July 3 Lessons from the Dog

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Last week, my not so little sister (she’s 28!) was telling me a story about the family dog, Abby.  Abs is precious. She’s red, she’s fast, and she LOVES everyone. But Abs has a tendency to destroy things. Not on a regular basis, like the daily opening the door after work only to see that it’s snowed memory foam mattress cover bits all over your house….Abs destroys things mostly under duress. When she stresses out, things get messy. When she thinks you’ve left her and are never coming back, she shreds something. When the 4th of July comes, well…..you had better watch out. No screen door is safe.

Jewels was relaying one of the latest moments of checking in on Abby. At the peak of her story, as she was gently chiding the dog, she had one of those God epiphanies. She said that God, in his infinite wisdom, was using her teachings for the dog to teach her how much he loves her, loves us, and how we become the pup staring brokenhearted, back at our Master, awaiting the discipline that we apparently, desperately need. It goes a little something like this…

“___________ (Insert name here)  why did you do this?  Look at this mess. This wasn’t a great decision. I told you no because I know what’s best for you.

Dog hangs head in shame, tail wagging in hopes that its master will still love it. After all, the dog doesn’t mean to be destructive. They’re just a little, you know, insane.

“_________ (insert your name here) I love you so much! (Arms reach out) But we need to work on this. (This means discipline and diligence) Alright, let me clean this up and we’ll start again. You must listen to my instructions. I really do understand, but I also know what’s best for you. Let’s try this again, okay?

I have had similar, simpler conversations with my dog, Bailey. (The other dog is not a chewer, praise Jesus!) I’m almost convinced she understands… and just can’t seem to help herself.  Last week she literally ate my phone. In 3 minutes flat. The damage was pretty impressive. Remember the comment about the memory foam mattress cover? I hadn’t even taken it out of the bag yet. Ready for what happened yesterday? Bailey—ate my undergarment, pooped in my closet, tried to eat the remote control, knocked over the dog water in her excitement about dinner coming, peed on my freshly steamed carpet (minutes before potty time), and tried to chew on my library book. My just checked out from the library yesterday afternoon, library book. I won’t even go into the disaster area my living room usually is when I come home. I have no idea where she finds the stuff, and there isn’t a bone on the planet, nylabone, beef leg, etc., that can stop her. It requires the reinforcement of discipline. Discipline with love, and teaching her not to fear me, but to respect my commands.

Dogs. (Just wait till we talk about cats. Jesus must REALLY love us.)

I understand she’s a puppy. I understand that as far as puppies go, she learns fast, she remembers quite well, and she does what I tell her….for the most part. After all, when I say “Drop it” she spits whatever is in her mouth, out. I also understand that she is destructive without malice, and that because she is undisciplined, she makes poor decisions. Sound familiar?

Each day we wake,  go about our routines, and fumble through the undisciplined areas of our lives. It brings us shame…almost a “no, no, bad dog” feeling of shame when we have to face those we are accountable too. It’s hard. It’s uncomfortable. And learning the discipline is unpleasant. Bailey gets quarantined until we can clean up the mess and then isn’t allowed her treat (if we catch her in the act).  Because I love her, I let her back in to my living space, back onto her spot on the end of the sofa, and continue to teach her that the only things she is allowed to chew on are her bones.  I use the “good dog” voice when she goes potty outside and stays when I command it. I continue to teach her (hopefully with patience) no matter how much destruction she causes. Why? Because she is mine and I love her.

How much more are we to the Almighty maker of heaven and earth? We are his children! And because he loves us, he stands over us (like an umbrella or protective parent, not a towering giant of terror), corrects our wrongs, and continues to teach us what is right, all with the gentlest, truest love we’ll ever be blessed to know. Amen!

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Hebrews 12:4-11

God Disciplines His Children

4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Job 5:17

“Blessed is the one whom God corrects;
so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty

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June 25, 2013 Bluebird of Happiness

100406-15.36-6694-EditThe bluebird of happiness is many things. For me, it is that moment when I am struck with serendipity and every last thing in creation comes into focus as the glory of life sings praises to the Maker. It is the light, it is the life, and it is the everlasting joy that glitters down from heaven.

My best friend’s father was a pastor. Like many folks, he spoke well…but inspiring messages weren’t what set him apart. It wasn’t his calling, his writing, or his attitude. All in all, what made him unique was the fact that he greeted all the things in his life with a childlike perspective and a pure, practically sparkling joy.

