Friday, September 08, 2006

The War Has Begun

It all began the week of September 11, and I don't see any irony in that. God had given me a message called "Speaking Into Your Life," and I was feverishly typing away - typing a message to You, dear friends, to let you know how much I long for you to surrender your lives to God - how much God longs for you to surrender your life to Him. I was typing away so feverishly, in fact, that I forgot to click "Save." Down the stairs came my cat - flying - as she was being chased by the dog. They both skidded around the corner into the living room - right across my phone line, disconnecting my Internet connection. I quickly reconnected to the Internet, hoping I had clicked "Save" at some point, pleading that the program had "Autosaved" at some point. When I pulled up the Blog - there was nothing - just a title and an empty page.

Saddened, I decided to quit for a few minutes, go take care of some stuff around the house and come back, hopefully finding the words to write to you once again. I walked back into the room and there it was - my extra large, styrofoam Dunkin Donuts cup, lying across my keyboard, the last drop seeping into the keys of the keyboard. It seems Miss Zoe didn't like the cup being in her way, so she just knocked it down, frying my keyboard and taking out my laptop. No more blogging. No more email. No more grantwriting for my Foundation. No more minutes and agendas for my Theatre Company. My laptop was taken out by my precious two year-old. Figuring out how to balance time at the library with the needs of this home couldn't quite get worked out.

So there I found myself, for three days in fact, clearing out the junk, defragging and stripping my dinosaur computer. Well, it is on this dinosaur computer that I type right now, so Praise God for this small favor. I could return to my varied work, albeit more slowly than usual, but who's complaining?

It was that Sunday that Pastor called "those who feel like they are under attack" to come forward to the altar. He related to us that he had heard stories of unexplainable difficulties mounting in the lives of our church members, like never before. Well my mountain at that time was just a molehill, but I walked up to the altar. We started singing praise songs claiming Victory in Jesus over all our troubles, over all our struggles. I don't exactly remember what was said, I don't remember what brought me to tears, but I remember crying - REALLY CRYING, sobbing before the Lord. It kept feeling like someone was trying to take out my knees. I, of course, kept fighting it. I heard the Lord say, "Surrender it all to me, Danielle." The next thing you know, I'm on my back on the floor in almost a seizure-like trembling, contorted position.

Messages from the Lord kept filling my ears: "Let go of the anger. Let go of the sarcasm. Let go of your cynicism. I want more for you. You are to be gentle and tender and loving in all of your dealings with your friends, your acquaintances, your children, even your dog. Let go Danielle. Let go." In my mind, I answered back. "I can't. This is who I am. I don't know how to live without sarcasm and cynicism. It's in my Irish/German/French ancestry." Then God said, "I want MORE." And for a moment, I gave in and a deep Peace flowed through me. But then, I got up and I immediately started to doubt if I was indeed "changed." The trembling started again. I found myself fighting against it until I felt as if I was vibrating the whole pew. Finally, Brother Brian came to my side and whispered "Accept the change." And I did. Once again, the Peace came over me. I sat in the pew exhausted, but content - in a way that I probably have not felt since the day I first accepted Christ as Savior on June 10 of 1990.

This is what I had wanted God to change in me for as long as I can remember. I was never happy being so... grumpy, for a lack of a better word. I kept trying to change myself. I took Zoloft to alter my mood. But I couldn't do it. He had to do it and He finally did.

I am happy to tell you that I have remained calm and content since that Sunday. I haven't resorted to yelling at my kids or sarcasm with my husband. But ever since that day, September 17, the attacks have become more intense.

September 20 - My grandmother on my father's side, with whom I have a strained relationship, slipped into a coma. I am now faced with the fact that I may never be able to resolve things with her, for we may never speak again.

September 24 - On my way to pay my cell phone bill, they disconnected my cell phone for which we had to pay 26.50 per phone to reconnect, and after having paid to have the phones reconnected, my friends are still telling me they can't always get through. They get a message saying, "This person does not accept incoming calls."

September 25 - The sheriff stopped by to put a levy on my van. Long story involving a woman who won't sign a paper, PennDOT who won't sign over a title and a lot of other insanity has now rendered my van useless to my family of six.

Later that night, I went to teach my dance classes. I had to move a piece of plywood for the tap dancing portion of my class when I got a splinter in the underside of my ring finger on my left hand. I pulled it out, used tissue to clot the bleeding and continued teaching. The class is made up of 3-5 year olds, I couldn't make a big deal of a "boo-boo." After class, I went to dinner with my parents, got dropped off at home and all the sudden my finger was really throbbing. I looked at it and found it swollen to the point that I could twist my wedding rings, but I couldn't get them off. By 9 pm, it was bigger. By 10 pm - it was gross. I drove myself to the emergency room where they CUT my WEDDING RINGS OFF. Then I had x-rays taken, a tetanus shot administered, a splint applied and pain relievers and antibiotics prescribed - all from a simple splinter.

