Nov 292016

World PeaceLast night I was given the honor of being asked to speak at the Porterville Peace Rally. These were my comments.

Good evening. My name is Rick Groves. Most of you don’t know me, and all of us are far too complex to nail down in a few words. So, by way of personal introduction, I’ll just say I’ve been known to teach a little and to preach a little. But mostly to just love people around me. And I love to tell stories. Time permitting, I hope to share one or two with you here tonight.

I want to thank the organizers of this Peace Rally for this lovely chance to share some words. I received a call from Kayleen Murello last Tuesday inviting me, and I was extremely surprised and quite honored she had taken the time to run me down. I cannot begin to express what a blessing it is to be included and awarded this wonderful opportunity.

Tonight, my friends, we’re having a Peace Rally. Peace is the freedom from disturbance. It is quiet and tranquility. It is harmony.

We all desire these things.

To say the world does not contain evil would be a false statement or hopelessly naïve. But to realize the world is comprised of a greater and far more powerful good is not simply reassurance. It is reality.

Good does not always triumph, but the lessons of history are that evil wins for only a short season. The undefeatable spirit of humanity always rises up and retakes the victory. And we will have victory.

To achieve victory takes two things: The brave action of a group coming together to stand and fight for what’s right, and the brave action of an individual standing alone to fight for what’s right.

Nothing worth accomplishing has ever been achieved without both. It takes cooperation and it takes leadership.

It’s been said the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing. If we hold this as true, then its corollary is also true. Good people doing something are the only thing necessary for triumph over evil.

And so we come together tonight as good people taking action for a cause that is right.

And make no mistake, this involves all of us together. You cannot say this doesn’t affect you.

I promised a story, so here’s one of my favorites. You may have heard it before. If so, you’re about to hear it again.

There once was a mouse…

The mouse peeked through a crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife opening a package. “What wonderful food might this contain?” the mouse wondered as his little nose sniffed the air. He was terrified to see it was a mousetrap!

Scurrying to the barnyard, seeing the chicken, the mouse screamed his warning, “There’s a mousetrap in the house! There’s a mousetrap in the house!”

The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head, and said, “Mr. Mouse, I can see this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. I just cannot be bothered by it.”

The mouse ran to the pig and told him, “There’s a mousetrap in the house! There’s a mousetrap in the house!”

The pig sympathized, but said, “I am so very sorry, Mr. Mouse, but there is nothing I can do about it but pray. Be assured you are in my prayers.”

The mouse dashed to the cow and said, “There’s a mousetrap in the house! There’s a mousetrap in the house!”

The cow said, “Wow, Mr. Mouse. I’m really sorry for you, but it’s no skin off my nose.”

So the mouse, head down, feeling dejected, returned to the house to face the farmer’s mousetrap….alone.

That very night, a sound echoed through the house – the single abrupt snap of a mousetrap capturing its prey.

The farmer’s wife, awakened by the noise, rushed through the darkness to see what was caught. In the deep shadows, she didn’t see the poisonous snake whose tail was wedged in the trap.

With a ferocious strike, the snake’s fangs injected venom into the soft flesh of the farmer’s wife’s leg. Awakened by her scream, the farmer rushed to her and killed the snake with a butcher knife. He called the doctor, who came right away and removed as much poison as he could and gave her medicine, but her fever would not go down.

Everyone knows that chicken soup is the best treatment for a fever, so the farmer took his hatchet to the barnyard to collect the main ingredient.

But the poison continued to do its deadly work, and her sickness continued. Friends and neighbors sat with her round the clock and, to feed them, the farmer butchered the pig.

Alas, the farmer’s wife did not recover – and on the third day, she died.

She was well-loved by all and her funeral drew so many people that the farmer slaughtered the cow to provide enough meat to feed them.

Meanwhile, the mouse with great sadness stared out from his crack in the wall. He had tried to warn them…

So the next time you hear that someone is facing a problem, and you don’t think it concerns you, remember this little story. When one of us is threatened, we’re all at risk. Together, we are all in this journey called life.

So keep an eye out for one another and make an extra effort to give support and encouragement. Never forget that each and every one of us is a vital thread in another person’s tapestry – our lives are woven together tightly for a reason.

You know, when I was a young man, I wanted to change the world.
I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation.

When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town.