I can’t begin to describe the infectious light or life and the God that gave it to him any better than I can tell you what those words sounded like that spoke the stars into existence on the shores of a darkened universe. My fondest memory of him was two weeks before I got married. Sitting up in the Tahoe mountain house, things were fairly quiet over the breakfast table. Dogs napped in the morning light flooding through the windows, the breeze whispered through the trees… all was peacefully quiet. But not for long. The front door burst open and a wide eyed man, the age of my own father, with a grin on his face like a 5 year old at Christmas, stopped every last thought in my mind, every last action in my body. I’m pretty sure that in that moment, time froze. A moment later, it broke; it shattered like a thousand crystalline, rainbow reflecting, rain drops breaking through sunlit clouds.

“You have to see this!” He shouted. “Come and look at how amazing our God is!”

Dutifully we followed– his wife, his daughter, the two dogs, and me– out the door. The sun was shining, the air was crisp, the trees were perfectly blended between summer and autumn and there was a spark of electricity in the air.

“Look at how beautiful this day is!” he exclaimed. The excitement in his voice was truly infectious. I kept looking around thinking I had missed something. Sure, it was a beautiful day that the Lord had made– but so is almost every day in Tahoe. As a nature lover, I couldn’t disagree– the clouds above my head, the earth below my feet. At the same time I was confused. Inside my head and heart I felt the rusted gears of my faith grind into motion. It was as if the Creator of the universe was turning the crank, breaking the dusty layers to shift my vision and give me a new perspective. It wasn’t the clouds, the trees, or the clean air I was supposed to notice. It wasn’t the earth, the plants, or the flowers stretching across the forest floor and up the edge of the lake. It wasn’t the glassy lake reflecting the mountains and their majesty. None of these things were as brilliant as what I was about to see. My thoughts continued to shift, my sight finding a new set of spectacles, until it was right in front of me.

The bluebird of happiness was singing from the heart of my best friends’ father. There was something radiating from him the likes of which I rarely see. Because of this, every last speck of creation was seen through the light of the Almighty God, and it was breath taking. Every last leaf, it’s sounds in the vespers creeping over the mountains, the veins that ran through them feeding branch and tree….

I’ve never been able to look at creation the same way. Her father had gotten some of that light, that childlike wonder all over me, like splattered paint that doesn’t wash off. Standing in a driveway, watching one of Jesus’s children go skipping down the drive to show us his father’s handiwork was– well… it’s still pretty indescribable.

What does this really have to do with bluebirds? I’m smiling as I write this. From time to time, the Lord sends a real, bonafide bluebird across my path to capture my attention. And in that moment something inside my soul whispers–  Erin, look at what I’ve made for you — .  In my wildest dreams, I desperately wanted to see the world the way my friend’s father saw it. I wanted to feel that excitement and joy that he felt. I wanted to be able to run into my house and drag my husband out the front door to see a sunset worthy of saying  “Wow, Jesus, that’s pretty darn spectacular! Thank you for sharing,” without feeling foolish. I wanted to have, permanently perched on my shoulder, that bluebird of happiness…a pure, radiant joy that breaks through the stormy exterior. So whenever a bluebird (or a dragonfly, a really cool tree, flower, a refreshing breeze, even a perfectly pitched laugh….anything) crosses my path, my feet are trained to stop so that I may drink from the well of Joy in the presence of the Lord.

Little by little, as creation unfolds before me, I begin to digress; heart and soul re-taking that childlike state of happiness, while a tiny, feathered bluebird perches on my shoulder and boisterously sings Hallelujah from the Master’s Heart.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

June 20 The Promise of the Holy Spirit

A firefly is a miniature beacon of God’s handiwork.
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My older sister and her family just moved into a new house. It sits on the furthest edges of town. Last week, in all its splendor, the sunset was fully visible from their front yard as the city has not yet grown up around their piece of paradise. While I was surveying the sky and color changes, my 4.5 year old nephew asked what I was doing. I told him I was watching the sky go from day to night and asked him if he wanted to stand with me. Completely blessed, he came out and stood by my side, telling me all the colors he was seeing, the first star (which we explained was Venus), and about the night time bugs. This brought out the most excitable commentary (almost as cool as trains) to date.