September 26 - I got up, finished some work I had to do on the Internet and thought to myself, "I'm just going to do my blog quickly, and then I have to get to the phone company to pay our bill before they disconnect our house phone. I opened my blog page to begin blogging, and all the power went off in the house. It was the monthly generator test that they do here on the reservation, but they never tell us when it's going to happen. Sarah Klugh called me on my cell phone a little later - after the power came on, but before I was able to get out the door to pay my phone bill. The first words out of her mouth were "What's wrong with your phone? It says its not in service." There's another 25 dollar reconnection fee.

September 27 - I woke up early, got Ellen off to school and decided "I really haven't caught up on this sleep deficit caused by doing the newspaper route. I'm going to lie down for a few hours." Suddenly, I woke up - my mind filled with things I had to do. I checked our bedroom alarm clock - 9:39 a.m. I went downstairs to feed the cat and dog and let the dog out. My cell phone rang to let me know I had a Voice Mail message. The computerized voice said "One new message at 11:33 am." "Hmmm..." I thought, "my bedroom clock must be wrong." I closed my cell phone to look at the clock. It was 12:44 pm. I had a 1 pm appointment to meet with Sisters Jill and Mikie. I made it there - a few minutes late, but I made it.

Later that night I had to teach my yoga class. Derek needed the car to go to work, so I had hoped to catch my friend Lisa on the way to class for a ride. I called and I called and I got her voice mail. I started walking towards the studio with my cell in hand. I kept dialing her number over and over - 5 bars - I should have a full-strength signal. The phone wouldn't even ring. I made it all the way to the corner of Fourth and Market Streets until I finally got a hold of Lisa - two blocks away from my destination and I ended up making it to the studio before her -about a 3-mile walk with no phone reception.

Today, September 28 - the hospital is taking my grandmother off of life support. She may live. She may die. Either way, I'm stuck here in Pennsylvania without anyway of telling her all that is on my heart.

Can you say "Under Attack?"

Despite all of this, you would think I'm ready to blow up. By now I should have punched a wall, screamed at my husband, kicked the dog, humiliated my children out of human anger, frustration and just plain "being sick and tired of it all."

But you know what? I'm resting. R-E-S-T-I-N-G - RESTING. For the first time in my life, I am not falling on the floor crying, "Oh, woe is me..." I'm resting in the Lord's power to take care of it all. I'm walking through the storm with my head held high knowing that I must be doing something right or Satan wouldn't be working so hard to get me down. I find myself, like Paul, writing letters to you, my church of Corinth, in a spirit of love and encouragement so you may also be able to hold your heads high though the attacks are everywhere.

2 Corinthians 10:3-8
10:3 - For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh,
10:4 - for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.
10:5 - {We are} destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and {we are} taking every thought captive to the obedience Christ,
10:6 - and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.
10:7 - You are looking at things as they are outwardly. If anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ's, let him consider this again within himself, that just as he is Christ's, so also are we.
10:8 - For even if I boast somewhat further about our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be put to shame.
10:9 - For I do not wish to seem as if I would terrify you by my letters.
10:10 - For they say, "His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible."
10:11 - Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when absent, such persons {we are} also in deed when present.
10:12 - For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.
10:13 - But we will not boast beyond {our} measure, but within the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us as a measure, to reach even as far as you.
10:14 - For we are not overextending ourselves, as if we did not reach to you, for we were the first to come even as far as you in the gospel of Christ;
10:15 - not boasting beyond {our} measure, {that} {is,} in other men's labors, but with the hope that as your faith grows, we will be, within our sphere, enlarged even more by you,
10:16 so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you, {and} not to boast in what has been accomplished in the sphere of another.
10:18 - For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Lessons from a Cat

It was May when we had to put our beloved Pit Bull, Mugsy, down - he was only four. He had begun to get aggressive with me while disobeying my every command and one day snapped at me when I grabbed the newspaper to correct him. Then, one fine day, he decided to escape the kennel in our backyard, chase inmates who were doing yardwork around the grounds and get into a little scrap with a very aggressive Black Lab. Of course all the blame went to Mugsy, and we were asked to get rid of him.

