Saturday, June 30, 2012

A PACT with God

I just made a PACT with God.  This means I agree to do something starting NOW.  Actually, I commit to doing a few somethings. This means we have an agreement.  It doesn't mean I can save myself, help myself, or better myself.  God is the only one who can do that.  It does mean however, that I will:


Prayer is where is all starts.  Making the committment to turn the moment, the day, tomorrow -- over to God.  I don't do this enough.  I start each day by crossing myself and saying, "The day is your's." What I pray later that morning, then that afternoon and later that evening varies.  Some prayers are short, "Help me."  "Go before me."  Others are longer and involve petitions for those who are sick and struggling.  I say thanks - for health, for support, for salvation, for strength - for blessings like dogs, music and friendship and being able to live in the best City, in the best state, in the best country in the world.  (Is my Californi-centrism showing?)
Bottom line?  Go to God.  With all of it.  Regularly. Cast those cares.

Asking is also in my PACT.  I ask God for these specific things:
To understand how much he loves me
To create a clean heart in me
To make each one of my words a gift
To see/love someone the way God sees/loves them
To break my heart for what breaks His
To put people in my path who need to feel/know His love and to cause me to reach out to them
To help me forgive someone
To help leaders rule with compassion
To bless my church, the community center, my staff, all those doing His work
To help me understand WHO He is
To show me His will and give me the courage to act on it

Next in the pact is Connect.
Connect what?  Connect how?
Connect to others.  To family.  To friends.  To co-workers.  To the needy.  Connect with those around me. Get up, out of my chair, up from my desk, out of my pugh, out of the house, out of my routine, my rut, my riga-ma-row, and CONNECT. 
Not touch base.  Connect.
Not text.  Connect. 
Not call.  Connect. 
Not e-mail. Connect.  Face to face.  Heart to heart. 
And I want God to connect me by way of compassion.  So I ask "God, who needs me?  Who needs YOU? Put me in their path.  Take my focus off of me and put it on them. Use me to deliver your love, your hope, your peace."
This past week at work, I made it a point to put down my busy work and go spend time with a co-worker I've know for many years.  She unloaded on me.  I was with her at her desk about 20 minutes longer than I wanted to be.  I felt as though she had been saving up all kinds of stories just for that moment.  Then I thought, actually that is probably exactly what happened! We've worked together for over ten years and used to connect regularly.  She is smart, well spoken, and has a mind for the latest political and financial news, which I purposefully ignore because of my distain for politics and math.  I would often ask her to fill me in on the latest action of Congress or explain the changes to our retirement plan.  I wasn't the only one who would hit her up for information.  When ObamaCare passed, everyone asked her, "So what does this mean?"  She had answers, examples, website referrals.  Unfortunately, my work life lately has caused me to withdraw into my overwhelming mountain of responsibilities and focus my eyes on me.  I have been too stressed and exhausted to connect.  I would spend the mornings wading through emails, furiously typing up agendas and notes and answering phone calls.  In the afternoons, my work took me out of the office to countless "meetings about meetings" as I call them. So when I spoke to her the other day, she unloaded weeks and weeks of updates, news, and personal stories she had not shared with me.  I could tell she also needed a pat on the back because she told me about something she had done at a meeting that meant a lot to someone who were there.  I gave her the pat on the back she was looking for.  She deserved it.  She needed it.  It felt good to re-connect.  The next morning on the way to her desk, she stopped in front of my office and said, "Hopester, it is good to hear your voice here in the afternoons."
You're right, my friend, it is good to connect.

Trust is also good.  I am pretty trusting in general.  I am not one of those people who goes through life with one eyebrow raised about everything and everyone. I can be vulnerable pretty easily. But trusting God?  That is a bit harder.  Why?  Because of my pride.  Lately, God has been trying to teach me that despite what I believe or think, I am NOT in control of everything.  I do not hold the whole world in my hands.  I might feel the weight of it on my shoulders (because I think it is in my hands), but it is NOT in my hands.  Now, does that mean I recline on the couch with a bucket of bon-bons while "God does all the work"?  Nope.  It just means I need to stop with the worrying and start with the trusting.  It means I recognize that all of it - the then, the now and the tomorrow are ALL in God's hands.  He, who is without a beginning or an ending point, holds MY beginning and ending points in his hands.  When I think of this, I get a clear picture in my mind.  I see God, white bearded and on top of a rocky mountain (I may be confusing his image with that of Moses from a Mel Brooks movie) holding my timeline in his hands. There is a new song out by Casting Crowns that covers this same topic:  Already There by Casting Crowns

To fulfill this part of my pact -- to TRUST GOD -- it helps me to keep in mind:
God is good (Psalm 136:1). God has my best interests in mind (Jeremiah 29:11).  God keeps his promises (I Corinthians 1:9).  This world is not all there is (I John 3:17). 
Terrible things happen - people are dishonest - sickness strikes and kills - relationships suffer - life is full of tragedy and toils, none of which are easily understood or beared.  There are no simple answers and most of the time, no quick fix.  Sometimes life stinks and this is not about Poly-Anna-ism. It's about living in reality with an eternal mindset. Lately, my work life has been like an 18 wheeler that's just blown half it's tires (all on one side) on a downhill, curvy mountain grade.  To say in passing that "It's no big deal!" would be like standing next to my disabled big-rig, now dangling off the top of a run-away truck ramp, with a can of "Fix a Flat."  God doesn't expect that.  He DOES want me to trust him though.  This week I realized that it is OK to be SAD about the unfortunate things that happen in life, but when it starts turning to MAD, then I need to check myself before I wreck myself.  Mad means I am going to take matters into my own hands - in this case my own clenched fists!  You hurt me so I am going to resent you.  You took something from me and I am going to get it back if its the last thing I do!  Oh yeah, think you can hurt me?  Just wait, you'll get your's!  While I am steaming in my own dark, dingy motel room of bitterness and anger, and that person is sipping an apple martini by the hotel pool. 
Trust God.  So hard to do, but part of my pact.  God you are in control.  Not me.  I trust you.

So, that's the PACT I made for my faith journey.
Care to join me?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pity, Party of One

"Good evening.  Is it just you m'am?" 
"Would you like a lunch or a dinner menu?"
"Ah, dinner, I guess.  I'm not really all that hungry."
"OK, well maybe something light this evening then.  Here, let me take your coat."
"Nah, I'll keep it.  It's cold in here."
"Is it?  I'll see what I can do about that.  Maybe a table near the window for you then?  Might be warmer there, in the sun."
"No, don't put me by the window.  I sunburn very easily.  Plus, I forgot my sunglasses and I don't want to squint while I eat."
"OK, then, let's find you a table away from the window, where it is not so cold and let's get you something light to eat."
"Will this do?"
"I guess so. If it's the best you got. It's so noisy in here! I didn't expect it to be so busy."
"Well, this is about the only table I got at this point, but I want you to be happy m'am."
"Ha! Good luck with that.  I'm not in the mood to be happy."
"Well, I am sorry to hear that.  Can I do anything?"
"Nope.  I'll sit here, it'll do.  Just bring me some water.  And no lemon. As for trying to help me be happy?  Don't even bother.  My whole world is crashing down and there's nothing anyone can do about it."
"Well, I am sorry to hear that."
"Yeah, well, you'd be really sorry if you knew all the details, trust me!"
"Well, again, I'm very sorry m'am.  Now let me get you some water and I'll be right back, OK?  No lemon, right?"

"Where is my water?"
"Where is my waiter?"
"Where is everyone?"

