Seeing God’s Smile in the New Year

“May the Lord bless you and protect you.  May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you.  May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace.”

Numbers 6:24-26 (NLT)

I still remember the first time my first-born child smiled at me.  I had worked sooooo hard for that smile.  Trying to coo and coax it out of him.  Worrying that perhaps he was missing that all-important milestone all the parenting books insisted he was fully capable of reaching by now.

And then, one day as I sat there with him on my lap gazing up at me, and me exhausting myself by making faces working so hard to get a smile out of him,  I remember I took a break and glanced up to catch whatever was on TV at the time.  When I glanced back down ready to get back to this business of making-my-son-smile, there he was gazing up at me and, just like that, a big smile broke out on his face.

What a beautiful moment, right?  Mother and infant child gazing with total love into each other’s eyes?  Well, unfortunately my reaction was much different, and doesn’t exactly get me Mother of the Year.

I screamed.

Not like, “Yay for you!  What a good boy!”  But instead– I guess because it was so unexpected– I scooped him up and held him away from me suddenly (like I would have if he had just filled his pants)… and I screamed.  (In my defense, it wasn’t a long horror-movie scream.  Just a quick, “Agh!”)  Not surprisingly, my holding him away from me and the loud noise I made were enough to completely ruin the moment.

He started crying.

Yep. Good feeling gone.

I was reminded of that moment with my son as I read today’s readings and wondered how I would feel if I were able to see God and make him smile.

At first, the thought of this inspired me.  I enjoy laughing and being with people who make me laugh and smile. I often consider it a great gift and one I like to pass on to others when I can.  But God?  To make God smile?  How much greater would that be?

And then I remembered how all that hard work I put into trying to make my son smile caught me completely off guard when he offered his first smile up to me without any work at all.  And how the shock of that made me react less like the loving mother I long to be and more like one of the Three Stooges.

And yet the lesson is still there, isn’t it?  That we don’t need to work so hard at it.  We only need to bask in it.  Turn our faces towards it.  Return the smile.

Because God does smile upon us, and he is smiling upon us, and always has.  As he created us into being.  As he brought us his only Son.  As he sacrificed himself on the cross.  As he rose from the dead.  As his poured out his Spirit that lives and moves within us today.  And though the thought of that may be a little intimidating (go ahead and scream about it…I won’t judge you!), the truth is that as hard as we try to make him smile, we will miss it unless we take the time to bask in the light of it.  To hold it up before us and give it back in turn.  To carry it in our hearts and wear it on our faces as we go about our day.

My son is now a teenager and some days I find myself working just as hard as I did those first few weeks and months of his life trying to get a smile out of him.  But then, often when I least expect it, there it is…his big, toothy grin.  And the thought of it even now makes me smile.  No less a gift today than it was sixteen years ago.

Also a gift is the ability to sit –even for only a moment– in prayer and think of God’s smile.  Him as creator.  You and me as his creation.  Being smiled upon.  Returning the smile.

As we start a new year, perhaps hopeful (or perhaps not), of what this new year holds, let us take a moment today to remember that regardless of whether or not we feel it, God IS smiling on us.  He is smiling at you.  He loved YOU into being. His love is radiating in and through us–you and me.  His peace, which my Bible footnotes (NAB translation) tell me are from the Hebrew word Shalom meaning an all-encompassing hope of happiness, good health, prosperity, friendship, and general well-being, is a free gift he offers us, if only we are willing to turn to him.

You need not work so hard for it like a first-time mom might.

Simply trust in it.  Soak it up.

And let the Spirit of it guide you.

Eucharist: A Meditation

It is a shame how often I make God so small.  He is so much greater than any word can say.  Even the word “he” is such a minimalizing pronoun, because God is not just father, but also mother, love and spirit.  Yet, this God who is so great is happy to shrink Himself to something that I can understand.  Any ounce of my love and attention He can have, He celebrates and rewards.

