Charlottesville and My Child

When things as horrific as the Charlottesville hate protests happen, there’s always the question of how to talk about these things with our kids, especially when they’re young. I had been wondering if my 5 year old was sensing what was going on in my heart and reacting to it, but didn’t know quite how to bring it up to her. Yesterday Savannah came upon me watching video of the Charlottesville demonstrations for the first time. She asked what I was watching, what was happening. I told her that some angry people had come to a town I used to live in and marched around saying a lot of really mean things, and it’s been making my heart and a lot of others really sad. They’re saying that they don’t like people whose skin is a different color from theirs.

“Mama, are they bad people or good people?”

Deep breath. How do you explain this to a young child who knows nothing of most of the evil in the world? Especially when there’s so much you’re still sorting through yourself, so much you don’t understand and need to learn?

“No, baby, they’re just people. They’re people who don’t know God’s love and have a lot of anger and hate in their hearts, and don’t know that they should love everyone no matter what color they are. They think only people whose skin is white like theirs are important.”

She wanted video evidence; I decided to let her watch a few seconds of people chanting words that were meaningless to her, “Blood and soil.”

“They wouldn’t like Jewemiah, then. He’s really bwown,” she said of her very tan little brother.

“Maybe. They might not like Daddy either, because he’s half Korean.”

“They might not like me either then, because I’m half Korean too.” I decided this wasn’t the time to explain the intricacies of inherited bloodlines that make her 1/4 Korean.

“Well, they probably wouldn’t know, because you don’t look Korean, but that isn’t the point.”

I told her about a very courageous few who stood around a statue (represented by her water bottle in the middle of our table), and chanted words like “Black lives matter!” in the face of all the angry, mean words insisting they weren’t as important. Eyes wide, she asked questions and I answered them the best I could. Tears came to my eyes and I had difficulty talking. I told her some of these brave people had white skin and could have stayed home, out of harm’s way, but they went where they were in danger and could have been killed because they felt it was so important to say that what was happening was wrong. Some of them got hurt, but fortunately none of them were killed. It reminded me of Mr. Roger’s mother’s words when he’d see scary news stories as a boy: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

NY Times photo Cville students
Photo Credit: New York Times

I decided to take the conversation a step further. “Remember how we’ve talked about God’s kingdom and the enemy’s kingdom, and how there are things called demons in the enemy’s kingdom? Well, they love it when people say mean things, so they gather around and put thoughts in their heads and help convince them they’re right. When someone is convinced something awful is right, it’s called being deceived. The demons work really hard to make sure these people stay deceived, and don’t know about loving everyone. Lots of people are praying for them to find out about loving others and for them not to be deceived.”

Will she remember this conversation in 5 years? Doubtful. Did I do it well? Who knows? But at least the conversation got started and a foundation was laid on top of our frequent lessons about the importance of kindness, sharing, and loving others.

An unexpected thing happened after this conversation. The draining weight I’d been trying to get rid of for several days started to lift. The tears I’d shed and the conversation I’d had with my child felt like integrating my heart with my surroundings, rather than keeping the two separate. It felt like becoming more whole-hearted.

I found this song today, and wanted to pass it on to everyone who is hurting, whether from hatred and discrimination, death of a loved one, or any other kind of struggle.

I know it’s all you’ve got to just, be strong
And it’s a fight just to keep it together, together
I know you think, that you are too far gone
But hope is never lost
Hope is never lost
Hold on, don’t let go
Hold on, don’t let go
Just take, one step, closer
Put one foot in front of the other
You’ll, get through this
Just follow the light in the darkness
You’re gonna be ok
I know your heart is heavy from those nights
Just remember that you’re a fighter, a fighter
You never know just what tomorrow holds
And you’re stronger than you know
Stronger than you know

How Rage Left

The last weekend of January 2016, God made me a promise. He said that this would be my year of breakthrough and freedom from rage. For several years, this was the very thing I had wished for when I blew out my birthday candles. A bit of me tugged towards doubt out of fear of disappointment, but He made Himself quite clear over the course of the weekend. This was His voice and His promise, and even though I didn’t see a way, I decided to accept that He’d make one.

I wondered how it would happen. I spent so much of my time wound up, agitated, frustrated, gritting my teeth to be nice to my kids. Enjoying them was usually a distant wish, something I tried hard to do but didn’t come naturally at all. I was almost always exhausted to one degree or another, and the more exhausted, the more negative I was. I often hated the way I interacted with the kids and did life. The most childish mistakes could set me off in a rage, either to myself, Sam, them, or all of the above. Overreacting was far more the norm than the exception. I thought, “My life shouldn’t feel this stressful to me! On the outside, it isn’t filled with drama. Why can’t I cope better?!”

I longed for answers, and consulted the resources readily available to me, but without significant breakthrough. I felt like the exception to every rule – the stuff that “worked” for others didn’t seem to make a hill of beans of difference for me. Sam and I talked in circles, I thought and prayed and ranted on paper and in my head. I tried to focus on the positives, the good; catalog the amazing things going on around me, to practice thankfulness. It would help for a little while, but eventually I always came back around to the knowledge that something was off at a much deeper level than I was addressing. I needed something to change at a foundational level. I kept saying, “Jesus didn’t die so I could live this way.” I knew Jesus died to give us abundant life, and what I was living wasn’t it; therefore, He wanted my life to change even more than I did. I staked everything on that belief, that hope.

me-and-kendallSeveral days after my birthday in 2016 I wrote to my brother Kendall, “My kids deserve a mom who isn’t in a rage 90% of the time on bad days, and 20% of the time on good days. My family deserves to have a wife and mother with some sort of capacity for handling life. It would be really nice to feel like I actually enjoy life again.” I told him how frustrated we were about not knowing where to start – was the biggest issue physical, spiritual, or psychological? I learned years ago that the three are very interconnected, and changes in one inevitably bring change in the others. However, I was looking for the most effective place to start; the one that would turn the key and set me free. If we were going to spend money, I wanted to be sure I’d get a good return on our investment! I knew people whose lives were transformed simply by addressing hormone issues; others for whom the key was prayer and deliverance; and I had already experienced the value of a skilled counselor. But where should I start, this time?

Kendall understood well where I was coming from. His response was one I’ll never forget: “Well, I think it’s like cleaning up a really cluttered room. Where you start isn’t really the point. And even, it’s not important that you only work on one thing at a time. It’s just important that you start somewhere that feels important and keep making progress.”

“Start somewhere that feels important and keep making progress.”

He continued with…

“Try a thousand things! There’s a little bit of hope and discovery everywhere you turn.”

If I could figure out how to tattoo that on my body in a concise way I’d do it.

My conversation with Kendall reminded me of something I’d lost sight of: that the answer to thorny problems is rarely a silver bullet. They are usually unraveled more like a ball of yarn tossed across the floor than blasted into oblivion by a bazooka-level revelation. It’s usually a process of one discovery moving us forward one step further, just enough to see the next step to take, and so on until we find ourselves in a very different land. Sometimes those discoveries are huge, and vault us over entire countrysides. Sometimes the change is unexpected and seemingly small, but tunes and turns our souls just enough to catch the next movement forward. Waiting for the perfect solution, on the other hand, becomes a long slide downwards until we feel stuck in quicksand with every frantic movement only making things worse.

Kendall and I talked on, finding ourselves very much on the same wavelength as we often did when it came to personal development. Then he suddenly wrote, “Yeah, there’s a lot of hope for you Cherie. Know why? Cause you still want to have hope.”

