My husband and I love dogs, especially Shelties. 

After one of our beloved pets died, we searched for another one. One day, while surfing the internet at a pet finder site, our new dog’s photo caught my eye. His picture seemed to say, “Please take me home. I’m so sad and alone.” 

Charley had a very difficult life before we bought him. His first owner was a sheltie breeder who became so ill she took her seven shelties to a dog rescue. So Charley lost his home on that awful day and didn’t adjust to the new place. I think at the dog rescue he lost part of an ear. Perhaps he tried to steal another dog’s food. 

Charley suffered from benign tumors and other health problems, so as a dog no one wanted, the pet rescue owner sent him to another dog rescue. The worker at the new place, where we found Charley, told us he was five, but he was much older. We fell in love with him, anyway. My husband laughed as he held him in his arms. I knew then that Charley was going home with us to join our other sheltie who was almost two years old. What a surprise for Max to discover that his new older brother would set up rules for him to follow. For example, when it was time to eat, Charley snarled at Max to scare him into giving him his food, but our new pet was a barrel on legs and needed to be thinner. To solve this problem, we had Charley eat in our storage shed dog house with the door closed so his younger brother could eat undisturbed. 

When my dogs came to me wanting attention, Charley snarled at Max, warning him to get away. Then he would gaze at me with an angelic expression as though saying, “Aren’t I wonderful? Pet me.” 

Charley had worms, so we paid a veterinarian to remove them along with several benign tumors. After a lot of tender care, Charley’s health improved. 

We didn’t get to enjoy his company long enough. Near the end, Charley lost almost all his hearing and sight, too. But even in his last years, he learned to greet me with an outstretched paw for me to hold.

Memories of Charley remind me of a promise from God’s Word, the Bible. Although my husband and I are imperfect pet owners, we tried to provide the best care possible for Charley. This makes me think of Matthew 7:11. “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” 

 

My husband’s friend, Kenny, lived in a tent in the mountains for a period of time. But that didn’t mean he sat around all day doing nothing. In fact, he was far from lazy. Daily he dug piles of dirt looking for gold in a beautiful area beside a river shaded by trees and bushes. 

You might think he was lonely living alone away from civilization. But he made many friends—although not the type that might come to mind—human companions. Instead, he became friends with the birds. And not just any kind of bird.

His special buddies were California Scrub Jays, colorful blue and gray feathered companions. They flew near him, sat in trees while he worked, and chirped to let him know they were there and expected to be fed. 

Kenny took small pieces of bread covered with peanut butter and held them up for his pals. They took the treats from his hand. One day Kenny ran out of bread, but he still had peanut butter. While my husband watched, Kenny put his finger in the jar and pulled out a big glob. A jay landed on his finger and ate the gooey morsel.

Another time Kenny was sitting in the shade feeding the jays. Suddenly they went crazy—squawking and making all kinds of racket. He got up to check on what was happening. When he looked around, he saw a large rattlesnake sliding through the bushes behind where he had just been sitting. 

His friends, the jays, had warned him of the danger.

Kenny had treated the birds with kindness. His example reminds me of Matthew 7:12, the Golden Rule, that commands we treat others the way we want them to treat us. 

He wasn’t expecting anything from the birds, but they repaid his kindness by warning him of the deadly danger right behind him.

This brings to mind another verse—Galatians 6:7. “Don’t be deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows (seeds he plants), that shall he also reap.” 

So let’s make it our goal to sow seeds of kindness every day. 

My husband, Bob, is an avid gold prospector. He enjoys searching for tiny fragments of the precious metal beside a river in the mountains near our home. To get there, first, he takes a well-known path. After that, he has to watch where he puts his feet. He never knows what danger might be lurking under or behind a rock, or behind a tree.

One cold morning as Bob headed for the river, he almost put his foot down on what looked like a small stick. He stopped in mid-step—just in time. A baby rattlesnake was sunning itself in the middle of the path. My husband jumped backward and found another way to cross the area before the snake could strike.

On another day in the early afternoon, he hiked to his gold prospecting site with a walking stick in his hand. The trail passed between two bush-like trees that cast long shadows on the ground. A large snake lay almost hidden in the middle of the trail cooling itself in the shade. The reptile saw him but didn’t move. The thick foliage blocked my husband from going around the snake. Bob nudged it with his stick hoping the creature would leave and not get mad. Happily for him, it slithered off.

I often keep my eyes open for parables—heavenly lessons from ordinary happenings. So when Bob told me about his two trips to the river and what he encountered, I saw in his experiences with the snakes a lesson depicting our earthly journeys. 

What lesson? Well, we’re all walking down life’s road where danger lurks. If we’re not careful, we’ll step on something deadly before we reach our final destination, so we need to watch where we’re going . . . and what choices we make.

Scripture: Luke 21:36 Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.

Once my husband, Bob, and I enjoyed having several gorgeous red and yellow hibiscus plants growing in our front yard. But we neglected to prune them, and they eventually looked like a bramble bush with branches going every direction. 

Then one day neighbor boys attacked my prized but scraggly hibiscus plants! They broke off branches to use as pretend swords when I wasn’t watching. After they were through, trash and broken foliage littered the lawn in front of my townhouse.

I assumed they had destroyed the plant since broken sticks shorn of their leaves ruined their former beauty. But one morning a breathtaking sight greeted me. A huge bouquet of red hibiscus flowers cascaded down from the top of the plant. The bountiful crop of larger-than-ever blooms proclaimed they had flourished despite the “mistreatment” which actually promoted their growth.