I see it most often in the Eucharist.  He starts as the seed that must first die in order to grow into wheat.  There, He sits, innocent and vulnerable to, trusting that drought and insects will stay at bay, and trusting the hands of the farmer to pluck Him out as food for all.  In the act of harvest, He is pulled from the soil and beaten and broken into death again, trusting in the hands of the baker, now, to use Him as flour that will rise again in the bread that feeds all.  He is in every grain of it!

He is likewise in the wine.  He is the seed that grows into the vine that becomes fruitful and multiplies, only to be plucked from its source and mashed and beaten into juice and bits.  Bleeding and broken, He is left to rot and ferment to become a source of nourishment for all.

In these ways He gives us life!  He dies.  He rises.

And He offers Himself this way not again and again, but always and forever to be consumed—devoured—by those who love Him!

He is the Perfect Father, the Perfect Mother, the Perfect Lover, the Perfect Provider…and yet.

Yet.

So often, I miss all that.  I do nothing more than get in line, march to the altar and briefly bow my head, and say “Amen” when He is put before me and declared, “The body of Christ.”  Instead, I do it hoping that I have “earned” His love for another week.  Hoping that He is the winning lottery ticket of my life.  From Him I ask so much:  life and health and wealth and luxury and fame.

But for Him?

For Him, my bowing and agreement that this little wafer of bread and this cheap dime-store wine, blessed and broken, is in fact Him?

For Him, this is enough.

Because in that simple act—despite any doubt on my behalf—He has come to rest in me through the violent act of my chewing , swallowing, and digesting His flesh and blood.

And somewhere in that simple act, is the Paschal Mystery taught by the Perfect Teacher in two lessons:

  1.  You are what you eat.
  2. He dies.  He rises.  We die.  We rise.

Amen.

Sewing a Cushion for My Pity Pot (And Other Prayers of Gratitude)

Like most of yours, my summer has been flying!

I was pretty sure that when I posted way back in May that I’d write blog posts every Monday, I could hear God laughing hysterically with other plans. Turns out I’d heard right. It’s been a whole month now since I last blogged.  And today isn’t even Monday.  So, evidently my plan went all to pot.  (Shocker, I know.)

In an effort to get you all caught up on things that have been happening with me this past month (because I’m sure you’re dying to hear), allow me to bring you up to speed you with my abbreviated list of our summer happenings:

  • 2nd week of July :  We entertained these adorable family visitors ↓↓↓↓

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  • Aren’t they sweet?  Couldn’t you just eat them up?  (I should probably mention that they brought my in-laws with them…all the way from across these great United States).  Long story short, we had all kinds of fun with everyone the entire week.   Life was SO GOOD!
  • 3rd week of July:  We sent our family visitors on their way (along with my in-laws) and almost instantly became bored with life.  It was very confusing.  One day we had three dogs and two extra people and the next day there was …just us.  I was sure we’d get over it.   I planned some things to get us back on track,  (but I think we’ve determined already  how well things work out when I make plans!)  (Did I hear laughter, again?)
  • 4th week of July :  We trudged through the mundaneness of wide-open summer days with nothing to do.  On top of it, I had NO energy.  No oomph.  Meanwhile, I watched my friends traveling on fun, exotic, and exciting vacations (I know this because I stalked casually observed them on Facebook about every 3.5 minutes).  (They were always having fun.) I, on the other hand,  was bored.  B-O-R-E-D bored.  And also tired.  And maybe a little bit disenchanted with all things fun.  And also all things God.  (Yes, I said it.)

And, as is the case when all of life becomes boring, the days and weeks get longer.  For the rarely occurring 5th week of what had become a painfully long, boring month, I STILL had nothing to say on the blog.  So, to pass the time I guess,  I took a seat up on my Pity Pot (which, to me, looks a lot like those five-gallon buckets with a lid) and started  feeling  sorry for myself.  Everyone else is having fun.  Everyone else is rich and can take exotic vacations.  Everyone else lives a better life than me. (Can I hear a “Debbie Downer” mwomp-mwomp, please?)