PITY is a party of one, 
and once it is seated at the restaurant, everyone leaves.
No one wants to be around someone who feels sorry for themselves all the time.  No one wants to be around someone who is always the "victim."
No one, that is, except Jesus.
He will join your pit party if you let him.  He will join you at your table.  He'll bring water to your table and it won't have lemon in it.   It will be LIVING WATER (John 4:10-14).  If you drink it, you will have a new perspective, a new hope, a new way to live.  You won't be alone.  You won't WANT to be alone.  You won't be able to be "Pity, Party of One."  He won't leave you alone at your table and he won't leave you at your table. Soon, he will pull you up from your seat.  You will want to sit at the booth by the window.  He will lead you there.  You will sit there for awhile, squinting in the warmth, watching others go by outside - their heads low, their eyes red, their feet shuffling, alone, lonely.  Then, after awhile, he will pull you up again. He will lead you outside.  The brightness will overcome you at first.  Your smile will look more like a grimace.  Then it will relax into something real.  YOU will relax into someone real.  Yes, you want to be here - outside.  You want to tell everyone about what happened.  About the party you just left.  About the pity you left behind. You will ask those going by in the street to join you.  Join me in this new celebration of life!  Come to the party of freedom!

copyright Hope Horner, 2012
Follow on Twitter at HopeNote

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Faith Over Coffee

I mainly have faith over coffee.
I've plenty of trust when there's tea!
While the bagels and crumpets are rising,
It's "Nearer my God to Thee."
But when tea dries up in the pot,
And my coffee, it ceases to flow -
When my pantry is dark and barren,
I wonder "My God, where'd you go?"

Lord, help me to trust in you always,
God, please teach my heart to obey.
Help me to know, in your wisdom,
You give me enough for each day.
May I have faith in your goodness,
And rely on your Spirit to show --
That whenever I find myself empty

It is then, when your love overflows.

Copyright, Hope A. Horner, 2012
Follow on Twitter at HopeNote


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Stating the Not So Obvious!

Mark 4:35-41 - Jesus Calms the Storm

35 As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” 36 So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind. 37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.

38 Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

39 When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”

Did you notice in this story that Jesus TALKS to the wind and the waves?  Literally, he rebukes them!  Why is Jesus yelling at the weather? 
He is GOD for goodness sake, couldn't he have just lifted his arms and calmed down the wind and waves? 
He is LORD of All...Couldn't he have just closed his eyes in a moment of silence and brought calm to the storm? 
He is the Mighty KING....Don't you think he could have just thought about dampering down the waves and stopping the wind and it would have been enough to shut them both up?
It is precisely because he is God, Lord and King that he commands nature to listen up! Shut up!  They are at his beck and call.  He created them; he controls them.
But I suspect there is another reason why Jesus rebuked the wind and the waves, why he spoke outloud to the storm weather.
For the benefit of those listening. 
In this case, his disciples.  They're shivering, shaking and certain they are going to drown.  They run to Jesus for his help, so they must believe he can do something about it.  He does.  And what he does, he does outloud for them all to see and hear -- "Wind, waves - STOP!"
This isn't the first time Jesus spoke out loud while he was doing something miraculous (even when he didn't need to).  Check out this story from John 1.  In this famous passage, Jesus isn't bossing around the weather, he's bossing around a dead man --his beloved friend, Lazarus. Notice Jesus is mad when he shows up at Lazarus' tomb.  Scholars have a few theories about why, but most think it is the peoples lack of faith in Him, that has Jesus so upset.  You can hear his frustration in his response to Martha.
 38Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.
But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”

40 Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” 41 So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” 43 Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”

This time Jesus spells it out.
"OK God, I know you hear me when I pray but I am going to to thank you outloud for listening to me not because you don't usually listen to me, but because, well, THESE people don't usually listen to me, let alone believe in me, so I am saying all this outloud for THEIR benefit.  Do you hear me everyone?  I am talking to God and he is listening to me, as usual.  So when Lazarus comes out in a minute, remember who I was talking to and also remember that the One who answers this prayer, you know, God?  He is also the one who sent me.  Lazarus rise!  Amen."

Only 3 words in this passage are directed at Lazarus.  The rest of it is Jesus talking outloud to his Heavenly Father for all to hear in order to help them understand WHO HE IS & WHO SENT HIM.
Same thing is happending back in the boat.  Jesus talks back to the waves and the wind during the storm.  He knows waves don't have ears.  But disciples do.  He knows that the wind doesn't "listen." But his disciples do.  And while the wind and the waves always obey him, the disciples don't.  The weather "knows" who God is.  Evidently, not the disciples.  They believe he has the power to do miraculous things, hence the reason why they run to get him during the storm and plead with him to save them, but after he does get the storm to simmer down, they mutter among themselves, "Who is this man that the wind and the waves obey him?"  Can't you just see Jesus getting supremely frustrated at this point, even angry?  He must have felt the same way in the boat as he did in front of the tomb. 
"Seriously guys?  You don't know who I am?  Have I not made myself clear?  Look at the storm? It's gone!  I TALK TO NATURE AND IT LISTENS!  I RAISE PEOPLE FROM THE DEAD!  You have seen me heal the blind, restore health to the sick, send the crippled running, give a song to the mute - and you don't know WHO I AM? YOU DON'T KNOW WHO SENT ME?"  If Jesus rolled his eyes at this point, he would have every right to.  But his emotion runs deeper than a casual frustration because he knew their unbelief - their lack of faith - was more than just an annoyance.  It was a matter of life and death.  It had eternal consequences. So, it made him angry.  Not kick-the-dog-angry, but break-his-heart angry. At the beginning of John Chapter 11, Jesus is described as being "deeply troubled." Before he raised Lazarus from the dead, "Jesus wept." (John 11:35 -the shortest verse in the Bible.) Sure, he was probably upset that Lazarus, whom he loved, had died, but he KNEW that he would raise Lazarus from the dead!  (See verse 4)  So what was he really upset about?
I think it was for a very simple, yet profoundly disturbing reason.  Whether he calmed the storm or raised the dead, many of the people he deeply loved still wouldn't believe.  "You have to see me to believe me" would prove untrue.  Many saw only a powerful prophet, a miraculous healer, a first rate magician.  The wind stops in its track at his command.  The waves cease.  Lepers are healed. The blind see.  Someone dead for four full days rises up in his grave clothes and comes out of the tomb to new life. 
Nope, not enough to believe.
You're a pretty miraculous guy though Jesus. Wow, that was impressive!  Who the heck did you say you were again?


Friday, June 22, 2012

The Time Before?

I just heard a preacher scream "There was a time once when you were lost!  NOW, you are found!  There was a time when you weren't saved!  NOW you are saved!"
I was listening to Live365 radio and had dialed in on a Christian radio station.  The pastor had a booming southern voice that commanded my ears to listen as he worked his way through Romans.  He lost me though when he shouted these words. 
"There once was a time when you weren't saved..."
"Really?  I can't remember a time when I wasn't saved."
OK, before you click out of this blog thinking I am about to launch into some argument for or against predetermism/Calvinism/ assured.  I am not, nor do I want to.
What I mean is LITERALLY....I CANNOT remember a time when I wasn't "saved"!

