Have You Ever Been Loved by a Dog?

selective focus photography of white and tan shih tzu puppy carrying by smiling woman
Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com
To Be Loved

I’ve been thinking a lot of about dogs lately. Some people have said the word dog is “god” spelled backwards. I agree with the spelling inversion, but the God of the Bible is Almighty, all powerful, Creator of the universe, and so much more. Dogs cannot compare to my awesome eternal God. But this I know: Dogs do in some small way capture the essence of God’s faithful forgiving nature–love personified. It’s one thing to own a pet, but to BE LOVED by one takes the human/animal relationship to a whole new level.

Attributes

Treat dogs kindly and they will return their love and loyalty without reservation. Have you ever looked into a dog’s eyes and noticed the unconditional love flowing back? “If only they could speak,” I have often said. But honestly, they communicate quite well without our language. In my observation, a dog’s purpose and primary desire is to be near and to love. For this gift of love, I am grateful to God who had us in mind when He made all the creatures of the world.

Why do I spend time pondering the lives of canines? They are only one species of God’s great and wondrous creation. My life has been long and blessed with the abundance of unique animals I have known and loved: dogs, cats, horses, bunnies, and even a very funny goat “kid” we bought when the children were young. Perhaps my recent reflections are stirred because my present two “best doggies” are now old, with aging health issues. I must face the fact they won’t be with us for much longer.

A Time for Everything

Scripture tells us there is a time for everything. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to weep, and a time to laugh. I know how the breath of life draws a final conclusion to even the most vibrant and influential of lives, human or animal (and I do believe in the distinction). No matter how familiar my brain is with the seasons of life, death still shocks my system. It’s like a trick I must grapple with–every single time. “How can it be?” I ask, shaking myself to accept the reality that a living-breathing-vibrant being is no more.

Hope in Loss

Yet I have hope. Because of the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, the sting of death is diminished. Not eliminated, I add honestly. I still grieve the losses of those I love. For my human loves, I have the hope of heaven’s reunion with those who trusted Christ and have gone before me. For my furry friends, I have rich memories of the seasons in which we ran, laughed, cuddled, and exchanged love.

For now, I will hold my aging “puppies,” tell them how much they are loved, and thank God for such a gift–a tiny representation of His even greater love. Love has risks. Without love, life is empty. I choose to love, to endure the pain of loss, and cherish the days of laughter. Now, go hug a person or a pet today, and tell them how much they mean to you.

Something Fun for You Book Lovers

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A Kindle Conundrum

I had a day from “the dark side” this week. It all began with a simple and seemingly benign decision. I ordered a Kindle reader from Amazon! Have you ever had something go awry at every turn? I’m sure you have. It’s part of the human condition, it seems. Earth is not Heaven, and that I’m sure we all have grasped. We await for that heavenly destiny and glory to come, or until Jesus returns for His children.

My adorable little Kindle arrived early in the week, but little did I know where that would lead. After five hours on the phone with five different Amazon customer service agents, I was a frustrated wreck. There were unusual sign-in issues, and after one service rep suggested I eliminate a little used business account, the apparently defective Kindle then became impossible to return. I had unconsciously ordered it from the then-defunct account and no one could seem to go back to retrieve the original order. I was on the phone with our credit card bank at 11:00 p.m. that same night because the first rep tried to charge me $59.99 for registering the device. That was fraudulent, I was later told. He sent me an email form to fill out with my credit information, resulting in not one, but two cards having to be immediately cancelled. I felt my stress level rising as no one seemed to know how to resolve all these mounting obstacles.   As I lay in bed talking to the Lord about my daunting day, I knew it was all inconsequential in the face of so many major problems around us. But, it did make me evaluate how I handled my personal potholes that day. I can share with confidence how God intervened and walked with me through the fires of some major traumas in my lifetime. Why, then, was I so undone over this incident? Of course, I wanted my money back. Certainly, I didn’t like being scammed by someone who was supposed to be a reputable representative. Naturally we were upset by suddenly having no credit cards.   Yet … I have friends facing Covid hospitalizations, livlihood losses, loss of family members, positive test quarantines, and grandchildren struggling to gain a normal in-person education. We see lots of suffering all around us. As I prayed that night, I knew I needed to regroup and let my Father God be my Source of peace again. How easy it is to walk away from His great love and light, to let worry fray my spirit, and weigh my heart.   I am reminded that God’s Divine power has given me (and you) everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him. He called us by his own glory and goodness (I Peter 1:3). In verse 5, we are admonished to “make every effort to add to our faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.” If we have these qualities increasing, it will keep us from being ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.   So, my reminder to self is that I don’t have to let little challenges in life rob me of my joy. Knowing how God was faithful to me in the most daunting of losses and heartaches, He will be faithful even in the small things. He will help me navigate even in the day-to-day junk.