Trying to find inspiration, I went back to my blog to read my last post.  To my astonishment, very little had changed.  In many respects, I was still the full-of-myself older brother of the prodigal son… and I was still missing the party!  Though I tried to pray my way through it, most days the best I could do was muster a big sigh and expel the word “God.”  (Except it sometimes came out as the more blasphemous sounding “G-a-a-w-w-d,”  I’m not gonna lie.  It was kind of ugly.)

Still, I kept looking for little bits of light on any given day, even if all I could see was a glimmer.

Eventually (and by eventually I mean yesterday, or maybe the day before), I realized that this whole Pity Pot thing was getting out of control.  I wasn’t even enjoying the complaining anymore!

So, I spent some time focusing on that image of the older brother, standing outside the house (or more accurately sitting outside the house…on his Pity Pot, of course!)   I imagined the feelings  of the older brother, watching the party going on inside the house.  And realized this was very similar to watching all my friends take exotic vacations, and fill their lives with joy and laughter.  And I found some words for a question I threw at God, Why do they get to have all the fun?  (No response.)  Why can’t I go inside?  (A response this time:  You can).  I ranted on, Oh, you’d just love that wouldn’t you?  It’s bad enough watching and listening to all the fun from here, but to go inside and watch them have  fun right in front of my face?!?!  No thanks!

It was about this time that I remembered that the older brother’s being outside had been his choice from the beginning.   In the story of the Prodigal Son, the father comes outside and pleads with him.

Now I realized not only had I refused the father like the older brother had, but I was starting to blame the father for my being outside as well.

(Oh, goody.  I’m sure that story ends well.) (*Eye roll*)

I put myself back in the image and tried again.

I watched the party some more.  I finally asked a question that was not about the others and the fun they were having, but about me….Why am I so bored?

And with that question, I felt something change inside me.  It is difficult to say what exactly…A softening?  A shift in focus?  A change in perspective, perhaps?   I decided to just accept the possibility– for just a minute or two– that sitting there on my Pity Pot, watching the party going on inside was exactly where I was supposed to be. 

And I waited.

And as I did, the evening sky grew dark around me and the party lights from within glowed in bright contrast.  The moon and stars looked beautiful in comparison and the birds sang their evening song and the crickets chirped in harmony.

It was a very peaceful image.

I realized I didn’t mind the party at all now.  Instead, I felt a little sorry for everyone missing this glorious night sky!   And I realized I wasn’t bored anymore.  There was nothing mundane about what I was seeing and feeling.   I felt calm.  I felt peaceful.  I felt relaxed.

It occurred to me then that perhaps God and I had different words for the same experience.  What I called boring and mundane, God saw as an opportunity for me to rest and relax.  I had a choice in the matter:  I could fight it and complain (like I’d been doing) or,  I could take and accept his gift of rest and relaxation which—ironically–I always complain about never getting.

Something had changed me.   I was no longer the hard-hearted fool I’d been before.  I was now aware that even there on my Pity Pot, I was loved.

With a new heart, I sent up prayers for those partiers inside, happy for them that it was their time to party.  Joyful for them and grateful to God for allowing me this time to sit outside …yes, on my Pity Pot… and rest.

I laughed to myself when I wondered, could I sew a cushion for my Pity Pot ?  Maybe post it on Pinterest?  I would title it, My Summer Project , and it would be God’s and my joke to share.

I’d forgotten what a difference it makes when I ask God to share His vision for my life’s plan.  In this example, with His vision, I understood instantly that my “boring” life was really an invitation for me to rest.  I also realized a second truth about my life and God’s plan.  This second truth was about my future and some long-forgotten prayers about His using me for a greater good.

And my heart skipped a beat.

And I gripped my Pity Pot with anticipation and excitement (and some fear and trembling, too).  Because suddenly more questions come What is it that I need to be rested for?  What will God call me to do?

I called my questions out to the night sky.

Not yet, the stars and moon sing down to me.   Not yet.  Sit a while longer.

