Posts Tagged ‘unconditional

24
Jun
20

Canine Comfort

Rosie and Patrick in the kitchenHere we are on day 1,465,283 of The Great Quarantine of 2020…

… at least that’s what it feels like.

Like most of the rest of you, Joan and I have stumbled upon a variety of strategies to help us cope with the endless days of isolation. Not surprisingly, many of them center around technology; Zoom, Netflix, FaceTime, FaceBook, FacePlant (JK!!), Kindle, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.

We have also been known to go a little old-school now and then and throw in a book, a jigsaw puzzle and, if we are really desperate, an Actual Conversation.

But as the blogosphere is my witness, we have both discovered that nothing quite helps smooth out the raw edges of enforced seclusion like a DOG.

In our case, make that TWO dogs… Rosie and Patrick, our soft-coated Wheaten Terrier therapists.

For starters, they are remarkably tuned in to our moods. If either one of us starts to wilt a little and mope, one of them (usually Patrick) is right there at our side, leaning heavily against us and imparting serenity.

Rosie is especially attuned to my need to periodically get off the computer and PLAY. Suddenly she is there at my side; plush, stuffed, squeaky unicorn in her mouth, looking intently into my eyes as if to say, “Bet you can’t get it!”

Most of the time she is right. I can’t.

And since this breed is known to have the energy level of a mini-thermonuclear reactor, multiple walks each day are not optional. They are mandatory! Rain, sleet, snow, or scorcher. And wonder of wonders, it turns out that those walks are really good for us, too!

Rose and Patrick at the doorAs long as we are making a list of their positive qualities, let’s not overlook their ability to endlessly entertain. Sometimes it feels like we could discontinue our cable TV service entirely and just sit outside watching Rosie and Patrick cavort. They roll and wrestle in the grass. They poke their heads through the fence to talk to neighbor dog Porter. They chase anything I decide to throw in their direction. They stand up and chatter back to the squirrels taunting them from the safety of the Weeping Willow tree.

I would probably pay for entertainment this consistently good – if it wasn’t provided nightly, absolutely free of charge.

Furthermore, if we pay really close attention, we discover that Rosie and Patrick are wise teachers as well. Right now, for example, they are conducting a master class on the health benefits of regular afternoon naps.

VERY important stuff.

There is also a lesson to be learned from the way they enthusiastically greet everyone who comes to our house. With their (admittedly excessive) leaping and barking and licking of each visitor, they are saying, in effect, “People are SO AWESOME! We LOVE people!”

If we followed Rosie and Patrick’s lead, we would begin every relationship believing the very best of that person, regardless of who they were or what they have done. (We should probably leave out the butt-sniffing part though.)

Even though Joan and I are definitively more DOG people than CAT people, I am sure there is a cat-equivalent list of all the ways cats can ease the rough patches of enforced isolation.

I just can’t think of any right now…

 

Abundant blessings;

18
May
20

Best Foot Forward

“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar…  you are familiar with all my ways.”
Psalm 139:1-3, NRSV

Chatting over the fenceI had a nice backyard chat with Neighbor Dave the other day. It was my first time to meet Neighbor Dave since we moved here in November.

Don’t worry… Neighbor Dave stayed on his side of the fence and I stayed on mine. We were at least six feet apart the entire time we chatted.

As it turns out, Neighbor Dave (can I just call him Dave from now on? Thanks) just moved here to Fort Collins a month before we did. He and his wife came from California.

Like Joan and me, Dave and his wife are recently retired.

It was a lovely chat. Dave and I each talked about the little projects we are doing on our houses, the things we like about the area, our families, and our sheer delight at the nice, warm weather that was allowing us to get some much-needed yard work done.

When I finally broke it off with my new best buddy, I went inside and told Joan about the great neighbor I had just met and how cool it was that he lived just across our back fence. I probably even said something like, “When all this is over, we’ll have to have Dave and his wife over for dinner.”

And because I had my best foot forward and avoided picking my nose for the ENTIRE time we talked, I am sure Dave went inside and said something very similar to his wife.

That is one reason I like being “the new kid in town.” Every relationship is new. Every person you meet starts out thinking the very best of you. The only thing they know about you is the friendly neighbor face you were holding up as you talked.