At the age of five my parents helped me say the prayer "to ask Jesus to come into my heart."  I barely remember it to be honest.  I think, as the story goes, I announced at the supper table that I wanted to ask Jesus to come into my heart.  My parents were thrilled and they helped me pray.
I am sure my prayer included words about how I am a sinner, how I need Jesus, how thankful I am that he died on the cross for me, rose again, and now would he please come into my heart?  I am speculating here, because literally, for the LIFE OF ME (vague spiritual pun intended) I cannot remember this moment.
I do remember my baptism.  I was ten, had gone through about two months of classes in preparation for my baptism (Baptists don't call it catechism, heaven forbid we do anything remotely Catholic, but that was essentially what it was.)  I remember waiting in my white hospital-like robe in the back of the stage area of this big Baptist church in Reseda.  The baptismal "tank" was at the very back of the stage, behind the pulpit and had see-through glass so the whole congregation could watch.  Over it, was a giant wooden cross.  The church was packed and I was one of three people being baptised.  I walked down the steps into the warm water where the pastor was waiting for me.  He said my name, a few words about this special day in my life, and in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit under I went.  I remember that moment under the water vividly.  But even more vividly I remember walking back to my seat next to my parents, still damp after towling off back stage.  As I walked, the whole church was singing "Heaven Came Down and Glory Filled My Soul" and a few stopped singing to smile at me as I passed by.  To this day, I love that hymn.  Both my baptismal moment and that glorious hymn are etched in my mind.  I can see it clear as day.  But the day I was "saved"? The day Jesus "came into my heart" over Mom's home-made meal?
Clear as chocolate milk.
And since I can't remember the day I was saved (even though I have flickers of the moment and know it happened) I also cannot remember the days BEFORE I was saved.  Of course, I remember things like soccer practice, Sunday school, my parent's old decrepit Schnauzer named Melody --these were all things that existed before I was saved and I remember them, but as far as knowing what it really felt like to be "one of the lost" and then "one of the found"?  No clue. A significant sense of the BEFORE and AFTER?  Nope.

I guess this is both a good and a bad thing.
I could say I envy those who find God at a point when their life has gone to hell in a hand basket.  They turn to Jesus and in that powerful moment their life is changed.  They give up drinking.  They stop living for themselves.  The exchange their hopelessness for the Eternal Hope.  They pull the gun away from their head and pick up their Bibles.  They stop feeding their addiction and start feeding the poor.  They leave their life of riches and enter the mission field.  In other words, they remember how bad it was, how lonely they were, how desperate their lives had become and now, since they found Jesus, their lives are not rose gardens by any stretch, but they can clearly SEE and FEEL the difference of the "before" and "after."  As a result, they are joyful - triumphant even - in their faith and filled with passionate stories about how Jesus REALLY does save.  They are inspired and their stories inspire.  They can look back and see the near misses and be deeply, profoundly grateful that God sent his Son to save them.  They KNOW they were lost, their lives were living proof of just how much they need to be found. When they get found, they don't take the Finder for granted. 
How can I share in this passionate life-changing experience?  I can't even remember the moment OF, let alone the moments BEFORE.  And the moments AFTER?  At five years old, could my life really be THAT DIFFERENT after "finding" Christ? 
OK, now that I have Jesus in my heart I am going to stop ripping the heads off my sister's Barbies. 
Since I am "saved" now, I am going to be real careful to color inside the lines of my Hello Kitty coloring book and put all my crayons away.
Yes, Jesus, I know yesterday I didn't, but TODAY I will eat all my peas!
Did my new found salvation give my Mom and Dad a new tool in their parenting arsenal? 
"Hope honey, you're a Christian now so we shouldn't have to tell you more than once to put away your toys!"
"Jesus would want you to stop whining, darling."
"Oh sweetie, the OLD Hope would have told her brother to shut up.  The new Hope in Christ would just ask him nicely to be quiet."
I am pretty sure my parents didn't go this route, but it does make a point:
I am missing two key moments in my life - the BEFORE Christ and the AFTER Christ. 

My conversion is a little bit like my being a Dallas Cowboys fan.  I grew up in a family that loves the Cowboys, so I love the Cowboys.  I don the dark blue gear with the silver star, I've gone to a game, and followed on TV.  As a child, I watched them train a few miles from my house and met Tom Landry, Tony Dorsett and others.  Over the years, family members who live in Dallas have lifted prayers of Super Bowl blessings for Staubach, White, Aikman, and Garrett and most recently, that the team would get rid of Romo. I can't remember when I became a fan and I don't really know why I am other than the fact that everyone around me has always cheered for the Cowboys.
In the same way I can't imagine life without the Cowboys, I can't imagine life without Jesus.  I have no before and after conversion experience.  So when a pastor says, "Before you were lost!"  I ask, "I was? When?!" I know I was lost, but I didn't realize it.  And when I was saved, I didn't realize what that meant either.  I was five for goodness sake.  It was hard enough to keep track of how many days until my birthday.
I am glad that when I "came to Christ" I didn't find myself lost at the bottom of a bottle, or at the edge of a cliff, or with a gun to my head, my life in shambles or with a raging drug addiction.  I am glad that the most lost I got was when I got separated from my Mom in Sears. 
I do regret though, that because of my early conversion, I do not have a real sense of what it means to be "saved."  I mean to be "saved" you have to be on the verge of something terrible like death or destruction otherwise you don't need saving, right?  At five how could I possibly understand that I was separated from God and in need of his saving grace?  What I needed was more Captain Crunch!  I needed more Electric Company!  I needed to be saved from the monsters under the bed!  From the spider crawling on my ceiling!  From my sister's rage after she found her headless Barbies!

Don't get me wrong.  I am glad I was saved at a very young age, despite the foggy memory of it --despite the lack of the crystal clear "before" and "after".  How can I not be grateful that I had parents who loved me so much they wanted to make sure I knew about Christ as soon as possible?  Does Jesus call only the mature?  The despondent?  The destitute? What a blessing salvation is at any age, at any stage in life!
My prayer today is that God would help me to truly understand His incredible love -- the love that reached down to earth with Jesus for me, for all.  The same God that reached down to me at the dinner table and convicted my heart at five years old, as I ate my macaroni and cheese. (We might have had liver and onions that night, but I'm going to go with macaroni and cheese for obvious reasons.) I also pray that Christ will "create in me a new heart" -- that he would break my old, stoney, jaded heart for what breaks his.  I want to be profoundly reminded of the precious gift that was given to me so long ago, even if the memory of receiving it is gone.   I want Him to remind me that BEFORE, THEN, AFTER, RIGHT NOW and AHEAD, I am HIS.

Copyright 2012 Hope Horner
Follow on Twitter at HopeNote

2 Corinthians 5:17
Ephesians 1:4

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Path Through the Sea

From Psalm 77:
O God, your ways are holy.
Is there any god as mighty as you?
You are the God of great wonders! 
When the Red Sea saw you, O God,
its waters looked and trembled!
The sea quaked to its very depths...
Your road led through the sea,
Your pathway through the mighty waters—
a pathway no one knew was there!
I discovered this Psalm last night in a devotional book.  What a beautiful, encouraging song of David! 
I feel like I am standing before the Red Sea right now.  Just like Moses and the Israelites, I cannot see a way through to the other side and the enemy is fast approaching.  OK, so maybe no one is chasing me and come to think of it, as far as I know, I don't have any enemies, but I feel the discouragement, the frustration, the angst and anxiety of looking at a huge, churning sea of a problem and not seeing a way through it.
Thankfully, God can not only see the pathway, but he can and has created it.  He will make a path where there appears there couldn't possibly be one.  Where I see water, he sees a way.  Where I see a problem, he sees a purpose.
Now, what I prefer to do is to stand at the water's edge and kick and scream.  If I were Moses, I wouldn't have held up my rod over the Sea, I would have BEAT the edge of the water with it screaming "Come on God make this move!  Make a path already!  We gotta go!"  I want out of my discomfort, out of danger, I WANT A CLEAR PATH AND I WANT IT NOW. 
God says: Just raise your voice in prayer Hope, stop beating the water.
God says: I am with you Hope, right here on the dry ground.  Isn't that enough to calm your fears?
God says: I see a path ahead of you even though you can't see it right now.  Don't believe me?  Look behind you.  See how I was always there? 
(This is the time to insert that "overused-therefore-it-is-cheesey" poem "Footprints" but since we all have it basically memorized I'll pass.)

