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Since I have a 5-month-old puppy at the house, I have placed a baby gate in front of the hallway leading to the bedrooms in the parsonage. It is the only way I can ensure that my puppy doesn't sneak away from me and run back into the nicely-carpeted bedrooms without my supervision! Cocoa is not a fan of this gate, as I will often go back to a back bedroom to do something and leave her alone in the living room.
While on vacation this week, Cocoa was a bit spoiled by all the time we got to spend together. So when I went back behind the baby gate without her, she was not happy. She cried, she barked, and, as usual, tried her best to get past the gate. At nearly 30 pounds, she's now strong enough to knock down the gate--and that is what she did. I suddenly heard a loud, clanging noise as the gate fell from the carpeted doorway onto the tile floor in front of it. Then, I heard complete and total silence. No crying, no barking, no paws prancing on the floor. I became worried and called out to her. No response. She didn't even try to get over the gate to get to where I was. I quickly finished what I was doing and went to go check on her. She was sitting on the floor, by the couch, with a fearful look in her eye.
I went to the couch and began to pet her, telling her it was okay and she was not in trouble. She jumped up on the couch, got half her body on my lap, and leaned against me. I could feel her panting. She was scared.
Sometimes I forget that for as much spunk and independence as my dog loves, she is still a baby. She loves to push boundaries. She always wants to be near me. She enjoys exploring the house. She enjoys ripping up my laptop bag as a way of saying she hates when I go to work. She likes to run in the yard. But for all the things she loves to do, she still sometimes pushes too far--like she did with the baby gate--and will get scared and need her mom.
As I pet my puppy, trying to calm her down and tell her it was okay, I began to realize this is often what God does with us. God gives us the freedom and free will to make decisions. We can go where we want, do what we want, and say what we want, whenever we want. We get to press the boundaries of what is and is not acceptable to God. We get to come and go as we please in our relationship with God. But at the end of the day, we are still (and always will be) God's children in need of our loving parent to care for us. In those moments where we are afraid, alone, have made a big mistake, feel worthless, feel abandoned, or feel unwanted, we just want to crawl up into God the Father's lap, give Him a hug, and feel assured, wanted, and loved once again! God never gives up on us, never stops loving us, and is always ready to welcome us with open arms so he can assure us that we are loved and worthy to Him.
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It began as a day like any other. Mom and dad dragging us out of bed. A breakfast of waffles for the three of us. Dad loading us up in the car and then going to pick up our cousin. All of us stuck in the car listening to The Beach Boys, The Cars, or The Beatles (thanks, Dad!). My brothers, my cousin, and I were probably arguing about something silly (sorry, Dad!). We pulled up to the front doors of our elementary school. Always time-conscious, even at a young age, I looked at the clock--it was 7:46.
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Last week, a member of our church family passed away. I only had the opportunity to meet Lynda once, and that one time I met her she was unable to speak to me. All we could do was pray with one another. When I was asked to have the honor of presiding over her funeral, I knew I wanted to make sure her life was honored well. After speaking with her husband, I also asked for names and phone numbers of some of her closest friends and family. Right before I left, her husband said, "Oh, there's one more person you need to know about! Her name is Taniya. She also had the same cancer as Lynda and Lynda helped her out and was close with her." He gave me her number and said to call her for the whole story.
When I spoke with Taniya on the phone, I had no clue what I was in for! She explained to me how the two met on Facebook in a bladder cancer survivor group. They both had the same, rare and intense form of bladder cancer and Taniya's had returned. Taniya was looking to reach out to someone and she found Lynda. She had seen Lynda's posts in the group and noticed they were always uplifting and encouraging and that she was in remission. She sent her a message on Facebook. Lynda's reply to her was, "I'm not much of a writer, I'm more of a talker." They exchanged phone numbers and Lynda gave her a call. As they talked, Lynda told her she needed a second opinion about her cancer returning. So Taniya made an appointment at MD Anderson in Houston, bought plane tickets to fly from her home state of Georgia to Texas, and planned to get her second opinion based solely on conversations with Lynda, a complete stranger. Upon arriving at MD Anderson, Lynda met up with them and showed them around the hospital. Taniya said that Lynda must have spent seven hours with her that day! After that visit, they remained in touch and continued to encourage one another until Lynda passed away.
As she told this story to me, Taniya reflected, "I’ve never met someone who has had such an impact on me in a short amount of time. Kindness like that, genuineness like that, you don’t see that anymore. More than kindness, she gave me hope. If I can beat this cancer, I will reach out to others like Lynda did to me. If I can encourage someone half as much as Lynda encouraged me, I will have done something good. If she was this kind to me, a complete stranger, someone she didn’t even know…I can’t imagine how good she was to all those who were not strangers to her."
Listening to Taniya's and Lynda's story, I had chills and held back tears. This was beyond just kindness and showing God's love...this was the true definition of the Hebrew word hesed. Hesed is a word that is hard to define in English, but it is often translated as loving kindness. It is a deep love, mercy, and grace that God has for God's people. Even when the Jewish people messed up, or were sent in exile, or complained to God, God continually showed hesed to them. It's an unfailing, unending love. And it was a love that was found in this woman who I only met once, who strongly held my hand as we prayed together just a week before she died.
Her story inspired me and made me begin to reflect on how I treat others. Do I show that save loving kindness that God gives to me with other people as freely as Lynda did? Would I ever have the courage to step out in faith and not just speak to someone I have never met, but invite them to my state and commit to spending seven hours with them in their time of need? What kind of a relationship do I need to build with God to have that type of hesed that is so rarely seen in this world?
Learning about Lynda's life last week helped me realize that life is more than being a good person, a good friend, a good daughter, a good sister, etc. Life is really and truly about showing the same loving kindness that God has given freely to me with everyone that I meet. It's more than just waving and saying hello. It's genuinely seeking to help others, to forgive them in a rude first-time encounter, and pray with those who are reaching out and asking for prayers. We only have a short period of time on this earth, but we are all called to live like Christ while we are here. Let's make the most of it and help everyone learn, discover, and truly experience the indescribable hesed of our God.