I couldn’t change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family.

Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation – and I could indeed have changed the world.

We change others only by changing ourselves and then demonstrating that change to inspire others. And when they are inspired, they become that group that stands together to change the world.

Aesop tells the fable of an old man on his deathbed summoning his children around him to give them some parting advice. He asked his oldest son to bring a bundle of sticks that were tied together.

“Break it,” he said.

The oldest son, also the strongest, strained and strained, but with his greatest effort couldn’t break the bundle.

The other sons also tried, but none of them could break it.

“Untie the sticks,” said the father, “and each of you take a single stick.”

When they had done so, he called out to them, “Now, break them!”

Each stick was easily broken.

“You see my meaning?” said their father. “Apart, you are fragile. But stand together, and you cannot be broken.”

We’ve hopefully enough time for one last story.

A squirrel perched on a branch talking to a dove that had landed there. “Tell me the weight of a snowflake,” he asked the bird.

“Why, nothing more than nothing,” was the answer.

“In that case, I must tell you a marvelous story,” the squirrel said.

“I once sat on the branch of a fir tree, close to its trunk, when it began to snow – not heavy, not a raging blizzard – no, just like a dream, without a sound and without any violence. Since I did not have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,741,952. When the 3,741,953rd dropped onto the branch – nothing more than nothing, as you say – the branch broke off under the weight of the snow.”

Having said that, the squirrel flitted away.

The dove thought about the story for a while, and finally said to herself, “Perhaps there is only one person’s voice lacking for peace to come to the world.”

An old Texas Baptist minister from way back in the day named Joseph Fort Newton said, “Men build too many walls and not enough bridges.” I’m going to challenge you here tonight to figure out how you can build a bridge and by so doing tear down a few walls. This refers back to my earlier comment about standing alone as a leader.

Are there any leaders in this group tonight?

If so, start leading.

Because, after all, like the little mouse tried to warn us, we’re all in this together.

And like Aesop’s tale of the dying father, together we are invincible.

And like the squirrel showed us, it may be your voice that makes a difference in this world.

So I encourage you tonight, stand together and love one another. Teach others around you by your demonstration how to love.

I have experienced personally what it feels like to be mistreated and to be on the receiving end of unfair discrimination. Long ago decided I will not tolerate intolerance, will speak and act against it.
I will stand with you and will not abide that others treat anyone with hatred or violence.

I know many in this community and this country who will pledge the same.

May I leave you with some wise words uttered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

Thank you.

May 102013
Percy when still a puppy in the backyard on 8/31/2010.

Percy when still a puppy in the backyard on 8/31/2010.

I killed my dog today.

You can sugarcoat the words by saying he was put to sleep, euthanized, or that his suffering was ended mercifully, but it doesn’t change that even if not by my hand that by my decision a life given by God to one of His creatures ended away today at 12:10 PM, and the responsibility is 100% mine.

The sorrow rips through my soul like a dull knife tearing through my flesh. I’ve cried and cried and cried until I thought I could cry no more, and then yet more tears flowed.

Sir Percival — Percy — as we called him, was a worthless little mutt. At least that’s what I thought at first. He was a Maltese/Shihtzu cross, not even a purebred. And I told my wife Sylvia on many occasions she didn’t pick the sharpest puppy in the pack. He wasn’t overly smart, usually wouldn’t come when you called, didn’t like being held, wasn’t very affectionate, and his only real trick was to stand on his hind legs to beg a morsel of food. I often asked him if he was looking for another handout, and he always was.

But he did get pretty good at obeying simple commands. It didn’t take long for him to know the drill about “go to the grass” at potty time and “go to your room” at night-time. I guess he was smarter than I gave him credit for.

I grew up with animals. Cows, pigs, chickens, horses, dogs, and cats were a natural part of life. But they all served some purpose, whether for transportation, security, pest control, or food source. Animals were a commodity used for some practical result or sold for gain. So I really didn’t get the “purpose” of Percy. Way too small for security and since he barked at everything he could see out the front window or hear with his admittedly sharp ears you never knew whether it was something important or not. Since he did nothing of value, I considered him pretty worthless, other than the fact that Sylvia loved him.

But he kinda grew on me after a while.

Trying to untie his rope on 1/29/2012.

Trying to untie his rope on 1/29/2012.