 
Don’t give up hope.

75178082So I summarized Kendall’s advice as “try all the things,” and started forward. I decided to see a counselor. Slowly we built trust. She looked at me partway through the summary of my life story and said, “You have had a very colorful life.” I burst out laughing because I knew she was right, but it had been a long time since I’d had an appraisal from someone completely outside of my life and it took me by surprise. We all have stories, and we tend to normalize our journey and not give ourselves credit for the size and complexity of the things we survive or conquer. We kept meeting, and there were moments of realization, connections between thoughts and issues that built on each other slowly, things that moved me forward. I didn’t feel like there were huge discoveries or massive breakthroughs, but there was forward movement and I was gaining a teammate.

img_20170217_220615_394I started taking NeuroCalm, a nutraceutical alternative to an antidepressant. I discovered that rather than immediately having a massively bad knee-jerk reaction when triggered, I now had 1-3 seconds of space in between where I could choose how to respond. It was revolutionary! Those seconds of clarity that weren’t present before gave me the chance to start changing responses, breaking habits, taking deep breaths and using a calm tone (even if I was faking the calm!). It put me in control of myself in a way I hadn’t been before. I was more in charge of my emotions, which no longer bypassed my brain and instantly dictated my reaction. I started succeeding at outlasting Savannah’s meltdowns, which became less frequent. I was able to see behavior as the childishness it was, rather than some huge affront to me as a person and mom. Sometimes I even laughed at it rather than being angry about it!

img_20170217_220939_687“Try all the things…”  In that same conversation, Kendall had mentioned a quote from Brene Brown’s book, Rising Strong. It wasn’t the first time he’d mentioned Rising Strong. Within 2 months of Kendall’s death, a friend started an online book club for – you guessed it – Rising Strong. I took it as a sign, got the book and started reading it. I’m not sure I have ever met a book that challenged me on so many different levels simultaneously. As I worked my way slowly through the first few chapters, I was forced to stop repeatedly and process my reactions to what I just read in order to free up mental space to take in the next section. I discovered language I needed and concepts that widened and changed my perspective on myself and others. It challenged long-held conclusions about some very thorny relationships in my life, view of myself, and more. Months later, I still haven’t finished it, but I will! It’s a book that needs digestion time.

img_20170217_221216_630On July 23 I did a healing prayer session with 3 amazing women. In those 3 hours, the Lord wove together the previous 6 months of revelations, experiences, and nuggets of truth with new understanding into an astounding breakthrough. It was bazooka-level destruction of the chains that had bound me for years (yes, they do happen! Just not usually when we think they should). When I came home, Savannah ran into the kitchen to meet me, yelling, “Mooooooooommy, I missed you!” And for the first time in her entire life, when I scooped her up my heart felt wide open to her, with no wall in between. What an amazing feeling! If you’ve never experienced a wall between you and someone you should be very close to, it may be hard to understand what a breakthrough this was. That turning point had me on cloud 9 with her for 3 days as I enjoyed her immensely. I was able to see her as she was, without the veil that had clouded and tinted my view of her behavior for so long. My heart finally felt consistently what my head had known all of her life – that she is an amazingly sweet, thoughtful, kind, giving and smart little girl with a strong will that usually has a clear goal in mind and good intentions at heart. I no longer saw myself as the bulls-eye of her choices and behavior (positive or negative) and was able to recognize that she was just doing her thing, being herself. I just happened to be in close proximity.

After much debate, I next decided to go off the (rather expensive) NeuroCalm and back on an antidepressant, which I’d been off of for some time. I was afraid of side effects, afraid of losing that precious 3 seconds that NeuroCalm gave me, but financially I felt we had to make a change. It turned out to be the right decision for me, and the only side effects I experienced were positive ones. Another step forward.

By winter 2016, I was able to look back and see a large shift in the tenor of my daily life. My heart was staying connected to my kids the majority of the time, and I was enjoying them without striving to. My heart was in a much better state, but I was still exhausted a lot. We felt we still had pieces of the puzzle to put in place for me to have the life I wanted.

“Try all the things…”  Throughout 2016, I had been watching a dear mom friend of mine transform from the typical exhausted mom we’ve all come to expect, into a fulfilled, energetic, clear-minded, thriving mom. I heavily identified with her “before” posts, as they had been my reality since my mid-teens. I wanted her “after” reality to be mine as well. We decided to try what she was doing, and before my birthday in 2017, I started down the road she’d taken. It turned out to be the puzzle piece we’d been looking for – my exhaustion of 20+ years disappeared, and in 10 days, my life was transformed. Instead of feeling every day that I had a fixed amount of energy and I had to ration the withdrawals, I had plenty to spare. Rather than depending on Sam’s mental energy to plan and do things, I was buzzing around getting things accomplished, multitasking, accomplishing more in a day than a typical week. I now had even more patience with the kids, because they weren’t draining my limited energy reserves any more. I was able to say “yes” to activities without feeling depressed by how much energy I knew they’d require.

me-w-kids-mothers-day-2016God’s promise was true: between one Jan. 30 and the next, He brought me out of a “miry pit,” and set my feet in a place I would never have believed possible to achieve in a year’s time. I started 2016 wondering whether to address the physical, soul or spiritual areas first; by my next birthday, God had addressed all 3. It took vulnerability, choosing hope, trying things, a willingness to consider uncomfortable truth and to change; collaborating with God. It reminds me of Moses at the Red Sea – God empowered him, but Moses still had to raise his staff to see the waters part.  The journey is far from over, but I am so incredibly grateful for the what He’s done so far. Instead of only occasionally feeling connected to my kids, I feel connected to them most of the time. I still feel rage sometimes, but it is far from a daily occurrence. Instead of having some level of exhaustion constantly, I am only sometimes tired. I am dreaming of the future, something that has been almost impossible for me in the past (just ask Sam!). I am excited about what this coming year will bring, and so very thankful.

God’s Will vs. Mine… Or Is It?

The assumption that it is very important to separate out my wants from God’s will and voice used to occupy a lot of space in my head. I also believed the two were usually mutually exclusive.

I grew up sure that God thought very differently from me, in the sense that He had some sort of master blueprint in heaven that He eyed regularly, and it was up to me to somehow figure out what it was through various vague signs and hints. He was a distant micro-manager. If I got it wrong, it was a big deal, huge failure, and nearly unfixable. God was surely disapproving and disappointed in me and my performance. Pleading for God to redeem my mistakes was important, and a way of making restitution for getting it wrong. If I pleaded enough, God would relent and begrudgingly eventually make it better, with an admonition to never make that mistake again.

In my thinking, God’s ironclad, inflexible Plan wasn’t likely to be anything I wanted to do. It would almost certainly be very hard work and require a great deal of sacrifice on my part.  I often thought, “I want to do _____, but is it God’s will? How do I know if God wants me to _____?” Somehow I thought that if I liked it, enjoyed it or it was easy, it must be my will or idea, not God’s. If it was heavy, required discomfort and hardship and huge effort for me, it was probably God’s will.

After all, isn’t “dying to self” way more important than joy?

This particular view is, I find, quite prevalent. It leads to a lot of fruits. Fear. Insecurity. Risk avoidance. Fear of failure. Double mindedness. Uncertainty. Condemnation. Stress. Burnout. Burdens. Let’s be honest: that fruit doesn’t sound like the fruit of the Spirit.

