Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Finding God in the Sanctuary

Paws Animal Wildlife Sanctuary in Waterloo, SC rescues, rehabilitates, and releases orphaned or injured wildlife. This sanctuary is a place where native animals and birds in distress can be brought to receive the loving, wise care they need.

In Psalm 63, David is looking for sanctuary—not for wildlife, but for himself. Feeling like he is traversing a spiritual desert, David seeks not physical healing and renewal, but spiritual care.

O God, you are my God,
and I long for you.
My whole being desires you;
Like a dry, worn-out, and waterless land,
my soul is thirsty for you.
Let me see you in the sanctuary;
Let me see how mighty and glorious you are.
Psalm 63:1-2

As I read this scripture, I wondered, when David uses the word “sanctuary”, to what or where is he referring? Does he mean the part of the church/temple building where worship is conducted on the Sabbath? Or, since David spent years running from enemies at home and abroad, does he mean a place of refuge and safety, where he is protected and can recoup, rather like Paws Animal Wildlife Sanctuary? Could David simply be referring to quiet moments when he shuts out the world and draws close to the mighty, loving God who has carried him through so often in the past?

Over time, I have discovered a variety of faith-renewing sanctuaries—not all of which can be found with a GPS. Early Wednesday mornings, a small group from our church meets for 30 minutes of guided prayer and reflection before work. It is the spiritual highlight of my week. That honest and open time together, sharing concerns, questions, and God moments from the past week, acts as a sanctuary where I am refreshed and renewed in my spiritual perspective and strengthened in my relationship with Jesus.

Another “place” of sanctuary for me is in the quiet moments of the day, before my interaction with the world begins. I look forward eagerly to the hour between 5AM and 6AM. There is a hush inside and outside our home. It is a holy, intimate time—shared just with Jesus. As the new day dawns, and nature and humanity awaken, I am readied to face the day.

Our church sanctuary, where we gather every Sunday for worship, is a time and space set aside for shutting out the pull and push of the world to focus on our holy and powerful God. For me, the occasions when I feel rescued, rehabilitated, and released by what happens in church is when others share their “But God. . .” moments during praise time.

Like David, we all need to "see God in the sanctuary"—wherever that sanctuary might be. Where do you find spiritual sanctuary?

Be encouraged!

©2018 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Lessons from Children

photo by Bill

“Uh-oh. There’s a group of school kids headed our way,” I whispered to my husband Dick as we stood watching the otters at the Brookgreen Gardens zoo. “These critters will hide for sure.”

We savored our last few minutes of quietly watching the otters lazily swimming in the stream  and lounging on the bank. Both seemed completely oblivious to our presence.

We were soon surrounded by about 20 children under age seven, all clamoring to get to as close to the wooden rail as possible. They loudly exclaimed in wonder when they spotted the slick furred animals.

Imagine our surprise when the otters, rather than retreating to their hidden den, started performing! They swam as close to the kids as possible, diving and leaping with abandon. And each time they surfaced, they checked to make sure the children were still watching!

Dick and I just looked at each other in wonder. The otters certainly didn’t react the way we expected. They loved the children!

Later, we meandered down a path indicating barnyard animals ahead. Although it was nearly one o’clock in the afternoon, we could hear the rooster in the chicken enclosure crowing.

“That rooster’s timing is a bit off,” I said with a chuckle. As we got closer we heard several little boys trying their best to imitate the “Cock-a-doodle-do”. The rooster loved it! He was answering the children! Again, it was not the reaction to the children that Dick and I expected.
Dominique Rooster

Later, as we talked about our zoo visit, Dick said, “You know, it reminded me of when the people brought children to Jesus. The disciples thought He wouldn’t want to be bothered and rebuked the ones who brought them. They were surprised when, instead, Jesus welcomed the kids and said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them! For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’” (Matthew 19:13)

Adults often see children as the ones who need teaching, but Jesus saw them as teachers and examples. In Matthew 18, we read how Jesus called a little child to stand among the people and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself, like this little child, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. . . “

Matthew 21 tells us, “The chief priests and scribes were indignant when they saw the wonders [Jesus] did and the children shouting in the temple courts, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’

‘Do you hear what these children are saying?’ they asked.

‘Yes!’ Jesus answered, ‘Have you never read the Scripture (Psalm 8:2) that says from the mouths of children and infants You have ordained praise?’”

I admit, there have been times, especially when my children were still at home, when I have dreaded a child’s presence (that of my own children or the children of others), ignored his/her behavior, failed to consider what they were thinking, or dismissed what they said. According to Jesus, by doing so, I have most likely missed out on valuable spiritual and life lessons from God.

Our experience at the Brookgreen Garden Zoo taught me I should express my always appreciation. The children’s exuberant enthusiasm for what they saw actually pleased the animals and prompted them to perform even more. Wouldn’t we get the same reaction from people if we let them know we noticed they did a good job?

What has God taught you through a child?

Be encouraged!

©2018 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

My Dear Watson

We are on vacation this week. Dick and I are looking forward to the time to relax and re-charge before our upcoming move. I will miss our cat Watson though. He is never too far away from me, whether I am folding laundry, sleeping, or even running the vacuum (yes, he likes to have the vacuum run on him!) I want to share a story with you about Watson, that was published in I Love Cats magazine, along with Watson’s picture on the cover. He is one very special cat.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Williams. The biopsy shows cancer,” the surgeon said. “You have a couple of treatment options, but we want to get started right away as this is an aggressive form of cancer.

Stunned, I suddenly found myself scheduled for surgery in ten days, followed by an appointment with an oncologist to discuss chemotherapy. My husband Dick and I held hands and walked to the car in silence.

