Here’s how Fred is making me more like Jesus

In college I was in a gospel choir called OneVoice. (Brian Johnson from this past season of The Voice was also in that choir which means I’ve sang with someone who’s sung for Adam Lavine.) OneVoice was a no-tryouts, no-sheet-music choir that met twice a week to practice and performed in local churches and our university’s chapel services. There was also a yes-tryouts OneVoice ensemble that I was not a part of (Brian Johnson sure was) that sang around the world. I loved OneVoice because it was fun and because I have a great voice for singing in choirs (meaning I can match a note but I’m no Brian Johnson). I also loved OneVoice because of the sheer talent that was present in every practice and performance. Our choir director would teach us our parts (soprano to bass) by singing them. He would teach the pianist the parts by sitting down, playing a few chords (do pianos have chords? I don’t know music) and then letting the musical genius pianist take over. I could go on, but the whole point of this intro is to say that before every practice our choir director, Justin Spann, would pray. And every time he would pray he would end with, “Jesus, if there is anything in us that is not like you, we pray that you would remove it.”

Tonight I noticed a big thing in me that is not like Jesus, and I’m praying that He would remove it.

Yesterday I saw my puppy Fred for the first time in over a month! He was here in San Pedro staying with a wonderful new friend while I was in the States getting my visa and traveling the Mid-States. She took great care of him. He has grown so much! Since I had only had him for a little less than two months when I left him with Nicol and he had been with her for a little over a month, I honestly wasn’t expecting that big of a reunion. I thought in his eyes Nicol and I were probably pretty equal in terms of his affection. I was definitely excited to see him, but not getting my hopes up for anything crazy.f

Man was he excited to see me! He was crying and jumping and weaving through my legs and it was precious. Then I got him home (with help from my friends the Justices who have a car and some of the biggest servants’ hearts I’ve known) and the dog would not leave me alone. He was my shadow. If I was sitting on the couch, he was sitting on me on the couch. If I was in the bathroom, he was standing in the doorway waiting for me to finish. If I was in the kitchen, he was barking at me to share my food. And he was so excited to see me that he just kept biting me. Which sounds contradictory, except it’s not if you’re a 4 month old puppy. He just wanted to play and was so excited and would not keep his mouth off of me.

Well I wasn’t working on a ton of sleep and I was still feeling emotional about leaving the States and arriving here and about life in general and so I spent a fair amount of time crying because Fred just would not stop biting me! (I was crying about the other stuff too, but you know.) I was frustrated that I couldn’t get him to stop. I was in pain because his puppy teeth hurt. I was scared that he was going to be a biter for life and I would never be able to control him and people weren’t going to want to hang out with us. I was feeling guilty for asking Nicol to put up with this for the past month. And I was also very slightly aware that all of this extra excited biting was due to the excitement of the reunion and probably not totally indicative of his past or future behavior.

*Side bar. Another thing, apart from the big not-like-Jesus thing I’m about to talk about, that Fred has revealed in me is an over-exaggerated anxiety. Pre-puppy I would never have used words like “anxious” or “worrier” to describe me. I am a Positive Patty. A looker-on-the-bright-sider. But for some reason when it comes to Fred I just come up with these crazy disaster scenarios in my head of all the ways he could die. Or all the ways he could be a horribly behaved dog that I can’t control forcing me to get rid of him. It’s rough inside my head these days.

Okay so today was much better. I think I only cried once and it was because I was reading Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingslover (MAN that lady has a way with words!) and there was a couple in it and I just cried because I wanted a husband. Like I said, it’s rough over here in Suzanne-land these days. Fred was still clingy, but noticeably less so, and really starting to get the hang of which things it’s okay for him to bite. He also only peed inside the house once (!!!!) and is mastering the art of “sit.” So we were having a pretty nice day until a few minutes ago I was reading and he jumped up on the couch. So I grabbed his toy (“good toy, Fred, bite this”) and we played for a bit. I was really impressed that he tried to bite my book but not my hand and things were going pretty well. Until he stopped caring about the toy and I had put down my book and he bit my arm HARD. And in my gut, deep inside me, I wanted to hit him. That was my first though.