Over the years, God has completely flipped that view on its head, like a triangle turned point down instead of point up.

I no longer think God has “one plan” for our lives that we must follow or we fail. When He recommends a choice or course of action, it is not an end in itself. He has a reason for His directives, and it isn’t to make us as miserable as possible. There may be very hard times as we follow His leading; it won’t always be easy. However, I have found that the hard times in my life were a result of my poor choices, lack of wisdom, boundaries, character, etc. and sometimes Satan’s interference. They were not God-induced misery.

I believe when He gives directions, it is because He has a picture of the person He wants us to become. That person is someone who will express a completely unique facet of Him, the most fulfilled and whole version of ourselves. He will use all the choices we make, places we go, things we do, and people we encounter to shape us into that person. He can use any tool to fashion us. I think He is far less particular about the tool He uses than we think He is. Some choices do unnecessarily lengthen that process, however. Listening to Holy Spirit’s direction can save us a lot of time and anguish.

 Why Do Gifts Matter?

God has placed gifts and desires in each of us. Part of His will for our lives is for us to walk in those desires and giftings to the fullest, whatever avenue of life we occupy. Developing them will reveal God’s character and glory on the earth and fulfill us like none other. When we walk in our giftings with authority, we shine like the sun, and people are drawn to the life we ooze. There are few things as compelling and inviting as someone who is doing what they love to do. It draws people in, makes them ask questions, starts relationships that eventually open doors for sharing the love of this amazing God who thinks they’re awesome and gifted and wants to do life with them.
Our gifts are frequently the things that are so easy for us that we don’t even notice we’re doing them. They’re often invisible to us until someone else points them out, because they come SO naturally to us that we assume everyone thinks or does “that”.

There is no strain to operate in it, so we discount it as worthless. 

For example: I like to be creative. I have used scarves for curtain tie-backs, bits of discarded paper for decorating cards, and generally love re-purposing things for something entirely different.  While being creative, I have been known to delay bathroom breaks and meals for hours (no small thing for me!). I thought everybody did things from a creative mindset. As I went through life and encountered others who struggled mightily to be creative, I realized that creativity is actually a gift God has placed in me. I’m learning that the more I pursue and develop it, the more alive and connected to God I become. The two are inextricably linked: when I am being creative, I experience God’s presence, love and nearness in a unique way. When I stop carving out time to be creative, I sink quickly, losing sight of who I am as a person, and God starts feeling very distant.

Exercising my gift has become a form of worship, the best way I connect to God. 

Everyone has gifts, whether they think they do or not. When someone has been wounded young and often, those gifts can be buried to survive. It may take time and a process to unearth them. If you aren’t sure what yours are, think about this:

What are the things that you love doing, that bring you joy, that come easily to you? What are the things that bring you alive, put a sparkle in your eye, fill you with energy? Things you could happily do for hours on end? Is it organization? Talking to people? Singing? Dancing? Accounting? Writing? Art? Math? Caring for kids? The possibilities are endless.

Are there times in your life that people have expressed amazement at something you did or said, and it struck you as odd because it was so easy for you, and you thought everyone did it that way? Pay attention to those. If you want, write them down and look at them. You may be surprised at the common themes that emerge.

Recognizing the gift is just the beginning of an adventure with the Lord to develop and hone it, and change us so we steward it with skill and character. While it may be hard work at times, I’ve found that process to be energizing instead of draining, because it’s my natural bent. The vehicle we use to develop and hone our giftings doesn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that we do.

Free Will

We often find ourselves faced with two choices, and think that if we choose one we will miss out on the other. In a sense, that is true. Choosing to get married is saying no to being single, for example. But many choices are not so clear cut. Two job opportunities, multiple possible relocation cities, and more – all decisions with pros and cons, and we’re not always sure what we even want! We can get fearful that we will miss out dramatically if we choose one, or that choosing one will forever annihilate the other choice. Rather than thinking that you will never have this chance again, consider that you may have the other option come back around in a later season in life, probably in a different form than you expected.

When we collaborate with the Lord, we don’t miss out.

I believe God is completely fine with us having our own ideas. He is a father. As a mother, I want my kids to have their own ideas. I love when they use their imaginations to play, to create things, to do things in their own unique way. I think God is the same way with us. He loves our ideas and hearing about them. What we need to remember is to not rush out and try to force them to happen, but to take them to Him for advice and consultation. God gave us free will, and He likes when we exercise it. Free will can be a dangerous thing that gets us into trouble if we don’t surrender it to Him. But once surrendered, life becomes a dance, discovering how to navigate in partnership with the One who sees all and knows all.

What If I Mess Up?

We WILL make mistakes. That is guaranteed. God knows that, and therefore has told us that He is a REDEEMER. This means that even our mistakes are woven into the beautiful fabric He’s creating with our lives. Our mistakes teach us things we didn’t know before, and what we learn changes us (if we let it) for the better. I know that the mistakes I have made as a mom have shaped my kids, but God can heal their hearts and also create strengths in those exact places instead. God is so economical – even our mistakes are not wasted! He uses them too. He is not flustered, bothered, panicked, surprised or disappointed when we royally mess up or sin. He knew those decisions were coming, grieves them with us, but has also already prepared a way to redeem our poor choices.

It’s like children learning to walk – of course they fall down, over and over! A healthy parent doesn’t fuss at the child; they encourage them for how far they walked that time before they fell down, and coaxes them to try again. That’s how God is with us. He celebrates every bit of progress we make, and doesn’t keep score of our mistakes and failings. “Love keeps no record of wrongs…” Be willing to make mistakes in the midst of your best efforts. Own them, make amends where needed, and learn from them. Making mistakes means you’re learning a new skill, and that is something to celebrate!

Making mistakes as you grow means you are daring to live bravely. 

Personally…

I have stood in watershed moments in my life and marveled at how the Lord orchestrated a whole history of small and big things to bring me to that moment, that breakthrough; a picture as big and delicate as a spider’s web, but indestructible. It’s an amazing feeling to know that even when you screwed up, you couldn’t foil God’s ability to bring you to the place your heart desired. I have found that every thing I go through, good or bad, gets built on by God to bring me to a more whole place, and bless me and others. (Sidebar: God does NOT cause the bad things; but He is big enough to redeem them beyond our imagination.) All of it is destiny training, giving us more skills, wisdom, understanding, love, etc. to carry with us into the next situation. Nothing we encounter is an end in itself, or meaningless. It all matters to Him.

My husband and I have faced many decisions as a couple. We have prayed for direction countless times about things big and small. And honestly, there has been a high percentage of times we’ve heard nothing. I used to believe that hearing nothing meant “don’t move.” I no longer believe that. As a couple, we have chosen the path that if we hear nothing, we will probably proceed forward (or just choose one of the options that makes sense to us), keeping an eye out for how God may redirect us as we go. As one wise teacher says, “The light is green… until it isn’t.” If we have a “check” or lack of peace, we stay put. Other times as we proceed doors close, or unexpected ones open. God is big enough to redirect us as we move forward. Sometimes we make mistakes and learn new skills and valuable lessons.

In the End…

Following “God’s will” perfectly is not the goal. Walking forward in relationship with God is much closer to the mark. When that happens, you hear God’s directions as, “I recommend doing this; you’ll love it so much more!” Instead of a master/ slave dynamic, it becomes an adventure with someone who is on your side, working on your behalf in ways beyond our imagination. I can live with that.