We took things a day at a time. God’s people prayed, and October 13th I happily completed treatment and began regaining my strength.

During the four months that I underwent chemotherapy, our cat Baxter exhibited more and more episodes with his heart. We had known for several years that he had a heart murmur, but his symptoms were increasing significantly. Selfishly, I prayed I wouldn’t lose him during that time. I didn’t think I could stand the heart-break.

Three weeks after my last chemotherapy treatment, Baxter passed away in his sleep. It was as if he were holding on just for me, and now could finally let go.

I wasn’t sure I wanted another cat—or any other pet for that matter. Loving and losing wrenched my heart. Yet, our house seemed so empty and quiet with no one to greet us when we came home or to snuggle with us on the couch.

I started looking online at the local rescues. Dick wanted a young cat that we could train to walk on a leash and to ride in the car without getting stressed.

During a trip to our nearby SPCA, while Dick checked out the kittens, I visited with the adult cats. A volunteer was walking around with a cat in her arms. He was huge, had medium length hair, and was a total love bug wrapped in luxuriously soft fur. Trouble was, he was no kitten; he was eight years old. According to the shelter’s intake report, he had been a stray for five years.

I asked to hold him and walked around the room carrying him. He gazed at me with the most, soulful, wise eyes I had ever seen. And his purr rivaled the vibration of a passing freight train.

Watson was everything I needed in a cat at that moment—an armful of comforting love who welcomed my kisses with a contented squeeze of his big, beautiful sea-green eyes and a gentle pat on my chin from his huge paw. An old softy, Dick set aside his kitten-dream and consented to take the older cat home with us.

I have never fallen so hard and fast in love with a pet. Watson fit into our household immediately—it was like he had been ours since his birth! He brought us much laughter with his obsession with running water, his ability to contort his body into the most uncomfortable-looking positions and fall asleep, and the way he loved to lay on his back directly under the ceiling fan, front paws reaching back over his head, his back legs stretched out straight. I couldn’t resist rubbing his downy belly.

Immediately, Watson became a champion lap cat and constant companion, wanting to be with me wherever that might be—making the bed, cooking supper, or working at my computer. We took picture after picture of him—riding in the car, “helping” me bead bracelets, sitting on the warm clothes in the dryer—and posted them on Facebook. Our friends and family loved keeping up with the antics of our new cat.

Within a week we scheduled a routine vet check. We informed the vet tech that Watson’s breath was very stinky and he had an odd habit of grinding his teeth. I figured he needed his teeth cleaned, just like my last two cats did when they reached his age.

I was stunned when the vet said, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Williams. Watson has a growth under his tongue that appears to be a squamous cell carcinoma. This type of cancer is treatment resistant and surgery isn’t always an option.”

Feeling like a boxer had delivered us a one-two punch, Dick and I left the office with an appointment to bring Watson back in a few days to be sedated in order to get a better view of the growth.

An hour after we delivered Watson to the veterinary hospital, I received a phone call from the vet. “Pam, I think while we have Watson sedated we should remove the tumor. I am fairly certain I can get good margins around the growth. There is a very good chance this will prolong his life. Please consider it. I can’t not try.”

I immediately gave the vet the go ahead. Eight hours later, we picked Watson up and brought him home. In four days he was eating his regular dry cat food and playing with abandon! No one would even know he had surgery!

Over two years later, Watson continues to both entertain and love on us—a perfect combination. We may have walked into the shelter with our own ideas of what cat we wanted, but I feel God knew which one we needed—and which one needed us. Watson and I have bonded, perhaps in part, because we have defeated a common enemy—cancer.

Pam Williams

©2018 Pamela D. Williams

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Peace and Forgiveness

Merli Sarnosky Park, PA
Photo by Pam Williams

Merriam-Webster defines Peace as:
  1. a state of tranquility or quiet, as in freedom from civil disturbance
  2. freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions
  3. harmony in personal relations
  4. a state or period of mutual concord between governments
  5. a pact or agreement to end hostilities between those who have been at war or enmity
Everyone longs for peace, no matter which of Merriam-Webster’s five definitions we choose. Though we wish for them all, in actuality, peace, on many levels, seems quite illusive.

I recently read excerpts from Go in Peace, by Saint John Paul II. He shares keen insight into finding peace: “Real peace rests on mutual acceptance and a capacity to forgive from the heart. We all need to be forgiven by others, so we must all be ready to forgive. Asking and granting forgiveness is sometimes the only way out of situations marked by age-old and violent hatred.”

I don’t think I made the correlation between peace and forgiveness before reading those words, and yet, it makes perfect sense. Peace and forgiveness are inseparable partners.

Asking forgiveness requires that we be truthful with ourselves and others. Asking forgiveness demands humbly acknowledging our own failures and shortcomings. Neither of these is easy; but both are necessary for inner peace, as well as peace with others.

“If a brother or sister has something against you, go and be reconciled to them.”
(Matthew 5:23-24).

Granting forgiveness is just as hard. To rise above past hurts and injustices, calls for strength only God can give. However, by being truthful with ourselves, we realize we aren’t perfect either, enabling us to extend forgiveness and receive peace.

“Be kind to each other, sympathetic,
forgiving each other as God has forgiven you through Christ.”
Ephesians 4:32

Peace with others begins with forgiveness. Most importantly, forgiving others begins with our own forgiveness from God. If we want peace in our hearts, we need God’s forgiveness for the wrongs we have committed. Thankfully, God offers us that forgiveness freely and simply when we trust in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. All we need to do is ask Him (for more information); He will forgive us—and we will have peace with God—the greatest peace of all.

“Now that we have been put right with God through faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Romans 5:1

Be encouraged!

©2018 Pamela D. Williams