I hope this song by Michael W. Smith will bring joy to your heart as it reminds us God is here for you. This song also makes a beautiful love song if you have a special person you wish to encourage this Valentine’s Day. Take a listen. https://music.youtube.com/watch?v=M-hgLP9YKiA&feature=share Lyrics: When you feel the sunlight Fade into the cold night Don’t know where to turn I don’t know where to turn And all the dreams you’re dreaming Seem to lose their meaning Let me in your world Baby, let me in your world All you need is someone you can hold Don’t be sad, you’re not alone
I will be here for you Somewhere in the night Somewhere in the night I’ll shine a light for you Somewhere in the night I’ll be standing by I will be here for you
In this world of strangers Of cold and friendly faces Someone you can trust Oh there’s someone you can trust I will be your shelter I’ll give you my shoulder Just reach out for my love Reach out for my love Call my name and my heart will hear I will be there, there’s nothing to fear
I will be here for you Somewhere in the night Somewhere in the night I’ll shine a light for you Somewhere in the night I’ll be standing by I will be here for you
I will be here for you Somewhere in the night Somewhere in the night I’ll shine a light for you Somewhere in the night I’ll be standing by I will be here for you
I will be here for you Somewhere in the night Somewhere in the night I’ll shine a light for you Somewhere in the night I’ll be standing by I will be here for you
I will be here for you

The Story Behind the Story: His Gift

Are you ever curious about why authors write what they do? I am. You often discover something about the author’s unique life experience or perspectives. In my case, the backstory for my debut historical fiction, His Gift, is personal and significant. The story conflict is based on true events in my mother’s life growing up at the onset of The Great Depression. These facts helped me construct a compelling tale stirred with truth, imagination, and sprinkled with love.

His Gift takes place at the onset of The Great Depression, October, 1929. I had someone suggest I shouldn’t write about such a “depressing” era because who would read it? I countered the argument with my belief that His Gift isn’t about the sadness of that historic time. Instead, it is about how God is faithful throughout our trials, and He makes all things beautiful when … yes, when … we yield our dreams to him.

I began writing His Gift after my mother passed away. While reading her diaries, I heard her “voice” in a unique way, not as my mom, but as a young woman with dreams and a determination to see them come true. I knew snippets of “her story,” but suddenly as an adult writer, I knew her life possessed a drama to be shared. My mother was a gifted musician who pursued her ambition to become a professional concert pianist upon graduation. In the fall of 1929, she won a student audition to play the Rahcmaninoff Concert #2 with the Detroit Symphony. Then, weeks later, Black Tuesday occurred, the worst day in stock market history. What happens thereafter is the “rest of the story.”

My husband and I traveled to Royal Oak, MI, the setting of the story, to do primary research. We located my grandparents’ home, and the local music conservatory where my mother studied with a then retired concert pianist. We researched what seemed like miles of micrfiche about the 1920s at the Detroit Public Library. With this information download, I felt prepared to write, write, write.

Armed with ideas, I began writing the novel–without having completed a synopsis from beginning to end. To my surprise, my plot development came to an abrupt halt once I developed the conflict. Why? I didn’t know what happened once my grandfather was forced to move the family into Chicago. My mom was not around to explain the facts. I didn’t know of a true conflict resolution in my mother’s life. I had no confidence to invent a completely fictional ending. So, sadly, the story sat dormant–for a long time. I knew if it would ever be finished, I needed God’s help. I prayed, I read, and like Franz Schubert’s mostly Unfinished Symphony, His Gift, remained unresolved.