Current Events & Impacting Them

Lately, life hasn’t been a lot of fun for a lot of people I know. It seems there has been a lot of plowing of the heart going on, and things are being turned up to the light of day that we didn’t know were there. Unwelcome, unpleasant and painful things. Others are weathering a forest fire sweeping across their field, and the aftermath is devastating.

It’s happening on a personal and international scale.

Through social media and friends in or near the UK, I learned that the aftermath of the Brexit vote has been ugly. Racial tensions and prejudice they didn’t know were there have been revealed and put on full display. People who don’t “look” like UK citizens are being openly ridiculed and told to “go back home” (and far worse), with those speaking not seeming to care that some of the people they are addressing are actually UK citizens, legal immigrants and people with work visas. Simply “not looking white” is enough to warrant glares and speech full of anger and hate.

Something very similar is happening in the U.S. Like the Brexit vote, Donald Trump’s speeches as reported seem to have opened the mouths of people in a way they haven’t been in years. What is coming out is bound to be discouraging to those who have worked tirelessly for racial reconciliation and equality in this nation. “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” – and what we’re hearing is certainly not contributing to unity and peace. Tensions are mounting, people are jumpy, and fingers are pulling triggers prematurely, leading to tragedy, death, PTSD, lives altered forever, and injustice. There are no winners in that environment.

In both countries, a lot of anger is being expressed, and a lot of desire for further division, generalization and categorization. Lots of reasons are being given for it, some of which have some foundation in reality. The most convincing fears always have a kernel of truth in them. The problem is that fear-based thinking doesn’t bring good solutions. It produces reactions instead of responses, closed ears and hearts instead of open ones, more division, and more fear. Fear is self-feeding, and most powerful when Satan can convince us it is logical, justified and right.

What if it isn’t?

I know for a fact that in the last 6 months, people all over the nation who have fought some form of mental illness in their past have been assaulted with it again. Some are fighting for their lives and sanity. I don’t think their experience is unrelated. I think it is yet another manifestation of a bigger problem.

In the last 6 months, there have also been multiple tragic, sudden deaths of people I know or friends of people I know.

There is something going on in the spiritual realm that we are not seeing right now. Fortunately, seeing it is not a requirement for prayer. It’s also not a prerequisite for action.

What if…

  • We prayed for unity, love and understanding to break out?
  • We asked God for insight into what is going on in the spirit realm, and His strategies for praying about it?
  • We asked the Lord to reveal the prejudice in our own hearts and deal with it?
  • We asked the Lord to show us where we’re acting and reasoning out of fear, and replace it with love-based reasoning?
  • We asked our non-white friends and neighbors powerful questions? “What kind of prejudice do you experience regularly? What fears do you have that you feel are unique? What questions do you wish white people were asking? What do you wish white people knew? What frustrates you?” What if we started conversations and really listened, without protest, to what is said? What if we accepted their experience as valid? What if we were willing to share our thoughts, and have painfully honest conversations?
  • We raised our kids with the strong message that all are created equal, and all life is precious? That Jesus loves “bad guys” too and so do we? That just because people make awful decisions doesn’t mean they are unredeemable?
  • What if we actively cultivate friendships with people who don’t look like us, sound like us or think like us?

We tend to fall prey to the lie that we’re too small to do anything. That nothing we can say or do will make any difference. The thing is… we never know when we will, unknowingly, change someone’s life. What if the kid next door to you is headed in the direction of militant racism, and your listening ear and caring heart change him?

All the names that flash across our screens were once just people who went grocery shopping, did errands, were somebody’s neighbor, had conversations with people. They were no-names. What if other no-names saw them and reached out to them? Who knows how many terrible tragedies have been averted by no-names who cared, saw, and loved?

There are a lot of popular phrases that hover around this sort of idea.

“Be the change.”

“Love the one [in front of you].”

“Walk a mile in their shoes.”

They sound simplistic. But they’re all true. And completely useless if we, the average person on the average street in the average city or country home doesn’t do them.

I am challenged today to get out of my little #momlife, #raisingkids bubble and be aware of the world around me, pray about it and engage it.  If all of us who think we’re too small to make a difference start taking small steps, it could turn into a massive movement of change and transformation.

Consider asking Holy Spirit today what role you can play in bringing change, right where you are. Don’t be surprised if He starts by changing you, and then opening up opportunities for the changed you to make a difference. You may not know this side of eternity what a massive difference you made; do it anyway. What do you have to lose? Nothing you won’t be better without.

“Grieve With Those Who Grieve”

There are some weeks that just plain suck. This past week was one of them.

There was the loss of sleep associated with convincing a 2 year old to be rocked instead of nursed, and the backache, and woman stuff, and the day I was super triggered and raged all day because of some old, deep wounds that I still need to sort out. But really, it was a week of grief.

And grief looks like this:

Grief chart

Today is the 3 month anniversary of Kendall’s death, and grief looks more like this illustration than ever, and sometimes another scribble around the curve gets triggered by someone else’s grief.

Last week we learned that a family we have known for years was going through a tragedy that bore remarkable similarity to ours. Without preamble or warning of any type, their mother suffered a massive brain aneurysm and was driven to UVA in the midst of a terrible storm that precluded helicopter transport. There they waited with hope during a long brain surgery, only to be told there was no hope of recovery and that their wife and mother had 24-48 hours to live. She outlived the doctor’s predictions, but passed away without regaining consciousness.

Grief is a strange and unpredictable animal. At first, the news didn’t hit home. And then, I suddenly realized… This is Josh’s mom. The mom of the man who was the first to see the “Kendall Building” and post a picture of it on Instagram, where we found it the day after Kendall’s Celebration of Life service. The man who compiled a whole CD of music in tribute to Kendall, including a lot of Kendall’s favorite music groups, and released it the day of Kendall’s birthday.

Stone - Kendall building w-post

This is the mother-in-law of Josh’s wife, Deidre, who in the week between Kendall’s death and his service, somehow carved out time to hand-hammer Kendall’s name into 7 gold necklaces and gift them to Kendall’s mom, wife and sisters.

Kendall necklace

And somehow, that realization did it. This family who has loved us so sensitively and well since Kendall’s abrupt departure was now dealing with the same thing. The similarities were striking. Like us, there was no warning, no chance for final words with someone who could respond. Just a middle of the night phone call and family members scrambling to gather, to come together, to try to make decisions that should never have to be made, try to comprehend the incomprehensible.

So this week, my family has “grieved with those who grieve.”

I would think, “They’re going to have to write an obituary, like we did…” You know, that thing where you try to sum up an entire life and its impact in cold, hard print that can’t tell the story of what their laugh sounded or how their eyes crinkled at the corners when they grinned or how their faces lit up when people entered the room, or the destiny that was left unfulfilled.

Or, “They’re trying to figure out what they can manage to chew and swallow…” You know, that necessary action when nothing really looks or sounds good but you know you need to eat because grief is a bitch and if you don’t eat you might fall over and not be able to care for the ones who are still living. Even if you’re not super sure you’re still alive yourself or what world you’re suddenly living in, it seems to be a world where food is still required.

They’ve started the goodbyes that never really end, the journey where you learn that “closure” is a myth that only happens in the movies. Because love, and missing the one you love, doesn’t end. It may change shape over time, but you will share space with both the love and the loss in some way forever.