Some mornings as I crawl out of bed, the first thing I say as I rub the sleep out of my eyes is "God I trust you."  Other mornings it's "God, thank you."  Today I said, "God this day is your's."  When I go out for my morning run, so early that the sun isn't even up and I am not sure I am, I whisper, "God protect me." When I look at the Great Sea of the Unknown in front of me and feel scared, frustrated, lost and worried I can put all these short prayers together and say:
"God I trust you and I thank you. Today is your's.  Protect me."
Instead of pounding on the water and demanding that God make a path, instead of running in circles on the shore frought with worry, instead of sitting down in the sand to pout and feel sorry for myself, I can rest in Him.  He sees the path.  He knows the way.  He will make a path and create a way.  And his plans are not to harm, but to prosper.  He will see me through to the other side.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


This is not Maya.  Maya is cuter. :)
This morning I took my dog, Maya, (a.k.a. "Jog Dog") our for a run. The grass was still wet from the morning dew and the sun was trying to break through the fog.  As we headed home, we ran behind a row of cars in a parking lot. Any of them could back out at any minute. (OK, maybe not. I am the only one crazy enough to be out running at 6 AM on a Saturday morning.)  But still - as Maya & I jogged by the row of parked cars, I thought about what I would do if one of them suddenly started backing up.  There was only a few feet between us and the cars.  I would have to YANK Maya out of the way very forcefully.  Red brake lights...small white--- PULL!  I'd tug on that leash with a lot of force.  "Jog Dog" would be lifted off her feet and pulled out of the way before she could become a speed bump for an SUV.
I would not have time to warn her.
I would not have time to explain her options.
There was no way I could jog up to her, kneel down and say:
"Hi Jog Dog, it's me, Top Dog.  Anyway, see this silver Honda SUV here? Yeah, the one backing up.  Well, it is about to spin its big black tires in reverse and crush you. So I am going to give you a mighty yank, which is probably going to hurt, but I have to do it OK? Otherwise, well, uh, you're gonna die."    By the time I would have gotten the word "Hi" out, we would have been bumper stickers. There would be no time to tell Maya about what was to come.  No time for a gentle warning.  There was only time to YANK.   She might have yelped.  She definitely would have looked at me like, "What the heck was that all about?"  She might run a little scared for awhile.  She may avoid me for a time.  She would have no idea that I had literally just saved her life.  She wouldn't appreciate the fact that I just instigated a life-saving, albeit painful, measure on her behalf.  Even if I pulled her to the safety of the sidewalk, sat down to pat her and explain my actions she still wouldn't get it.
"Yes, Maya, I know it hurt, but it had to be done.  I want you around.  I want you as my Jog Dog for many more years to come.  If I hadn't done it, you would have been dead meat." 
Treat?  Did you say treat?
Never mind Maya.

Human beings are the only ones who try to figure out why there are on this planet.  We ask the big question:  "Why am I here?" Dogs?  They just "dog."  They do what dogs do and don't question why they wake up each morning.  Why am I here?  Is it to sniff?  To drool?  To scare cats?  They just get up, sniff, drool and scare cats.  It helps that they don't have imagination, long term memory, or reasoning.  We do.  While the birds, dogs and cats are being birds, dogs and cats, we humans are sitting around with our powers of reasoning and imagination asking ourselves, "Why am I here?"  "What am I supposed to do while I am here?'  We search for meaning; we search for ourselves, until we ultimately realize we are on a search for God.  When we find Him, He fills that emptiness inside, quells the longing, answers the ultimate "why?" and closes the gap.  I know I have a missing puzzle piece in my heart and He is the only "peace" that fits. I find Him and in Him, I find myself.  I am still in the "finding" stage, probably always will be - but that's why it's called a faith journey, right?   
So I'm on the journey, trotting along, beautiful day, good music on the ipod and then YANK!
I look around and ask, "What was that all about?" 
Usually when the "Yank" happens I blame another person or a situation for the yank.  My boss yanked me.  My family member, neighbor - the stranger in the supermarket - YANK! This job yanked me!  This sitution tugged me!   I am suddenly thrust in another direction and a bit sore from the pull.  I am confused.  I start to ask why this is happening to me.  I want to go back to trotting along.  What happened to my peaceful morning jog?  GOD GIVE ME BACK MY PEACEFUL MORNING JOG & TAKE AWAY THE PAIN!  That is usually how my prayers sound immediately following the YANK.
I don't know it, but I might have just been saved from the tires of life rolling over me. I may have just been saved from myself.  I may have just been given a "new leash on life."
Now I am not going to say that when bad things happen to me God causes them (like I said in a past blog I leave those arguments to the theologians) but I do know that God can DEFINITELY work through and in the tough tugs of life.  Here is what I am trying to wrap my head around after a recent YANK.  When God pulls me, He always pulls me the RIGHT way and he is always RIGHT THERE with me all the way.  He doesn't yank and run. 

He is definitely pulling on me right now.  I'm fighting Him a little bit because I think I know what's best for me. (I think I am Top Dog.)  I just want my morning jog back.  I just want good 80's music on my ipod and the wind in my hair.  I just want to be pain free.  Maybe not.  Maybe that YANK I just received is exactly what I needed to keep me out from the under the SUV and headed in a new direction - His.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Member of the AKC Club

I used to be a member of the AKC. 
Maybe you used to be a member, too?  Maybe you're a member now? 
Oh, and I don't mean the club for pedigree dogs. 
This is much bigger and more controversial than a club for a bunch of fancy canines and middle aged women who can run in skirts and heels.  "AKC" in my club stands for something else and I'm no longer a member.  I turned in my card years ago, how about you?
Click on this link to read my essay about the AKC Club as published today by the Burnside Writers Collective:

God: Change for Good!

I don't have a problem with change.  It's the changing I don't like.

I am going through significant changes at work right now and the stress level for me and my co-workers is at an all time high.  We were working along just fine it seemed, and then BAM! out of the blue change comes flying in like a hungry seagull, swooping, squawking, grabbing our favorite bag of chips and pooping all over everything.  Yeah, at best, change can feel like a bad day at the beach.

There's another thing I don't like about changing.  Those who implement the change (the change agents) always tell us the same things, don't they?  They flash a strained smile and say:
Change is a part of life!  Change is good! Fresh eyes.  New perspectives.  New opportunities! 
You know, all the things they tell you about change when it is being forced on you but not on them?  I call it the Mary Poppins approach - the pep talks are like the "spoon full of sugar" that helps the medicine of change go down.  The change agents who spoon you this sugar usually don't have to change themselves.  They get to sit with the sugar.  You get the medicine. And you get it whether you like it or not, although, in their mercy (read those last three words with a Monty Python voice) they'll sweeten it up a bit for you.  I know you're going to hate this sweetie, but open up, ah, there you go, open up nice and big for mommy...And they shove in the change on a spoon the size of a ladel.  It's sweet at first, but then goes immediately bitter.  Yum.  Now your smile looks just like their's did when they were trying to sell you on the change.  Fake.

In the midst of all this change at work, though, there HAS been good news.
God has been changing me for the better!
He is using this "bitter pill" to mold me into someone who is more patient, humble, thankful and with a greater trust in Him.  This roller coaster ride of change has made me grab the safety bar with white knuckles and that safety bar has been my Heavenly Father. 
My prayer life has improved, too.  This bitter taste in my mouth has reminded me to pray and to pray often.  I've found that I have been praying some of the same things over and over:
Lord, help me to know when to speak and when to shut up.
God, open the hearts of the people I work with so we can lead with compassion.
God, help me cut through this fog of sadness and see clearly.
Lord, walk with me.
Help me to be a good leader.
May each word I speak be a gift.
Jesus, help me to remember that you go before me, you are behind me and your hand is on my head. (Psalm 139)
God, help me to see where I need to change; show me my blind spots. 
Create a clean heart in me, Oh God.
Renew my spirit and help me to remember I work for YOU.
God, if I love these people, how much more do you?  Help me to do right by them.
And God if you are using this to show me that you have other plans for me, then make them plain and give me the courage to go where you lead.

