I let her outside I cannot take my eyes off of her for one second.

Like the time I was bringing groceries in the house so I left the door open and let her sniff around the yard. When I put the last of the groceries away I sat down so I could give Jazzy my full attention and my nose immediately detected the most unpleasant odor. My white fluffy cockapoo was caked in slop…another nice word for you~know~what. There she sat in my lap, looking up at me with her little stub of a tail wagging on her backside and I believe I could just make out the hint of a smile on her ridiculously adorable face. Only I wasn’t smiling back….

“What is the matter with you?! You’re suppose to be a frou-frou dog. You’re suppose to be prissy and proper and clean and shiny. You’re suppose to wear a bow in your hair and jewels around your neck. (I tried a rhinestone collar once. It didn’t last 2 months on Jazzy. All the rhinestones fell out.)  You’re suppose to sit on your pillow and live a life of luxury. Why do you want to roll around in that mess and how dare you sit in my lap and let me pet you!?”

Yes, this is really what I said to her.

I dragged Jazzy to the bath tub and gave her a good scrubbing with sweet smelling shampoo. She hates a bath. She also hates the blow dryer, but I have to do it because poodle hair is thick and I don’t want her to mold. It’s a fight to the finish and I usually win the battle, but wouldn’t you know?  That’s when Jazzy acts like a prima donna. That’s when she gets an attitude. Like a spoiled little child mad at her mamma ’cause she doesn’t get her way she pouts.  It takes her at least 3 hours to get over it. I’m thinking….who should be mad at who here?

I’ve had this experience with Jazzy more than once. I should have learned my lesson the first time I let her outside without a leash, but I had hoped she would truly turn into a Paris poodle. It has never happened. She may look like a poodle, but she acts more like the spaniel in her. Spaniels are great sniffers and hunters. The blood of both runs in her veins. Yes, pictures can be deceiving. Jazzy is high maintenance. It takes a lot of effort to keep her clean and well~groomed. I can’t take credit, though. I’ve got a great groomer with lots more patience than I to keep her clean and sweet smelling, not to mention some great commercial equipment that makes bathing and blow drying a dog like my Jazzy a whole lot easier.

But I have to tell you. For all the high maintenance, I love my Jazzy. Poodles are smart and funny and easy to train. They’re great family dogs and absolutely love to be the center of attention. Most people who walk through our door get pawed and licked on the spot. She’s not a guard dog by a long shot. She’s too friendly. And no matter how much I fuss at her, she worships the ground I walk on. I can never stay mad at Jazzy.

How like God…

He never stays mad at me.

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3: 23~24

Yes, I’m God’s child, but I don’t always act like it. I can be pretty high maintenance, but He has all the equipment to clean me up.  He takes me to the throne of grace where He washes me with the sweet aroma of His love that covers a multitude of wrongs. No matter how many “messes” I get myself into or how many times I cake myself in “slop” God has enough love to pick me up and put me right back in His lap where He floods me with compassion. Oh gosh…what can I say? I worship the ground He walks on.

God sees the final picture. The one where I’m a prima donna. All dressed in fine linen and wearing costly jewels. The one where I’m looking all smart and well~groomed. The one where I’m white and radiant with His glory. The one where He’s standing beside me and there’s no deceiving the eye. The one where I’m everything He knew I could be. I can only hope that what He sees in my eyes is what’s in my heart, one so full of gratitude and devotion to Him for the gift of His faithfulness to me.

Just so you know, I will never take credit for the person I’m becoming. When I act like a spaniel but look like a poodle I’m so very glad I have a Great Groomer.

When I Am Just The Vessel

Yesterday morning in church a friend told me how much she was enjoying reading my blog posts. She said, “I can’t seem to figure out how to comment, though.” I can completely identify with that. I’m so technically challenged that in my frustration sometimes I don’t even try to figure it out. It hurts my brain. I’m not saying that’s how my friend feels, but I get where she’s coming from. She shared with me a very interesting perspective she had on my last post, “When Helping Someone Doesn’t Make Sense.” I’ve been thinking about it all morning. Thank you, Jill, for causing me to stretch my brain and think more deeply. If you haven’t read my previous post, you’ll need to do that so you’ll understand this post better.