Kendall’s lovely wife, Catherine, started a blog this week where she shared a bit of her heart and journey since the death of her beloved. Do read it! She finished with this:

That night when I walked away from all of my earthly possessions and I left my husband of 15 months, I knew that I was not alone. There were people all over the country following my little blue dot. It reminded me of the verse in Genesis that says, “Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her ‘You are a God who sees.'” This blog is about just that, being seen by a God who is helping me to see. 

So Stone family… we’re following your little blue dots as you traverse this unwelcome, stark terrain that sometimes has a surprising shade tree or a random flower. We see you. We cry with you. We love you.

There are a lot of people in this land, unfortunately, and you’ll meet a lot of fellow travelers. I hope they are all as kind to you as you have been to us over the last few months.

If you are reading this, please take the time to honor our friends by also reading this and consider blessing the dad who has sacrificed so much, and loved so well, for so many years. 

The Dance Connection

When I finished writing ‘Here’s to You, “Badass”!’ the ruminations didn’t stop there. As the day went on, I continued to process and think back and I began to ask myself, “When was I last connected to my emotions?” Of course, what I meant was, “When was the last time I freely experienced the full range of emotions we as humans are gifted with?” The first answer that sprang to mind, and persisted, was a scene from 15 years ago (which feels more like 7 years ago… 15?!?! What the…!!!).

It was early on in my relationship with a particular boyfriend; it may have even been before we were officially dating. I was visiting him at his apartment, and we were introducing each other to some of our favorite music. I wanted to play him some Yanni, which I seem to recall him groaning at initially – so cliché! But I was determined to get him to understand it through my eyes, and experience what I felt was remarkable musicianship. To his credit, he was willing to give it a shot.

After we’d been listening for a while, he left the room temporarily and I started doing interpretive dance to the music. I was connected so fully to the emotion in it, letting it out through my fingers and toes and motions. My friend came back in the room while I was still dancing, continued on into the kitchen and got the beer he’d planned on. He watched quietly until I was done, from a respectful distance, as if he was on holy ground and didn’t want to do anything to interrupt the moment. He is a person comfortable with being around undefined moments that are profound and touch the soul, and handles them gently. I don’t think he said much afterwards. Later he told me it was his favorite part of the weekend.

It’s been a long time since I’ve danced like that. A long time since I dared to move that way, since I’ve unbent my limbs and unfrozen my emotions and heart enough to let them flow that way. It feels like doing so would feel… Ridiculous. Foolish. Not pretty. And the big one I hate so much and avoid like the plague… Childish.

Why do I avoid Childish so much? I used to not. I used to enjoy acting like a kid, thinking spontaneity one of my charms. When did that change? Was it the later boyfriend that betrayed me? Or the financial horrors of 2008-2009? Whatever it was, somewhere in between that interpretive dance session and now I lost my ability to act carefree and be daring and excited and expressive. Somewhere along the line I got predictable and responsible and ear based and task-oriented and joy-squashing, my soul in knots with a lid tightly on top and my body out of shape and rigid, unaccustomed to the fluidity of expressive dance. Somewhere, emotions became scary and to be avoided expressing to others; then, to be avoided feeling. Anger was safe to feel, for some reason; you can tell other people about things you’re angry about without being vulnerable, really. They will listen to you and engage you on the subject, issue, situation, etc. and join you in your anger or present another point of view. It’s a safe interaction zone. But other emotions… Pain. Disappointment. Confusion. Loss. Even happiness. Those things require vulnerability. Those things require revealing of the heart in a different way. Those things require feeling them and letting another person in to feel them with you.

I miss the Cherie I was with with the boyfriend who watched me dance. In some ways it was such a rebellious time of my life. In some ways it was such an alive time in my life. I was transitioning from having “good behavior” as a top value to having being real as a top value. I felt deep and loved hard and enjoyed music and went on vacation to Cape Cod and did stuff I “shouldn’t” have, but I was making choices and having different, new experiences and learning things that became cemented into the bedrock of my foundation. I also had despair and confusion and desperation and guilt and other things that I don’t miss; I guess in ways it was the best and worst of times. Sometimes, I think I wouldn’t do that season over again for anything; other times, I miss it so much it makes my heart hurt and brings tears to my eyes. Those days had adventure and freedom in them.

I want to reclaim the parts of me that I see and love when I look back on that time now, the parts I wish I hadn’t lost or laid aside without knowing it.

The parts I left behind when I was sleep deprived and desperate, stuck at home with a newborn who wouldn’t seem to stop crying. The parts you close off when you go into survival mode because it’s too damn expensive to keep heating and cooling and taking care of those rooms. So you shut them off and live in the smallest space you can manage and conserve all the energy you can because you have a limited amount every day and when it’s gone, things get scary and you get unpredictable and you think you might shatter and your shards might wound or destroy everyone around you. Including the little one who is so defenseless, and the husband who tries so hard to take the weight off your shoulders, to increase your living space, to help you find your joy and flex and drain out what makes you brittle.

I have rounded a corner and realized that I am still living in that small space, for the most part. But now that baby is a challenging 4 year old, not a screaming infant, and in a few short months she will go off to preschool part time and the season will shift. Things are different. I am different. I have resources now and a life that needs me to come out and start actually living it, relearning how to feel life and love and all the things that go with living and breathing on planet earth. Including grieving the loss of a brother I knew far too little, for far too short of a time. Including finding a way out of the cycle of power struggles and rejection with my daughter. Including being able to connect with my husband emotionally because I’m actually feeling emotions about things (say whaaaa?!). Including losing weight and starting to find joy in things other than food. Including daring to be happy again.

I want to find those rooms, cautiously open the doors, and explore them again. I wonder what dusty journals, old gems and mementos are lying inside, forgotten? Decor from a different time, with lamps and candles long unlit. Maybe those rooms were also sealed off for their preservation, until the time came that I could honor their contents again and truly see and experience them. I suspect they also hold painful things, but that will be okay too; I know God will bring me what I need for those things as well. He doesn’t leave us defenseless.

And one day, when I have traveled further along the path of “feeling my way back up again” (thank you Brené Brown), I will do interpretive dance to Yanni again, confidently, without self-consciousness or fear of being laughed at. One day those voices in my head will have changed, and I will no longer fear looking ridiculous in my own eyes. I will be at peace with myself enough to dance with myself looking on, and it will be okay. I suspect that day may come sooner rather than later, and I hope I can welcome its approach without too much fear.

Jeremiah reaching

Here’s to You, “Badass!”

Rising StrongpicI am finally reading a book my brother Kendall mentioned to me twice before his death, Rising Strong by Brene Brown. It had been on my mind, and when a friend invited me to an online book club specifically for Rising Strong, I took it as a sign that the time was now.

I’m still in the Introduction, “Truth and Dare,” and am already striking gold.

I have come to the realization over the last few months that the only emotions I have connected to deeply for quite some time are rage and anger. All other emotions are short-lived – happiness, laughter, sadness, awe, joy, amusement… you name them, they usually don’t impact me long. This has been a bizarre realization for someone who has always been the emotional, highly communicative one in the family – the one who has big emotions and makes them articulately, unmistakeably known. The idea that I am better and faster at talking about the feelings I’m supposed to be feeling than I am about actually feeling them is something that has borne a lot of musing. Looking at my life leaves little room for doubt that somewhere along the line, layers of self-protection have been built one upon the other, thin as phyllo dough, and no less strong for their apparent fragility; layers that shut out emotions other than anger. How anger came to be the “safe” emotion for me to stay connected to is not the tale I’m telling right now.