But I didn’t hit him. I stood up and did some kind of “Errrrggg!” and threw his toy down on the ground. Hard.

Then I cried again. Because anger is ugly. And sad.

Then I did some yoga stretches. The kind where you close your eyes and bend your knees and interlace your finger tips and step back so you don’t hit your hands on the ceiling fan and then you breathe in and lift your hands way up over your head and then you breathe out and let your fingers fall down to do it again. I cried and I stretched and through my mind flashed years of gritted teeth and throwing things and resisting the urge to hit people (mostly children, unfortunately) in anger. I thought about the past year and how once (or twice) in my classroom I threw a notebook on the ground in anger.

“Jesus, if there is anything in us that is not like you, we pray that you would remove it.” 

I am not okay with this. I am not okay with throwing things being an automatic reaction to things not going my way or to being frustrated. Crying is okay, not ideal, but okay. But gritting my teeth? Fighting the urge to hit someone/some dog? That is not okay.

In December I chose my word for 2015Soften. My thought back then was that I wanted to stop yelling in the classroom. I wanted to think more carefully about my words before speaking them. Now, a little over half way through the year, I’m adding another focus. I don’t want to lash out at the people (and animals) I love the most in anger. Praise the Lord I am not yet a mother. Prayer and deep breaths. These are my tools.

Today I replied to a comment on JS Park’s blog. The comment-writer was asking, essentially, if Jesus would be okay with her getting botox. Pastor Park hadn’t responded yet and I felt the Spirit move so I typed something up. I told her how once upon a time I was asking if Jesus would be okay with me getting tattoos. I told her how now I tell people quite boldly that Jesus doesn’t really care about my tattoos. He cares about my heart. I told her that the question she should be asking is will this THING (botox, tattoos, boyfriend, a new job) make me more like Jesus? If the answer is no, the thing isn’t worth doing or having. Everything we do should be moving us toward the cross, toward completion, further along in the process of redemption and sanctification.

Obviously we fall short. I fell short a half an hour ago when I threw Fred’s new toy (named Argus after Argus Filch, obviously) on the ground in frustration. That did not make me more like Jesus. But I am committed to seeking out the things that do. I also believe that God, in His wisdom and crazy love, doesn’t show us all our brokenness at one time. Many years ago he started the long, hard work of getting my heart back in creation-order. We work on things one or two at a time.

There’s a scene in Will & Grace that I’m not sure is worth describing that just popped into my head. Karen is struggling with her feelings (about her stepdaughter maybe, but I don’t remember) and Will is trying to talk her through it. Karen isn’t really known for feelings (at least not feelings that aren’t disgust or condescension) and she is explaining to Will her fear that if she starts feeling one thing, that if she succumbs to that one feeling, all the feelings will start spilling out. They talk about the brick wall that is surrounding her emotions. Will suggests she take down just one brick and allow herself to feel that one. She pantomimes taking a brick out of a wall in front of her and immediately screams and hastily puts it back.

Well, I am Karen and God is Will and I’m sure comparing God to a gay fictional character will rub some people the wrong way but the comparison is helping me (understand what it means to) be more like Jesus so I think it’s okay. God says, “Let’s just deal with this one thing at a time.” So today He had me pull out the anger brick and much like Karen, I screamed (on the inside, though), and I almost put it right back. But then I did the breathing and stretching that Yoga with Adriene taught me and I realized that this brick that came from the wall of my life does not look like Jesus and that is not okay. So it’s going to have to stay down out of the wall until it does. Which means I’ve got some softening ahead. And probably a lot of apologizing. But the first step on the road to recovery is acceptance or admittance or something. So here it is. I have a problem with anger. I react harshly and sometimes violently when angry or frustrated and I’m not okay with that.

“Jesus, if there is anything in us that is not like you, we pray that you would remove it.” 

I’m armed with prayer and Scripture and calming yoga poses and the insanely comforting promise that God has not left me alone and the other awesome promise that God will never give up on me. Bless the Lord I am also armed with friends who love me even though I’m a mess and students who are so forgiving. I carry on toward the cross, in my process of redemption and sanctification. My brick of anger becomes my cross to bear, but I do not bear it alone or in futility.

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