I’ve replayed over and over again that day when I offered to give a young woman twenty dollars worth of gas to put in her van. I never asked her if she was out of gas. I just assumed she was so I’m going to continue with that assumption. Why would a pregnant young woman spend hours at a convenience store parking lot in the wind and chill holding up a cardboard sign that read, Need Gas, if she wasn’t on a near empty tank? I had been confused by the fact that God had directed me to help her only to discover her tank was nearly full and didn’t even need the twenty dollars worth. My friend, Jill, said her first thought was this: Because gas spilled over before the nozzle clicked, what if God supernaturally blessed both the young woman and myself by filling her tank to overflowing?

Wow. What if……

I thought about the Old Testament passage in 1 Kings 17:7-16. There was a famine in the land of Israel. By the word of the prophet Elijah, God had shut up the heavens and withheld rain. God’s people had continually rebelled against Him while under the rule of evil kings like Ahab who led them astray. God provided for Elijah during this famine, though, by sheltering him beside a brook and sending the ravens to feed him. When the brook dried up, God sent him to a widow in the town of Zarephath who would feed him with the last of her flour. She and her son were starving.  This is what Elijah said to her:

“Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.'” 

The widow did as Elijah instructed and, behold, there was food every day for them as long as Elijah remained in her home and until God sent rain. The jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry.

There are some beautiful truths here:

God provides.

God protects.

God preserves.

God performs miracles.

Picture a jar of flour that had been scraped dry. Nothing gone to waste. No money to buy more. Yet, every day, the widow would reach in and find enough for her daily bread. Not just enough for her and her son, but for a stranger, as well. A man she had never met before. A man in need just like herself.

Picture a jug of oil that had been drained of its last drop. Nothing gone to waste. No money to buy more. Yet, every day, the widow would turn it upside down and out would pour enough for her daily needs. Not just enough for her and her son, but for a stranger, as well. A man she had never met before. I man in need just like herself.

I heard a friend teach on this passage several years ago and I’ve never forgotten this one truth: I am not the oil.

Oh, dear…I feel the tears pooling in my eyes.

I am not the oil. But, I know Who is! And He never ceases to amaze me. He is God of wonders and He is the same God today that He was when He fed the widow of Zarephath. All she really needed was a heart with a willingness to obey. She did as Elijah, the man of God, instructed her to do and God blessed her. It was a miracle.

We’re all vessels…whether a jug or a jar or gas nozzle…we’re all to be vessels in God’s hands. He can take a little and fill to the brim. So much so that when we’re tipped over we pour and pour and pour…

…and those God puts in our path of blessing are swept up in the overflow of God’s goodness.

Was it a miracle that God performed before my very eyes when I helped a stranger in distress? Was it a miracle when He filled her gas tank to overflowing and it spilled over, down the side of her rickety old van and onto my feet? What if…

I think that anytime we step out in faith to help someone in need, God performs a miracle. Through me, He provides, protects, and preserves. It may not look like it to me, but it does to the one who receives my help. My only hope is that even though I didn’t understand it at the time, that young woman did. My hope is that she knows God is really the oil…

When Helping Someone Doesn’t Make Sense

I pulled up to the gas pump at a popular convenience store, so thankful that I didn’t have to wait long for a free pump. It was chilly and a little windy. I hate windy days at the gas pump. I’m not at all happy that the wind is going to mess up a perfectly good hair day. Wearing my hair short means I have to worry about things like cowlicks. I call them my “Dennis-the-Menace’s”. They’re not very pretty when they’re out of control. The wind can leave me looking like a jungle bird with fancy head feathers. So, on this particularly windy day I turned my head in the opposite direction of the wind. And that’s when I saw her….

She was standing beside an older model van with a cardboard sign. There were just two words written there: NEED GAS. My first thought was, “She probably just wants cash for who-knows-what.” I had determined I wouldn’t stare, but I was wearing sunglasses and couldn’t help myself. I figured she wouldn’t be able to tell if I was looking at her or the car wash nearby. I could see she was getting tired of holding her sign. As people in their cars and on the sidewalk continued to pass her by without notice, she looked ready to give up.

