My Therapist Has Fleas

My therapist has fleas!

Well…she doesn’t now, but she did for awhile. I think there’s a lesson in there somewhere. Don’t we all feel like that sometimes? Like something small and pesky is nibbling at us. At least…that’s how I felt…like tiny, little, barely-seen pests were nipping and biting and annoying me. Not physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Have you ever tried to get rid of pesky little fleas? img_2066It takes dedicated work…an investment of time, energy, and multiple resources. I suppose it’s just a complication of living in a flea-ridden world.

Although I know it’s just a season…it has been a long, difficult season. I saw a funny quote recently:

This too will pass. It may pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass.

That’s pretty funny…unless it’s your kidney stone!

I’ve walked through an unusually trying season with friends, family, patients, and even personally. Several months of struggle, frustration, loss, sickness, heavy burdens, and life-change made me feel like I needed assistance outside myself and my own thought and prayer life.

I didn’t actually go see a real therapist but I did find a pretty accurate definition of therapist:  a licensed mental health professional who helps clients improveimg_2080 their lives, develop better cognitive and emotional skills, reduce symptoms of mental illness and cope with various challenges. Hmmm…my new therapist isn’t actually licensed but she has had all her shots. 🙂

I didn’t really get a puppy as a form of therapy. She just sort of fell into that role: friend, support, encourager, motivator, snuggler, and confidante. So what actually makes a good therapist? Well…

My therapist always meets me at the door. I guess that means she is happy to see me! Don’t we all need that warm welcoming smile and excitement? That pure, unbridled joy of someone running to meet you, embrace you, and love you unconditionally.  It has definitely improved my outlook,  life, and emotions!

img_2060My therapist has big ears. I guess that means she is a great listener. She never judges or minimizes anything I say. She holds everything in the strictest and most reassuring confidence. She doesn’t gossip, murmur, or complain. She has never said anything negative or demeaning to me but I still sense truth in her eyes and attitudes.

My therapist sometimes pees on the floor. Well…nobody’s perfect. And when ya gotta go… She is teaching me patience, awareness, and how to really watch where I’m stepping.

She sometimes chews my shoes. Again…nobody’s perfect. More lessons on patience and accepting others’ flaws and imperfections. Other lessons: it’s only money and material possessions, live a little, take a big bite of what tastes good, find happiness in the small things, be humble, and stay near your Master’s feet.

My therapist sleeps with me. Ha! I considered making that the title of this post but decided against trying to suggest or sensationalize the inappropriate. 😉  She calms me and exemplifies peace and rest in the quiet stillness of her closeness and comfort. Or sometimes she wakes me up to play at 3 a.m. She has taught me both the importance of rest and the flexibility of being available when needed. And snuggling in close to those you love. 🙂

My therapist wears a Santa Claus Suit. Really. She does.img_2059 Just to have fun and celebrate the season…and to remind me that life is a gift. Companionship is a gift. Beauty and fun are gifts. Other lessons: be bold, wear red, let your hair (or ears) down occasionally, and be confident because even lanky and awkward can be beautiful when they’re worn well.

img_2058She meets me where I am. No expectations, no pretense. Just unconditional love, acceptance, and forgiveness. Other lessons: scrunch in close, be attentive, maintain eye contact, be seen and heard.

She assures me that we all img_2088need a helping hand from time to time. Don’t be stubborn, prideful, and self-sufficient. Allow others the opportunity and blessing to support and care for you too.

She models being present for your friends. It’s actually a ministry: the ministry of giving time and presence. She may img_2093not have the “right” words to say or the solution to the problem, but there is comfort in the warmth and closeness of someone who knows, cares, accepts, and loves. The old song was right on: “Lean on me, when you’re not strong; and I’ll be your friend. I’ll help you carry on.”

She lets me know that it’s img_2090okay to enjoy a drink with a friend. Live it up, loosen your inhibitions, get your face dirty, laugh, and indulge. Responsibly, of course.

img_2089She shows me that a hug is always a good choice. People don’t always need your knowledge, your advice, your money. But most people want and need your touch. Hand to hand, shoulder to shoulder, cheek to cheek, heart to heart.

In no way am I telling anyone to get a puppy or not to see a therapist. There is wisdom, support, and tremendous healing in time spent with a caring, wise, invested counselor. But for now, my therapist has blue eyes, knobby knees, four paws, a wagging tail, and puppy breath. And she is bringing comfort and healing to a world ridden with pesky little fleas.

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.  Prov 11:14

 

 

 

On Guilt and Grace…

I’m not a theologian and this isn’t exactly a deep theological post. I am merely a bearer of guilt and a recipient of grace more often times than I can recount. And I’m a firm believer that God uses simple, tangible things to teach our simple minds.


guilt
/ɡilt/
noun
verb
grace
/ɡrās/
noun
2. the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.
verb

A couple of months ago I wrote a post about the hard decision my family had to make about choosing life or death for our old dog. While ultimately everyone said it was the merciful decision, it still caused me to wrestle with guilt and all the “buts and what-ifs.” Was I betraying my dog? Was I being irresponsible or taking the “easy way out”? Was she really ready to go, as many people suggested?

