Lay it at the cross, Baby Girl…

I have a story to recount to you.  I recently told it to someone dear to my heart and it struck me again — the wonder of it all — particularly this Easter weekend.  Stick through to the end and you will see why.

One lovely summer day last year, I began my day with a phone call to a woman who has been a spiritual mother to me for several years now.  An integral part of my emotional healing, this woman consistently reminds me to stay on the path of thankfulness as I trudge through my journey, she having walked much of the same road as I, just a few years ahead of me.  That perspective is precious and vital — just to know it’s been done and is entirely possible to survive and thrive.  I cherish her more than I can say.

That morning, she listened to my words and tears and empathized beautifully, and she spoke words that felt like they had been written across the sky in blazing letters just for me.

“Lay it at the cross, Baby Girl.  Just give it to Jesus.”

Yup.  That is what needed to happen.  I could clearly visualize setting that emotional backpack I tend to pick up and lug around right down at the foot of the cross.

My heart was a bit tender and sore for the next couple hours and as the day developed, I decided to take advantage of both some rare time to myself and an idyllic summer day and drive to the beach (my happiest place).  I basked and floated and worshiped and prayed and practiced laying it at the cross.  As I floated in my little tube, I had an idea.  I thought it was quite brilliant.  “Lord, could you just show me a stone with a cross on it for me to mark this day?”

Across this country, I have picked up keepsakes — moment markers — as reminders of the precious steps of my journey.  And in this gorgeous place in which I live, there are gazillions of miraculously beautiful stones that I may or may not obsessively pick through on each beach visit.  It seemed logical to me to find a cross stone that day.  But no matter how hard I searched…nothing.  Zilch. Bupkis.

stones

Okay, I could handle this.  Really.  I mean, what more does a girl need than a beach day, stone or no stone.  I felt loved and content.

beach

Eventually, the waves lulled me to a most relaxed state in my beloved sunshine and I rested on the sand.

When out of nowhere, there came my sweet man. WITH A PICNIC!!! Now, don’t get me wrong, my husband does the sweetest things for me often, but romantic surprises are saved for rare days.  So when he shows up with my favorite food, at the beach to surprise me, I was beyond ecstatic.  My perfect day just got over-the-moon, off-the charts, home-run kinda fabulous.  We ate and relaxed, and I considered telling him about my morning and my conversation, but it was still a little fresh and raw and I kinda still wanted it all to myself.

Eventually, we went for a swim to cool off.  As we trudged through the water to the shore to dry off, my sweet man who knew nothing of my morning, looked down and said, “Wow! Look at this stone!  It’s got a perfect cross on it!” and proceeds to fetch it and hand it to me.  Yup.  That happened.  And to top it all off, the cross was in my favorite color.

There is so much to glean from that moment.  It’s so little and so huge at the same time.  How do you possibly explain that story except that I have a God who cares so deeply about my heart that He would begin my day with His love and confirm it entirely His way (not mine) through the loving hands of my husband and give me a little token of love on one of a gajillion stones in the right place at the right time, painted in my favorite color!?

Today, I woke up thanking my God for His gift of love on a cross.  Today marks the day He spent in a tomb after a horrific death and the cruelest rejection.  The Bible says that He (Jesus) “for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross.”  The joy that was set before Him.

Friends, that joy set before Him was us.  He considered it joy to do anything it would take to offer us a place of grace.  He was brutally beaten and willingly died for me, for you, so that our mess was paid for and covered by His very blood.  A ransom paid.  And the symbol of it for us is an empty cross.  Because He didn’t stay there.  And though there was a tomb, He didn’t stay there either which is what separates our God from any other possible deity.

The proof of His power lies in this symbol of freedom.

Freedom from death.  Freedom from pain.  Freedom from past.

And that’s where I find myself today.  I find myself worshiping at the foot of the cross.

Leaving it all right there at the place of ultimate grace.

And stepping away into freedom.

cross stone 2

Thank You, Jesus.