And I know they are right.  Because… while I may anticipate changes coming,  I do not know how much those changes will take of my focus, my time, my energy (my sanity?)  So…

Not yet.

Trust me.

And I do.

I sit.  And rest.  And watch.  And celebrate.  And pray.

And I thank God for this lesson.

Because if God wants me to rest for something that I cannot see coming?  Believe me, I want to be rested.

Because God’s invitation to rest?

Is also an invitation to be ready.

Using Marriage

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Eighteen years ago today, I was a young bride walking down the aisle to promise before God and everyone that I would “be true” to the man I’d fallen in love with “until death.”

Like most people, Ted and I can’t believe how the years since that day have flown.  How that day seems as though it were both a lifetime ago and only yesterday.

This got me to thinking about  what I would say to someone if they asked  what our “secret” is to staying married.  (For the record, no one has asked, but isn’t that why I blog?)

The first thought that came to mind is that I could point to two shining examples among many in our families.  This 18th year of marriage for us is bookmarked neatly between two other anniversary milestones in our families:  my parents’ 45th and his parent’s’ upcoming 50th.  Through our parents (and grandparents–Ted and I were dating at my grandparents’ 60th anniversary!), both of us have witnessed great examples of  how to struggle through the difficult times, suffer through the painful times, and celebrate the joyful times–always together.

I also always liked the answer I saw on a Dr. Phil episode once.  (Eye roll.  I know.  Dr. Phil).  Still, I thought it was a good answer.  He said a woman who’d been married 60 years was asked what her secret was, she said, “I guess we never fell out of love at the same time.”  I think there’s truth to that, too.  Even if it’s a little depressing to think about.

Most recently though, I’ve come across an answer I like best as it best fits Ted and I.  It was a story about how in the Orthodox faith there is first a civil ceremony that is celebrated in the public arena for all to see, and it’s followed by a second sacramental ceremony.

You do not have to do the second ceremony.

But in order to celebrate it, you have to make a choice to enter into it.

The article said that the second ceremony is the celebration of the choice to have that marriage, which is already a marriage, “crowned by the wisdom, glory and meaning of the cross of Christ.”

Now, as a Catholic, I could argue that because our wedding took place in a Catholic church, where marriage is taught as and considered a sacrament, that Ted and I made that choice and had the public and the sacramental marriages combined into one.  And it wouldn’t be entirely untrue.  But, if I’m really honest, the truth for me is that I wasn’t thinking about any of that back then.  I was thinking about how much I liked wearing my white dress, how neat my manicure turned out, and how fun our reception was going to be.

I wasn’t thinking about sacraments  (or even God for that matter), much at all.

But, I believe that somewhere in our eighteen years, we’ve both made the decision to enter into that second ceremony.

Through the years we have “washed each other’s feet” in service to one another.  (Not literally.  I don’t do feet.  But you get the gist).  We have celebrated the “eucharist” of marriage by taking, blessing, breaking and giving parts of ourselves to each other in ways that only two people who have trust, and faith and love for God, for each other, and for themselves can do.  And we have taken parts of ourselves that we’ve  loved and we’ve witnessed their painful “crucifixion”.  We have struggled, and suffered and let parts of us die for the betterment of the other.  For the betterment of the two of us over the one.  And while one was suffering an inner crucifixion, the other of us has stood by as witness, holding on to faith, standing by in hope, and letting go in love, trusting the process for the other, willing them on to endure the pain to witness the healing and joys of a “resurrection,” a new life, on the other side.

For me, the answer to staying married is to be willing to go “all the way.”  Now, to any 20-year-old that expression has a very shallow meaning and can be complete in a five-minute interlude on the wedding night (or in many cases before).

But, for me, our only “secret” to a lasting marriage is that each of us, in our own way, and in our own time, has made the choice to use our marriage and enter the Mystery.

Marriage as the Mystery of the Cross.

Marriage as the Mystery of Christ.

Marriage as the Mystery of Love that is God.

Marriage as a daily choice.

It may not be what you were looking for.  It may not sound romantic.

But, after 18 years, that’s the only “secret” I have to offer.