In reality, he has probably never seen a firefly…I could be wrong. It’s happened  before. But in his excitement, he announced in his best outside voice that fireflies come out at night and that they glow. Knowing that 4.5 year olds observe many things (thank you science discovery, Disney, and national geographic), but aren’t always sure of what they see, I asked him what it looked like. He just said it was a flying bug, a “firefly” and it was all lit up. At that moment, my heart reached the “Grinch” size. You know it — the one where the Grinch’s heart swells so large it breaks the boundaries of the tiny, wire picture frame and his face twists into the happiest grin you’ve ever seen? That was the one. (You should be smiling SO BIG right now. I believe the term is grinning like an idiot.)

Whether or not that little guy has ever seen a firefly, only Jesus knows. What I do know is that God was whispering to me the importance of remembering what it feels like to be filled with his creation and an unbiased perspective. To love him and appreciate his glory as if I were a child in discovery mode. Why? The eyes of a child see SO MUCH! The smallest things bring them joy. The fact that there is a train track in the fields near my nephews house brings him immeasurable delight (this kid really loves trains). The belief that he has seen a real firefly, watched Venus “appear” as a star in the sky, and grandpa’s phone can show him a bunch of stars he can’t see, lights up his eyes and fills him with curiosity. God’s handiwork (in this case, the firefly, the stars, etc.) and the technology he has bestowed upon humanity to build and create (aka trains and tracks) are completely obvious to children. The joy produced in this rediscovery generation after generation, miraculous!

What’s the point? God whispers to us day in and day out, a constant stream of communication through the Holy Spirit, saying things like “Hey Erin, look at this! Isn’t it amazing! I  LOVE you!” . Beacons of his handiwork, his messages, and his love are all over the place. It doesn’t matter how God brings it to your attention (let’s face it– God in all his perfection does what he wants, speaks through who he wants…because what he wants is glorious and perfect)- what’s important is that he does. He uses your loves, your joys, and the things that lift your emotional temperature gauge (like Scripture & Bible Studies, friendships, children…) to bring you face to face with him.

How is God “speaking” to you? What beacon has he sent out, calling your attention to himself through his Spirit?

God whispered to me through a 4.5 year old boisterous boy (that I simply adore) who knew in his heart (and I believe him) he had seen a firefly.

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John 14:16-17 (The Promise of the Holy Spirit) NCV
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he lives with you and he will be in you.

June 12 The Lord is My Shield and Protector

I had one of those days where I could audibly hear and physically see (and spiritually feel the battle of)  folks beating at the walls of my metaphorical safety and fortress. It was in the snide remarks, the selfishness, and the condescension. (EW!) Days like those make a person feel about as big as a gnat, but angrier than a hornet. I talked with Jesus, with my husband, and did my best (Oh Jesus, help me!) to temper the attitude that wanted to bite, smite, and dig a moat around my own personal existence. I know we all have those days. I feel like they are one of the most ridiculous things to occur, but alas—they happen to all of us. (Hopefully not that often!)

After spending that day and evening in a state of semi turmoil, my husband reminded me of the shield that I had failed to carry. Let me introduce you to a McArdle-ism, known ever so delicately as the poop shield. The world around you is filled with people flinging their drama, emotional garbage, sticky, icky, negative attitudes and their transference of someone else’s issues, directly at you. To be perfectly honest, it’s like monkey’s in a zoo. There’s a reason zookeepers put fences and Plexiglas up. There’s a reason people admire that particular joy of creation from a distance. The thing is, a girl’s got to protect herself (Men, as well!), hence the “poop shield.” Now, you may ask, “how do I obtain one of these shields?” I’d be happy to share with you! For me, it all started with a quote.

“God knows the rhythm of my spirit and knows my hearts thoughts. He is as close as breathing.”

The shield is made up of balanced, healthy living; which starts (drum roll please) in the spirit– the one that God placed inside of you to connect to him directly. Scripture confirms this! (dig in daily for a healthy dose of encouragement and protection!) If your spirit is weak, your relationship and one on one with Jesus time is weak, then your shield will be like one of those failing sci-fi inventions. Imagine Spock telling Captain Kirk that shields were at 10% and falling. DANGER, DANGER! Or, imagine Obi-Wan Kenobi telling Yoda “our shields have failed, the Jedi are outnumbered!” And racing to find a way to restore safety to the peoples they are attempting to protect. The man in the red shirt sacrifices himself and the threat requires a super hero to throw themselves into the mire, to dive onto the sword of decimation.  Spoiler alert—the guy in the red shirt always dies. Don’t be the guy in the red shirt! 