They know nothing about all your little quirks and idiosyncrasies… your phobias, fears, prejudices, and flaws. Your bad habits and neuroses and weird notions are utterly invisible to them.

You walk away from your chat, shaking your head and thinking – as I often do, “If they only knew…”

And then – if you happened to think back on the words of Psalm 139 at that precise moment – you recalled that God DOES know all that stuff about you. God knows all the dirt and grime about you there is to know.

In fact – God being God and all – God probably knows stuff about you that you have somehow managed to forget.

God knows it all; the Good… the Bad… and the truly Ugly.

And yet… even with all that super-detailed knowledge… God loves you more than you can possibly understand.

Here is the really shocking news: God’s regard for you is even HIGHER than your high regard for Neighbor Dave. It is that high for two very good reasons:

  • First, because God – through his Son Jesus – has wiped your entire slate of screw-ups clean, and
  • Second, because God knows – far better than you do – what you are truly capable of.

Is that cool or WHAT!

The challenge for most of us is to be able to humbly receive God’s magnificent, unconditional love and then to go out and actually live INTO the lofty vision God has of us.

It is entirely possible that the better Neighbor Dave gets to know me, the less enthused he will be about deepening our relationship.

But Praise God that will never be true about HIM!

 

Abundant blessings;

25
Mar
20

These Dogs

46AF9FD8-B711-4765-BF2E-A4A1EC6CF51BThese dogs.

They don’t do much, in the grand scheme of things.

Sleeping seems to be very high on their list of “Things to do” every day. (A little too much of it, if you ask me).

There is also eating… barking at any sound, inside or outside the house… wrestling with each other… occasionally cuddling with Joan and I… and, hiding under the table when they hear the garbage truck drive into the cul-de-sac.

They track mud into the dining room.

They (well, the female in particular) steal paper napkins from the table and shred them on the living room floor.

They demand a walk not once, but at least twice a day.

Their breath is a little funky and they seem somehow unable to bathe themselves.

Sometimes they need shots or other expensive medicine from the vet.

Sometimes, when they are not around and when I don’t think Joan will overhear me, I mutter, “What a pain,” under my breath.

And then came the pandemic…

… the time of uncertainty, and of staying inside all day every day.

Then came the time of reading for hours in the middle of the day. The time of searching for new projects around the home. The time of long silences. The time of frayed nerves. The time of rationing our consumption of national news in order to keep our spirits up. The time of checking in by FaceTime and FaceBook. The time of fitful sleep. The time of hand-washing, hand-sanitizing, face masks, and rubber gloves. The time of wondering when things will ever return to “normal.” The time of wondering what “normal” might look like.

And there, in the middle of it all, are these dogs.

These dogs let us scratch and pat and cuddle them for comfort.

These dogs allow us to take them for walks on a day – like today – when the sun is out and the air is warm and springy.

These dogs look at us and somehow sense that things are not quite right… and then lean on us as if to say, “Hey, at least you’ve got me. It’s all going to be OK.”

These dogs provide us with a routine of feeding them and cleaning them.

These dogs bring a smile to our faces while we watch them chase and wrestle and play with gusto in the back yard.

These dogs somehow bring peace and healing to our hearts… radiating, as they do, an unconditional love and assurance.

And sometimes, when they are not around and I don’t think Joan will overhear me, I mutter, “What a blessing,” under my breath.

These dogs…

21
Oct
19

Go Do Love

Reading the paperYesterday at church I heard an inspiring sermon.

The pastor challenged me (well, all of us actually) to make an intentional practice of acknowledging the many-layered, complex, rich, and vibrant nature of every person we meet.

She told us that one way of doing that, for example, might be by making eye contact with the McDonald’s counter person as they hand you your Egg McMuffin and senior coffee… thanking them and genuinely caring about what kind of day they are having.

I don’t remember if she said this, or if I just made my own translation of her message, but the goal I set myself to accomplish was to go and, “Do Love.”

So that was my Monday project; to do love… to friends, to my spouse, to my neighbors and siblings, yes. But also to complete strangers and maybe even– get this! – to people who DON’T LOVE ME!

But before setting out on that kind of grand quest, I needed to fortify myself with a little coffee. DANG! That’s right! The people I order my Guatemalan Fair Trade coffee from haven’t shipped me my refill order yet! I KNOW I placed the order in plenty of time to ensure I didn’t run out.