What Surrender Looks Like: Lessons From a Vole

As I sat in my basement office one day struggling to string words together for the church presentation I needed to make in only a few days’ time, I became distracted by a vole.

Do you know voles?  I tend to think of them as the ugly cousin of the field mouse.  Or, more positively, the better looking cousin of the mole.  I found a picture of one to post here for you, but to be honest, the ones we’d see in our back yard weren’t as cute as this one.

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Anyway,  the vole had fallen down into the window well of our basement office window.

The window next to the desk holding the computer where I sat trying to create my presentation, thank you very much.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw it fall into the window well.  I got up to glance at it and see if it was OK (to be honest, this was not an unusual occurrence).  I saw that the vole was fine, and I made a mental note to go outside and rescue it once my presentation was more complete.   But, to my surprise, the vole began clawing his way up the window screen trying to get to safety.

Yeah.

It was creepy and distracting all at the same time.

 Well, I thought as I tried to ignore him, because, after all –PRESENTATION!– maybe I won’t even have to save him.  But no.  He got to the top of the screen and could not scale the expanse between himself and the grass where he needed to be.

So, fall again, he did.

(Total sidebar here, but I can’t help but think of Yoda with the way I just strung those words together…can you?)

Anyhoo, my point is, this climbing and falling went on not two or three more times, but probably half a dozen or more.  And the whole time I sat there, further distracted, each time hoping he would save himself, so that I could continue with my creative process.  Finally, defeated,  the vole stopped trying.

And I thought, Great!  Now I will finally be able to GET SOMETHING DONE in the peace and quiet.

But, I couldn’t. stop. thinking. about. that. stinkin’. vole.

So, in a huff and with a sense of complete disgust, I went upstairs, grabbed a bug net, and went out to the window well and rescued the vole.  I  released it out into a part of the yard where I thought he would be much more happy–near the wood pile.  (And since he didn’t reappear in the window well, minutes later, I can only assume he was happier there.)

By the time I got all done with that whole exercise, what little sliver of a creative process that I’d had up to that point,  was now completely lost.

I sat there staring at the blinking cursor on my computer screen and had nothing to say.

As the cursor blinked away at me,  my thoughts became jumbled with the laundry list of things I needed to get done in addition to my presentation.  And I began sweating at the thought of it all.  Come on!  Come on! THINK!  I’d shout internally.  Give me the words, God!  I’d scream inside.

But my thoughts would always go back to the vole.

WHY CAN’T I STOP THINKING ABOUT THAT VOLE?!?!!? 

And then, though I’d barely realized that I’d asked a question, an answer formed in my heart with  these words, It wasn’t until he stopped trying to save himself, that you rescued him.

Hmmm.

Maybe the reason I couldn’t stop thinking about that vole, was because that experience was a lesson meant for me about trying to force the creative process, especially when I’m trying to force it for God.

Lesson learned.

I realized then and there that I can think (part of the creative process) about what I want to say while I’m doing just about anything else.  And I can write down notes (also part of the creative process) as the thoughts come to me.  And I can sit down and write more when the time is less forced (creative process again!).

And you know what?

It all worked out.

My presentation got done with time to spare.  The house and kids didn’t suffer (too much, anyway) as a result of my neglecting ALL OTHER THINGS for the sake of the presentation.

I can’t tell you how often, still, I think of that vole.  But, I definitely think of it anytime I feel that creative process being forced in me (which is often).  And it’s that vole that make me think of ways I might be able to surrender myself a little more to the circumstances of my life and trust that all will still be well in the end.

Yep.  That vole sure knew a thing or two.

Because, three years later, it hasn’t failed me yet.

My Perfect Life at 40

I’d hate to jinx things, but it looks like I’m finally growing up a bit.

I know.

And to think it only took me 40 years.

(I’m sure my mom must be very proud.)