Grace as taught by a Dog and a Hawk

There’s just no other way to put it.  We’ve had a sucky week.  Yes, we’ve had worse, and yes, people are currently suffering through much harder things;  we know this.  However, this has also been a week we will always remember as one that hurt a lot.  So, it counts.

lily pinkSee this girl? She was our baby for eight wonderful, difficult, precious, trying, happy years.  Taken too early from her Jack Russell momma, she needed our stay-at-home family as much as we needed her.  She came a little broken with issues like needing to be constantly on a lap and thinking she was a human as well as sucking on a piece of blankie when she felt stressed (which was often) like she was nursing.

She was also a severe allergy dog.  We never forked over the $600 for allergy testing;  we instead assumed she was allergic to everything and spent that money x infinity on everything we could do to help her from coconut oil to steroids to daily allergy meds (I swore I’d never be one of those people).  She had miserably itchy everything — her ears got infected if even snowflakes got them wet inside.  Her bottom was constantly swollen and awful.  Her skin itched if touched, and probably if not.  If left alone for 1.5 seconds she could scratch herself bloody.  She mostly lived in a cone of shame her last year and always had a sweatshirt of some sort on to prevent her scratching.  She found ways to thwart every effort we put forth, and find ways to scratch.

She also knew if one of my kids was coming down with something and planted herself next to them for the duration to make them feel better.   She was happy to see every single family member every single morning.  She loved to sing and play the piano — her favorite song was Route 66 learned on our cross-country RV trip.  She hiked mountains and cliffs and scenic paths all over this country.  She loved the beach and most of all babies.  She was present when Josie was born and took it upon herself to protect that little girl from day one.  Not one mean bone in that adorable little body.

And I’m speaking in past tense.

Our little girl quit suffering a few days ago, and a bit of suffering began for us.  Yes, she was *just a dog,* but she was a very real part of our family.  Everyone who knew her, couldn’t help but love her.  She forced it on them.  She would wait until you were least expecting it and kiss you until you laughed.

Since she’s been gone, our house has been wet with tears, has fewer kleenexes in boxes, and has expanded with gobs of grace.  With everyone sad beyond words and constantly reminded of our huge little loss, there is kindness abounding in places we didn’t even notice was missing before.  Tenderness, hugs, little acts of generosity, fewer unnecessary snaps of words — grace abounds.  After we said our goodbyes, my sweet man told me what he had learned from our littlest canine girl.  He said that she had taught him what love looked like even when he didn’t deserve it.  Even when he yelled at her for scootching her little hiney across the floor, she still loved him.  Even when everyone was irritated with the most high-maintenance dog on the planet, she couldn’t get enough of us.

She was the essence of grace as we were taught the definition in Sunday school.  Unmerited favor.

The following day, we had another weasel move in and build a shelter under our chicken coop.  The bane of the chicken farmer’s existence, this little guy took over the last guy’s territory.  Last time, we lost two birds.  Too weary for more loss, we began hunting.  We set a live trap with raw beef liver.  We set up day long vigils waiting with rifles.  We studied his tracks and waited for a shot.  For 2.5 days he eluded us.  He even stole the liver right from the trap and spent some time cavorting INSIDE the chicken run while my birds were inside their coop.  We joked and then prayed that maybe our bald eagle would do the job for us.

Day three, my son stood watch while he worked.  Out of the sky a red-tailed hawk dove toward the ground behind the coop and came up with a small white animal in its talons and swooped off with its breakfast.  Just like that, our little nemesis was gone.

God just extended us some grace and sent a big bird to do the work for this weary bunch.

I’m feeling kinder.  Though I really hate how I got here, I’m feeling like if we could approach the world with a little more of this tender-heartedness, perhaps understanding that life is fragile and moments are worth appreciating, this place would be a little more like it should be.  If maybe we realized that we had the power to make someone’s day a little easier, to kiss them ’til they laugh (you know what I mean), to reduce the need to correct and need things our way…

To learn from a little dog and extend some grace…