As I waited patiently for my pump nozzle to click telling me I had a full tank, this young woman leaned her head against the side of her van and lowered her sign enough for me to see she was pregnant. There was an older woman sitting in the driver’s seat. I began to get that familiar feeling as my heart beat to the sound of a different drummer. My pulse began to quicken and my eyes began to pool with tears. It’s a feeling I can’t ignore.

“Really, Lord? You want me to help her?”

Do I help every person I see on street corners? No.

Do I give to every needy person who crosses my path? No.

Do I approach every person I see holding a sign for help? No.

Only the ones God tells me to.

Honestly, I was really nervous. I wanted to get in my car and drive away. I mean, the place was crawling with people. Why me? I learned a long time ago, though, that when the spirit moves in me I can’t turn my back and feel good about myself. The truth is, I can’t help everyone. I wish I could, but I can’t. I don’t always have the means, but I’ve learned to trust God to tell me when I do. If He says I have what someone needs then how can I not meet that need?

When I’d completed my sale at the pump I got in my car and pulled into a parking space. I approached the young woman and asked her a few questions like, “Where are you from? Where are you going?” I told her I couldn’t fill her up, but I could put twenty dollars worth of gas in her van. She was very grateful. The older woman pulled up to a pump, I swiped my debit card and proceeded to fill her tank with the little gas I could give her. I figured an old van like hers had a pretty large gas tank, but a little is better than nothing, right?

A little is all she got because as she told me a little bit about the difficulties in her life the gas nozzle clicked and I looked down to see that gas had spilled over onto the pavement. It hadn’t even needed the twenty dollars worth I wanted to give her! What?! Are you kidding me? I asked her if her gas gauge was broken. (I know this is a possibility because I have two vehicles with broken gas gauges. We fill up every so many miles. Not exactly a great way to maintain, but it is what it is.) She seemed embarrassed. So was I!!

We both got in our cars and drove out of the parking lot, but I have to tell you….I started beating myself up almost immediately and I began to question God.

“Did I hear You right? Do I have a mark on my forehead that says, ‘Fool?’ ” 

As sad as it is, there really are people out there who ask for help, yet they have the means to help themselves. There really are people who trample all over the kindness of others. There really are people who take advantage of a heart that feels pity. There really are people who buck the system, prey on the innocent, and take advantage of those who have a hard time saying “No.” But in these difficult days on the kingdom calendar there really are a lot of people in financial distress, too, and we can’t harden our hearts to those who truly need our help. We need the kind of wisdom and discernment only God can give.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” James 3:17

So, why did God want me to help this young woman who may or may not have needed gas in her tank?

I may never really know the answer to that question on this earth, but what God showed me is this:

God is most concerned with my willingness to obey Him.

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel 15:22

When helping someone doesn’t make sense, I may look like a pushover or even a fool, but I would rather err on the side of heaven than earth. After all, God knows my heart. He knows when I’ve acted out of a heart that seeks to do what’s right in His eyes. In God’s economy, true riches are measured through the eyes of the One who never passes me by. I can only hope that if I ever become so desperate that I stand in a convenience store parking lot holding a cardboard sign, God will touch someone’s heart to stop and take a look at me. I can only hope there will be someone who doesn’t mind the wind-blown look in her hair or marching to the beat of a different drummer.

I can only hope there will be someone with a willingness to obey….

Blessed Are The Merciful….

A song came to mind recently that I haven’t heard in a long time. It caused me to sit in quiet reflection and I found myself thinking back to a time when the mercy of God so overwhelmed me it nearly took my breath away. You might know what I’m talking about…when your heart breaks with the pain of what you see, the agony of what you hear and you are compelled to act.

“Every day they pass me by; You can see it in their eyes. Empty people filled with care; Headed who knows where. On they go through silent pain; Living fear-to-fear. Laughter hides their silent cries. Only Jesus hears….People need the Lord. People need the Lord. When will we realize, people need the Lord.”

I had gone to New York for a weekend with a girlfriend. We had taken the train from Fredericksburg to Grand Central Station and upon disembarking we immediately entered into a world so unlike the one we had left behind. I admit, my life has always been pretty sheltered. New York City can be a culture shock. For those of you who have visited the Big Apple, you know it takes a while to adjust your senses to the sights and sounds of this great city.