I started coming up with nicknames for him. Names such as “Perc” — like the woman’s handbag — or “Perc-Perc”. Whenever my wife would ask if I’d seen her purse, I’d point to the dog. This expanded into “Percy McPupper”, Percy Pup”, “Puppers”, and “Doggers”. And he would often roll around on the carpet, laying on his back with his toys between his paws like an infant, chewing them and pulling the stuffing out that he would then leave trailed across the house. He had a habit of pulling his blankets out of his night-time kennel and dragging them into the living room to roll around on until he swaddled himself inside. His value was beginning to increase slightly. At least he was entertaining.

Percy and Kitty 8-31-2010

Percy and Kitty 8-31-2010

His best friend was a silver tabby cat, and they got along great. They would wrestle playfully in the family room, Percy circling and barking at her, both enjoying the romp and sharing the house well together.

We discovered he was a darn good little travel mutt when we took him on his first of many trips. Actually, that’s where he shined best. He became affectionate and even wanted us to hold him when he was in the car. Whenever my wife would pull out his fleece harness and retractable leash, he became so excited, standing on his hind legs just the same as when he was begging for food. In the car during city travel he would thrust his snout into the wind, sniffing and taking the world in through his nose and big brown eyes. On the freeway, he would be either on my wife’s lap or perched on my left leg, looking through the window, making the rounds back and forth many times throughout the journey.

Mom's furry boy looking out the window at Cayucos on 7/21/2011

Mom’s furry boy looking out the window at Cayucos on 7/21/2011

He enjoyed going everywhere, but he was a beach dog at heart. Since his first trip on September 4, 2010, the soft sand at Cayucos or Morro Bay was among his favorite things in life. My wife and I would stroll along the beach and Percy would be at the full extension of his leash, arcing back and forth from left to right, exploring the white to brown terrain as we moved along, checking out the sea gulls, pelicans, people, and especially the other dogs (since his “sister” was a cat and he didn’t see many other dogs). He enjoyed the water so long as it wasn’t too deep or too cold, and when the waves would wash against his feet he would wind up covered in sand, looking kind of soggy, and stare up at you with eyes that would melt your heart.

He was also a great conversation starter. Since he was actually rather cute, adults and children would always comment and want to pet him. We met and talked to many interesting people with which there would have been no opportunity if it hadn’t been for this little furball on the end of the leash.

Soggy Doggy at the beach 9/4/2010

Soggy Doggy at the beach 9/4/2010

I felt really bad for him a couple of years back when he started having trouble walking. You could tell his hips bothered him so we took him to the vet. The prognosis was that he probably dislocated his hip while bouncing around or up-and-down from the couch. The vet prescribed some pain medicine and in a few days he seemed in pretty good shape.

There was a time back in January of 2011 that Sylvia and I were having marital problems. Actually, she was the one with the problem — and his name was Rick. I wasn’t being a very good husband and she felt the need to move out of the house for a while. I’ve hopefully grown since then, and things are better now. We have a strong, loving, and committed marriage. But while she was gone, the house seemed awfully large and lonely.

Women, I’ve learned, have a way different way of communicating than men. As we were working toward resolving our differences, she asked if I would take care of Percy and move him back in. At first I was rather hesitant, still hurting and looking with male eyes at the fact here was a woman who ran out on me now wanting me to take care of her dog. Although I wasn’t really too keen on the idea, thankfully I did it anyway. But, yeah, now I get it.

Getting warm and dry in mommy's arms 9/4/2010

Getting warm and dry in mommy’s arms 9/4/2010

So it was Percy and me (plus the cat when she wasn’t roaming outside). And we got to know each other pretty well. He started sticking pretty close. And although still not really what you would call affectionate, he was there, an ever-present companion. If I was in the living room, he was there. If I went to the bedroom, he was patiently waiting outside the door. If I went into my office, he was about a foot away from my chair, flopped on the floor in a furry ivory semi-circle.

Even though I’d grown to kinda already like him, we became pretty close during that time. I still thought he was worthless, but in a good way.

Sylvia and I worked out our differences (meaning I wised up a tad) and the household became one again. Since the kids are mostly grown and doing their own thing, and the cat is — well, a cat and you know how they are — Percy became like the little furry kid running around the house.