One day, I finally had revelation. I knew what needed to happen. I felt it was inspired. I wrote with great energy and passion as if God were whispering ideas in my ear. I was thrilled as this novel’s resolution pointed readers to seek Christ in life’s obstacles. In our yieldedness, we can find the peace for which we yearn. My heart was full because I knew His Gift could bless readers, and encourage them in their individual walks of faith.

That, my readers, is the story behind the story. I hope you find it interesting, as well as hopeful for whatever dilemmas you may face.

 

Stepping into the Light

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Photo by Yan on Pexels.com

It was a blustery cold morning, and as usual, I was walking my dog. It was what we always did after breakfast. Why, I wondered, did he always seem to stop to investigate a good scent when we were walking in the shade? It felt at least ten degrees colder than when we were in the sunlight! The windchill didn’t seem to bother my furry friend, but it was biting through my parka in a most piercing way.

Since our home sits on the shady side of the street, I decided I needed a course correction. A new routine. Going forward, I took command of my “mostly” obedient German Shepherd, and crossed the street as soon as we exited our cozy home. I made a deliberate choice to walk in the bright sunshine and relative warmth. After a few days of this new plan, I started to sing, like a young child, making up my own tune: “Walk, walk, walk to the sunny, sunny, sunny side….” The more I did this, the more clearly the Lord spoke to my spirit.

The parallel seemed clear. “God is the light …” we are told in Psalms 27:1. When we make the decision to walk in his light, with God beside us spiritually speaking, he does make a difference, no matter what pain and discomfort we encounter. Scripture confirms this cause and effect in James 4:8 (ESV). “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” Notice how we are to make that decision first. God is waiting for you.

When you face the raw chill of physical, emotional, or spiritual pain, what do you do? Perhaps you experience the normal emotions of human grief. You want to deny what has happened, at least in the beginning. It feels so impossible. Once reality shakes out the truth, you may feel the grip of anger and sadness. Whenever you feel like a victim and all is lost, choose to run into God’s light. It’s our choice to remain in the misery of the season of despair, or to take steps to draw nearer to God. There, we are assured, He will draw near to us.

Psalm 91:4 provides us with a beautiful word picture: “He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge, (NIV)” In his refuge, you can find healing. Run toward his light and be warmed. It is there where we will be overcomers.

 

 

 

God is Greater

Witnessing the cultural and political landscape of my beloved America in the past few days, I grieved. It felt like someone had punched me–hard. So many things went wrong, all of which will ultimately hurt our nation. But, this I believe with all my heart. God is greater than any human power, any political party, or any government. He will not be undone. America was his shining light on the hill and God desires it to remain a place of freedom and truth.

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Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

It is obvious that more recently, many Christians became engaged in the political arena, even if it was only to cast a ballot. For the most part, I don’t believe it was because they became enamored with a charismatic personality. They campaigned, donated, and voted in large numbers for local to national candidates because their biblical principles were at stake.

Those who believe they can politically silence conservative Christian voices are missing something. Our beliefs are not solely political. They are based on our hope and trust in a God we believe formed the universe. We can be expelled from social media, from book contracts, from all forms of media, but we will not be silenced–forever. Why do I say this?

I don’t adhere to my principles because I think I am right. I adhere to my principles because God says they are right. Some feel that makes me a dangerous zealot; I say it makes me a person of integrity, where faith and action align. Biblical principles inform my political and cultural views so they aren’t negotiable. They cannot be changed with the stroke of a pen, with the claim they are outdated.

Therefore, if governing powers designate more progressive laws, antithetical to biblical principles, it is not likely followers of Christ will simply “sit down and shut up.” Although they will bow to the laws of governing authorities, silencing their views has never been a positive solution. This goes to the core foundation of our nation. Freedom of religion and freedom of speech are synonymous to America. People left their countries in Europe and struggled immensely to establish a new land where they could live according to their religious beliefs.