My friend and I wanted to visit Ground Zero. Instead of taking a cab from our motel, which would have been very expensive, we elected to get the full experience of our trip by taking a ride on the subway. Thank heavens Mary is organized and well-planned because being the high-strung person I am I would never have made it on my own. I would have freaked out. Totally. I especially need people alongside me when I venture out of my comfort zone because I don’t hear well. I need someone to be my ears. Mary is the kind of friend who knows when I need her to take control. She knows that to get my attention she must tap me on the arm before speaking or physically guide me along by putting her hand under my elbow. Just so you know, I’m not so prideful that I mind. Especially in New York City!!

As Mary listened intently for the announcement of our subway stop, I observed the people in our car. One man stood out from the rest. He was clean and well-dressed. He had no packages, no brief case, nothing in his hands. He sat upright with his legs crossed and his hands placed neatly in his lap. There was no stress or worry lines marking his face. He seemed calm and self-assured.

As I watched and wondered about this man who didn’t seem to fit into the scurry of activity around us, the door of the subway car opened and a young man entered. He stood in the front of our car and began to speak. He was pale and gaunt, thin and dirty, ragged and disheveled. With boldness and courage, though, he told us he had AIDS. His family had disowned him. He had lost his job. He had no friends. He lived on the streets. The heaviness of his burden was obvious and his hopelessness reached into the very depths of my soul. He needed money for food. It was all I could do to keep from crying.

Lord, have mercy….

I wanted to help. I needed to help. I became desperate to help. I reached into my purse, but at that moment our stop was announced and the subway doors flew open. Mary took my arm. I was so conflicted I probably would have missed our stop to stay behind and give this young man what he wanted including all of my money. I would have told him about my merciful God who gives hope to the hopeless. I would have made sure he knew this earthly life is not all there is…there is more, an eternal reward for those who know Jesus…the friend of sinners…the hope for all mankind.

I didn’t have time. I wasn’t prepared. It all happened within seconds. As I let Mary lead the way I turned my face to look at the well-dressed man who had first caught my attention upon entering the subway car. When everyone else passed by without a backward glance, when others hurried on to get a seat, the man who seemed to have no cares in the world reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a neatly folded bill. As he got off the car I saw him graciously hand that bill to the ragged young man and that subway car became the mercy seat of Christ. Hope came alive. As I turned away the tears fell just as they are now. Some feelings are too powerful to forget.

For the rest of the afternoon I heard the cry of that young man over and over again…”Have mercy on me!” Although he didn’t say those exact words, he conveyed them and that was enough. I had but one thought: I wasn’t prepared to come face-to-face with the cry for mercy. Like the well-dressed man in the subway car who had neatly folded bills in his pocket, waiting patiently for the Spirit to move, I wanted to show without hesitation the merciful love of my Father.

Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” Matthew 5:7

When compassion compels us to action, that is mercy. When we can’t look the other way. When we can’t stay silent. When we can’t stop the heart from feeling the pain of others. When we can’t forget the face of AIDS….or the plight of the orphan…or the loneliness of the widow….or the hopelessness of the homeless…whenever mercy rises within us, we identify with the heart of Christ. Ironically, the Greek word “blessed” means happy. Happy are the merciful…happy are those who share Christ’s heart for the wounded, the oppressed, the sick…for they shall receive mercy.

When I think of how merciful God has been to me, how I’ve cried out to Him for mercy at times in my own life, how can I withhold mercy from those who cry out to me? I know what God has delivered me from. I know where I’ve been. I know I haven’t always made the right choices. There was a time when I strayed far from God, but He was waiting with open arms for me when I returned home. He has never withheld His love from me. Yes, I’ve had to suffer consequences for my poor choices, but God’s grace and mercy have met me even there. Heaven help me if I ever become so callous that my heart no longer feels the pain of those who cry out.

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:13

The next year when Mary and I went back to New York I prepared myself. I neatly folded some $5 bills and kept them in my pocket. As we walked the streets of New York we both kept a watchful eye for divine opportunities. I can’t say that I met anyone else who had quite the same effect on me as the young man in the subway car, but when I got home I didn’t have one single $5 bill left. I’d given them all away. Happy was I…

….merciful I want to be, not just in New York City, but wherever God leads….

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23:6