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In this world, we were not meant to stand unprotected in the sludge of the quagmire, yet there I was sucking in air, attempting to keep everything in balance whilst doing my best to temper attitude and surroundings. The downside to this was that my shield was failing because I was failing to connect to the power source. While mini conversations with Jesus helped keep it from being totally destroyed (praise the Lord for that!) I was still on the edge of a complete shield collapse. Enter Jesus, via a reminder from the husband.  Not only does Jesus know what it feels like, he can feel the rhythm of my heart beat. Every breath I take in is a breath he takes in. If he is as close as breathing, then from the very act of the body taking in life giving oxygen, I should also be taking in life giving Jesus. Jesus is the one who powers, protects, and provides.

I get worn out (don’t we all!). Red flags are up, moat is filled with flesh eating microorganisms, draw bridge has been, well, drawn, and the alarms are going off left and right. (Yes, Jesus even provides a warning system!) The dangers are rising, but I don’t think to continue feeding the shield because, hey, I already did (I know, I know). It’s not like a rechargeable battery. There is no reason to let it lose power or die. This is one of those continual connection deals, sort of like wi-fi. The signal never stops, but from origin to destination, it can get interrupted, which means imminent shield failure.  One minute, you’re on top of the world and then BAM! You’re under fire with failing protection! Now whose fault is that? It would be ours. (Huge sigh, head hung low)

This morning, after begrudgingly leaving my dreamy state to trudge through the smoothie, shower, and get to work routine, (and getting the puppies back from the vet), I glanced down at my desk. The quote was staring at me from my little flip book of daily scriptures and inspiration, begging for my attention.  How the Lord is ever so clever.  Jesus wasn’t so far that the shield of protection I SO desperately needed couldn’t be regenerated. And Jesus isn’t so separated from me (though sometimes the distance we put between ourselves and Jesus can seem like light years!) that he doesn’t know, through and through, my heart, my spirit, and my needs at all times, or what is coming my way. I may get a few dings, stings, and scars here and there, but my lovelies, our beautiful warrior of a savior is as close as breathing. Isn’t that the most refreshing and relieving thought? (put a bandage or poultice on it and really absorb that confirmation).  The one who sacrificed himself, threw himself into the predicament that we are saturated in, put on the red shirt and paved a way so that our heavenly father could save the day, is as close as breathing. I don’t know of anything closer to my molecules than the air that they require to live, except maybe the one breathing that life into them (and me), the one powering the shield that protects me. He is that close. Amen!

Food for thought: God knows you, inside and out. He knows the foes that strike against you, the pain their weapons cause, and what it will take to protect you. He knows the rhythm of your spirit—it’s ups and downs, the melody that it follows. He knows every thought that dares enter your heart. He is as close as (maybe even closer than) breathing. So the question I put forth to you today is this: are you breathing? Or are you hyperventilating, straining to get an even breath, fumbling and struggling to clear the path to the connection that will bring you peace? On your own, you will never clear the space completely…but one breath from God is all it takes.

Here is a short video clip to help you visualize Jesus clearing the way. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHOmYV6Th8I .

Scripture Reading: Psalm 28:7; Romans 8:26-37

June 5 Poetry in Motion I

Some days I have no words. In those moments, I refer to the over abundance of words stacked inside of my “poetry” journal; words I believe are a gift from the Almighty God. Since, I have little to share today, I thought I would dig into the journal and pull out 1 of my favorites.

The poem (written without a title 6 years ago) is meant to be read clockwise. Pun intended.

After reading, my suggestion is to find a favorite verse from the Bible, poem, or quote, and to ask God to open your heart to why it strikes you so.For me, words come in sections and seasons, sometimes being edited years later to finally make sense.

(If it’s too small, click the picture. A link will open up, full size for reading)

Feel free to ask questions or offer your own inspirations in reply. Enjoy!

By Erin McArdle Art: http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_mdcienjsuE1rj396to1_500.jpg

Related verses: Acts 17:23-29

By Erin McArdle

Art: http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_mdcienjsuE1rj396to1_500.jpg