Percy at Bass lake on 5/5/2012 embracing his inner wolf.

Percy at Bass lake on 5/5/2012 embracing his inner wolf.

One time my wife was at a woman’s church conference in a city a few hours away, so the day belonged to Percy and me. We decided to have a guy’s day out. I took him on a road trip through Coursegold and Oakhurst, up to Bass Lake, and just to the outskirts of Yosemite. I thought it would be a great place for a mountain dog like Percy to embrace his inner wolf. And it was. He loved the pines and the rocks, sniffing and enjoying everything we did. He was a great companion that day and we talked about a lot of stuff. He was a good listener, never interrupted, and I swear he agreed with everything I said. We became pretty good buddies.

He had another bout with his hip one weekend, and since we still had some of his medicine, we gave it to him and were planning to see the vet again if necessary the following Monday when they re-opened. It was clear he was uncomfortable, but by Sunday evening seemed his normal self.

As time went on, he engrained himself more and more into my life. I found out that he loved canned vienna sausages and hot dogs. and you wouldn’t believe how he would circle-dance for a piece of cheese, earning him yet another nickname of “Cheese Hound”. I started loving him as much as he loved the cheese.

Percy and Sylvia checking out Yosemite Valley 6/2/2012

Percy and Sylvia checking out Yosemite Valley 6/2/2012

I was also learning something from this dog. He had no practical value as I had always measured it, but I was loving him more all the time, and he loved us back in his own doggie way. I think he was likely abused or hurt before we got him and that was why he was a bit distant much of the time. I told Sylvia on several occasions that I thought he had “issues” and would probably benefit from “Puppy Prozac”. Guess that was just one more thing he and I had in common.

I determined that I was going to try to help nurture him back to emotional health. I made it a point to speak to him softly and handle him gently, paying close attention to his reactions and would always stroke him lovingly with kind words to try to soothe and comfort him. It worked to a great degree. He got where he would actually come when called and would jump on the recliner with me and sit in my lap wanting his petting more nights than not. His personality changed and he seemed to smile more. Yes, dogs do indeed smile if you’ve never noticed.

God taught me so much through this little animal. He gave me a glimpse through His eyes of how He must see us. We cannot possibly have any real practical value to God, yet He loves us regardless and unconditionally.

I learned that I was loving this little guy more and more even though I could see no practical reason. I just did because he was lovable, and I loved him so very much. It had nothing to do with what he could do. It was only about who he was. He was our dog, a part of our family, and an important part of our lives.

Three days ago, he started having trouble walking again. From the several bouts he’d had before we thought he’d bounce back by the next morning. But by the next morning he was still hurting and had lost the use of his back legs. He was moving only by dragging his hind-quarters with his front legs. He looked like a little white seal moving along and it broke my heart to see him that way. We knew something was seriously wrong this time.

Sylvia cared for him and coddled him as best she could and I could see the pain and the tears in her eyes.

I knew he loved vienna sausages, so I opened a can and broke them into very small pieces and put them in a small paper bowl. There were a couple of leftover barbecued hotdogs in the fridge, so I gave them a quick zap in the microwave to take the chill off and broke them as well. I sat on the kitchen floor and held the bowl near his mouth so he could eat. He sniffed a bit, not really interested, then gingerly started with one small bite and wound up eating nearly all of it. I then filled another bowl with a little water and held it for him to drink.

When he had his fill, he used his front paws to move himself toward my lap. It was obvious where he wanted, so I held him gently and cuddled with him, trying to comfort him and feeling completely helplessness. I prayed for that dog the first of many times, knowing that God loves all His creation and asking Him for mercy and healing of this dearly loved small creature. I cried the first of many times for Percy.

Finding a veterinarian in Porterville the week before the fair, since we are a very agricultural community, is much harder than I would have ever thought. Explaining the situation call after call, we heard the same thing. No available slots until after the fair and in most cases the doctor would not even be in the office. Finally we reached a caring person in a city 45 minutes away that unfortunately could not see us now but could work us in the following day.

It was so hard to see him in this condition. I took him to the back yard so he could relieve himself, but he had no control. I cleaned him up, being reminded of the experiences changing my daughter Amy’s diaper when she was a baby. Percy was my furry baby now. He had many accidents, and Sylvia and I cleaned them up.