Guilt is heavy. It makes you question, judge, and condemn thoughts, motives, and actions. Sometimes guilt is appropriate and helpful to convict, correct, and even clarify beliefs, patterns, and purposes. It can be saving and transformative…providing you use it as a stepping stone to get safely to the other side of the raging sea and not a millstone tied around your neck, dragging you down to drown with it.

But grace. If you believe there’s a God and He is really concerned and deeply involved in people’s lives, you see things differently. Not perfectly, not always 20/20, but differently.

Now to the totally non-theological part. Two days after the difficult decision, I received a text from a friend who knew I had struggled with the loss of my dog.img_1822 Good news! A friend of a friend had six week old puppies she needed homes for. Free puppies! I would like to say I wrestled with the decision. I prayed about it. I sought all the veterinary or psychiatric advice about trying to fill old paw prints too soon. But I didn’t. With a resounding “yes!”, we committed to a little bundle of puppy joy. We contacted the owner and she confirmed she had a little black and white, blue-eyed puppy she would save for us until I returned from a trip the following week.

img_1821While on the trip I wrestled again. Was it too soon? We hadn’t even seen or met this puppy. What if the owner gave her away before next week? It’s so easy to rehearse unnecessary worries and fears. And this was just a puppy! How often and easily can we get consumed by day to day whys and what ifs! Was it coincidence or a God-inspired reassurance that everything was going to be okay when I found a little token of reassurance in gift shop 200 miles away from home?

Welcome, Maggie Grace…img_1823

My daughter calls it “Jesus-juking” when someone overspiritualizes or credits everything to divine intervention. Let me Jesus-juke for a moment:

  • My friend’s nephew’s friend (complicated) had puppies available at just the right time. Free!
  • We were first told they were all taken (tragedy) but someone wasn’t fully committed and backed out.
  • I went in a store in Gatlinburg to find a small garden flag and found one with the close likeness of the pup’s pic on it. (In the colors and flag theme we were wanting!) It even said “Welcome” on it.  🙂
  • While we were waiting to meet the pup, we visited an old antique store that had an old red truck like the one on the flag.
  • She was even more beautiful and cuddly in img_1824person than in the pic.
  • She snuggled in and fit perfectly in our home and hearts right away.
  • She gets along great with the cat and all the other dogs that come and go.

So ultimately…it’s just a puppy. But healing and happiness can be found in small gifts of the ordinary and everyday sights, sounds, and presences in your life. It’s grace.

There’s a song I really like by Matthew West, “Grace Wins”

There’s a war between guilt and grace
And they’re fighting for a sacred space
But I’m living proof
Grace wins every time
No more lying down in death’s defeat
Now I’m rising up in victory
Singing, hallelujah
Grace wins every time

Words can’t describe the way it feels
When mercy floods a thirsty soul
The broke inside begins to heal
And grace returns what guilty stole

And in the shadow of that shame
Beat down by all the blame
I hear You call my name saying it’s not over
And my heart starts to beat so loud now
Drowning out the doubt
I’m down, but I’m not out

Maybe that seems like a stretch when I’m just talking about a puppy. But it’s really all grace. All a gift. All unearned.

img_1839
My friend, Sharon, who found Maggie for me.

Today is Maggie’s birthday. She is three months old. Since we brought her home, she has been lavished with love and attention. She has been taken for walks on the Greenway. to PetSmart, to Petco, to Dunkin, to Sonic. She has received treats and toys, beds and blankets, snacks and snuggles. What has she done to deserve it? Nothing. We love and accept her…chewed blankets, house accidents and all.

img_1840
She brought new life and hope to my son.

Loving a puppy isn’t difficult. Training, disciplining, watching, protecting, going outside in the rain and early morning hours… Well, it’s grace. We all stumble, mess up, and need a little extra care now and then.

She is growing so fast…not as fluffy; long, lanky legs, a little awkward… She’s still growing and learning to trust and to become her real self. But aren’t we all: awkward, changing, imperfect. But hopefully we can rest in the knowledge that we are loved, we are learning, and we are growing in grace. Happy birthday, Maggie Grace.  🙂

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,  because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.  And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.  Phil 1:2-3

 

 

Dogs, Days, and Decisions…

I’m a terrible decision maker. Not that I make bad decisions, I just have a hard time deciding what to do. Something as simple as where to eat after church on Sunday, what color to paint a room, or where to go on vacation can send me into a dizzying tailspin of confusion and indecision. So for someone who has trouble deciding on tacos or pizza, beige or gray, the beach or Boston, what do you do when faced with a decision of life or death?