This experience reminds me of a Bible verse. “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away;[ and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2 NKJ).

I see in this simple story a parable of the Christian life. Just as plants need pruning to reach their full potential, so God needs to prune His children’s lives so the fruit of His Spirit can grow within them.

God loves us so much that He will prune His children even if it hurts, and even if it seems He is harming us. But we are not in a position to judge. We need to remember He is God and we aren’t!

True faith does not demand explanations from the Lord. We may ask, but He does not have to tell us.  In the meantime, our part is to walk by faith.

Just as I thought the neighbor boys had ruined my plants, but instead they had unintentionally rejuvenated them, so God uses cutting experiences to make our lives more fruitful.

Our temporary happiness or comfort is not the point. Through Christ, we may always overflow with deep and lasting joy—independent of circumstances. 

To be fruitful in Christ, I need to rest in Him, trusting Him to bear the fruit through me.

So if you’re a child of God, cooperate with the divine Gardener’s handwork instead of fighting against him. Who can tell what Jesus will do in your life if you yield to Him?

 

Hibiscus flowers bloom crimson and yellow,

   Billowy trumpets proclaim their Creator’s work.

They remind me not to strain and strive,

   But to rest in Him from Whom all beauty flows.

So effortless their loveliness appears;

   So persistent their blossoms renew.

Silent witnesses of God’s touch.

   They seem to whisper low:

If He cares for us,

   how much more does He watch over you?

One August afternoon a number of years ago, my husband, Bob, and I with our sheltie, Mac, traveled to Manzanita Lake in northern California. My sister had told us about the wildlife there. As an artist, I was eager to photograph deer and other animals we encountered. 

While sitting at our campsite under a canopy of pine trees, noisy stellar jays adorned with perky top knots fluttered through the overhead branches. We threw pieces of our dog’s food on the ground, and the bright blue birds swooped down and plucked the kibbles up–if the pieces landed far enough away from us. 

Suddenly a golden mantle ground squirrel that looked like an overgrown chipmunk popped out of his hole. He scurried toward the food and stuffed himself with the tasty treats. He got to the pieces before the jays did by coming closer to our feet than they were brave enough to do. 

They squawked as though to say, “Hey, that’s our grub. Leave it alone.”

He paid no attention but kept cramming kibbles in his mouth until his cheeks looked like they were about to burst. When he could jam no more in, he turned around, ran back to his burrow, and disappeared.

After he left, the noisy jays swooped down and gorged themselves until the squirrel returned and chased them away. They flapped their wings and scolded him for confiscating food they believed was theirs.

The golden mantle ground squirrel had a goal. He was storing kibbles away for the winter when he would hibernate and later awake to eat his stored cache of food. 

I believe the squirrel has a lesson for us. I’m not talking about storing away physical food, although at times that can be a good idea. No, I’m talking about hiding away in our hearts spiritual food that will sustain us as we face whatever trouble may come into our lives.

Many years ago, I started hiding away spiritual food by memorizing Bible verses. I found it handy to write them on index cards with the verse on one side and reference on the other. With these precious promises memorized, God speaks to me. 

For example, when I wake up, Psalm 118:24 often comes to mind.  “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” The best defense against discouragement is praising God.

When perplexing problems come up, I can claim James 1:5. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”  

If I want to complain, I need to remember Philippians 4:4. “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.”

When fearful, 2 Timothy 1:7 comforts me. “For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” The apostle Paul wrote this verse when he was in prison awaiting execution by beheading. 

When I’m tempted to say angry words, I need to remember Proverbs 15:15. “A soft answer turns away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.”

When I feel guilty about the sins I’ve committed, I remember 1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

When I think of death, 2 Corinthians 5:8 soothes my soul. “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”

Are you hiding away spiritual provision for your times of need? Consider buying a pack of index cards, and as you read through the Bible, note the promises and commands that jump out at you. Then copy them. Place your memory verses within easy reach and keep repeating them. After a while, they will sink deep into your heart, nourish your soul, and prepare you for the winters in your life.

 

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“Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.” Psalm 51:12

 

One morning as I glanced at the clouds from the kitchen window, I noticed with delight that the bougainvillea I assumed was dead had blossomed again.

What a surprise to welcome back the purplish-red flowers peeking at me as though to say, “I’m still here.”

Grasshoppers unknowingly imported from a hibiscus I purchased had swarmed over my lovely plant and ate the foliage. It was in an awkward spot to spray with bug killer or to pick off the insects one by one. And with my allergies, I was reluctant to use pesticides, so I gave up and stopped watering what remained of the once vibrant flowering shrub—only bare branches. But a downpour of rain from recent storms soaked it, and it pushed out new growth again after many months of lying dormant. I had missed the cheerful blossoms and was so glad they had returned.

There beyond my kitchen window was a lesson just for me and maybe you too.

Sometimes I feel like that bougainvillea whenever I focus on my circumstances instead of on the Lord. When I rush ahead of Him and do things on my own, grasshoppers of discouragement, worry, and fear invade my life. I too dry up after opening the door to these enemies. When God points out I’ve let peace-devourers inside me, I turn back to Jesus and ask Him to forgive and restore me to close fellowship. Then I can once again please Him and enjoy the life-giving water of His Spirit and Word.

Has your life ever seemed as though it was about to dry up? God’s living water can revive you—no matter where you are in life or what you’ve done. Turn to Him with repentance and ask Him to give you the gift of eternal life through Christ or restore the joy of His salvation.

Dear Lord, please help me keep my eyes on You instead of on my circumstances.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Go Deeper — Keep looking to Jesus instead of your troubles.