What is wrong with them anyway? Is it too much to ask that an order be fulfilled in a somewhat timely way? “Lunkheads,” I mutter, under my breath.

Oh, well. I can always pop down the street and grossly overpay for some kind of Starbucks foofoo blend.

So… before heading out on my “love doing” mission, let me give the front page of the newspaper a quick glance. Who knows… I might find a story about something that will dramatically re-shape my day.

OH MY GOSH! Would you look at that! Another senseless homicide on the east side yesterday! A local school board member is arrested on a child pornography charge! And look at this, on page A2: lies, underhanded dealings, and character assassination coming out of our nation’s capital! (Have they no shame? Someone just needs to grab each one of those clowns and sit them in a corner by themselves for the next 30 days! They are a disgrace to the office!)

And don’t even get me started on the news of the horror show of the international scene; war and atrocity in this country, massive corruption here, natural catastrophes brought on by manmade climate change (while the deniers keep denying), and crushing preventable poverty in other places.

It makes me feel so sad and helpless. It all just makes my BLOOD BOIL!

And unfortunately, the sports page offers me little relief from all the front-page mayhem. There I find a scathing article about the inept coaching job at my alma mater in their loss on Saturday. I find I agree with the reporter’s every word, but it only succeeds in working me into a little more of an emotional lather.

OK… I just need to put down the paper, grab my car keys and head out the door. Just like Jake and Elwood, I am on a “Mission from God” today. I’ve got some LOVE to do. I’d better go do it before I forget how.

I calmly, serenely and lovingly pull out on to the busy, four-lane road, and wouldn’t you know it; some MORON in a blue Ford F-150 pickup truck decides his time is way more important than mine and zips into the lane in front of me. Simultaneously my left foot hits the brake and my right hand hits the horn… as unprintable words escape my lips, just for added emphasis.

I make a right at the next corner, another right, and then a third right at the corner after that. I end up back in my own driveway, defeated before I have even started.

“I just can’t,” I sigh, turning off my engine. “Not today.”

I mean, how does God expect me to go out and love all these people who are SO UNLOVABLE? So messed up! So stubbornly self-centered and IMPOSSIBLE!! Why should I waste my time and energy on people like that when it probably won’t make a darned bit of difference??

And before the words are even out of my mouth I hear, “Well, he loved YOU, didn’t he?”

 “We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”(1 John 4:19-20, NRSV).

 

**GULP**

27
Sep
19

The Love Loophole

Jesus-facepalmI love you.

At least I know I am supposed to love you. It is one of the central commands of the Christian faith I profess. (See John 13:34, John 15:12, Romans 12:10, Romans 13:8, 1 Thessalonians 4:9, 1 Peter 1:22, etc., etc.)

And yet I have to admit; I am not always sure what I mean by that.

But you don’t even know me!” you are no doubt saying. “How could you possibly say you love me?”

Good point.

And then there is this question to consider too: how do I distinguish my love for you– a (mostly) complete stranger – from my love for Joan, the woman with whom I held hands, stood before God and a room full of people nearly 20 years ago and exchanged solemn vows?

And while you’re tussling with that one, here is another mind-bender: Is there – should there be – any discernible difference between my love for those of you readers who are warm and wonderful human beings and my love for the monstrously bad eggs of the world?

I know what the answer is supposed to be. I know I am called to emulate Christ and ladle out heaping helpings of unconditional love to every one of you with no consideration given to the life you’ve led, the people you’ve harmed, the Nobel Prizes you’ve won, or the cancer you’ve cured.

Would it shock you to hear me say I fall woefully short of that benchmark EVERY SINGLE DAY?

Didn’t think so.

It almost sounds like a humanly impossible job description to fulfill, doesn’t it?

That’s because it is.

And yet, there it remains; front and center in the preaching of the One I follow.

Easy for you to say,” I grumble under my breath. “You’ve got all that God-dust flowing through your veins. You weren’t ever susceptible to rage, or jealousy, or lust, or envy, or greed like the rest of us.”

And yet even before the words are out of my mouth I know I have never been more off base.

Maybe,” I think, “I can use my thimbleful of Greek language skill and fulfill Christ’s command by philia-ing some folks and storge-ing others while I agape the really super-worthy ones.”