Remove my right to speak or write, and I will find another avenue to express what I believe. Oppression has always created an atmosphere of determination. Thankfully, in my lifetime, America has never demanded the ugly choice between silence or death as in authoritarian countries and I pray it will never do so. Let’s return to the founding principles of our great nation and live in freedom to legally express our views.

God is greater and His plans are higher. His purposes will not be silenced.

This Moment is Your Gift

Whether it is a minute, an hour, a day … or a year, what will you do with your gift? Sometimes, God’s gifts come in packaging we don’t anticipate. Sometimes, our expectations and plans are diverted. We stand in awe, asking, “How can this be?”

In 1929, Molly, the gifted and aspiring young woman in the historical fiction novel His Gift knew her destination. She was talented, and had worked hard to perfect her skill. Molly knew nothing about the economy, but a stirring dark cloud over the nation was growing in that fall of 1929. What happens next in the twists and turns of Molly Martin’s young life can be discovered by reading His Gift. Check it out on Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble online, written by author Joan C. Benson

In 2021, what happens next in the twists and turns of your own journey on Earth? Do you have plans etched in stone? Have you worked hard to achieve your dreams to watch the pandemic rob you of the positive outcome? Where do we turn when our dreams turn to ashes with deterrents bigger than we can control? Seek God first, and ask for wisdom to navigate the rough seas. He will lead you through it all, one step at a time.

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I Choose Hope

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!

Most of us would like to slam the book of 2020 closed. AND, never look back! Even amidst the rubble of the past year’s worst events, if we’re honest, most of us can identify a few positives. For me, I discovered (once again) how detrimental busyness can be on the human heart and mind. Having no place to go for weeks on end was restrictive– as well as freeing. No guilt for stopping to read, reflect, pray, and align my priorities with God’s will. On a less happy note, I acknowledge there were losses from 2020, the kind which were not recoverable. We have grieved over those, and admittedly pray for a less tumultuous and painful year in 2021.

Yet, I choose hope. I will pray for good things ahead. No matter what lies in those unopened chapters, life has taught me to trust and believe God will sustain me, not ever leaving or forsaking me in the midst of the storm.

As the disciples were caught up in their “unexpected” storm (Mark 4:35), they called out in fear. “Jesus, don’t you care if we drown?” Jesus was the human embodiment of the all-powerful Creator of ALL. These men had heard him teach, watched him perform miracles, but in that moment, they were afraid. In such a crisis, we all can resort to desperation, defaulting to fear, not faith. Jesus was surprised at their lack of confidence, but he didn’t leave them in a sinking boat. He was there with them, and they got through the storm. He calmed the seas.

We sometimes wonder “why?” Where is God to deliver me? “Calm my sea, Lord! Take this pain away!” We are not in Heaven yet where every tear will be wiped away … no more death, no more sorrow (Revelation 21:4). God’s first plan was for a perfect place where he had intimate fellowship with His children. God granted them free will, so they would be able to choose relationship with him, not merely be his puppets. In a moment of temptation, they chose to let their desires get ahead of God’s will, releasing evil just so they could be like God themselves.

God desired a relationship with his children so much, he didn’t want to leave them wandering on their own forever. He sent His only Son, Jesus, to Earth. Why? He wanted to be WITH US again. Though Holiness cannot dwell in fellowship with sin, Christ made a way for us to have spiritual intimacy with our Maker the way He intended from the beginning of time. Therefore, I can have hope. I can choose to believe I will never be forsaken, or abandoned in my time of need.

Let’s imagine all the best of blessings in the coming year, knowing God is WITH US. Do not be afraid, but draw close to your Father who loves you dearly. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you,” (James 4:8). Now go have a year– a good year, a year of promise, a year of hope — a year of God-relationship. He will be with you. HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL!

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O Holy Night

 

 

white sheep on farm

Photo by kailash kumar on Pexels.com

It was a December, long ago, far away. I was a sixth grade teacher in a large Christian School delegated with the task of putting together the annual Christmas program. I began praying about our message as we celebrated the birth of Christ. Imagine approximately sixty sixth graders as your “cast.” Wiggles, giggles, and antics were to be expected. They were heartfelt, loving kids, most of the time, but they were also self-conscious young beings who didn’t know who they were from one day to the next. “Transitioners,” one could say, changing before our eyes from children to teens.

