A Technology Fast… I’ll Call Him John

For a little over a week now, I’ve been taking what I believe is a Lenten fast from technology.

To be fair, I can still browse using technology  without much difficulty.  But, this has a bit of a one-way mirror effect for me.  I can browse out in Bloggyville and throughout cyberspace, but I’m almost forced to abstain from corresponding with it, or sharing my thoughts.   In effect, I’ve been the equivalent of “struck mute” in the technological arena. In other words…I can really only “listen” to you, and can’t really “say” much in reply.

Perhaps, not surprisingly, this fast has NOT been voluntary.

Regrettably, a family member (who shall remain nameless) spilled apple juice on our laptop over a week ago.  This resulted in keys that very inconveniently now type two letters at a time (and sometimes even perform random functions!) with the touch of only one key.  Were it not for our family Christmas gift of an iPad (or some serious patience with editing, I’d not be able to write you at all).

Ju6st so you6 know what I+’m talki=ng abou6t, I+’ll leave thi=s sentence u6nedi=ted.

See what I mean?

And for added fun, when I try to delete something, I get this:  33333

Currently, we are working on trying to figure out the best way to replace the keyboard.    Until we can figure out the most cost-effective cure for us (yes, we are even running the old keyboard through the dishwasher),  I am mostly silent in cyberspace.  I trust there is a reason for this, though I find it incredibly frustrating to have been rendered “mute” in the season of Lent.  I think of Zechariah and his being struck mute until his wife, Elizabeth, gave birth to and named their son John (the Baptist), as God directed.

Right now, I’m not sure what this forced “silence” is trying to tell me, but when I figure it out, I promise I’ll share it with you.

In the meantime, until my technological “voice” is returned to me, I ask that you head on over and visit  my good friend, Anne at Making Room for God.  She has been kind enough to share her insights and observations with all of us daily as a Lenten Reflection.  So, please go on over and visit her, and I’ll be sure to let you know when all my technical difficulties finally cease.

Until then, I promise you all that if I give birth to anything new in the days to come, I’ll share the news.

And, of course, I’ll name the newborn John.

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Little Rays of Light

Every once in a while we moms have a moment where we are caught off-guard and realize that maybe we’ve not done EVERYTHING wrong.

This morning I had one such moment.

Between bustling one kid off to the dentist and dragging another along who woke up with a fever, I felt like this was going to be one of those mornings where I just couldn’t win.  But then, after dropping the Middle One at school after his appointment, there I was with my Little Bean in the van when I noticed off in the distance, through our overcast, cloudy, sky a hole in the clouds where a bright ray of sun shone down.

“Look over there, Bean, isn’t that pretty?” I asked.

She looked up.  “Wow!,” she said, “It looks like Heaven!”

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She read my mind, I thought.

There was a pause.

And then, “I bet it’s Baxter looking down on us from Heaven,” she said with a smile.

“Hmmm.  That’s a beautiful thought,” I said, “I bet you’re right.  He probably dug a hole through the clouds to peak at us.”

She giggled.  “Hi, Baxter!  Hi, Jesus!”  she shouted from the back seat.  She was so happy and matter-of-fact about her greeting–so sure of herself and her faith–that for a moment, I wondered if she might actually see something I didn’t.

But then.

Then,  God pressed down on my heart real hard, and said, “Or maybe she just remembers everything you’ve taught her.”

Amen.

“Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” – Mark 10:14

The Post I Didn’t Think I’d Have to Write

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This is the post that, two weeks ago, I really didn’t think I’d have to write.

I really thought our miracle dog was going to somehow rise above it all and provide me with some miraculous (and hopefully funny) stories to share with you about the tremendous odds he’d overcome to stay with us.

Instead, two weeks ago today, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I had to take Baxter yet again to the vet.  He was in bad shape this time, having thrown up three times that morning between my getting up at 6:00 AM and the vet’s office opening at 8:00 AM.  I was able to get him in at 9:40 AM for another appointment, but he threw up again before we left.  He also barely moved.  He just laid on our bathroom floor, not complaining, not whining or whimpering, but looking miserable all the same.  And, most disturbing to me at that time, weird as it may sound, was the fact that he wasn’t trying to eat his vomit.  That’s when you know your dog is just not even able to be a dog.  I mean, come on, on their best days a normal dog would eat ANYONE’S vomit, not just their own!