But, as I look back at the three months since I’ve turned 40, and the changes I’ve made in my life, it seems like a logical conclusion.  I mean, I’m getting my diet and exercise under control.  I’m more organized.  I’m staying on top of the housework.  I’m making good choices with the time I have each day.   And even though things like having a daughter with a raging stomach virus slow me down for a bit, I find I’m calmer than usual in the midst of the storm.  I understand there are many things beyond my control, and I’ve learned better how to just roll with it.

In fact, prior to last week’s bout of stomach flu, I would have thought last week was going to be one of the busiest weeks of my Spring.  I’d committed to helping with several things at my children’s school (on top of the “normal” things I volunteer for), and I’d made promises to myself to stay on top of eating right and exercising,  in the midst of all of it.  When all was said and done, even the exercise had to fall by the wayside.  But I kept my eating relatively under control so that this morning, when I did my weekly weigh in, I was still pleasantly surprised.

It seems my One Word idea for this year (SIMPLIFY) combined with my Lenten promise to “give up” my excuses, seems to have moved me forward a bit.  Forward in terms of getting things done.  Forward in terms of letting go of the desire to want everything to be “perfect” and then “stay put”.  Forward in terms of trusting that when things go wrong, a solution will be made known to me for where to go from there.

In SIMPLE terms:  discipline, detachment, and trust have allowed me to move forward.  It’s easy to see now that somewhere in the endless loads of laundry, the nonstop homework paper trail and the miles of errands and activities, I’d lost hope that I would ever feel at peace with the rhythm of life.

The best image I can think of to describe what I’ve come to understand isn’t Biblical.  In fact, it’s not even “grown up.”  But it is SIMPLE.  It’s a scene from the movie Finding Nemo.   The scene where Marlin, the clown fish (who’s anything but funny), wakes up after an intense, worrisome, anxiety-ridden journey to find the EAC (East Australian Current) which he knows will lead him to his lost son.  After many mishaps and near misses, he falls unconscious to a jelly fish sting.  So used to searching for the EAC, he wakes up and quickly realizes that in his unconsciousness he’s lost valuable time to get there.  So he begins to panic and quickly asks the very laid-back surfer dude sea turtle, Crush, to point him to the EAC.

And what Crush says next, is how I’ve felt about the “perfect” life I’ve been searching for this whole time.  Most of my life I’ve searched and worried and worn myself out trying to control and think my way into a better way of living.  But, it wasn’t until I got moving (discipline) and let go of my need to control every little thing (detachment)  and believed that Someone bigger than me had the answers (trust), that I was finally able to see what Marlin saw once Crush helped him “open his eyes:”

“You’re looking for the EAC?”  asks Crush, as he laughs his surfer laugh, “You’re riding it, dude!”

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And though my realization was more of a slow unveiling, than a clear-cut statement, Crush’s words ring true all the same.

Because what is the perfect life after all?  Is it not a life full of hills and valleys?  An epic journey fraught with harrowing moments of indecision and bad choices?  But is it not also sprinkled with moments of ridiculous ecstasy like the birth of a child, or at least the birth of a great idea?

That sure sounds like a “perfect” life to me.  In fact, I find it every bit as obvious from this perspective as I did Crush’s answer to Marlin in the movie.  Suddenly, it seems so silly of me to ask, because God’s answer is so obvious:

“You’re looking for a perfect life?  You’re living it.”

Yep.

And to think it only took me 40 years to figure it out.

Overcommitted

With sincere apologies, I am sorry to be so late in typing today’s post.

This has been one of those weeks where no matter how much I get done, there’s still more to do.  You know what I’m talking about?

I have overcommitted myself with volunteer work.  And blogging promises to myself.  And exercise promises.  And lunches with friends.  And planning new events.  And chores.  And running here and there.  And motherhood.  And wifedom.  And such.

It’s been exhausting.

But I don’t want to complain because it’s also been wonderful, all at the same time.  For instance, I am working on some posts for next week already, and have successfully left Monday’s calendar slots BLANK to make sure you all don’t get ignored.

Or lost in the hustle and bustle of it all.

Or forgotten.