So as I finished the Note on Research and progressed to Brene’s Introduction, the first paragraph that made me stop in my tracks was this, on page xxvii:

“There are too many people today who instead of feeling hurt are acting out their hurt; instead of acknowledging pain, they’re inflicting pain on others. Rather than risking feeling disappointed, they’re choosing to live disappointed. Emotional stoicism is not badassery. Blustery posturing is not badassery. Swagger is not badassery. Perfection is about the furthest thing in the world from badassery.

“…People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real badasses.” – Brene Brown

I keep coming back to that paragraph, and getting a deeper understanding of my struggles as a mom. I’m thinking about how often that paragraph plays out in my daily life and interaction with my kids. Realizing how I’ve long lived disappointed, something no one but me can fix because it requires different choices from me. It further informed my growing awareness that I frequently give my power away to others, and then live as if I’m a victim rather than a grown, almost 40 year old woman with a wealth of resources, knowledge and experience to draw on.

As I was writing about this in the book club, my eyes fell on a different paragraph on the page:

“When I see people stand fully in their truth, or when I see someone fall down, get back up, and say, “Damn. That really hurt, but this is important to me and I’m going in again” – my gut reaction is, “What a badass.” – Brene Brown

I suddenly realized: according to Brene Brown, I’m a badass. I’ve been praying and searching and talking and working towards breaking the toxic ways I relate to my daughter for well over 3 years now. I’ve found few answers and felt stuck. I’ve found an answer here and there and felt hope. My main hope has been simply that I know Jesus didn’t die for me to stay stuck where I was, and that He wants me to be free just as much as I do; therefore, somehow, someway, He would lead me into freedom. I just hoped it would be in time to undo the damage already done; that it would be soon enough to be corrected in her childhood, rather than my daughter having to do hard work as an adult. This year, on my birthday weekend, He spoke to me multiple ways that this would be the year I got breakthrough. And it’s been happening – slowly but surely, like the Titanic turning. I say to myself, “My daughter is only 4. The Titanic hasn’t hit the iceberg yet. This story can have a different ending. It doesn’t have to be a tragedy. There’s still time.” I’ve been holding onto the hope that the progress of 3 steps forward, 2 steps back still means progress. At least we’re moving. At least we’re moving in the right direction, no matter how slowly.

According to Brene Brown, it isn’t the speed of progress that matters. The fact that I keep trying and haven’t given up makes me a badass.

So, here’s to all you other badasses out there. I see you, fellow mom who knows her weaknesses well and is working uphill against burnout and lack of spousal support and understanding to break generations of dysfunction. You are a badass. I see you, warrior woman who is fighting for mental health and emotional stability, who struggles every day to keep going and believe you’ll come out the other side. You are a badass. I see you, victim of sexual abuse, as you struggle to become a survivor who feels comfortable in your own skin, free from shame and being defined by the one who invaded you. You are a badass. I see you, believer in the supernatural, who feels trapped in a mundane life and continues to search for the path to your reality matching Jesus’ reality. You are a badass. I see you, survivor of emotional and verbal abuse, as you work hard to separate from your abuser and craft a life not dictated by the one who seeks to control your every move. You are a badass.

When someone shares their struggle with you, the one that hasn’t found a victory yet… don’t turn away in discomfort at the failure that is still part of their ongoing reality. Celebrate the fact that they are working towards victory, and haven’t given up. The truth is, there are badasses all around us. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because they haven’t overcome yet, they aren’t a badass. If they haven’t given up yet, if they’re still fighting – boldly pin the badge of “Badass!” to their chest. Looking at it might be the thing that gives them courage to fight yet another day.

 

 

At Kendall’s Building 4.21.16

Hey Kendall,

Its been 21 days since your death, 20 days since we found out about it. Last night stillness finally came and I was able to be near all the thoughts and statements and activities I could be doing, but let them all rest separate from me. And just be. And feel a little bit.

I keep seeing your tall figure with its slight slouch coming down Mama and Daddy’s front hill, a big grin on your face. I don’t even have a conscious memory of that moment per se, but when I think of you that’s what I see. And I hear your crazy laugh that often started as sort of a combination sneeze and snort, a bit of a snorfle, and then morphed into a laugh. I remember knowing you and Catherine were upstairs having dinner with Mama and Daddy because of the raucous laughter. You made Daddy laugh so hard and so often. You did that for a lot of people. I see you in our basement apartment holding Catherine while the family celebrated my birthday.

I’m thankful for the memories I got over the last year and a half.
I hate that more won’t be added to them.
I wish I had known you better.
I am so glad we moved back from California.

I wonder – are you sleeping? Or are you in heaven, aware and able to see the forest fire your death produced? Yes, there is new growth coming from the ashes, but the forest will never look quite the same and it will take years for the destruction to be covered with new life. I wish you’d just come back and pick up where you left off, finish those life plans you told Catherine’s grandfather about, and do life again.

I still don’t know what I’m feeling, really. I think we all feel like it was this bizarre week or weird stuff that happened and now you can’t REALLY be gone, right? It just isn’t possible.

I’m reminded of what Steven said. “I thought Kendall was invincible.” For me, it’s a bit different. I knew you weren’t invincible; you had some very close shaves with cars before. For me, the disconnect comes when I think about how FULL of LIFE you were. You oozed it and projected energy off you in waves, even when you said with a grin that you were so tired. You bounced when you walked and laughed loud and talked loud and lived life at full volume and speed, and the thought of you being this incomprehensible thing called “dead” is just that – incomprehensible. You and death just don’t mix. The two don’t belong in the same sentence or thought. Is that what people mean by “live the resurrection”? Is that what you were doing so well? Being fully ALIVE, fully present.

Your building is noisy today. The Big Machines, as the kids would call them, are at work in the dirt and rubble in front of it; big dump trucks are coming and going with beeps warning their intentions to back up. Can we back up this past month, and have a do-over – “This time without the oops?”

I should head home, I suppose. I don’t want to, but responsibilities don’t wait forever.

I love and miss you.

Your big sis Cherie

Kendall building 04.21.16

Story of a Dog

Today is the one year anniversary of the death of a most remarkable dog.

My first glimpse of Dudley in action was a bit of a pixelated blur, gained via Skype with my then-boyfriend. Dudley was so excited to be inside that it was hard to induce him to stand still. Only holding his beloved ball above his head convinced him to stay still long enough for me to get anything approximating a steady visual.

I met him in person when I went to visit Sam in Texas. He was just as energetic as the day we Skyped, and demonstrated his epic ball fetching skills. He was not nearly as interested in being petted as he was in having his ball thrown – quite typical of him. He had been known to fetch in snow up to his belly!

img609

Dudley was liver and white colored English Springer Spaniel, with a shorter muzzle that made him look like a puppy his entire life – a huge part of his charm. I have only rarely seen another English Springer that reminded me of Dudley; most have much longer faces than he did. His fur grew insanely fast, and his appearance would change quite noticeably as his ear fur grew longer. As is typical of his breed, Dudley had a tail that rarely stopped wagging, no matter what he was doing. We called it “metronome tail” sometimes, and with its golden retriever style fringe, it was beautiful. Matter of fact, he was just a beautiful dog (when he was relatively clean).