I've also had some phrases and thoughts running around in my head the last while:
I don't know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.
That which was recently taken away, was never in my hands (even though I thought it was).  It has always been in God's.  There it will remain!
Who do I think I am?  God?  He's in charge, not me!
Lord, I trust you.  You have always looked out for me.  I can't see ahead, but I can look back and see how you have always been there faithfully. Look how blessed I am!  I should stop worrying!

Some changes are more difficult to digest than others.  The one I am going through is quite painful, but nothing like the change that comes when someone dear to us dies.  That change is like being asked to swallow the ladle, not just the sugar coated medicine.  A friend of the family passed away recently. She was a vivacious, energetic, funny woman who drew people to her like a magnet.  Needless to say, she had many friends and family members who were devastated by her passing.  At her funeral, a small card was passed out to everyone in attendance. On it was her picture and a short poem, written to help us deal with the change of losing her:
God saw that you were getting tired and a cure was not to be
So he put His arms around you and whispered "Come to me"
With tearful eyes we watched you and saw you pass away
Although we loved you dearly, we could not make you stay.
A golden heart stopped beating, hard working hands to rest
God broke our hearts to prove to use
He only takes the best.

What?!?!?  Did anyone else catch that?  Read those last two lines again.
God killed this person to teach us that he only steals away the good ones (and leaves behind what, the losers)?
If so, I think I suddenly became an athiest.
Who would want to worship a sick, twisted God like that? 
I will not pretend to understand God and all of His ways, but I don't think he stole away our family friend to make a point about the difference between the "A" students of the faith and the ones who have to stay behind for divine detention.  He did not swoop in like a seagull and yank away our friend like a bag of Doritos to teach us a lesson.  CANCER stole away our friend, not God.  Abnormal cell growth killed her.  God hates cancer and his heart is broken over the way that disease stole her life and the lives of so many others.  Beyond that, I leave it to the theologians to argue.

Whether it is the passing away of a loved one, trials in our personal life, thorns in our side or workplace challenges, God uses change to bring us closer to Him, teach us something about ourselves and Him, and strengthen our perseverence and faith.  The changing that comes with getting to the ultimate change He wants to see in us can be painful and the pace can be painstaking. He is doing that right now with me.  He is doing that all the time.  He is good.  His change in me will be too.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Few Bones to Pick!

Listen up! I have a few bones to pick with the three of you.

First off I would like to address you,
Yeah, YOU. You said you were my ticket to freedom.  You said would make me feel like I have "arrived."  So I got some of you and I used you to by some pretty neat stuff that YOU SAID would raise my social status and in turn, I would feel better about myself.  You said I would have enough of you if I just had a little bit more. Well, you never seemed to be enough.  You said that I could fill my purse, my wallet, my bank full of you and then I'd be set.  Look, I know you can't buy love, but you did promise to buy me happiness and well, YOU LIED.

Next up, I would like to talk directly to you,
What is up with you?  I thought you'd be around longer.  Seems like the last few years you have disappeared.  Anyway, when you were here, you were supposed to make me feel like I was a valuable person, like I was attractive, special, alluring, popular.  I mean, if I'm pretty, others will like me, right? Somehow, that never really happened.  People who liked me, liked me because of ME, not because of YOU.  So I wasted a lot of time on you.  Oh, and your friend, Money?  He tried to help me buy you, you know the usual stuff - creams, fancy clothes, make-up, exercise clubs - he said once I bought all of you, I would feel just plain BEAUTY-FULL. Yet, I feel pretty empty even all dolled up, even on my best day, even years ago when you were around on a daily basis.  Lately, you seem a lot like someone who is avoiding me. You are getting harder and harder to find.  So I'm sorry if I have stopped looking so hard for you.  Actually, I've kind of given up on you a little bit because as it turns out,

Oh, now where do you think you're going SENSUALITY?  No, not you SEXuality, you're free to go for now, I'm talking about your sister, SENSUALITY.  Yes, you Mrs. Sensory Overload, you.  You're not as overt as your older sister sexuality, but now I know you're just as dangerous. I have to say I am very disappointed in you.  You have really let me down.  I mean you offer a lot, up front.  You, like money and beauty, make a lot of promises. And boy, do you start young!  You have offered me so much over the years.  You really know how to sell yourself, don't you?  You really put yourself out there - a real marketing guru, you are.  "Hey try this - it is soooo much fun!  Hey touch this--you will love it!  "Oooh, take this in - it's a real trip!" Hey you, eat this - it is so tasty!"  You promise escape, pleasure, bliss and comfort.  You hit all five senses regularly and wow, you really know how to cast a spell don't you? But you know what I figured out about you? You are so short lived and you kind of leave a bad taste in my mouth when I'm done with you.  In fact, half the time, I feel terrible after I'm around you for awhile.  And the guilt that comes the next day, that is a whole 'nother story! You've done a great job all these years, selling yourself to me.  You got me there a few times. But now, I'm on to you. I'm over you baby. Oh, and take your hussy of a sister with you because I'm older now and well, I know...

So, listen up you three.  Money - Beauty - Sensuality --
In and of yourselves, you're not bad.  You were created.  You are gifts from God.  If I am careful with you and remember that you are only a glimpse of the real deal I'll be OK around you.  Oh and I should point out that someday, money, I hate to break it to you, but you are not going to matter.  And while I'm here on this earth and you DO matter, I'm going to use you to be a blessing to others.  That's right!  Did you hear that? I'm going to USE YOU!  Ha!  And beauty, you can be on your way; it's OK.  You're leaving me and I am not going to obsess over the loss of you.  As they say, 'don't let the door hit you on the way out'!  I'll find you elsewhere.  You are in other places - the hills, the sunset, the seaside, the newborn child.  I will find you there and thank God for you.  I will remember that you are a reflection of an even more beautiful place to come.  Oh, and same to you sensuality!  You will not lure me into your games anymore.  I will be very cautious around you.  My ears, eyes, fingertips, and mouth - all my senses - they don't belong to you.  They don't belong to me either! I will be careful about what I bring near them. All those material, physical things that stir up my senses need to be put in their place.  I know that now, so stop trying to sell me stuff that is just going to kill me.
So there it is you three. Bottom line - Money, Beauty and Sensuality? You listening? 
I'm done with you, each of you, all of you, done with all your lies!

Copyright Hope A. Horner, 2012.
Follow on Twitter at HopeNote

Monday, June 11, 2012

Dog Race!

I wrote recently about dogs (and Thundershirts), so I am reticent to begin yet another "dog blog."  Then I thought there is nothing people like more than DOGS.  OK, maybe they like babies just a little bit more, but then again, you don't have to pay for dogs to go to college when they grow up.  And I don't have a baby story.
So, DOGS it is.

Recently, there was a story in the news about a dog race.  Not the greyhound-'round-the-track type, but an All American Mutt Race, where ordinary, homely people enter their ordinary, homely pound puppies into a contest to see who has the fastest dog.  The newscaster interviewed the owner of the winning dog, who could barely get a word in since her dog kept trying to lick her face during the interview.  Still, you could tell she was proud of her pup.  He was the fastest!