Even as I say it, I can see Jesus facepalming and shaking his head, charitably pitying the depth of my intransigence.

Look, Russell… if my words aren’t clear enough for you,” He says, “why not take a listen to Saint Thomas Aquinas. My buddy Tom once said that authentic love means to ‘selflessly will the good of another.’ Does that help at all?”

Hmmmm. Intriguing.

“So, Jesus,” I ask. “Are you suggesting it might be possible to ‘selflessly will the good’ of a stranger, or a psychopath without feeling all warm and fuzzy toward them? Seriously?”

“When did you ever hear me say that love has anything to do with your feelings?” he says, mercifully declining to add the word “knucklehead” to the end of his sentence. “Love is a VERB. It is much more about what you DO and much less about how you FEEL.”

So go… get out there and do some love. And stop trying to find a legalistic loophole to squeeze yourself through.”

Thanks, Jesus. I’m glad we had this little talk.

 

Now comes the hard part…

09
Jul
18

Loving the imperfect

Joan and I don’t eat out at restaurants very often.

As I believe I have mentioned in this space before, this is mainly because my wife is an awesome cook. I love to eat the things she so lovingly and creatively prepares. To give you a little teaser, here is a photo of last night’s delectable entrée; Spinach stuffed chicken breast: Spinach stuffed chicken breast

Thanks to our somewhat sheltered culinary existence, I do not have a favorite place or a favorite dish at my favorite place. Our rare forays out are almost always adventures of discovery.

And because I tend to be a very suggestible kind of guy, my general practice is to order the thing on the menu that is pictured there in a lovely, full-color close-up photo… with the juices dripping off, a pat of butter slowly melting, and flavor whisps wafting off the page.

I just point to it and tell the server, “I’ll have one of THOSE, please!”

And if you have ever ordered this way, you know what happens next. After an unbearably long waiting period, the server returns, places that pure, beatific item in front of you with a big smile with the word, “Enjoy!” and then disappears in a puff of smoke.

Then you look down at your plate… and you are instantly crushed and heartbroken. Because the thing sitting there looks NOTHING like the picture from the menu.

  • It’s not the same SIZE!
  • It’s not the same SHAPE!
  • It’s not the same COLOR!
  • The lighting is all wrong!
  • The butter is not melting down the side in anything nearly resembling the hypnotic way it was in the picture.

Your disappointment is palpable.

And yet you have not yet even taken Bite #1.

But here is the magical thing that almost always happens next… at least for me. I somehow dry my bitter tears, pick up my knife and fork, vowing to make the best of a bad situation, and TAKE A BITE!

And then in at least 95 percent of the cases I discover… IT’S REALLY GOOD! Despite my initial disappointment.

And as I savor that first bite I say to myself, “You know… it’s not perfect, but I love it!”

And just as I uttered that phrase, I realized I said exactly the same thing less than a week ago… on the Fourth of July. As Joan and I took the day off to recognize and celebrate the designated birthday of our country I paused, placed my hand over my heart, looked at a flag, and said, “This country is certainly not perfect, but I love it!”

Then I remembered I had recently said the same thing about the United Methodist Church… where I have been ordained and continue to serve: “It’s sure not perfect, but I love it!”

In all three cases, it was good to be reminded that LOVE does not depend on the PERFECTION of the object of your love.

So… do I see great problems today in our country and worry about the direction it is headed? Or am I worried about the denomination I serve and the way it is currently choosing to carry out its mission? Am I deeply concerned with the future of both?

Yes, yes, and yes.

But do I also have an abiding confidence in the soundness of the foundation on which each of these stands? Do I believe they are still the best examples available of what it means to be a nation and what it means to be a church? And do I dearly love each of them despite their massive flaws and imperfections?

Again… yes, yes, and yes.

I also realize that loving – my country, my church, or another person – does not mean giving up the expectation that they will keep working to become a better example of their ilk.

And so if I – flawed, defective mortal that I am – have the capacity to love the imperfect, then surely the flawless, omnipotent One who created me must have that same capacity times INFINITY!

Which is probably why Psalm 86:15 says, “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,”or why John 3:16 says, “For God so lovethe world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life,”or why Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Which is probably also why I should also take Joan at her word when she says she loves ME… warts and all!

Now THAT, my friends, is the real miracle.

 

Abundant blessings;




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