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. ūüôā


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
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…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‚Äôt do or couldn‚Äôt take or didn‚Äôt win or couldn‚Äôt 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, ‚Äúlet‚Äôs go for a ride in the car.‚ÄĚ
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

 

Soul Ties and Goodbyes

Her name was Lillian. Like Lily…a beautiful flower, a symbol of beauty, innocence, and purity. She wasn’t perfect but she was available. I didn’t recognize it at the time but it was a form of ministry: the ministry of presence and open doors. I didn’t know how to express appreciation at the time but years later I felt the need to call her, to write, img_4810to visit; but I never did. I ignored the spirit promptings because of busyness, forgetfulness, or just not knowing what to say. So I never said it. Her days ended before I was able to speak appreciation, love, and respect. To let her know what a difference her kindness made in my life. I still regret it. I swore at the time that I would always let people know what they meant to me: their influence, their significance, and how much I loved them. It’s a work in progress. I still forget or tread awkwardly in silence. My first trip to the beach…Lillian. First visit to the mountains…Lillian. Camping, a safe place, weekend retreats…Lillian. She opened her home to me for days at a time and made me feel safe and welcomed, even as an awkward, confused teenager. Her family invited me to church and encouraged me to stay involved. They saw me. How different my life would have been without our lives intersecting.

What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.   -Helen Keller

This week the world lost an amazing man, a godly man, a talented man. I lost a friend. My friend lost a husband, their kids lost their dad, a church lost its worship leader, a job lost a dedicated employee, and dozens of other people lost an amazing friend. Heaven gained a talented musician, a man of the Word, a computer whiz, a deep thinker, a leader, a mechanic, an innovator, a provider and lover of his family, a man after God’s own heart.

It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.  -John Steinbeck

Weddings and funerals. How easy it is to make img_4431them our great reunion sites; but how tragic to not make time to spend with those who have impacted our lives not only for a moment, but for eternity. I was recently blessed to be able to live, laugh, love, and celebrate with these loved ones, these dear friends, these brothers and sisters, these who have walked the long road. Now there are two fewer footprints in the dust on the road, but lingering fingerprints and heart impressions of loving and living well will persist in his legacy forever.

But the shadowing questions remain, echo, and begged to be asked: Do we say enough, visit enough, make enough time, speak enough truth, love enough, share enough? Do our loved ones feel our love, img_8817our respect, our appreciation, our admiration? Do they feel loved and valued? Do they know what an impact they’ve ¬†had on our lives, our families, our world? It takes less time to call and visit than it does to linger in loss and regret.

The term “soul tie” isn’t officially found in the bible and when it’s used in modern biblical teachings it often has a negative connotation; but in 1 Samuel it says that “…Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself.” ¬†

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says: Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.¬†For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!¬†Again, if two lie together, they img_9058-3keep warm,¬†but how can one keep warm alone?¬†And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him‚ÄĒa threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Those verses sound like soul ties. Aren’t we called the family of God? The body of Christ? Do we live interlocked with soul ties and heart strings? And even with the hope we have, do we still feel a stinging pain or gnawing emptiness at the loss of our body part? As humans we don’t like the pain of loss. We don’t understand why good men, children, or innocent ones are harmed or are taken too soon. But still we have this hope…

The steadfast love of the¬†Lord¬†never ceases;¬†his mercies never come to an end;¬†they are new¬†every morning;¬†great is your faithfulness.¬†‚ÄúThe¬†Lord¬†is my portion,‚ÄĚ says my soul,¬†‚Äútherefore I will hope in him.‚ÄĚ ¬† Lamentations 3:22-24

So, we hope. We know that a peace that passes understanding will eventually settle over our souls. We’re also reminded that we have only this moment to love, to live, to laugh, to hug, to speak words of life and encouragement and appreciation. Don’t wait til time to say goodbye. There is so much more to say. Love your babies, love your family, love your friends, love those who have stood by you, led you, and encouraged you and your children. Call when you’re prompted to call. Visit when you’re called to visit. Text, email, send a postcard. Hug tightly but hold on loosely. And when you don’t know what to say, when there’s no explanation, verse, or empty platitude to offer, just sit on the back porch with your friend in silence. And maybe take her a little banana pudding.

Rest well, Kelly. You’ve run the race. You’ve won. Well done, good and faithful servant.