Not wanting to alarm the kids (who were all home for the national holiday), but also wanting them to understand the severity of the situation at hand, I told them that they might want to take some time loving on Baxter and wishing him well before I took him to the vet, because I didn’t think things looked good.  They, not surprisingly, grew sad and anxious, and each of them quietly cried at the news.  “I could be wrong!”  I kept saying, perhaps more for my benefit than theirs, (because I was hoping like crazy I was).

“I want to go with you,” said the oldest.

“To the vet?”  I asked.  He nodded.  I sighed.  My real concern at that time was that Baxter’s stomach had somehow twisted in the night and he seemed to me as if he were suffering some of those symptoms.  I thought he was either going to need another surgery, or he was going to have to be put down.  I was hoping for the former, but bracing for the latter.  I wasn’t sure if the kids would really want to be there for that.  But then again, I thought, me leaving the house with their dog and coming back without him, wouldn’t exactly be a picnic for them either.  Plus, I could remain stronger if they stayed with me.

“OK,” I said.

“Me, too!”  piped in the middle one.

“And me!” said the youngest (which is a good thing, because if the other two were going, she wasn’t old enough to stay home by herself anyway, so I’m glad she was able to make the choice).

I let out a long slow, breath, praying for strength, courage and wisdom as we got ready to go.

Trying to keep the mood up, I asked Baxter in my usual peppy voice, “Wanna go for a walk?”  to which Baxter dutifully thumped his tail on the tile, but made no move to get up.  I showed him the leash.  He didn’t even stand.  I scooped him up (all 75 lbs.) and walked him down the stairs to the garage.  I noted to myself, that while I rarely carried him, he felt heavier than the few times I’d lifted him in the past.  Outside, he wouldn’t step into the van either.  Normally this was no problem whatsoever, since he was consistently of the mindset, Wherever you go, I go.  But this time he just stood there, looking helpless to step up.  I lifted him again.

He threw up a fifth time on the way to the vet.

At the vet’s office, Baxter and I had become such regulars that our arrival reminded me of when Norm walked into the bar on the old TV show, Cheers.  It was as if the whole team of workers looked up and, at the sight of the dog they couldn’t help but love, let out a warm sunshine chorus of “Hi, Baxter!,”  but I could see their faces turn to concern as they took him in this time.  They saw what I was seeing:  his eyes a bit distant and his gait a little “off.”

They ushered us into a room and when the doctor came in, he tried so hard to be positive.  He didn’t want to believe any more than the rest of us, I’m sure, that after all the hard work that had gone into “putting Humpty Dumpty back together again” he would already be falling apart.  Baxter was again laying on the floor and wouldn’t stand to greet anyone (which was just unheard of, because a person walking in the room meant a new crotch to sniff, which was the creme de la creme for Baxter).   The doctor and his staff looked Bax over asking me questions, checking his eyes, and mouth for signs of dehydration and shock, taking him temperature, etc.  Nobody knew for sure what was wrong at that point, but when the doctor pushed on Baxter’s abdomen it made a very disturbing sloshing sound.  Like he’d just poked a water bed.  And the doctor got real quiet.  “I think,” he said, “we need to do another x-ray and see what’s going on in there.”

So, the kids and I said our goodbyes to them and to Baxter, and in a last-minute flourish, I took a bottle of  holy water out of my pocket (my intuition led me to grab it before I left the house) and gave Baxter a blessing.

And I’m so glad they went with me… because that was the last time we saw him alive.

It turned out he had internal bleeding, and though they tried their best to repair and correct it, in the end he’d just lost too much blood and his heart gave out.

But, through our taking him to the vet together, I was able to assure the kids of one thing: that Baxter knew we would never leave him until we had to. And for a dog who suffered from severe separation anxiety, we all knew how much that meant to him.

As a family, we’ve spent the last two weeks grieving in our own way.  We’re making a scrapbook of Baxter and we have a paw print and a swatch of his hair to remember him by, among other things.  His cremains arrived last Wednesday, and we put them on the bottom shelf of the end table in the front office.  He spent most of his time on the floor in here at my feet anyway, so it seems fitting.