Placing him on the floor in the living room, he still tried to get around as best he could. I would carry him and gently sit him in his favorite spots and it was obvious his pain and discomfort had grown worse. His small body quivered and he whimpered with every touch and move. He was in agony. I wish now I had held him up to the window, which he loved to see out of. But I just didn’t think of it at the time.

I was learning yet another lesson. With the pain that he endured, he still smiled while looking at me lovingly, and he licked my arm gently with his soft pink tongue. I must admit that I never usually let him do that, but this time seemed different. I had a sinking, gnawing, tightening feeling in my gut that he would not have many more opportunities to express affection. His attitude was the greatest I’ve ever seen. He endured, yet he loved. I could not help but wonder how much even the more that Jesus must have shown this type of strength on His way to the cross. It was yet another small glimpse the Holy Spirit has given me through this small dog.

I was planning for the future that night. I didn’t think I would ever see Percy walk again and went online to look at little doggie wheel chairs and figuring out which would likely be best for his needs. I mused that maybe his next nickname would be “Wheels”. I was thinking ahead about how we would best care for him.

Sylvia took time off from her job to take Percy to the vet, since it’s very hard for me to get time off. That morning I sat on the entryway landing with Percy on the carpet in front of me and talked to him before going to work. It’s amazing how much I’ve grown to love that little worthless dog. And now I also feel terrible, knowing how much he loved car rides, that I wasn’t with him for the last one he ever experienced.

As I sat in my work office, the clock moved slowly. I was anxious, yet also dreading the time to pass. I hoped so much that the answer from the doctor would be that he was going to be fine and that my prayers for him would be fully answered. But God’s plan isn’t always what we want, and when I received the call from Sylvia she was crying.

The doctor explained that Percy had a completely collapsed disc that had damaged his spinal column, that the other incidents leading up to it were just precursors and there was nothing that would have likely prevented it other than a very expensive surgery with slim chances of success. There was no feeling in his legs and there was no effective treatment that he would likely respond to. My heart sank. Percy would be paralyzed in his hindquarters, in constant pain in the rest of his body, and have no control over urination or bowel movement for the rest of his life.

Percy on the examination table his last day with us 5/10/2013

Percy on the examination table his last day with us 5/10/2013

That’s not much of a life…

Some may hate me for the decision that I made. And it was a struggle between head and heart. My head kept arguing that all life is precious and worthy of prolonging at any cost. But my heart said that sometimes death is a form of mercy. I decided I could not bear to see him in pain that would never end. Agony is not a good life.

Sylvia needed me there, and I wanted to be there also since it was my decision and my responsibility. I left work and took the agonizingly long drive, second-guessing and arguing my decision many times along the way while praying for strength and wisdom..

When I arrived, Sylvia was standing outside the office with Percy wrapped in a towel he’d had a few accidents in. He recognized me immediately and I could see the expectant smile on his face and the happiness in eyes. I took him gently in my arms and guilt flooded my mind. How could I do this to someone I love? This is not mercy, it’s murder….

I held him close, putting my cheek on his small head and talked to him, telling him how sorry I was and that I so very much wanted things to be different.

The time came so much quicker than I wanted, and I remembered a quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth who said, “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly.” He was also planning a murder when he spoke these ominous words. My heart was very heavy.

An assistanct led us into a nicely appointed examining room with a soft brown mat on the table and asked that we let Percy lay down there. The doctor came in, told me I had made the right decision and explained the procedure. He asked if I needed a few moments and I said yes.

Sylvia was in so much emotional pain, but I cannot relate what was in her heart, only what was in mine.

I hugged Percy and told him I knew he could not understand my words or what was happening, but I hoped that God would allow his animal spirit to understand what my spirit was saying. I told him again how sorry I was and how much I wanted something different. I wanted to simply wake from a bad dream and see him healthy and bouncing around again. I asked God to please forgive me if I made the wrong choice.

Percy at his favorite place 3/30/2013I broke down, sobbing and telling Percy how much I loved him and that I didn’t know if his spirit would live beyond his body as our soul lives beyond ours, but that I hoped with all my heart that it did and in few moments he would have a new body without pain and be running on warm glistening sand with radiant seagulls soaring overhead and cool sapphire waves lapping at his feet as he runs and plays on a heavenly beach for eternity. I told him I hope to join him there someday. I asked him to please forgive me and to know forever how much I love him.