However, if you've ever seen one of these races, you know the dog that wins is not necessarily the fastest. The winning dog is the one who obeys the command, "Come!"  Your whippet might rival Speedy Gonzalez for the land speed record, but if she ignores you like a goldfish, she won't get the blue ribbon.
See, how it works is: Dog owners stand about 10 yards away from their dogs who are being held in place by someone else.  The whistle blows.  All the owners begin calling their dogs.  Frantically.  Earnestly. POINTLESSLY.
Once released, the dogs immediately turn to eachother, and begin sniffing noses, butts, tails, and ears.  Then, a few sit down and lick places that should really be left to the imagination.  Some tear off in a totally random direction as though they just caught wind of a beef flank.  A few just sit and wag.  So in reality, the "race" looks like this:
Pack of frolicking frantic furballs having a "Sniff Fest" on the one yard line.
Pack of peppy, palm pounding people having a "Scream Fest" on the 10 yard line.  They try it all - lowering and raising their voice, slapping their hands on their laps, clapping, whistling - desperately trying to get Rover to come over.
Eventually, a few dogs, bored with the licking and not able to find a squirrel to their liking, will saunter toward their owners.  Soon, one, (usually a firstborn, private school border collie type) will see its owner and sprint over.  WINNER!  Good boy!  Way to go!  You are soooo fast once you stop licking yourself! 
The race is so much fun to watch.  It's like recess for AKC rejects.  Of course, my dogs, would do so much better.  All 3 would probably win in unison.  They are perfect little listeners.  Models of obedience.  Yeah, right. If you believe that, you don't have dogs.  If you have cats, you understand.  One of my favorite quotes is "Dogs have owners.  Cats have staff."  Well, dogs might have owners, but that doesn't mean they are obedient to them.  Ownership means nothing to a dog.  This is why Walmart is filled with 14 different types of Snausages.  We all need a nice cheesy, bacon flavored doggy bribe for those moments when Muffy is being, well...Muffy.
Muffy (Not my dog)
Come? Really?  You can't be serious.
I am warm.  This couch is soft.  If I come, I will have to move and then I will no longer be warm.  Leave me alone. Go bug someone else. 
Is that...Bacon?
Here I am!

The dog race reminded me of my relationship with God.  God is on one end, the 10 yard line, calling me.  I am on the other end ignoring Him.  OK, I am not doing gross dog things, but I am doing gross human things at times.  I am being selfish, angry, wasteful, arcastic, prideful...being ME.
Sometimes God gently calls me to come.  Then there are times I've noticed he has stepped it up a little, maybe started clapping or tapping his palms on his thighs.  Come here!  Come here!  I have to work to ignore him at this point.  It is my pride or selfishness that usually gets in the way. 
Wait a minute God, I don't want to do that.  I'm tired.  I need time for myself.  I don't want to be around that person.  I would rather not go there, I am comfortable here.  Like a child, I put my fingers in my ears and begin the bratty "nah nah nah nah nah" refrain heard on every childhood playground.
So, God tries a little harder to reach me.  The "Hound of Heaven" as poet Francis Thompson described Him, begins hounding this hound.  He is not giving up after a few finger whistles and hearty "Comeers!" His voice is barely audible.  That certain verse that keeps popping up.  The words of my pastor.  Some comment at Bible Study.  I might take a few steps closer and then, "What was that?  Did I smell bacon?"  And just like that I am off and running, but in the wrong direction.  For me "bacon" is what I want.  What I want to do.  What I love, crave, enjoy, seek and obsess over.  Like the Snausages commercial, "Dogs love BACON!" (Insert dog sniffing snout into the camera.) My commercial would say, "Hope loves HOPE! Give Hope what HOPE wants today!"  (Do NOT insert my snout into the camera.) While I am off chasing bacon, God keeps calling.
Finally, usually with an injured paw, a belly way too full of bacon and an empty heart, I stumble closer to God.  I am not quite there yet, maybe at like the 8 yard line.  Then God usually does one of two things.  He reaches out the rest of the way and grabs me or some other lumbering pooch comes along and knocks me right into Him.  You know the type God uses?  They aren't always Christians.  Some are just people along the journey who God uses to nudge or knock me along.  They'll say something or do something that literally grabs me by the collar and drags me to God.  Usually, they show extraordinary love at just the right time.  Love that I know is coming from my Owner, even though I am doing my best to ignore Him.
So there I am, finally in God's arms. Winner!  In His mercy and kindess, he doesn't chastise me for taking 3 days to run 10 yards.  His grace welcomes me like the prodigal puppy I am.  The sad part is, I would be far worse for the wear had I just run straight to Him.  My paw pads would not be as worn down, my fur would not be in such desperate need of a bath (that's what happens when you roll in dead stuff), my eyes wouldn't have so much tear goop, if I had just "Come!" in the first place.  Thankfully God is not just my Owner, he's my Groomer.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Bowling for Democrats!

I made a trip to the grocery store yesterday, piling my fresh fruits and veggies up on the conveyor belt, pleased to be the first in line to check out.  As I slapped down the rubber divider behind my stash of groceries, a shaggy older man in a white Dodgers hat (as dirty as it was original) sauntered up behind me with a honeydew melon in his hand. His greasy gray hair was to his waist, tied back with a rubber band. He would have fit in at Venice Beach, kneeling over his chalk art next to a donation can or panhandling from a wheelchair with a one eyed dog in his lap.  He was leathery, unkept, and should have been wearing A LOT more than jean shorts and an ARMY tank top.  I know it is June, but it wasn't THAT hot outside.  Heck, even if it was August and the sun WAS melting the black off the concrete --STILL! More clothes, Sir, PLEASE, more clothes.  You need a bit more material to contain all the white, wiley hairs sprouting out of your knees, shoulders and nape.
He palmed his honeydew melon like a basketball in his bronze hand and placed it carefully down on the conveyor belt.
"Looks like I got myself a bowling ball, doesn't it?"  He chuckled.  His white mustache was flat in some parts, bushy in others.
"Sure, does!"  I was surprised at how friendly my voice was.  I tried not to look at his knuckles.  The hairs on them seemed to wave at me. 
"You should stand back and bowl that thing!"  I heard myself saying. 
Why was I being so friendly?  Jesus please help me stop the madness!  I don't want to be like you right now!  This man has only three teeth and two are brown!
He laughed so loudly that I thought for a moment I may have a future in stand-up.
"Naw," he said once he had contained himself, "then I would just end up knockin' your stuff all over the place."  He pointed at the bananas, blueberries and milk stacked up on the belt.  I smiled and nodded.  He laughed again. 
Settle down soldier. Settle down.  I was talking to myself at this point, even though I have never served in the armed forces.  Don't be too friendly or you'll end up being asked out to the "Veterans' Bingo & Boozefest" at the Mooselodge tonight.  He probably has his '75 El Camino all Armor-Alled up and ready to go.
I started chatting up the checkout girl.  She asked if I had found everything I needed.  I said yes, but that I was sure I had forgotten something.  We commiserated on how you have to get all the way home before you realize you forgot that one important item (usually the one you came to the store for before you got distracted by the gummy bears and cheese puffs.) There is a noise you make in your kitchen when you get home and realize that you forgot THAT ONE THING.  It sounds like Arrghhkkk or something similar.  I told her that if I HAD forgotten something, I would have to come back HERE to THIS STORE because I wouldn't pay the prices at Albertson's even though the store is practically next door to my house.   
On hearing this, the bristly beachcomber spoke up.
"That's because this here supermarket doesn't have a union."
You could hear the air go out of the supermarket.  This was Republican territory so when someone says "union" in public, there is a noise like a record screeching and then the entire room goes silent so everyone can hear which side of the picket line you are on.
Just then, an older lady walked up with a plastic container of strawberries held high in her hand.  She was petite, dressed like a snappy east coaster and her face was fresh and light, like a newly cleaned window.
"These are bad," she held them out toward the checker, "do you mind if I just switch 'em out with another one?"  The checker leaned forward.  She hadn't heard what she said.  Happy, hairy hippy man was continuing on.
"So we pay higher prices, we pay more for everything in fact.  Government is the dirtiest business there is.  Worse than the trash guy. We pay all these taxes, more and more, and for what?"
He was bowling for Democrats.  Like a big, glossy gray marbled ball his words were sent rolling to see how many Demo-commies he could bowl down.  His words lined 'em all up so he could knock 'em all down.  Like the melon in his hand, he had let it go and it was intended to wreak havoc. 
Unfortunately, the glowing preppy senior with the rotten strawberries was the first pin to fall.
"Well, I like having plenty of police and firefighters and clean streets when I drive around."  Seemed simple enough.  She tried again to tell the clerk what the problem was.
"I do too, but why should I have to pay for all that?"  Mr. Venice 1972 replied.
"Because you live here!" Bad berry buyer and I shouted together in unison.  We startled himwith our coordinated chorus of chastisement.  He rubbed his chest nervously.  Now the neck of his tank top was even lower than before. I looked away quickly before a few more gray hairs could escape from their cotton prison.
Oh dear.
I immediately wanted to tell him that I was not a Democrat.  His ball had jumped a lane. I was an independent.  In other words, my party never has a presidential candidate to vote for and am not sure if I want a Ron Paul Revolution or a Beatles one.  I love America.  I hate politics.  I registered independent because I felt, in one word, it described me best.  Yeah! Independent! Don't tell me how to vote! But now, I was laying on my side, waiting for his next throw, bowled over by the right wing Dodger fan with face stubble so far past 5 o'clock it was climbing into bed.  I wished Ms. Mable LL Bean and I had just jumped out of the way of his ball, but it had hit us head on.
Isn't that how it works?  Those trigger words that line us up like pins.  For some it is "global warming" or "Prop. 8" or simply "Obama."  For others it is "Christian" "born again" "evangelical" or my personal favorite "born again Evangelical Christian."  Phew. Say those words and you'll have so many pins lined up you'll need a team of professional bowlers who can put plenty of spin on the heaviest balls in the alley.
Sharp senior was told she could switch out her strawberries.  I swiped my ATM card to pay for my low priced groceries, plus the nearly 10% sales tax. The non-union bag boy handed me my plastic, bird killing bags. While the Menace from Venice handed his melon to the clerk, this pinhead independent headed out into the heat with her organic carrots and styrafoam plates.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Bring Me My ThunderShirt!