After all,  I know I said on Wednesday that I’d show you around here on the new blog design, but now the thrill of it is gone for me.  This is home.  I think you can find your own way just fine.  Feel free to sit back, click on things that interest you, and if you’re looking for a challenge, try to hunt out my typos and mistakes…it probably won’t take long for you to strike gold.

Speaking of gold, let me share with you a treasure I found this week.

This:  IMG_4554

It is one of those books that has changed my life.  You know what I mean?  It has in it the kind of words that veered me slightly from the course I was on, back to the course of my destiny.  It asks many great and wonderful questions.  It bravely shares many challenging and deeply thought-provoking sentiments.  It took me to the wilderness  (from which I’d just returned), and it framed it for me in a new light.

I think my favorite thought of all from it was this:  “At the core of me is God.”

Think on that for the weekend.

Or for the rest of your life.

Whichever.

You let me know what you decide.

Until Monday…

Lisa

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.

I May Be the Only One

I’m probably the only one who experiences Advent this way, so don’t feel like you need to read on today.

Because it’s probably just me.

I feel like I am the only one, at least.

The only one who, despite all my God-and-Jesus loving talk the rest of the year, finds myself year after year during Advent in a very dark place.   All the JOY of the season that I want to feel, all the LOVE and PEACE and CALM that I pray for everyone else?  I can’t find it myself.  I barely even know how.  I can’t seem to string two words together to complete a thought, let alone find LOVE and PEACE and JOY and CALM this time of year.

And every year I wish it were different.

Until the darkness envelopes me so much that I’m blind to everything.  Left straining to see.

And eventually I do, if I squint real hard, I begin to see.

Those little bits of light that shine in even the deepest darkness.

The first glimmer of light was in the sound of my son’s trumpet at his jazz band concert this week.  And in the voices of the choir at his school as they joined together in song for the season.   JOYful music is contagious.  My heart was dancing inside me as I returned home that night, content–even if only momentarily– for the first time in weeks.

There were bits of light in the very dog hair that I’d been cursing the past few months (because it’s EVERYWHERE), when I happened to look at the calendar and see that we brought our dog home for the first time–“rescued” him from eight months of not belonging anywhere –this same week last year, and how he didn’t have any hair to lose then, because the stress of having “no room at an inn” must have really gotten to him.  Now, a year later, he is every bit the beautiful and hairy Golden Retriever he was meant to be.  Suddenly I found myself weeping with LOVE for this hairy dog that somehow misunderstood the whole “rescue” thing… because in the end the one who feels rescued is me.

There were bits of light in the hustle and bustle of this whole season as I went to the post office today, dropping a bunch of packages right before the lunch hour of our tiny little post office, only to find the post office worker in no hurry to break for his lunch, but instead taking his time to care for my packages and make sure I had everything I needed.  Did I want insurance?  Did I want  priority service?  Which Christmas stamps did I want?  Suddenly I felt his CALM and I wondered why in the world I’m running around like a lunatic when this time of year his job must be pretty stressful.  If he could take it in stride, then I might be able to, also.

And then, a hint that maybe I was finally beginning to understand.  It may have been a “sign” if that’s how you like to say it…there were even bits of light in the black sky last night as I walked with my dog.  Even though it was still early evening,  it felt like bedtime the sky was so black.  Until I noticed the shimmering stars in the crisp night air.  And suddenly, I thought of the Wise Men, and how they trusted those little bits of light to lead them to their King.

And I realized that maybe the way I have been experiencing Advent once again this year isn’t really all that “wrong.”

Would I like to be more organized?  More giving?  More cheerful?  More loving?

You bet I would.

But it’s quite possible that if I were so busy being all those things, I’d miss the Truth of where the Light comes from.

Suddenly, I realized the only thing really “required” of me this season is to trust in the darkness, and cherish the bits of light I see.

And it’s only in realizing this, that I am just now–finally– able to usher in a sense of PEACE.

A JOYful “To Do” List

It’s been a looong time coming, but I finally did it.

I took the day off.