The doctor returned to the room and when I looked around I did not see a doctor’s office, but an execution chamber. Although part of me understands, there is another part of me that wonders how it is that a person can deal with being a professional executioner, stealing the lives of other living things, even part of the time and under the guise of mercy.

The syringe filled with Pentobarbital would anesthetize Percy so he would not feel any pain. Then as he was in a drug-induced sleep his heart would stop. I hugged him close as the doctor gave guidance and the technician found a vein in his hind leg since it was already numb from the spinal damage. She inserted the needle and I watched horrified as the violet solution entered his body. Part of me wanted to cry out “NO!” but I remained silent, knowing in my heart that easing his suffering was the merciful thing to do.

But I was still killing someone I loved very dearly and it hurt.

Eternally sleeping 5/10/2013 @ 12:10PM. He who was alive now breathes no more. May you suffer no longer, my good and very loved friend...

Eternally sleeping 5/10/2013 @ 12:10PM. He who was alive now breathes no more. May you suffer no longer, my good and very loved friend…

I watched his body relax and his eyes droop. He was feeling the first effects and his pain was easing. The tension flowed from his body and he went limp – a third the syringe was injected. His eyes closed almost but not quite fully. He looked like he was going into a peaceful sleep. A quick check with the stethoscope revealed to the doctor that his heart was still beating, so the technician injected the rest of the drug and it was done. Percy, my beloved little dog, was dead because of my choice.

Sylvia and I both cried over him and the doctor and technician stepped out to give us a bit of privacy. Tears flowed and I lost count of how many tissues we used.

In a few moments, the technician returned and gave Sylvia a hug, touched me on the shoulder, and gave us both words of comfort and encouragement.

Now we wait to get the ashes of our loving companion in a wooden box with his name on a gold plate. But for now there’s now an empty kennel in the corner and an emptier hole in my heart.

As I write this, I keep looking down to the left of my office chair hoping to see him plopped down in the furry little circle where he would usually be. But he’s not there. And he never will be.

Percy was my friend, my travel buddy, my family member, and most importantly my mentor. He taught me so much. I miss him immensely, beyond words’ ability to describe. I want so much to feel his warm, furry body enveloped in my arms again, to see the happiness in his fuzzy face as he looks at me with large round eyes with his cute pink tongue sticking out. I would love to see his fluffy little tail wagging.

But never will that happen again in this lifetime.

I was so very wrong. Percy was not worthless at all. He was priceless.

My last moments with a priceless friend and mentor I will never forget.
Sir Percival (Percy)
Beloved Pet and Family Member
4/2010 – 5/10/2013


Apr 192013

broken_leg_kittenAt the Stanford Eye Clinic in Palo Alto, CA on August 29, 2011, a sight I will likely never forget passed through my eyes and into my heart.

A lovely Asian family – father, mother, and daughter – slowly crossed the waiting room floor, the aged father maneuvering one small, weak step at a time, his quivering hand gripping a cane for support while his daughter steadied his other arm. The mother, herself old and worn, shuffled alongside.

What touched me was the young woman had a cast on her left foot wrapped with a black support brace. It was clear she was also having a great deal of trouble walking, and her expression revealed it was quite painful. But she could still walk better than her father and was noticeably stronger, so as a loving daughter she supported him regardless of her personal difficulty and discomfort.

What a perfect model of Christian service…

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9, ESV)

As mentioned in my last post, I struggle with those inner voices saying I’m not good enough to serve, that I still have too many fleshly weaknesses to help others around me in their Christian walk, and that for such an imperfect person to speak of a perfect god God is the height of hypocrisy. But I’m discovering more each day the truth of how very weak we all really are when compared to the absolute strength of Christ that we are being perfected into and will attain not in this life but in the next life only. It is through our mortal weakness that God’s strength most fully manifests.

So rather than bemoaning our own shortcomings we should instead use the strength we are given to do the best we can wherever we are now. While we are not strong to the best degree, we have strength to some degree. The young woman could not lift her father and carry him across the floor, but she could certainly support him along the way.

Focusing on our weaknesses and comparing ourselves against others only further debilitates us. We then imagine what we cannot do and do not see what we can do.