But we still struggle with the emptiness.

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The quiet.

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The space that is the *lack of* Baxter.

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But, as I continue to work through the many stages of grief (denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and– eventually–acceptance, I’ve read), I’ve held on to one thing through it all:  the outpouring of kindness, understanding, support and love from those people who know and love us and who knew and loved Baxter.

He was a DOG, I keep thinking.  Not a PERSON–like a grandparent, or parent, or  (God forbid) a child.   But still, a part of our family all the same.  And so many of you know that that means a part of my heart that I didn’t even know was there until I had a dog, is now experiencing a loss. 

And I hold tight to your words and your kindness as time marches on.  Each day is a bit better, the quiet a bit more peaceful, the emptiness a bit more bearable, all because of YOU.

  • Thanks so much to the doctors and staff who did their best to save him.  Your efforts were heroic and your love and concern for Baxter were clearly visible.  We have no regrets entrusting him to your care.
  • Thanks so much to ALL the dog lovers whom I’ve come to know through Baxter, the trainers, the behaviorists, the kennel workers, the pet store staff, and my circle of friends–old and new–who have cried with me, sent a card or enote, left me a message or lent me their ear to bend for awhile with my stories, or lent me their shoulder to cry on (or both).
  • Thanks to my family for understanding that Baxter was so much more to me than “my first dog.”  He was a childhood dream realized, he was a reflection of “my own soul with fur,” my trusted spiritual advisor, and my loving and faithful confidant–even though, from time to time, even I would refer to him as “the damn dog.”
  • Special thanks to my brother for turning one of my favorite pictures of Baxter into the beautiful and loving memorial above.
  • And, finally, thanks to Agape Pet Services for their understanding of our loss, and their loving care of Baxter’s remains.  I am perhaps most grateful for the words they found in Scripture that I have always believed to be true, but have found most comforting all the same:

“…in His hand is the soul of every living thing…”  Job 12:10

Because, now, it is only through the power of His loving hand that my soul is able to know and feel Baxter still.

Doing the Impossible

The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss, but that it is too low and we reach it.   Michelangelo

Sometimes I have to remind myself that I may be settling for less than my full potential.    When I’m feeling this way, I spend some time writing down some things that I would love to be able to say I’ve done, but that I really don’t think are within my grasp of doing before I die.

I’ve been doing this since I was in high school.  At that time, I was invited to a youth leadership conference at one of my home state’s three major universities.  I was 17 years old, and one of the motivational speakers at the conference challenged us to write 100 things that we would like to do before we died.  Today such lists have grown in popularity and have been dubbed “bucket lists,”  because they are things you’d like to do before you “kick the bucket.”  But back in 1990, this was the first time I’d heard of such a thing.  I was hooked!

I went home and made my list.

Now, crazy as it may sound, one of the things that I really wanted to do at the age of 17 was fly an airplane.  No doubt this was in large part due to  having just seen  The Navy’s astonishing and very impressive Blue Angels that summer at our local air show.  The thundering of the engines, the deafening roar of the jets, the formations and aerobatics were spectacular and made an impression on me.  So, it was a no- brainer, of course.   And we’d been told to put anything on there, no matter how crazy and ridiculous it sounded.  I had no desire, mind you to get a pilot’s license, but I also had no intention of just flying as a passenger either.  How will I ever be able to fly an airplane, with nothing more than an expectation?  I wondered.  I had a pretty good idea that  this would be one of those dreams I would probably eventually outgrow before I’d had a chance to do it, but I was willing to see what the world might offer me.

Fast forward a few months when I started dating a long-time friend (who is now my husband, I might add).  I was fascinated to learn one day that one of his 4 brothers  was a flight instructor at the time, at a nearby university.  I can’t even recall anymore how the rest of the story came to be…did my husband tell his brother I wanted to fly a plane?  Were we just bored one afternoon and decided to go flying?  The details of how we made a decision to fly around for the afternoon escape me now.   What I do remember is that we pulled into the small airfield where his brother worked and I thought my (future) husband and sister-in-law and I were all going to be passengers in the little four passenger Cessna, but as we climbed in, his brother said to me, “Did you want to be the pilot today?”