Dudley and Arwen - focus

When we got married, I brought a golden retriever named Arwen to the marriage and my husband brought Dudley. Arwen had always been an inside dog; Dudley had been an outside dog most of his life. I soon determined it didn’t agree with him, however; he spent the majority of his time outside the double doors from the living room, trying to see in and squeaking while turning in circles. My husband was sure that having him inside would drive us both batty because of his high energy level, but Dudley’s pleadings gnawed at me.

Dudley was overdue for a bath, so we braved his super muddy exterior and brought him inside to scrub him down. You never saw such a dirty tub! In the course of that bath we discovered Dudley had the worst ear infection I’d ever seen. This dog, who was so impervious to pain that he allowed a puppy to hitch a ride via sinking his teeth into Dudley’s ear, wouldn’t let us clean his ear. To the vet we went, who also declined to clean his ear, instead giving us antibiotics to put in the black puddle of goop in his ear for several days before attempting again. We decided to keep Dudley inside for the duration of the treatment as a test run.

IMGP0809

Dudley was thrilled, and our walls soon bore marks of his tennis balls thrown against them and retrieved. He no longer squeaked at the door; now he padded around with a perpetual grin on his face and his ball either between his jaws or placed on the floor while staring at it fixedly, waiting for someone to kick or throw it for him. He was excellent at obeying the “Stay” command if it involved his ball. My husband once put the ball down and told Dudley to stay while we were watching a movie. When the movie was over, I looked around to see Dudley staring hard at something. I was puzzled until we thought about 45 minutes back and realized he was still waiting for the “Fetch!” command. At least he finally laid down to wait instead of standing the whole time!

Dudley’s dedication to his ball was the stuff of legends. Arwen had successfully taught two dogs before Dudley how to play, but try as she might for 4 years, she could rarely get Dudley to pounce and play with her like most dogs. All he cared about playing with was his ball. He would fetch as long as you would throw the ball, no matter how exhausted and winded he got. His focus was insane – no matter where you moved the ball, he wouldn’t take his eyes off of it. He wouldn’t even look where he was running when fetching; he ran into so many corners, doors, toys, and pieces of furniture going after it BECAUSE YOU NEVER TAKE YOUR EYES OFF THE BALL. He would head-butt the bottom of the sofa and wiggle half under it trying to reach his ball if it went underneath, tail thumping the whole time.

We often said we wished we were as single-hearted about God as Dudley was about his ball.

Dudley ball

And if there was anything he loved almost as much as his ball, it was us. He loved to be near us; he would often come to our bed in the morning and stick his head up against the side or climb the side so he could stick his muzzle in our faces and snuffle us. Sometimes he would lick us; inevitably, he would drop his ball on or in the sheets so we could throw it for him. He would follow us from room to room, sleep on our feet, and make a general nuisance of himself trying to get us to throw his ball. He no longer pined, squeaking, outside the door; instead, he happily existed among his humans.

Dudley morning

Dudley wasn’t exactly housebroken in the beginning, and he decided my CD tower was a great pee post. It was the first time I recall getting truly furious with him. I still remember looking up from dinner to see him in the act, and being so horrified that all that would come out of my throat was a very loud, unintelligible noise. It had the desired effect, however; he stopped peeing and ran off. After at least 3 rounds of this, plus some couch waterings, my husband was finally convinced to get Dudley “fixed.” As advertised, it did wonders. Dudley became a much more model citizen. He never got relegated to “outside dog” status again.

Dudley happy

One day Dudley was following me into the bedroom but stopped in the hallway, staring at something with his head on the side. We finally went to investigate what he was staring at, and discovered a small snake curled up in the corner! My husband picked it up with kitchen tongs and kept saying, “Open the outside door!” I finally yelled, “Well, quit holding it in the middle of the doorway, and I will!!” We have laughed often at that story. I’m not sure we’d ever have seen it if not for Dudley.

We moved to northern CA and both dogs took the 3 day drive in stride. Nobody threw up or peed in the vehicle, and they maintained their happy demeanor. Finding housing that would accept 2 dogs over 50 pounds was no picnic, but we couldn’t leave them behind. We moved twice in CA, and both times the dogs came along in spite of the extra cost. They were part of the family.

Dudley and Arwen-Blazer

When I got pregnant with our first baby, we lived in a place that was not well heated. The dogs would sleep on my feet, in my lap, or against me while I watched TV. They were very effective blankets! Dudley especially loved to snuggle with me on the couch – always with his ball in his mouth, of course.

Preggo w-Dudley

His fur was like bunny fur – incredibly soft, fine, and curly. His ear fur got so long I actually French-braided the outside of his ear once!

Dudley curls

 Dudley french braid

As our firstborn got bigger, so did Arwen. She needed far more exercise than she was getting, and often begged to be walked, even if it was 115 degrees out. When we found out I was pregnant with our second born, I finally decided it was time to find Arwen another home. My husband said, “I can’t believe you’re actually consenting to get rid of the GOLDEN RETRIEVER and keeping Dudley!” I couldn’t either, but it seemed to be the best thing for Arwen. We found her another home, and for the first time in our marriage, we became a one-dog family.

Dudley Savannah

Savannah adored both dogs, but seemed to adjust okay to Arwen’s departure; she merely shifted all her attentions to Dudley, poor boy. She had so much fun with him, and absolutely loved to throw his ball – something she started doing before she could walk. They both loved this game, since Dudley lived to fetch. She also loved to confiscate his ball and put it in her purse or another container. She would play with it endlessly while poor Dudley followed her closer than her shadow, trying his best to get it back. Sometimes I would take pity on him and make Savannah give it back, but the return usually didn’t last too long. He was totally trustworthy with her and other kids, however; no matter what happened, he never growled or snapped. The most disapproval he would show was to get up and move to another location. He would let us put stuff on him, too – at least for short periods of time.

Dudley in Santa hat  Dudley scarf

Due to circumstances documented elsewhere, we were extremely poor as Dudley rounded his 12th year on earth. Every month we celebrated when God miraculously provided for our rent, gas, and other needs. There was no money for the annual bloodwork that vets recommend senior dogs receive. Having worked at a vet hospital, I understood very well why those tests are recommended, but our inability to do them bothered me deeply for a different reason entirely: Dudley almost never showed pain.

For years, a small, deep fear had niggled at the back of my mind: If there is ever anything seriously wrong with Dudley, how will we know in time to do anything about it? Arwen had ways of letting us know if she wasn’t feeling well; Dudley, however, almost never admitted anything but happiness. This fear raised its head again in June of 2014 when I discovered he’d torn up his pads playing fetch on the concrete in the park. He never slowed down or showed any sign of pain at the time; it was only later when he started limping that we realized what had happened.

We decided to move from CA to VA, leaving in August 2014. In late July as we were packing to move, Dudley stopped eating. This wasn’t unusual in the summer, so I didn’t think much of it at first. He’d boycotted food before for several days at a time, off and on for years. However, by day 3 I realized that he didn’t try to come out of his kennel when Savannah and my sister went to play in the park, and in fact had spent a good deal of time in his kennel the previous days. I had to force him to come out and take potty breaks several times. I started watching him.

That evening he finally voluntarily came out of his kennel, very stiffly and slowly, as we were about to set down to dinner. I swung away from the table just in time to see Dudley stop in the living room and his hind end sway and slowly fold over sideways while he struggled to remain standing. My blood ran cold and I froze, stunned. We’d had patients at the vet hospital with that symptom, and the cause was never minor. I only knew of 3 reasons for that to happen, and none of them were within our price range to diagnose or treat; two of them always resulted in euthanasia sooner or later. I think I started praying for a miracle then, hoping I was wrong, but with a sense of dread. That night, Dudley refused popcorn and only nibbled at salmon treats, and that was when my husband knew something was wrong. However, he had no sense of how serious it was.

