Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Rings Around my Heart

It started with the mother's ring on my right hand. Three birthstones set in a row on a band, one for each of my sons, it was a piece of jewelry I treasured almost as much as the boys themselves. I looked down at it at work one day and suddenly noticed one of the stones was missing! Horrified, when I got home that evening I worked the ring off my finger (over these knuckles? No small feat!) and hid it carefully away before telling my family about my loss. I knew instinctively (and correctly!) that the moment my sons heard about it they would rally to find it and figure out which of the three of them was on the “outs” with his mother while the other two were still secure in their standing! For once the merciless teasing was forstalled by my advance planning!

My husband kindly had the ring repaired for me, and a couple of months passed without incident. Then again while at work one day I happened to look down at my hands, and this time it was the band on my engagement ring that had split completely through!

“Are you kidding me?” I muttered to myself. Worn thin after 35 years of life and love and laughter with my husband, it had simply given way. Because the engagement ring was welded to the wedding band, I had to remove the entire set (another miracle!) and took it in for repair at the first opportunity. I chuckled when the jewelry store said they would call with a price estimate on the repair. I knew I'd pay any amount to get it fixed; the rings were simply priceless to me.

Yet the empty feeling on my left hand bothered me, so I dug in my jewelry box for something to wear in my wedding bands' place. I found a ring with a tiger's eye in a simple setting, a piece of jewelry I'd had so long that I couldn't even remember where I got it but liked it enough to keep it all these years. Gladly I worked it onto my finger and was happy to have it till my wedding set was restored to me. It lasted a full week before I happened to notice while again scanning groceries one day that that stone had likewise disappeared, leaving an empty setting behind!

What was it about weighing bunches of kale on a scale and sliding boxes of cereal down a belt that was so hard on my rings, I wondered? It didn't make sense that after eleven years on the job I suddenly couldn't keep a ring on my finger to save my life! It was such a strange occurrence of events that surely there was some message attached to it, one that I clearly wasn't receiving. “I hope I figure it out soon,” I thought to myself. “I don't know how many rings I have left!”

Suddenly, there it was! I don't know how many rings I have left.

The former forester in me remembered that the age of a tree is measured in the growth rings that are visible in a crosscut of the trunk, a ring for every year of life. How many “rings” do each of us have left? We simply don't know.

It's possible to determine a tree's age without cutting it down; foresters carry a tool called an increment borer which removes a core sample from the trees on which the rings are clearly visible and easily counted. But the sample reveals more than just the tree's age. It shows growth patterns in the life of the tree, years in which the tree grew well as well as those in which growth was stunted for some reason by environmental conditions or disease.

We Christians carry a similar tool in our pockets in the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is the mercy of God that before our lives are cut down He gives us the means to examine our past, evaluate our growth and consider problem areas in our relationships with Him and the people around us...while there is still time to correct them! Sometimes He just needs to get our attention.

My ring situation did that for me. The mother's ring reminded me of my joy in my boys, prompting me to keep them close in heart in specific ways and deliberately clear my schedule when the opportunity presents itself for us to get together. Similarly, a marriage can't survive if the joy of the engagement and early years is lost in life's busyness; scheduled fun times with a spouse is a marital must. And who among us doesn't have treasured friends whose faithful love should be remembered, renewed and rekindled with a deliberate effort to stay in touch?

It's interesting that the losses all became apparent to me while I was at work. It's easy to slip into the habit of letting our work situations run our lives and control our time. We can be still mentally clocked in even when completely off the job site, our minds still thinking about problems we encountered and working out solutions when they should be focused on thoughts and people closer to home. It can lead to an undiagnosed type of “attention deficit disorder” which, if left untreated, can prove to be fatal to the relationshps we value the most.

So what can we do about it? There's no oral medication we can take to instantly fix relationshps that have lost their luster. I had to send my rings in to be repaired, a good reminder that we can't fix all of our problems ourselves; we simply need to ask for help from the One who has all the answers. Maybe the Good Doctor will first prescribe a new set of eyeglasses through which we view our life and the people in it. Then He'll work on our heart to get the love flowing freely in all the right directions once more. He'll renew our mind and readjust our priorities so that the most important things...and our lives get our attention first. Perhaps the best treatment is simply to give us a glimpse of the brevity of life, to remind us that we simply don't know how much time we have left. If change is to occur, it has to begin

Whether or not my jewelry will be repaired in time for Valentine's Day, this year I'll be thanking God for the gift of three broken rings that redirected my love and attention to those in my inner circle...while there is yet time to hold them close.

whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.”
(James 4:14 NKJV)

Monday, February 8, 2016

Help from Heaven for When you Wake Up to Worries

We spotted him out the window, and immediately the debate began.

“That's not a bunny, that's a dog!”

“No, it's a rabbit.”

“It's too big to be a rabbit – it has to be a dog!” On and on the argument ensued, as family members crowded around the living room window of the small apartment and peered intently at the animal moving around in the enclosed courtyard beyond. 

When my in-laws first moved from their Oregon home into a nearby assisted living facility, they were told that a large rabbit by the name of Prince Charming, perhaps a donated pet, lived in and ruled the green space outside their windows. They hadn't yet caught a view of him. There to assist in their transition, my husband, eldest son, sister-in-law and I were busy moving in furniture when somebody suddenly caught a glimpse of the animal. All work stopped as we crowded around the window to get a look.

Sitting next to a stone fountain was surely the biggest rabbit I'd ever seen. A mass of gray and white fur, it clearly looked like a shaggy small dog, only the long ears and it's eventual hopping motion indicating its true species. We watched as it sat contentedly chewing a treat, unconcerned by the movement of residents walking past. Suddenly startled, however, it took off to the safety of some nearby bushes with a speed that belied its large size. Over the next couple of days we looked for it often in our comings and goings, always hoping to catch another glimpse.

God once likened the worries that kept me awake at night to the many bunnies that sit in our yard on a summer's day. And He compared my mind to the dogs lunging at those rabbits repeatedly from the living room window, the mental “barking” at what it couldn't reach keeping me from the rest I so desired. He showed me how to chase those worries away with the weapon of His Word, using specific scriptures to battle particular problems until I had run them off my property completely and once more could sleep in peace.

But sometimes we are faced with problems of such magnitude that we find ourselves unable to battle them on our own. The tools that were effective in previous fights seem only to chase that monster around and around in our minds like the bunny in the enclosed space of the courtyard. We're intimidated by the size of the problem and limited by the confines of our own thinking. We compare the bills to the size of our paycheck, our sickness to the doctor's prognosis, our grief to the number of days that lie ahead of us...and we see no way to victory in the situation.

What we've forgotten is that our battlefield lies under an open heaven. We simply need to look up. God is not bound by the limits of our understanding and can move in ways beyond our imaginings. He can do more than we can ask or think. What we can't do in our own power He can do through His love. He is simply waiting to be asked to intervene.

Prince Charming no longer roams at will in the courtyard at the facility. An attacker of some sort, a hawk perhaps, swooped down at him from the sky. While he survived the incident minus only a few fluffs of fur, his caretakers decided it was best for his safety to confine him once more.

While I considered that particular lapin a friend, not a foe, the enemy of our souls is not nearly so charming. We won't feel sorry for him when the true Prince does as the Bible foretells, similarly confining him until his eventual demise in the lake of fire. Until that day we're reminded that no matter the size of our problem, it's simply no match for God. The present-day peace He promised is ours if we simply believe we can receive it and ask Him to send it on its way.

And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more...”
(Revelation 20:1-3 KJV)
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