“WHAT??!?!?!  How is that even possible?” I asked, dumbfounded (and slightly giddy).

“This is an instructor plane,” he informed me. “We both have all the same instrument controls, so I can override any mistakes you might make,” he said.  “Except the brakes.  I don’t have brakes, ” he said.

Aren’t those kind of important? I thought, but I didn’t dare ask out loud.  Instead, before I could change my mind, blink, or most worrisome of all–wet myself –I was sitting in the pilot’s seat ready for takeoff.

“Clear prop!”  I bellowed out the window.  To which all three passengers on board with me laughed as there was no one around but maybe a stray cow or two.   Still…it was part of protocol on the checklist my brother-in-law had shown me .  (There was just no need to say it so LOUD, he informed me later.)  Next thing  I knew we were taxing down the runway, reading the gauges, pulling back the wheel and in the air!

Whew! We made it! Now what?  I wondered.  We circled around in the air for a half hour or so, taking in the views of the Mississippi River as it bent its way around the river town of Dubuque, Iowa.  As our air time was nearing its end, my brother-in-law radioed the tower for something called a  “touch-and-go.”  This meant, he informed me, that we would be touching down on the landing strip, accelerating, and taking off again.  As we touched down, I pulled back on the wheel, accelerated and before I knew it, we had left the ground again, all under the control my own two hands!  In case there was any doubt later in the minds of our two other passengers, my brother-in-law grinned at me and turned back to look at them with his hands in the air to indicate I had just landed and taken off in the airplane– all on my own!

Though we’d landed safely shortly after our “touch-and-go,” I didn’t come down off the proverbial “Cloud 9” for probably another week or two.  I could hardly believe that one of the FIRST things I’d been able to cross of my “bucket list” was one of the seemingly most impossible things!  This left me both thrilled and somewhat disappointed.  On the one hand, if I was able to cross this item off my list–an item that had seemed laughingly impossible–then what other seemingly impossible things might I be able to accomplish in my lifetime?  On the other hand, to have something so seemingly impossible come to fruition so easily made me wonder for a moment, did this mean I was going to die soon?  And, if so, it was disappointingly obvious that this single event, though thrilling, was hardly enough to leave me satisfied leaving this earth for an early grave.

Then I remembered something the presenter had told us when he challenged us to write the lists.  He said to never stop updating them.   So after a few days’ time, I wrote a new dream in it’s place:  Fly with the Blue Angels.

Of course, when I first wrote down these desires at the age of 17, God and His plans for me was not near as much a part of my daily life as it is now. Still, I can’t help but think now that God was sending me a very powerful message at that time, and His Spirit is reminding me of that message in the memory of it all: anything is possible. Don’t settle.

Now that I’m older, I still have the list.  I’ve realized an added benefit to it, too, as the years tick by: the more things I write down, the more I force myself to realize what I really want out of my life instead of what others may want me to do. Plus, I have the added benefit of an ongoing relationship with God now, which of course means that I now know with even greater faith and understanding that “all things are possible.” Mt 19:26

It’s been years since I wrote down that desire to fly with the Blue Angels, and it still sits untouched on my list. Now, as an almost 40-year-old mother of three with no connections to the military it seems all but impossible I’ll ever get that chance.  In fact, a few years ago, my husband worked with someone who had been a mechanic on an aircraft carrier for the F/A-18’s, (the same model as the Blue Angels)  and told him I had dreams of flying with the Blue Angels one day.  My husband then asked him what the “odds” were of me ever being able to fly with the Blue Angels.  His co-worker told him my chances were “pretty much impossible.”  My husband came home and shared this little insight with me.  “You may just want to cross that one off your list,” he said.

While I realize that he’s right–my chances really are almost impossible–the thought of taking that dream off the list makes me feel as though I’d be letting myself down.  What it stands for means so much more to me than actually getting the chance to do it.  That’s when I realized that  I hope to never stop coming up with things for my list because the more I see some of the seemingly impossible goals get reached, the more I stretch myself to go further.   I shook my head at my husband and flashed him a grin. “Nope.” I told him, “Not a chance. I’ve done impossible things before.   It’s staying on the list.”

And I can’t help but wonder if that’s exactly the kind of “impossible” thinking God was hoping to spark within me all those years ago.