After choosing other basic elements of the presentation, I decided our final piece should be “O Holy Night.” We faithfully practiced in class during our music time. The girls were to be our “multitude of heavenly host praising God.” The boys were our “shepherds watching their flocks by night.” (How “unpolitical” we were in that era.)

When the words were sung, “Fall on your knees; O hear the Angel voices!” our representative shepherds were to — fall on their knees. Of course. What else? This was a big deal — God’s announcement to the world of His newborn Son! My shepherd boys couldn’t get through “O Holy Night” even once. Instead of falling on their knees, they would fall apart. Oh, my. The giggling would begin, even with my teacher admonitions regarding our serious message. The classroom didn’t set the scene very well as they bumped into the myriad of desks to kneel. Sometimes I couldn’t stop myself from laughing with them.

At last our big night arrived, and the auditorium was packed with families. My young shepherds showed up donning a variety of types of bathrobes with towels and headbands for the finishing touches. You know the scene. The young angels, beautifully draped in white with glitzy halos on their heads, floated around our pre-show dressing area as if they were — in heaven.

The platform, our stage, was lit with professional touches: twinkling stars in an imaginary sky, and a beautiful Bethlehem star above the baptismal. My students sang a few other Christmas songs and did some Scripture readings, but none I can specifically recall so many years hence. It was pretty much the usual Christmas presentation.

Then, it was time — the moment for which we had prepared so unsuccessfully. But, even decades later, I remember what happened next in glorious detail. Blue lights hit the stage, mimicking darkness in the fields as the stars sparkled in the “sky.” The “heavenly host” sang with great sincerity and jubilation. It was beautiful.

“Fall on your knees …” rang out. I stood in disbelief watching. The shepherds bowed down in the dark “field” as if no one were watching. A spirit of worship filled the huge sanctuary as the angels sang. You could feel it. A tear trickled down my cheek as I looked on with awe. This was God’s work, not mine. Jesus Christ had been born one holy night two thousand years before. But, as we retold that important event, God honored our meager effort with His presence, HIs gift.  It was a Holy Night.

This is our God, willing to enter our lives in the here and now, into our messes, failures, and outright rebellion. Look for Him, and invite Him to join you in your journey today.

 

 

 

 

 

Something Inspirational for Christmas: His Gift, historical fiction by Joan C Benson

October 1929 was glorious, as most fall months in Michigan tend to be.  Oak trees lined the streets in the small bedroom community of Royal Oak, Michigan, dazzling viewers with the spectacle of red, yellow, and burnt orange as the weather turned crisp. Signs of change were all around. The possibility of a brutal winter remained hidden from view even as more serious devastation brewed just below the surface in America.

Situated just outside of Detroit where most Royal Oak residents worked, life was good in that small town. Oh, there were a few antagonizing people like the nosy telephone snoop listening in on the party line, and the chemistry teacher who thought he knew everything about everything. Yet, overall, Royal Oak was just a positive place to be.

Molly Martin was a young woman with big dreams, and the perseverance to make things happen. Yet, the world around her was stirring in ways she never imagined would impact her life. She felt the shaking, saw her father’s stress, and it seemed odd. But, what did that have to do with her dreams? Nothing at all, Molly thought. How could the national economy have anything to do with her dreams to perform. She was gifted, that was clear. God gave her that talent, didn’t He? She worked hard to perfect her skills, and she won the honor of playing a piano concerto with the esteemed Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Nothing could stop her now.

Resulting from the national turmoil, Molly’s circumstances soon become uncontrollable. Suddenly, her ability to direct her own course seemed in jeopardy. Where was God? He gave her this gift of music. Why, God? Haven’t we all asked that question at one time or another? Read His Gift and share it with friends and family in this time of great uncertainty in our great America in 2020.

Molly does question God. She looks for answers in her storm. Read to discover how she finds her peace and purpose. When life turns upside down, we all need to know where our hope can be found. Sometimes our dreams take a shape we never imagined!

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