I recently saw an ad in a fancy pet magazine for something called a "Thunder Shirt."  It was a shirt you could buy for your dog to help them deal with the stress of loud noises (hence, "Thunder Shirt") and other traumas like separation anxiety, noisy children, fireworks, etc.  Basically, the shirt was like a fancy, super tight "Snuggie" for dogs - a restricting wrap that would give your dog a tight hug once in place.  Somehow, this constant pressure around the dog's midsection would help them to feel more secure.  I haven't tried it, but somehow, I believe it would work.  I believe it because I know the power of a good hug. 
Sometimes I would really like to have a Thunder Shirt myself...Life gets tough and I simply go to the closet get out the shirt and snap myself into it like a straightjacket; wrap up in it like a warm tortilla...Ahhhhh...there we go...Nice 'n tight.  I feel so secure. So protected. So snug.  So warm.  It's a bit hard to breathe in this sucker, but good. 
Lately, especially today, I could really use a Thunder Shirt. 

Then I found one.

It was Psalm 139. 

Lord, you know my sitting and my rising.
You see me walking, you see me lying down...
You are acquainted with all my ways and every word from my tongue.
You go before me, you are behind me and you have placed your hand on my head!
Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I run and get away from you? 
If I go to heaven, you are there.  In the sea, on dry land - even in those places, your hand in on me, guiding me.  If I descend to the depths of the earth - you are there, too! 
You cover me in the darkness and you are right next to me, brighter than even the sun, during the day. 
From the beginning - When I was in my mother's womb until this very moment, and in all the moments to you come - YOU have sorrounded me - YOU have been there!  You are all around me.  You sorround me. 
Like a Thunder Shirt.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Death: An Inconvenient Truth!

I just finished this book by Leo Tolstoy. The story is short. The message is profound. The questions are ones I've asked and my guess is you have, too.

Why am I here? Is God cruel? Why must we suffer?
What will I do when death is knocking on my door?
At the end, how will I feel about how I lived? What really matters anyway?

Ivan, the main character in the book, is a successful court judge, married (albiet unhappily) with several children. He is well respected in the community. He is confident and plays cards with his buddies regularly. One day, while on a ladder fixing something in his house, he slips and bumps his side. Soon after he is in constant, nagging pain. Then his pain grows and grows. He sees several doctors who can do nothing to relieve his misery except prescribe medication to dull the pain and help him sleep. Eventually, even the medication fails him. He suffers, moans, and writhes in depression and opiates. In the midst of all this, he questions God, questions life, questions his own purpose for living and how he has lived, all the while yelling at his wife and kids to leave him alone. The only person he wants in the room with him is a hired helper named Gerasim, because as Ivan describes him, Gerasim is the only one who doesn't "lie" - (doesn't try to cover up the truth that he is dying) and the only one who shows him sympathy by sitting with him all night long, night after night, holding up his legs (which provides some relief, but mainly it is Gerasim's presence and touch that provide the relief Ivan needs, not the actual leg holding.)
Finally, Ivan says, "Death is over. There is no more death."  He draws his final breath & dies.
The book ends abruptly, just as life does.  There are so many unaswered questions.  When it is all over, "when death dies", does a new life begin? Ivan never answers this question, in fact, he never even asks it. At the end, right before his final breath, he does try to ask one question. He tries to ask for forgiveness from his wife and son, but can only manage to say "forget" instead of forgive and then is left to just hope that they know what he meant to say by reading his eyes because he is too weak to continue.
What a sad, hopeless way to die.
And what a poignant reminder that death will come and when it does, will we lay in a bath of our own regret or will we look back at our life with peace knowing we served the living Christ?
Will we wait until death has stolen are strength & breath to ask for forgiveness (and then it will be to late) or will we seek to make amends now with those we have hurt and disappointed?
Will we draw our last breath in fear of what is to come or in anticipation of being finally, eternally, reunited with Christ and given a new, healed, perfectly painless existence?
Ivan lives selfishly and dies hopelessly.
Thank God, we don't have to do the same.

Link to Book
Or check it out at your local library!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Modern Dog

Carmela, Maya & Cinnamon.  Cute, but not cool.

My dogs are not modern.  I didn't know this until a routine trip to the library turned out to be a journey of enlightenment.  Inside my local library is a tiny room full of used books and magazines for sale.  The selection usually includes psychology textbooks from the 1970's and steamy romance novels with scantily clad hunks and damsels.  Every once in awhile though, a real classic will show up.  Last month, I found Leo Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Llyich.  Score!  There was something else in the store that caught my eye.  A magazine called MODERN DOG.  For a quarter, I picked it up.  On the front cover, was a big, happy faced mutt with an even happier faced owner.  I glanced through it, ooohing over the pictures of all the adorable, well groomed poochies, giggling at the doggy couture ads full of sparkling collars and pastel bandanas, and skimming a wide range of articles about how I was traumatizing my dog with my body language, or not feeding her the right amount of protein to grow her brain.  It didn't take me long to figure out...
My dogs are not modern.
I mean, they are here now, living today -- in fact, their four paws are pattering around my kitchen floor as I type, but in the sense that this magazine meant "modern", as in "cool" "hip" or "up to date"...well,
My dogs are...
Old School.
They drool, scratch, lick themselves in public, eat loudly and in the great tradition of all dogs gone before them - sniff your crotch with a cold, wet nose in front of mixed company.  They like long walks, stuffed toys, meaty treats of all kinds and chasing birds, rabbits and other dogs.  And I have definitely traumatized them with my body language.  (Yes, I am standing over you in an angry posture.  Get off the couch you furball!) They are pound puppies.  Not one of my three are AKC pedigrees unless you consider "TerrierX" a breed.  In other words, they are typical mutts. 