Dudley stops eating

The next few days haunted me for months afterwards. Dudley’s decline gathered steam rapidly until he could barely walk, and indeed, would only do so if required. I messaged a friend at a vet hospital for options, called vet clinics in the area, and got discouraging news on all fronts. The bottom line was that we were too broke to even put Dudley out of his misery unless we did so at a low-cost clinic without an exam. I cried often, and prayed hard; we all prayed over Dudley repeatedly, including Savannah; and my husband and I talked, and God brought us some freelance computer jobs… And then I got a text. My coworker said, “We want to give you $___. Would that be enough?” It was exactly the amount needed to take Dudley to his regular vet, receive an exam and be euthanized. I cried and cried and cried. I knew in that moment that, barring a miracle, we would be saying goodbye to Dudley that day. It was confirmed when he collapsed in the backyard trying to poop; I will never forget that sight as long as I live. We carried him back inside, where he dragged himself up and barked valiantly at the “invaders” conveying the money to end his suffering.

On July 28, 2014, we carried him out to the van and laid him inside, loaded up the kids and left for the vet’s office, who knew what to expect. As Sam waited with Dudley for the vet techs to bring the gurney to the van, I took the kids out of the heat to the office and Sam texted me, “His gums are white.” It confirmed what I already knew: Dudley’s time was short.

Dudley at vet

The vet came in and told me everything I already knew: Dudley was in very bad shape, and if we opted to treat him, it would involve blood transfusions, IV medication, transferal to the 24 hour vet hospital, and diagnostics once he was stabilized… and no guarantees he’d make it even then. She said he probably had an internal tumor that his body just kept compensating for more and more until, suddenly, it couldn’t anymore, and it gave up.

While I expected them, her words came as a huge blow to my husband. Somehow I had not been able to convey to him what I knew, although I’d tried. In his mind, we were going to get Dudley examined and see what would be involved in treating him. Dudley had been his dog for several years before he came into my life, and he was deeply attached to him.

My husband said, “I want my face to be the last thing he sees.” And it was. I can still see the huge sigh that went out of Dudley in a big “Whumph!” as, nose-to-nose with Sam, the life went out of him. Then Sam sank to the floor and sobbed, and 2 year old Savannah climbed into his arms and wiped his tears and hugged him. Later, after Sam went out to take care of something, Savannah asked me, “You ha’ tears, Mommy?” I said, “Yes, baby, I have tears.” She was an amazing gift of grace and God’s love to us that day. She understood just enough to be sober and comforting.

Dudleys body

That night I crept out of bed to sit by Dudley’s body and pray for his resurrection. Nothing happened, but I was glad I tried. The next day as we got ready to load everyone up in the van to take Dudley’s body to be cremated, Savannah turned to Dudley’s body bag and held out her hand, palm up, with her head on the side. “I wan’ Dudley come wit me. You come?” More tears from us. As we drove, we listened to Barry and Michelle Patterson’s music and cried some more. We signed Dudley’s body over for cremation, with both his tennis balls inside the body wrap with him. I said, “At least he has two balls again…” As we drove away, Savannah started crying and said, “I wan’ Dudley come!” We reminded her how he had been sick and didn’t feel good; she repeated each phrase. We told her Dudley’s heart is with Jesus now, so she can talk to him. This conversation was repeated often in the days that followed, until she would volunteer to tell us that Dudley is with Jesus now. She still does this sometimes.

One year later, we talk about him often. I am so very glad we made the decision to let Dudley become an inside dog; we would have missed so much if we hadn’t! It comforts me to know that although we couldn’t prevent the suffering of his last few days, we gave him years of happiness inside with us. I am grateful for every picture and video we have, and that Savannah remembers him. I can’t think of a better package deal anywhere than my husband and Dudley, and am so grateful God arranged for him to be in my life long before I knew anything about it.

Enjoy heaven, Dudley. I’m sure you can fetch endlessly now! We’ll see you again, and you will always hold a special spot in our hearts.

Renovating with God

Today I feel… very interesting.

Jumbled.

John Mark McMillan on Pandora seems a good selection for this processing.

“Like deer to the pool

I’m comin’ after You…”

Lord, what is it that I need in this next season?

“It’s time to write.”

What does Joel’s word really mean to me, now, in this season?

My relationship with You is one of the main things on my mind these days. That, and my desire for change in the way I relate to my kids. And as I stand here and write this, I realize that the two are so very connected. Receiving Your love and truly becoming Abba’s child is, after all, the biggest key to lasting change in any area. It is love that changes us, love that remakes us, love that rewrites our history and changes the trajectory of our future. As long as my walls to love stay up, I will always languish in a stuck place. The shape of the room and the subjects addressed at its table may fluidly morph into different forms, but it will still be the same space. Small. Enclosed. Without wonder. Without authentic, actual, lasting change.

“You are everything my heart wants

My heart runs after You…”

I know this. I keep pondering this.

“All my walls and my defenses fall

Fall

To the ground

When the warmth of Your light

Shines all around…”

(Your Love is Better, Will Reagan & the United Pursuit Band)

I am reminded of the book about walls that my best friend Pam and I encountered years ago, and feel like I am living it. You are the one throwing flowers over my wall, inviting me out from behind my walls and into the summer fields of Your love.

IMG_20150708_071436

What does that look like practically, Lord? In my life, right now, with young kids… what does that look like? How do I cultivate field time with You?

  1. Change the scenery.
    1. Participate in one of E. B’s Sunday night calls and see what it’s all about.
    2. Always do soaking/ writing time first in your workday.
  1. Manage social media differently.

Okay, Holy Spirit, talk to me about this double-edged sword. I have grown so much through some of my social media interactions; where I am with You right now in this moment is due in no small part to social media interactions with other sisters across the world. It is a source of inspiration and a catalyst in my life. It is also a time-eating distraction from You, my kids, and the reality of my heart’s contents.

So, how do I preserve the catalyst aspects and relationships without using it as an escape from reality?

That is the key: recognizing honestly when social media has moved from a catalyst and into a mind-numbing escape from something going on in my heart. Lord, help me stop and address the heart stuff rather than running away through social media.

  1. Re-learn how to be still. Cultivate non-activity.

Ouch. Yes. This. I am the ultimate multi-tasker. This is part of where social media has taken over. Lord, help me really believe that sitting still mindfully with You and/ or my kids IS super important. Instead of filling every minute of the day with activity, help me slow it down and prioritize being still without input. When I’m feeding Jeremiah, help me just do that, rather than hopping on social media simultaneously or finding some other input and distraction to fill the “wasted” time. Keep me mindful of the power of intentionality and how doing nothing IS doing something. Help me be a better human BEing.

IMG_20150715_201020

Lord, help me clear the clutter to make room for the divine to enter in. I feel like so many little trinkets have piled up collecting dust in my heart – little bits of input, stimuli, information, expectations, needs, wants, desires, options, possibilities… So many things clutter my inward space right now that it has become hard to see clearly, to evaluate the importance of the contents of these rooms.

So I throw open the windows and doors, and invite Your sunlight in. Would You go through these rooms with me, and help me sort them out? Show me what matters, what stays, what goes, what gets given away and what gets trashed.

Let’s renovate.