We searched our hearts for a solution, but all available research pointed in one direction. The advice, as cold as it seemed, said, "If your Pit Bull has snapped - even once - don't give it to another family where someone else could get hurt." With heavy hearts we took Mugsy to be euthanized and then buried him through lots of tears.

I've had lots of pets over the years - dogs, cats, birds, fish, rabbits, lizards, and of course, a turtle. My turtle, Agape, was absolutely the best pet ever and I loved her for eight long years before one spring, she failed to come out of hibernation. The birds were too noisy and dirty. the lizards - escape artists that chose to bite the hand that fed them. Fish are still nice, but because I have a ten year old African Cichlid named Tommy who eats everything that moves and refuses to die, my 55 gallon tank is home to none but he.

There have been times in my life that I really did not like cats. They are so predatorial. I don't really enjoy finding dead birds and mice at my door. The feral neighborhood cats wreak havoc - breaking garbage bags open and spilling the cans all over the road and yard. But most of all, I never could find a cat who loved me. I seem to have a knack for picking the cat who would just look at me with that condescending, "Be My Slave - Feed Me" look. So, i made up my mind - stick with dogs.

Derek and I made up our minds we were going through a Rescue to find our next canine friend. We looked and looked. We attended adopt-a-thons and called places - only to find out the dog we wanted was already adopted. Then came Shadow.

Shadow's owner moved in with his elderly mother so he needed to find a home for him. The owner happens to be Ellen's cousin on her father's side, so I had heard about Shadow for months. It was love at first sight - part Cocker Spaniel, part Pug, pure black fur with a little white goatee stripe on his chin - Shadow was just what I wanted - a little fluffy dog with a touch of masculinity so as not to be too frou-frou. Even better - he is mellow. He's great at just hanging out with me outside and he doesn't chase a thing. But now the honeymoon is over.

Shadow will be two years old in October and is yet to be housebroken. When I take him outside, he lays in the grass and watches the world go by. When we go inside, he sneaks off to one of the bedrooms and does his business there - usually on some piece of clean laundry. I won't give up on him, but I have yet to understand how a dog can reach the age of 2 and still not understand that "Outside = Rest Area."

Anyway, two weeks ago it happened. Ellen comes walking in the house carrying the cutest little tabby cat and says, "Mom, can we keep it?" She went door to door asking our neighbors if they knew who's kitten it was, finally discovering the truth - the kitten was born to one of the feral cats in the neighborhood. Now was the time to save her. In another month, she would probably be too wild to be approached by humans.

We named her Victoria-Gwenivere after my godmother, Vicky and my mother, Gwen. They had been best friends since the sixth grade when Vicky lost her life to cancer two years ago in October. Vicky was also, in my best estimation, the Patron Saint of Stray Cats. She was always taking in stray cats and blessing them with a home.

I have to admit I wasn't expecting much from this cat, with all of my oh-so-joyous experiences with the species. But Miss Vicky, as we affectionately call her, has impressed upon me, an incredible lesson of God's love.

What kind of life would Miss Vicky have lived had we not taken her in? There she was, as Ellen informed me, all alone - wailing, crying to anyone who passed by. She was probably hungry, and soon would be living life covered in fleas and digging out of garbage cans for survival.

But we took her in. Every morning she comes running when I come home from my route and leads me to her dish where I lavish her with yummy treats. I fill Shadow's dish as well, and by the time my coffee's made and I am seated at my desk to start my day's work, there's Miss Vicky - jumping or climbing up into my arms - purring like a small airplane engine and giving me gentle "head-butts" of love and appreciation.

Strangely, but yet, not-so-strangely, when we would open the door to the outside, Miss Vicky would bolt upstairs. This week, however, curiosity got the best of her and she nosed around the yard for just a bit, and then quickly ran to the door and tried to open it with her paw. She seems to want nothing to do with the "outside world" but is happy to rest in our ever-so-humble, but loving, home.

How much is this relationship like that of ours with our Heavenly Father? He has rescued, and continues to rescue, us from a flea infested, garbage-ridden world. He provides for us (so much more than food) and allows us to rest in His arms. He continues to love us - and yes, I indeed, have come to love this cat. I was wondering if she ever got lost, how would I know that she's mine? She is a typical grey tabby with no distinctive markings. But something tells me I would just know, just as God knows every hair on our heads. Luke 12:7 says, "Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows."

When I think of this overwhelming love I have for this cat, it awes me to think how God loves us. Romans 5:8 - But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. It comforts me to think of myself as this poor little kitten resting in God's great arms and feeling the love He has for me. More and more, I don't want to know what's waiting outside that door. There is no need to stray when I'm safe in my Father's arms.