I laughed as I finished MODERN DOG magazine and passed it along to my neighbor who has a yellow labrador as old as the hills.  MODERN DOG?  Really?  Do our DOGS have to be cool and hip?  Then I thought, well, maybe the magazine doesn't really mean "modern" in the "cool, contemporary" sense.  But if they just mean "modern" as in "living right now" is that really necessary to include in the title?  Do they need to clarify it from other magazines within the publishing house, such as:
Yesterday's Dog (A Magazine about dogs that have just died, Alternate name:  RIP ROVER)
Dogs of Long Ago (Famous dogs who have passed away like Rin Tin Tin or Lassie)
Ancient Dog (A magazine about Egyptian and Aztec dogs)
You get my point.
They mean "modern" as in COOL.
And seriously, that is how obsessed with are with being cool.  In 2012, even our canines must be cool.  My hound must be hip!  People will judge me based on my dogs, so I must choose, groom, dress, feed, and train them carefully!  In fact, there was a survey in the Modern Dog magazine about this very thing. It asked a group of people if they judged others on what kind of dog they had. Over half of people said that "Yes, someone's dog says a lot about who they are."
Oh oh. 
I'm in trouble.
My dogs are lazy, selfish, grumpy when sleepy or hungry, willful and well, hate baths.  With the exception of the last one you'll be releaved to know, I can relate.  Maybe this article was right!  My dogs are a reflection of me.  Not cool.
My pups do have some good attributes.  They can be affectionate, funny, enthusiastic and loyal. Somedays, I could even mistake their "You're home!!!" jumping frenzy and high-flyin' face licks for an expression of love (but I think they just want a treat.)
So if my dogs were modern, or cool (well bred, well fed, well led) than I would be cool.  I thought it was just my car that was supposed to say a lot about me?  Now I gotta worry about whether or not my dogs are cool enough?  I have mixed breeds!  They have terrier, chihuahua, dachsund, and probably even a little ground squirrel in them for goodness sake! They get baths in the sink and eat food from Walmart!  Their water bowl is metal and has "floaties" in it! My dogs are not MODERN!  They are NOT COOL!  That means...I AM NOT COOL!  (Insert gasp here.)
Wait a minute.  Why is it so important to be cool?  What is cool?

Does cool mean I have all the right stuff, wear all the right stuff, and know all the right people?  Does it mean I follow cool people on Twitter?  Does it mean I read bestsellers, download the latest MP3s and always keep up with the latest Apple gadget?  Or wait.  Does it mean people follow me on Twitter?  I'll know I'm cool when people follow me because they want to know what I think, what I wear, where I am at all times.  They will want to keep up with this "modern woman."  I might be at the mall. I might be eating at Spago's.  I might be at the mall, eating at Spago's with Justin Bieber. (OK, that is pushing it.)  But you get my point.
I am not cool.
My dogs are not cool.
And I am more like my dogs than I want to admit.
But is cool really all it is cracked up to be?  Is it fun to be cool?  Maybe, but "Coolness" is fleeting.  One minute you have 23.4k followers on Twitter, the next day you're just a twit.  One minute you're selling out a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, the next minute you're playing at the Idaho Country Fair behind Juice Newton.  One minute you're on top of the world, the next you're face down in 12 inches of bathtub water with enough cocaine in your blood for 3 people.
So can I be a MODERN CHRISTIAN? Do I want to be a COOL CHRISTIAN?  I'm not sure.  Depends on how that is defined.  Does it mean I attend a popular Mega-Church with a famous pastor (who's cool of course), carry a Rand McNally sized leather bound study Bible, know all the worship songs by heart, attend every Third Day concert from here to Albuquerque and tithe every month with my American Express?  Or does it mean that I am modern in the sense that I can relate to modern people? (I Corinthians 9:20-22) Do I need to be cool so that people will think Christianity is cool, too? 
I don't think so.
I think I just need to be what God has made me to be.  That might mean that in some ways I am cool.  I can play the guitar.  That's cool.  I can sing.  That's cool.  I can be funny.  That's cool. 
In other ways, I am definitely "old school" ("Old school" is the cool way of saying "not so cool.")  I don't wear the latest designer clothes. I don't get my nails done at a fancy salon. I don't follow Lady Gaga on Twitter.  I like to read.  A lot.  (Does anybody read anymore?  I mean other than MODERN DOG magazine?!)
God has given me some cool talents and abilities that fit in quite well in this modern world, but he has not called me to "fit in."  He has set me apart. He has called me to be like his Son, Jesus.  Jesus said a few things about being cool. He told me to be "in this world, but not OF this world."  He said I shouldn't store up my treasures here on earth, but instead store up treasures in heaven.  Jesus even said that people may hate me because I don't go along with the crowd.  I might be uncool for following Jesus.
If kindness is uncool, Lord, make me a total geek.  If putting others first is old fashioned, God, make me a total fuddy-duddy.  As the cool 80's band Huey Lewis & the News sang "It's hip to be square" if "square" means I am kind when others are rude, unselfish when others are grabbing all they can for themselves, and loving toward those who are not loving toward me.  In other words, I am Christ-like.  Unfortunately, I am not able to be "square" in this spiritual sense as consistently as I'd like to be, but God is working on me.  Like my dogs, I am a mutt - a mixture of my own desires, instincts and impulses.  Instead of seeking out the praise of my heavenly Father, I often seek out the "head pats" of those who are "cool."  Yet God hasn't turned me into the pound just yet.  He is grooming me into the likeness of Jesus everyday.  That's cool. 

-Hope A. Horner
On Twitter at HopeNote

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Praying the Scripture (Part 1)

Ask, Seek, Knock...

Often, I take verses from the Bible and turn them into prayers.  Using these ancient words, these truths about God, helps me find the words for my own prayers.  I am astounded by how well I can relate to the cries of Moses, David, Paul and others as they call out to God for his mercy, help, forgiveness and wisdom.  Their outpouring to God becomes mine.  Many times, I stumble upon a promise in Scripture.  By praying that promise I am asking God to keep His word.  (He does.)  Sometimes I read a verse and think, "Whoa, that is a wake up call."  I use that verse to pray that I would "wake up" and be more like Christ as described in the verse.  All this to say, Scripture helps me pray and I know that if I am asking for something that is within God's will for my life, he will respond.  This week I found myself simply praying through tears "God, Help me..." and I couldn't get any farther without choking up.  So I just repeated those words over and over.  Guess what?  He DID help me.  And he knew exactly HOW to help me even though I hadn't spelled it out.  As Matthew 6 says, our Father in heaven knows what we need before we ask it and if we ask anything in His name, He will provide.

Here are some of those simple prayers I have created from Scripture:

Prayer from 1st Timothy
Fill me with the love that comes from a pure heart.  May my mind be clean and my faith strong.  God show me your kindness and mercy and give me peace of heart and mind.

Prayers from 2nd Peter
Dear Lord,
Help me to be rich in faith.  May I do a wealth of good not for my sake, but because YOU are good.  May I grow in my wealth of knowledge of You and discover the treasure that is a life lived for you - a life of rich blessing that comes from loving others deeply.

And Lord,
Help me to know you better and show me what you would have me do.  Help me put aside my own desires and replace them with your's.  Help me to be fruitful by growing in my love for you and others.

Prayer from Ephesians
Almighty God,
Give me wisdom to truly understand who Christ is and all that He has done for me.  Flood the eyes of my heart with light so that I can clearly see Him and the future with Him that awaits me.  Help me to understand that the same power that raised Christ from the dead is what God will use to help me, when I call on Him.

Prayer from Isaiah 61
Dear Jesus,
You are the Annointed One who came to preach good tidings to the poor, heal the broken hearted, free the captives and to comfort those who mourn.  You still do all these things today!  Help me to be like you and do those same things in the world - to share Your love with others by healing, helping, freeing and comforting those around me who are trapped in poverty, loneliness and despair.  Give me the courage to share the message of hope that comes from You.  For You give beauty for ashes; you replace mourning with joy and you spread praise instead of doom.  Make me an oak of righteousness for your glory!


Matthew 7:7