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When Holidays Hurt

I’ve been feeling it in the air for awhile now… Days are shorter, nights are longer. Skies are darker and breezes are colder. Changing seasons and impending holidays are often harsh, stinging reminders of loss and loneliness.

roomThe evening grows long as I look out across the waiting room and see the many sad or sick faces waiting patiently…or not. Some fidget, sigh, and look at invisible watches on their wrists. Some stare blankly into the unreachable¬†distance or at the monotonous pattern of the enclosing four¬†walls, perhaps replaying old scenes or longed-for visions. Some stare absently into their phones for distraction, relief, or escape. Still they wait. I know many of their stories before they utter a word. I know their history or I read their eyes. I watch their shoulders slump, their hands fidget, their lips frown or faintly¬†quiver. I feel the weight and the want and the weariness.

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” plays through christmasalonethe overhead speaker, piped in like a merry elf entertaining ideas of fun, frivolity, and lightheartedness, in denial of the pain, the longing, and the loss that the season brings to so many people.

The door opens and closes. Another name, another face, another story. There’s the familiar cloak of usual sickness: flu, sore throat, bumps, and bruises. Those are easy. Passing pain, sickness, or inconvenience that at least offers the hope of¬†speedy relief and healing. But hanging heavy on the heads and shoulders of many are weightier¬†garments: coverings made of death, disease, dysfunction. There’s divorce, abandonment, rejection, loss of dreams and other not-so-merry reminders in every piped in song, well-placed decoration, and carefully thought out department store diorama.

His wife was just found dead. Her husband lost a long battle with cancer. Children’s Services is involved. Her dad kicked her and told her not to tell. Her daughter¬†has run away. Her son is in jail.¬†It’s two weeks before Thanksgiving. He just lost his job. Their house burned to the ground. The Alzheimer’s¬†is so much worse.¬†Hospice has been called in.Third DUI.¬†Arrested for heroin. Suicide.¬†It’s almost Christmas.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.   Matt 11:28

I’ve been told it’s like a walking a treadmill…walking and climbing and struggling but never getting anywhere. Three steps forward and two steps back.alone1¬†But still they put one foot in front of the other. Some days are harder. Holidays are harder: days meant to gather and celebrate with people you love and people who love you. A time to reflect on blessings and health, the past and the future. So much to celebrate and be thankful for. But there are some who sit in quiet rooms all alone. There are some who sit in loud, clamorous rooms with many others, but are still alone. There are some who sit facing those who have mistreated, rejected, abused, or betrayed them. There are some who sit facing empty chairs of those who have left them through death or abandonment.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matt 9:36

What does it look like to¬†offer hope to the hopeless, rest for the weary, compassion for the hurting,church1 and comfort for the¬†grieving? Is there ministry in hearing, caring, and simply being present? What do you do when there’s no written prescription to ease the pain of heartbreak and loss and devastation? No first aid kit to stop the bleeding or cover the wound? No tender kiss to make it all better?

From the end of the earth I call to You, when my heart is overwhelmed and weak; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  Psalm 61:2

It has been a slow, humbling process…the realization that I don’t have all the answers. The fixer in me can’t fix all the hurt, restore all the loss, patch all the holes, or fill the empty seats.¬† I can’t and I’m not meant to. And with that, another realization… that it’s okay. I don’t have to be the great fixer, the final answer, a redemptive savior. I can’t be.

But what can I do? What can anyone do to make a difference in stara world with so much hurt and loss and fear and hopelessness and uncertainty? Is it enough to have eyes that see and ears that hear? To give a gift that is both free and priceless: to be seen and heard, recognized, and acknowledged? Validated and assured that they matter, that their struggles are real, that their hearts and lives are important, that someone cares, and more importantly, that there is hope?  Yes, it matters. It all matters. I can be a hand to hold. I can choose to extend a hand that reaches, lifts, holds, supports, gives. A hand to guide, to direct, to point to the truth that they are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of a God that loves them and wants to fill the empty places and the empty seats. I can be a voice. A voice that speaks truth and dispels lies and speaks words of encouragement and validation. And I can just be. I can sit in the ashes, care in the silence, be light in the darkness, and warmth in the cold season of the soul. I can offer hope in the simple ministry of being present and attentive. I can care.

I can love. ‚̧

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