I Will Always Be A Rule Breaker

Over the years,  through a process of prayer and discernment I’ve become more aware of how I judge others.  Don’t let the word discernment intimidate you.  Discernment is really a fancy name for taking notice of our choices in life, and asking for (then interpreting and following) God’s advice.  In many cases, it’s where our gift of human reason gets sprinkled with some Divine Intervention.  Through this process we learn a lot (sometimes painfully) about others and ourselves.

One painful experience I had with this process took place a few years back.  I was waiting to pick my kids up at school and saw a young mom standing with a child on her hip, waiting for her other children to be dismissed from school.  On her shoulder, I noticed a tattoo of  a giant feathered wing of some sort (I presumed part of an eagle) and some writing as well.  I couldn’t read the writing at all, but upon seeing this enormous  (and, in my opinion– obnoxious– tattoo) I did a mental eye roll and turned away at the sight of it.

Ugh.  Tattoos!  I thought , Why do people think they need these??  And what kind of mother goes around with a giant one on her shoulder, like that?

It was that second sentence that, moments later, stung me the most.

As the woman moved closer to me, I could make out the words on the tattoo.  It turned out the wings were not those of an eagle, but of an angel.  And the letters spelled the name of her dead son.  I knew his name because it was unique, and I’d noted it as I’d read about him in the newspaper only a few weeks before.  The article had been about his battle with brain cancer, and their family’s struggles as they balanced jobs,  three other children, and his illness.  It ended with his losing the battle before  he’d celebrated his second birthday.

In that moment, my own thought came back at me with a stinging slap and I realized exactly  “what kind of mother she was.”  She was “the kind of mother” who had experienced depths of sorrow and grieving beyond anything I could even imagine.  She was “the kind of mother” who had seen her infant son’s face twist and wrench into pangs of terror and shrieks of agony beyond anything humanly imaginable.  She was the “kind of mother” who had to answer the difficult questions  of why from her three other children, as they struggled with the loss of their brother, doing her best to answer when she herself couldn’t even really know.

And I wondered why I’d thought it logical and acceptable to cheapen and limit the depth of her motherhood all because of a tattoo.

In that moment of facing my horrible judgment of another, I realized I had a choice.  I could either dismiss and defend my thought by saying to myself something as ridiculous as, Well, even so, I would never get my child’s name tattooed on my shoulder!”   (I mean, while that’s probably true because as a matter of preference I still don’t like tattoos–I also don’t like  skinny jeans or crocheted toilet covers– that was hardly the point).   The point is that her tattoo, in memory and honor of her angelic son, was also a simple matter of her personal taste.  The fact that I’d tried to judge her personal taste to be a reflection of her  ability to parent, was my problem not hers.

I could only think of one thing to do.

I searched deep within my heart and asked, What would You have me do now?   And the answer came so swift and sure, I had no doubt:  pray.

So I did.

Every time I saw her.  (And, not by accident I’m sure, I saw her nearly every day).

Of course, I’d see her mostly at school pickup, but sometimes randomly around town, too.  And each and every time, no matter what kind of frenzied pace I was keeping in order to conquer my day’s activities, I would slow down, at least for a moment, and pray.  I prayed for her, for her children at home, for her spouse, for their health, and for their son in heaven.

I also prayed for me.  I prayed for forgiveness of my petty judgments (including those yet undetected), for the blessing of motherhood, for the gift of healthy children, and for the need to be reminded (often!) of the fact that despite our personal tastes, despite our harshest criticisms of others, the truth of the matter is that most of the time we’re all just doing the best we know how with the cards we’ve been dealt.

As a result, I no longer worry about “breaking” the rule that says, “Do not judge.” (Mt 7:1)  In my fallen human state, I doubt I’m any more likely to follow that law to the letter than I am of driving the speed limit.  Instead, I do the only thing I know to do:  I observe my judgments as I become aware of them, and I ask in the depths of my heart, What would You have me do now?

And what I get in return is never the finger-wagging reprimand with a harsh command to stop judging, that I feel I deserve.  No.  Instead, I most often get the simple gift of seeing how my harshest, pettiest judgments can be turned into loving actions for others (and even myself).

And that is a “breaking” of a whole other sort.

It’s judgment transformed.