As a housewife, some people may think that that’s all I ever do– have “days off.”  And that’s fine for them to think, but I know it’s not my reality.  Before I became a housewife, I may have even thought that myself.  Instead, what’s been my reality in my 12 1/2 years as a housewife, is that since my “work” is my life and my life is my “work,” when I’m doing nothing, I feel guilty (even all weekend long), and when I’m doing something, I can only think about all the other things I still need to do.   Sure, I’ve spent many days getting nothing done.  And I’ve had many “off” days where things just didn’t go right.  What I’ve never done, ever before, is picked a day that would otherwise be a “work day” and just taken the day off.  You know what that requires?  It requires permission from yourself.  And that can be a challenge.  Especially when the laundry is mounting, the Christmas shopping has only a dent in it, and (in my case this year) there is a trip to plan.

Today, I decided it didn’t matter.  In fact, I kind of had to decide it, or very quickly I think LIFE would have decided it for me, by making me sick.  You see,  I was already feeling run-down, stressed out, ragged, exhausted, and overwhelmed.

All last week, I didn’t post here on my blog one time (you may have noticed), because I had the worst writer’s block I’ve ever had.  And THAT was stressing me out, too.

So last night, I went to bed with the intention that after a good night’s sleep, I would wake up revitalized today and start knocking things of my very long and very demanding “To Do” list.

But guess what?  I didn’t get a good night’s sleep.  I had a terrible night’s sleep.

I woke up at 2:30 in the morning and NEVER got back to sleep.  I could have slept in, but I had so much “To Do”, that I didn’t think sleeping in was possible.  So, at 6:30 AM, I did what I always do and spent some time reading Scripture and meditating.  At 7:30 AM, once I got the first child off to school, I decided to do what I normally do, and I did a quick workout.  I knew if I was going to have any energy today, it would only come from taking care of myself.  Then I got myself showered and ready, got the other kids off to school and walked the dog.  After that, I normally start the “To Do” list of the day and I don’t stop again until the kids get back home, which usually involves more stuff “To Do,” just with others involved.

Not today.  Today, I decided when I got home from walking the dog, that everything I’d done up until then was really all I could “Do” on so little sleep.  So I gave myself permission to sit, watch TV (very life-affirming TV, I might add, as I had DVR’d “Super Soul Sunday” on OWN, The Oprah Winfrey Network, yesterday) and I sat down and watched hours…literally hours…of uplifting stories of faith, spirituality and healing.

Then I wrote in my journal for a bit, did a little more meditation, and took a nap.

I woke up just in time for my kids to get home from school.  And you know what?  Aside from their homework, I’m going to give them a day off, too.  No chores for anybody tonight.  No need to race and rush and struggle to “get it all done” for tomorrow.  No harping and nagging to put this away, do this, do that.

I spent all last week desperately hoping and praying to channel some brilliant message from God (as if I can control that), to share with you this week, and it just didn’t happen.

So I knew something had to change.

What changed was that, after a “day off,”  I realized I needed to actively put into practice  the message and lesson I’ve been learning (and re-learning) all year:  love yourself.

And you know what?  About the time the kids got home from school, I realized that in taking a day off, I’d succeeded in completing the very form of “loving myself” that was needed.  It felt good!

So good, in fact, that I feel I am better equipped now to handle all that this season demands of us…both the” inner” work required of the religious season of Advent, and the “outer” work of the secular world and all it’s hustle and bustle.  I feel more clear of mind and more loving of heart than I have since the first signs of Christmas appeared in the stores before Halloween.  For the first time in awhile, in fact, I feel like I’m in the rightful spot of giving from love and  receiving love as it comes my way.

And that’s when I realized that God’s message doesn’t change for this season.  We change.  We look inward.  We wait and watch.  But the message is as old as time:  love Jesus, Others, Yourself.  Do this and you will know JOY for this– and every– season.

It’s a simple message, but I sure do try to make it complicated.

Not today, though.

Today, after giving myself permission to do nothing else,  it was the only thing left that was still acceptable “To Do.”