I made a very good decision about fifteen years ago.

img_7161Sitting at a computer screen perusing an animal rescue site, I saw her. Little bitty ears, bright eyes, and a playful face…I knew we had to have her. So we packed up the family van with a little clothes basket and blanket in the back and drove to the Franklin County Animal Shelter in Belvedere, Tennessee. There in the front office we met the little black and white pup we had seen on the screen. They had affectionately named her Bonnie and she was the unofficial office pup, scampering freely in the office with her other little furry partner in crime. Bonnie had had a rough start: abandoned, wormy, malnourished, found wandering on the side of a busy highway, narrowly avoiding traffic. Someone had rescued her and brought her to safety and nurture. She was 10-12 weeks old when we met her and she wasn’t wormy, malnourished, neglected, abandoned, unwanted, or unloved any longer. She was playful and thriving as she bounced around the office, back and forth between our excited children.

In the van and into the padded clothes basket she went. We had already named her before we even img_7213saw her in real life. No longer Bonnie…welcome home Molly Ann Foster!

We’ve always been dog-people. Molly joined big brother Zack, also a rescue, and the next several years consisted of dog toys, backyard chases, treats, and snuggles . There was the fishing-lure-up-the-nose-requiring-surgery incident, but mostly fun, furry times. It would take hours to list all the love, laughter, memories, and blessings that Molly brought to us all. Dogs are like that. “Man’s best friend.” Also, kids’ best friend…and mom’s best friend. 🙂


Days turn into weeks and months and years. Even as I write this, I feel the weight of  a hard day, week, and year. Today I  made one of the hardest decision I’ve ever made: to let Molly go. It was a family decision along with discussions with the vet, numerous friends, img_7212and even Facebook advice. But I was the one who took her for that last dreadful drive. Honestly, it felt a little like betrayal. But also mercy, compassion, and love.

Actually, it didn’t really feel like love at the moment. It felt necessary, but it also felt like a hard, heavy, ultimate betrayal. Like I was giving up. I was supposed to protect her and make the best decisions for her.

I am thankful for a friend who called at just the right moment.

A friend who loved Molly as her own, who puppy-sat her on our first trip away, who created so much excitement in Molly that it made Molly pee a little every time she saw her. Maybe that’s a little too much information, but funny every time. A friend who had walked the same road and told me I did the right, loving, merciful thing. A friend who believes our pets are gifts from God and who believes we will see our pets again. Maybe some people don’t believe that; but I do. I believe she is free and whole and pain free, and running with her big brother, Zack.

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Proverbs 16:24

When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness. Proverbs 31:26

What would I say to Molly? That I’m sorry. That I tried everything, every medicine, every prayer that I had. That she was so good, so loved, so wanted. That she was beautiful and smart. She was chosen and she was perfect. That I miss her already. That she had a good life and her life made our lives better. What could be a better tribute for anybody? Your life made someone else’s life better.

I don’t cry often but I’ve found myself weepy all day. At the vet, on the way home, in the middle of Sam’s, with every phone call, with every typed word. And that’s okay. It tells me that it matters, it hurts, it’s loss; but mostly it’s love and privilege. I’ll always be a dog lover. They bring out the best in us and model unconditional love and acceptance. I didn’t write the following passage, but I wish I had.

img_7211And on the 9th day God looked down on his wide eyed children and said, they need a companion.
So God made a Dog
.

…God said I need somebody willing to sit, then stay, then roll over, then with no ego or complaint dress in hats they do not need and costumes they do not understand…  Somebody who no matter what you didn’t do or couldn’t take or didn’t win or couldn’t make, will love you without judgement just the same.
So God made a Dog.

God said I need somebody strong enough to pull sleds and find bombs and yet gentle enough to love babies and lead the blind.  Somebody that will spend all day on a couch with a resting head and supportive eyes for the broken heart.
So God made a Dog. img_7158

It had to be somebody who would remain patient and loyal even through loneliness, somebody to care, cuddle, snuggle, and nuzzle and cheer and charm and snore and slobber and eat the trash and chase the squirrels.  Somebody who would bring the family together with an open heart. Somebody to bark, and then pant and then reply with the rapid wag of a tail, when their best friend says, “let’s go for a ride in the car.”
So God made a Dog.

img_7160God said I need somebody who would stand at your side when the world around you collapses.  Somebody to lie next to you during the long nights of pain and sorrow when it hurts to move, to talk, or think, or be.  Somebody to stand guard, play games, snore for hours and repeat as needed.  Somebody to give you strength when you have none of your own.  Somebody to fight when you have no fight left, to hold onto your soul as if it were their favorite toy, playing tug of war to keep you in this world. Somebody to be your companion and guide in this world and the next. Somebody to wait for you on the other side or stand guard in your absence until they can join you for eternity.
So God made a Dog

(From a popular Facebook video)

For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills.I know every bird on the mountains, and all the animals of the field are mine.     Psalm 50:10-11