Should I not swim since I’m not Michael Phelps? Should I not cook since I’m not Bobby Flay? Should I not invest for retirement since I’m not Warren Buffett?

Should I not sing praises to the Lord since I’m not TobyMac? Should I not evangelize since I’m not Billy Graham? Should I not give service since I’m not Mother Teresa?

None of us are truly strong. Yet none of us are truly weak. We are all somewhere in the middle and we are all a work in progress. And the wonderful reality is that when we admit and embrace our own frailty and instead focus on God’s strength He does amazing things through us. It is not our strength he requires. He provides that. It’s our obedience to His will and the love in our heart for Him and for His children that is important to God.

“…But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:44-45 ESV)

It is to the servant’s heart that God supplies strength. When we cast aside selfishness and replace it with selflessness we become that light on the hill through which glory shines. He then smiles and says this is my child in whom I am well-pleased. Through our weakness He makes us strong.

You do not have to be rich to help the poor. You do not have to be mighty to lend a helping hand. You do not have to be eloquent to say a kind word.

There are always those less fortunate than us, whether physically, financially, emotionally, or spiritually. When we become that servant who does not see himself or herself, but instead sees Christ living inside, the power of God is instantly there to do things we could never do on our own.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets — who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. (Hebrews 11:32-34 ESV)

What do all of these have in common? They took action not for themselves, but for the glory of God and for the benefit of others.

Like the loving daughter did for her father, in the strength of your own weakness whose arm can you support today to help them through this journey of life?


Oct 142011

This is a story my dad sent to me today. If it doesn’t make you want to cry, I pray that you find a softer heart. This is a creature we can all learn from.

Everyone in the apartment complex I lived in knew who Ugly was. Ugly was the resident tomcat. Ugly loved three things in this world: fighting, eating garbage, and, shall we say, love.

The combination of these things combined with a life spent outside had their effect on Ugly. To start with, he had only one eye and where the other should have been was a hole. He was also missing his ear on the same side, his left foot appeared to have been badly broken at one time, and had healed at an unnatural angle, making him look like he was always turning the corner.

Ugly would have been a dark gray tabby, striped type, except for the sores covering his head, neck, and even his shoulders.

Every time someone saw Ugly there was the same reaction. “That’s one UGLY cat!!!”

All the children were warned not to touch him, the adults threw rocks at him, hosed him down, and squirted him when he tried to come in their homes, or shut his paws in the door when he would not leave. Ugly always had the same reaction.

If you turned the hose on him, he would stand there, getting soaked until you gave up and quit. If you threw things at him, he would curl his lanky body around your feet in forgiveness.

Whenever he spied children, he would come running, meowing frantically and bump his head against their hands, begging for their love.

If you ever picked him up he would immediately begin suckling on your shirt, earrings, whatever he could find.

One day Ugly shared his love with the neighbor’s dogs. They did not respond kindly, and Ugly was badly mauled. I tried to rush to his aid. By the time I got to where he was laying, it was apparent Ugly’s sad life was almost at an end.

As I picked him up and tried to carry him home, I could hear him wheezing and gasping, and could feel him struggling. It must be hurting him terribly, I thought.

Then I felt a familiar tugging, sucking sensation on my ear. Ugly, in so much pain, suffering and obviously dying, was trying to suckle my ear. I pulled him closer to me, and he bumped the palm of my hand with his head, then he turned his one golden eye towards me, and I could hear the distinct sound of purring.

Even in the greatest pain, that ugly battled scarred cat was asking only for a little affection, perhaps some compassion.

At that moment I thought Ugly was the most beautiful, loving creature I had ever seen. Never once did he try to bite or scratch me, try to get away from me, or struggle in any way. Ugly just looked up at me completely trusting in me to relieve his pain.

Ugly died in my arms before I could get inside, but I sat and held him for a long time afterwards, thinking about how one scarred, deformed little stray could so alter my opinion about what it means to have true pureness of spirit, to love so totally and truly.

Ugly taught me more about giving and compassion than a thousand books, lectures, or talk show specials ever could, and for that I will always be thankful.

angel-cat-10He had been scarred on the outside, but I was scarred on the inside, and it was time for me to move on and learn to love truly and deeply. To give my total to those I cared for. Many people want to be richer, more successful, well liked, beautiful, but for me. . . I will always try to be Ugly.

Author Unknown